Chaucer's Ovidian arts of love

Material Information

Chaucer's Ovidian arts of love
Calabrese, Michael A
Place of Publication:
University Press of Florida
Physical Description:
1 online resource (x, 170 p.) : ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Love poetry, English (Middle) -- History and criticism ( lcsh )
Troilus (Legendary character) in literature ( lcsh )
Trojan War -- Literature and the war ( lcsh )
English poetry -- Roman influences ( lcsh )
Love in literature ( lcsh )
POETRY -- English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh ( bisacsh )
Electronic books ( local )
Electronic books.
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Electronic books


Includes bibliographical references (p. 155-162) and index.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Michael A. Calabrese.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
Copyright by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida. This work is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit You are free to electronically copy, distribute, and transmit this work if you attribute authorship. However, all printing rights are reserved by the University Press of Florida ( Please contact UPF for information about how to obtain copies of the work for print distribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the University Press of Florida. Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author's moral rights.
Resource Identifier:
48138796 ( OCLC )
0813021340 (electronic bk.) ( ISBN )
PR1933.L6 C35 1994eb ( lcc )
821/.1 ( ddc )

UFDC Membership

University Press of Florida


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love




of Love

Michael A. Calabrese

University Press of Florida
Gainesville Tallahassee Tampa
BocaRaton Pensacola Orlando
Miami Jacksonville
f **W6 ; '

For my sister Mary Ann, a bon vivant,
my brother Joe, and for our parents,
Orlando and Beatrice Calabrese


Acknowledgments ix

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love 1

Chapter 1. Clerks of Venus
Chaucer's Life of Ovid 11

Chapter 2. Love, Change, and Ovidian
"Game" in the Troilus
Books I and 11 33

Chapter 3. Change and Remedy
Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus 51

Chapter 4. New Armor for the Amazons
The Wife of Bath and a
Genealogy of Ovidianism 81

Chapter 5. Exile and Retraction 113

Notes 131
Works Cited 155
Index 163


OR GUIDANCE and for detailed help in the prepa-
ration of this book, I have many people to thank. At
the University of Virginia Mark Morford worked with
me on much of the trickier Latin. A. C. Spearing
read many drafts of the chapters and provided much-
appreciated suggestions and valued support. Barbara
Nolan, my teacher and mentor for the past ten years
and one of the finest Ovidian scholars in the world,
has guided me with care and with wisdom. Hoyt
Duggan, my own Dr. Johnson, taught me much
about craft and low cunning. This great and gener-
ous man has never failed me as a friend and model.
I also thank my brilliant friends and colleagues,
James Berger, James Hurley, Tom Helscher, Greg
Roper, Michael Uebel, and Dennis Swaim, who sup-
ported me with faith and created an inspiring and
impassioned critical environment during our time
as graduate students. While a student at Columbia
University I lived with a host of great men, and all
are still my brothers: Darius Sollohub, David
Rosenberg Korish, Lou Tilmont, Paul Pesce, Gideon
Besson, and Simon Black.
At the University of West Florida, where I com-
pleted this book, several colleagues read chapters
and looked over material. I offer my thanks to Allen
Josephs, Gregory Lanier, Cynthia Smith, and Philip
Momberger, my great friend and noble chairman,
who guided me in all matters of thought and

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

EARLY six hundred years ago the French court poet
Deschamps hailed Chaucer in a poem of praise as
"Ovides grans en ta poeterie" [a great Ovid in {his}
poetry].' Perhaps Deschamps saw that Chaucer read
Ovid by day,studied him by night, and rewrote him
in between Ovid is Chaucer's favorite poet, the one
to whom he is closest in spirit and to whom he refers
by name more than any other literary authority.
Chaucer is, in many ways, the "medieval Ovid.'
That formulation may sound stark, and I assure
the reader that evidence is on the way. The conjunc-
tion of Ovid with a medieval poet, however, should
come as no surprise. No other classical author ex-
erted so great an influence on medieval literature,
and he is evoked in medieval works of all kinds from
all periods. Ovid takes his place in a spectrum of
medieval texts in any number of guises: noble auctor
of history, doctor of love, father of antifeminist lore,
advocate of female power, prophet of mutability, and,
at times, dreaded corrupter of youth and peer of Sa-
tan.2 The Roman poet provides medieval authors
with literary models, mythic characters, and all sorts
of wit, wisdom, and doctrine. Because of his vast and
complex medieval identity, Ovid becomes for the
medieval poet much more than just a source for his-
tory, myth, and bawdy seductionH He becomes a phi-
losopher and scholar, someone o/imitate, cite, or


combat, depending on the ethical demands of the medieval poet's text.
Were we to survey the world of medieval European authors, particu-
larly those writing of love, we would find that they all must at some point
confront Ovid: vernacular authors such as Chr6tien, Marie, Boccaccio, Jean
de Meun, Gower, and Christine de Pizan; scholastic such as Andreas Capel-
lanus; theologians such as William of St. Thierry; logician-lovers such as
Abelard; and abbesses such as Heloise, to say nothing of the many name-
less schoolmasters glossing texts for daily study. Often we can read not only
the poetic artistry of a medieval work but also its moral universe by "read-
ing its Ovid." If we can find how the author treats Ovid, we have found how
he or she treats love. Ovid was that popular, that prominent, that complex,
and is, therefore, that important for the modem reader seeking to under-
stand what is at stake in a medieval love text.3
Accordingly, Ovid appears-and will continue to appear- ubiquitously
in modern scholarship. Contemporary critics in various branches of medi-
eval studies have, especially in the past few years, developed our appre-
hension of Ovid's many roles in a host of texts and contexts, trying to assess
his immeasurable influence upon Western literature and thought. We see
him in studies not only of love poetry but also of rhetoric, critical theory,
lovesickness, witchcraft, and homosexuality. Never before has it been so
clear that Ovid indispensably aids almost any critical attempt to understand
the complexity and diversity of medieval reactions to history, to literature,
and to human expressions of desire.4 In particular, I think it will become
increasingly clear that we will have to turn again and again to Ovid as we
study the gender/power relations that underlie love doctrine in medieval
texts. Ovid is the father of medieval "sexual poetics," and to understand
those poetics, we have to know him.5
Fortunately, we have seen a powerful effort in recent years to make
fresh and well-wrought translations of Ovid's poems available to modern
readers. Two translations of the Heroides appeared in 1991, one by poet
David Hine, the other, in the Penguin Classics series, by Harold Isbells.
Peter Green and A. D. Melville have offered new translations of Ovid's
Erotic Poems, and David Slavitt has made some of the most neglected works
of Ovid available in his translation of the poems of exile. In those poems
Ovid appears not as the doctor of love or the prophet of change, but as the
man of many sorrows, singing the woes of his banishment. As we contem-
plate Ovid's modern popularity we see that he was right when he boasted
in the final line of his great epic poem on mutability: "vivam" [I will live].6
The demand and the need for Ovid are clear. However, his role in me-
dieval literature and culture needs clarification, for the identity and func-


tion of classical authors in the Middle Ages differ dramatically from modern
conceptions of literature and authorship. When I say "Ovid" I do mean the
same, the classical poet available to modern readers in the parallel pages of
the Loeb Classical Library and in the lively modern translations I have
mentioned. However, when approaching Ovid as an influence on medieval
authors, in our case a vernacular English poet, we must be aware of what
"Ovid" meant in the Middle Ages. "Ovid" was not only the poet's own pri-
mary texts, which were schoolbooks in Chaucer's time, but also the copious
glosses, categorizations, moralizations, and allegorizations that introduce or
literally surround the words of any medieval text by an actor. John Fyler,
author of Chaucerand Ovid, writes that "Chaucer took his Ovid straight." In
this fine phrase Fyler helps us to see that Chaucer was not drearily bound
to inherited Christian allegorizations of Ovid's poems. So much is true. Yet
we must not dismiss medieval commentary so quickly, for to do so can lead
us to misrepresent Chaucer's reception of Ovid's texts.7 Chaucer did not
take-and could not have taken-Ovid "straight." Granted, the tradition
of school commentary is not known for its artistry or liveliness, and so we
can see why critics have sometimes neglected it. But this tradition does
give us some of the vocabulary with which Chaucer read his Ovid, a vo-
cabulary that helps us understand "Ovid" in the late fourteenth century.
Chaucer's interest in rhetoric and love is rooted, therefore, not only in
the actual texts of Ovid but also in the commentaries on them.8 The invalu-
able editorial work of (among others) Alton, Ghisalberti, Huygens, Stroh,
Coulson, and most recently Hexter has made it possible for us to recon-
struct how Ovid appeared in the medieval schoolroom and how the presen-
tation of Ovidian texts developed over the centuries of the Middle Ages.9
For instance, in tracing the evolution of medieval "biographies" of Ovid,
Ghisalberti tells us how the work and life of Ovid appeared in the late four-
teenth century. By emphasizing these medieval Latin vitae, I do not mean,
however, to exclude the other most important filter for Chaucer's reception
of Ovid--other Ovidian poems written by vernacular poets. We know that
Jean de Meun's encyclopedic art of love, the Roman de la Rose, so often
directly derived from Ovid, mediates Chaucer's relationship with the clas-
sical doctor, and the Ovidian Boccaccio too is never far in the background.10
Chaucer's Ovid, then, is this "medieval Ovid," this extending web of scho-
lastic and poetic texts, treatments, and testimonies. As we study Chaucer's
sources we must try to recreate, albeit imperfectly, Chaucer's elusive, pro-
tean Ovid.
Mine is not the first book to connect Chaucer with Ovid. Ever since
Dryden compared the two, Ovid has been recognized as a major influence


on his medieval counterpart." Perceiving such a comparison to be apt and
fruitful, modern critics, including such noted medievalists as Fyler and
Winthrop Wetherbee, have been sensitive to Chaucer's use of Ovid in indi-
vidual passages and as part of his skeptical poetic sensibility in general. We
have learned that Chaucer was, like Ovid, a poet of "flux" and metamor-
Both, too, are poets of rhetoric, studying ways in which language in-
venks reality.1' Ovid weaves story and game, and he eschews the prophetic,
Virgilian strains of authority. Chaucer exercises this same disinterestedness
as he creates rhetorician-characters and his own narrative personae. As Ri-
chard Lanham puts the matter in his seminal study of the two poets,
"Chaucer conceived the self in rhetorical rather than serious terms."'3
Steeped in Ovidian rhetoricity, Chaucer and his creations enjoy and often
profit from its power. Ultimately, however, they must also face its limita-
tions; they must learn what words can and cannot do.
Concerning love, Chaucer's apprehension of Ovid was broad and deep.
One need only look as far as the Wife of Bath's Prologue to see the rich
presence of Ovid in Chaucer's poetry. The Wife adopts and shapes explic-
itly Ovidian love doctrine in her martial marital arts. She tells a story from
the Metamorphoses, and her fifth husband, Jankyn, has a copy of the Art of
Love in his antifeminist anthology. Put another way, the Wife uses Ovid as
both model and source, and her husband reads Ovid as an actor Certainly,
something catalytic is going on here between Ovid and Chaucer. Any reader
of the two poets "feels" this. But when we look closely, we not only feel
their shared spirit; more important, we see Chaucer's specific and sustained
effort to confront Ovid and to study human desire and Christian doctrine in
relation to Ovid's arts of love.
How else does Chaucer actualize his fascination with Ovid? Perhaps
no other classical poet had given voice to gender as Ovid had in the Heroides-
letters by scorned women recounting their own stories, as opposed to the
traditional truths of classical, mythic history. This achievement alone would
have had a powerful impact on medieval literature, as it did on the Legendof
Good Women and on Heloise in her letters to Abelard and Criseyde in her
discourse with Troilus. Ovid gave voice to those women silenced by tradi-
tion, gave expression to their desires that had been crushed by the ever-
turning wheel of fate and history. We can say, in fact, that the gendering of
power is one of Ovid's greatest themes in the Heroides, in the arts of love,
and also in the Metamorphoses. Ovid provided Chaucer, then, with a series of
studies of gendered discourse and identity. Chaucer turns to Ovid as he
creates his own voices of gendered power and shapes his own, medieval
Christian "arts of love." As Chaucerians continue to try to come to terms


with Chaucer's "ethical" and "sexual poetics," a consideration of Ovid, both
in his original texts and in his various medieval scholastic and poetic nani-
festations, will help us understand how Chaucer himself saw these issues
and conflicts.
Ovid's contribution to the history of sexuality is enormous and pro-
found for Chaucer and for all of Western literature. But Ovid supplied even
more to his progeny. He offers voices of desire and psychological studies of
seduction, sex, and lovesickness, but he also tells his own life story, the
thrilling drama of a love poet thrust into exile by the oppressive censorship
of an unyielding emperor. It is the stuff of fiction-for Ovid himself, for
Chaucer, and for us.14
These poems of exile, by far the most neglected part of Ovid's corpus
today, constitute not an end to Ovid's imaginative faculty but a focusing of
his art into what some scholars have called the poetics of exile. Chaucer
knew these poems because medieval schoolmasters and authors read and
glossed them in the context of Ovid's entire biography, the medieval vita,
the forerunner of the Norton Anthology headnote. Medieval readers all com-
mitted what we might now call an intentional fallacy when reading classical
authors, for they sought to understand the specific personal circumstances
that had produced the given work.
It is the entire corpus of Ovid, then, that Chaucer embraces as he stud-
ies love and defines his own role as a love poet. The overall shape of Ovid's
tragic career, from the playful games of the Ars Amatoria to the bitter exile
of the Tristia and the Ex Ponto, has not yet been brought to bear upon
Chaucer's poems or upon his views of his own life as a poet. We have not
thoroughly exploited the varied relations between the two poets because
we have never fully examined how Chaucer's characters, and Chaucer him-
self, explore the power and limitations of Ovidian imagination in their artis-
tic and moral lives. Chaucer knew Ovid's poetry and knew his struggles
with art, audience, and exile. Studying the two poets teaches us something
about Chaucer's relations to his readers, to fiction, to his God, and, ulti-
mately, to his own death. Chaucer, like Ovid, saw himself as vulnerable to
the misunderstanding and woe that can befall a maker of fictions. In the
context of Chaucer's comprehensive knowledge and use of Ovidian mate-
rial, Deschamps's vision of him as "a great Ovid" may be a clue to the way
Chaucer himself understood his poetic career. Like Ovid, Chaucer explores
both the delights and the dangers of being a "servant of the servants of
In the chapters that follow, my approach is for the most part threefold:
first, to look at Chaucer's uses of Ovid in individual passages and through-
out a given poem to see how he plays one Ovidian text against another;


second, to evaluate how Chaucer may have received and perceived these
texts of Qvid through medieval scholastic or poetic works; third, to trace
Ovid's civic perils-as told in the Tristia and discussed in medieval com-
mentary-when they can provide a context for Chaucer's own explorations
of the relations between art and life. These strategies are by no means
mutually exclusive, and a brief outline will show how the chapters relate to
one another.
Chapter 1 is an attempt to recreate "Chaucer's Ovid" by recounting
medieval biographical data on Ovid and indicating the depth of the medi-
eval reader's knowledge of and interest in Ovid's life and work. Chapters 2
and 3 trace the role of Ovidian art and the play of Ovidian texts in the
Troilus.'5 Chaucer's Greek and Trojan characters did not, of course, read
Ovid, who was not to be born for a thousand years. Nor do they magically
conceive themselves to be reading Ovid. Rather, they act with the "wis-
dom" of an Ovidian perspective. They trap themselves and each other in a
literal reading of Ovid's love poems, which constitutes a naive, destructive
misreading of experience. As we see at the end of the poem, Chaucer dra-
matizes in the Troilus a struggle that ultimately is seen in light of the "Word"
beyond rhetoricity and beyond Ovidianism, which had been up to that point
the driving force of discourse and identity in the poem.
Chaucer's use of the later, darker poems of Ovid, the Metamorphoses
and the poems of exile, serves as a prelude to this Christian palinode. To
illustrate this progression, I study the relations between the Troilus, par-
ticularly the final two books, and the Tristia. I compare the literary career of
Ovid and the romantic life of Troilus, both of whom face, in ways that
Boccaccio's Troilo does not, types of "exile" because of their involvement
with the Ars Amatoria. The clash of Ovidian texts and perspectives against
one another and against the divine generates the drama in this grand, stately
Chaucerian art of love.
Chapter 4 is a study of the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, in which
Chaucer creates a character who is, like Ovid, a master of "experience."16
As the Wife and her husband, Jankyn the clerk, do marital battle, they turn,
like many characters in the Troilus, to Ovidian texts for power and author-
ity. When we sort out all these various "Ovids" we uncover a profound
struggle in which the combatants vie for supremacy by appropriating and
shaping Ovidian texts and doctrines. The Wife revives and reclaims Ars
Amatoria III as a woman's text, extending and shaping Ovidian strategy
according to her own ambitions. She is Ovid's "armed Amazon," and she
has modernized Ovid's ancient armor in the new war against almost four-
teen hundred years of male texts." As part of this "modernization," the


Wife's Prologue allows Chaucer to reexamine the function of the Ovidian
rhetoric he had studied in the Troilus. We are no longer in the stately world
of ancient Troy, but in gritty, fourteenth-century England. Ovidian art serves
not a noble couple, but a gat-toothed weaver, a wife five times over.
In this new context we also have to pay attention to the Wife and the
medieval reception of Ovid. Since the Ars Amatoria figures so prominently
in her monologue, knowing how it was read by a medieval audience helps
us see how the Wife has shaped her own "art of love." The fourteenth
century was aware that Ovid was banished in part for "corrupting wives"
and leading them to adultery-an observation central to our understanding
of antifeminist ideology and of the Wife's role as a corrupted and corrupting
I have called both the Troilus and the Wife's Prologue and Tale "arts of
love" even though we usually do not classify them as such. Both the novel-
istic romance of the Troilus and the personal monologue of the Wife seem
quite removed from the plotless, epigrammatic Ovidian handbooks. Nei-
ther work, furthermore, mimics the DeAmore ofAndreas Capellanus, a three-
part scholastic handbook based explicitly on the Ars Amatoria-and the
Remedia Amoris. However, we can see Chaucer's two works as "arts" be-
cause in each poem love counselors teach Ovidian strategies and engage
the audience in the intricacies of the games of love between men and women.
The teachers in these poems thus bring Ovid's arts into a dramatic context,
just as a host of counselors do in the Roman de la Rose, a free-form medieval
art of love that Chaucer knew well.19
Together, the Troilus and the Wife's Prologue and Tale display Chaucer's
evolving treatment of Ovidian art over the course of his career. These po-
ems isolate two distinct but deeply related "Ovidian moments" for Chaucer.
In Pandarus and Criseyde we see wit and we hear voices that we will see
and hear again in the Wife's monologue. Both poems ask the same Ovidian
question: What can language and game do for lovers? But Chaucer's answer
to this question changes over time, for the Wife masters Ovidian art as no
other Chaucerian character had before, and she uses it in ways unimagined
by either of her Ovidian-Chaucerian predecessors, Pandarus and Criseyde.
The skepticism surrounding Ovidian art in the Troilus now becomes cel-
In the context of these two arts of love, chapter 5 is a discussion of the
relationship between Chaucer's Ovidianism and his conception of himself
as a poet. Chaucer's career-long interest in Ovid persists as he turns to evalu-
ate what it has meant for him to have been a servant of the servants of love.
Chaucer was not one of those scholars (some of whom were burned at the


stake for the comparison) who claimed that "God has spoken in Ovid, even
as he has in Augustine."20 Chaucer may have regarded Ovid as his literary
father and favorite poet, but he did not regard him as his sole authority.
Chaucer's Ovidianism, as expressed in both the Troilus-and the Wife's Pro-
logue and Tale, shows how he allows the dramas of homo rhetoricus andfemina
rhetoric to unfold with little or no direct criticism. Both Ovid and Chaucer
simply wind up the world of language and let it run. But ultimately, for
Chaucer, where would this lead?
Chaucer's distance from overt moralization has been celebrated by mod-
em scholars as a distinct virtue, and perhaps that is why Matthew Arnold
complained that Chaucer lacked "high seriousness." In Arnold's famous
evaluation we see the same type of criticism that Petrarch levels against
the Ovid of exile. If Ovid had not had a lascivious spirit, says Petrarch, he
would have earned a "greater reputation among serious men."21 Ovid's suf-
fering in his banishment to the Black Sea is well known, but what price did
Chaucer pay for his own lack of high seriousness and his addiction to ama-
tory literature?
To try to answer these questions, chapter 5 considers the two poets'
views of art, death, and immortality, examining their comments on their
own struggles to secure a place for themselves in their respective worlds.
In discussing the history of authorship before the eighteenth century, Michel
Foucault says that discourse "was essentially an act placed in the bipolar
field of the sacred and profane, the licit and the illicit, the religious and the
blasphemous. Historically it was a gesture fraught with risks."22 We do not
normally see vernacular authors as "subject to punishment," and Chaucer
never exhibits any fear of imprisonment or exile. But his Retraction indi-
cates that he and Ovid share this identity as "author" and confront dangers
that arise when they do not explicitly express or respect the sacred, reli-
gious, and licit. The bipolar fields themselves are quite different for each
poet, but each had to reconcile himself to divine authority, Ovid to his "god"
Augustus, and Chaucer to the Christian "God" and to Christ the Word.
The connections here go beyond source and analogue criticism and into
the heart of what it means to be a servant of the servants of love and a
maker of fictions. In his Retraction, Chaucer finally confronts the issue that
devastated Ovid: an author's relation to his works. Through the characters
he created in his arts of love, Chaucer studied both the power and the fail-
ings of Ovidian words and Ovidian game. Now he must consider the per-
sonal, spiritual implications of being a verbal artist and a love poet. From
exile Ovid defended his amatory works by calling themfalsus, mere games
that no one could ever believe or be harmed by. Chaucer finally has to


retract his poetic works that "sownen into synne" because they too are false,
lacking the direct relations to reality, the one-to-one correspondence with
authority that his translations, saints' lives, and other books of "moralitee
... and devocioun" have. Ultimately, Chaucer found no defense for his
failedd," fictive voices, only prayer-and here ends the drama of one me-
dieval poet's encounter with the life and work of the great classical magister



Clerks of Venus
Chaucer's Life of Ovid

EFORE undertaking a study of Chaucer's two great
arts of love, the Troilus and the Wife of Bath's Prologue
and Tale, we have to try to determine who and what
"Ovid" was to a medieval vernacular poet. The an-
swer lies partly in medieval scholastic commentar-
ies, the critical apparatus with which teachers anno-
tated texts. These commentaries provide neither an
answer-key nor an allegorical correspondence chart
for Chaucer's poetry, but they do guide our view of
Chaucer's understanding of Ovid's works and career.
From commentaries, particularly from the biographi-
cal "headnotes" or the accessus ad auctores, we learn
that medieval poets regarded Ovid's life and work
as all part of one meta-narrative of "Ovid," embrac-
ing his poetry itself, its reception by Ovid's own au-
dience, its relation to Ovid's personal and political
fortunes, and its ethical utility to the current reader.
Everything Ovid wrote is subject, then, to a basic
set of questions: What does this work teach? What
was its practical, historical function or goal during
the poet's life? Was it successful? Of what value is
the text to us now? In the medieval schoolroom, secu-
lar poetry like Ovid's taught not only rhetoric but
history and ethics as well.
Ethics, audience reception, biography, personal
and political fortunes-any of these areas alone in-
spires a score of questions about Chaucer as a stu-


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

dent of Ovid and as a love poet in his own right. Did Chaucer believe that
Ovid was a moral philosopher? Did Chaucer worry about the effect of his
own poetry on his audience? Was he in any way engaged by the story of
Ovid's life? Did he relate his own experiences to those of the classical poet
he read? Was he burdened by the model of Ovid's life or by the ethical
dictates he saw imposed on Ovid's poetry? To approach these questions
and to provide a brief survey of medieval critical material, I divide the fol-
lowing discussion into two parts, isolating the main elements of the com-
mentaries: biography and ethics. Examining these dimensions of the medi-
eval reception of Ovid will give us some insight into Chaucer's perception
of Ovid when the English poet created his own arts of love.

Vita Ovidii

What exactly would Chaucer have known about Ovid? First of all, Chaucer
would have known-as the commentaries knew-the history of Ovid's cha-
otic career, from his early love poetry, which won him vast renown, to his
later works, co posed in exile following Augustus's condemnation of the
Ars Amatoria. haucer would have seen Ovid's poems in a context at once
historical and biographical. The schoolmasters' method of discussing the
poet's life as an introduction n to his poems formed a standard part of the
commentaries on pagan authors throughout the Middle Ages, beginning
with Servius's commentary on the Aeneid.2
Surveying such medieval "biographies" of Ovid, Fausto Ghisalberti
traces the growing interest in bringing together the wealth of factual and
theoretical information about Ovid in the later Middle Ages.3 Most com-
monly, Ghisalberti tells us, the introduction to the Metamorphoses was made
"into an introduction to the life and work of the poet as a whole."4 Arnulf of
Orleans, writing in the twelfth century, very clearly states, "When we have
in hand Ovid's greatest work, then we will trace his life." By Chaucer's
century, Ghisalberti says, "literary and biographical notices developed from
the rudimentary medieval accessus ... into the more complex form of the
humanistic life" (17). Discussing one fourteenth-century accessus to the
Metamorphoses, Ghisalberti shows that "the author embraced the whole life
and work of the poet, discussing even the exile and its causes" (24). Giovanni
del Virgilio, for instance, while introducing the Metamorphoses, traces the
poet's life and discusses all his works in the context of the life, pointing out
(erroneously) that the Remedia was written as part of a vain attempt to be
recalled from exile.5 One commentary on the Metamorphoses begins by stress-
ing the importance of biography: "Concerning the greater authors, we ought


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

to draw evidence of their lives out of their most important work."6 Four-
teenth-century biographies in particular, says Ghisalberti, provide a vita as
introduction to both the Metamorphoses and the minor works of Ovid.
Throughout the later Middle Ages and particularly in the fourteenth cen-
tury, then, it was apparently impossible for a reader to pick up any text of
Ovid and not become acquainted with Ovid's "life" and the occasion of
each of his works.7
Medieval commentators who wrote these vitae knew Ovid's tragic story
because Ovid himself composed his later works with his own biography in
mind. He tells his story as that of a poet, a love poet who suffers sorrow and
exile because of what he has written. In the Metamorphoses and the Tristia
he summons images and scenes from his earlier love poems and
"metamorphizes" them into dark, sorrowful conceits that reflect his down-
fall and woe. By mining his earlier works for the images that best express
his new, sudden sorrow, Ovid consciously tells a dramatic, unified story.
The highly rhetorical poems of exile form part of a poetic, political, and
moral drama in which Ovid looks back on his career and discusses its trials.
He describes how game has become earnest, singing of his own tragic trans-
formation from the carefree love poet into a man of sorrows.8 In exile and
disgrace, but ever aware of his own oeuvre, he tells Rome that he is finally
fit to be part of that "book of bodies changed" (the Metamorphoses) because
"things are not now as they were before."9
The medieval vitae show fidelity (for the most part) to Ovid's self-
conscious narrative. Although scholastic commentary often simply makes
up stories about Ovid and the emperor's wife, the general outline it offers
of Ovid's career is far from fantastical. Ovid sang something dangerous in
the Ars Amatoria (his carmen), saw something scandalous (his error), and the
emperor punished him for it. No one knew what the error was, but every-
one knew the song.10 As Chaucer's contemporary Petrarch starkly states:
"[The Ars Amatoria is] a foul work and, unless I am deceived, the cause of
[Ovid's] exile.""
Ovid's misspent youth and the high price he paid for it in his weary old
age seem to draw particular attention from the biographers. For example,
they see the love poems as works from a "lascivious youth," when Ovid,
"struck by Cupid's sharp dart... led others into error."'2 Virtually all dis-
cussions of the exile in the "lives" and in the accessus to the poems of exile
cite the Ars Amatoria as one of the causes of Ovid's banishment.'3 One com-
mentary on the Tristia reports that Ovid was exiled because the Ars Amatoria
"taught things that ought not be taught."'4
As Ralph Hexter points out, even by the middle of the twelfth century
"an increasing number of readers have a sense of the entire Ovidian corpus,

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

and references to Ovid's exile elegies tend to place them within that larger
corpus."15 It became firmly recognized, then, that the Tristia and the Ex
Ponto, those appeals to Rome for comfort and mercy, result logically from
the ArsAmatoria. Schoolmasters saw these poems, quite accurately, as records
of Ovid's regret for his love poetry and as attempts to win pardon from
Augustus. Some commentators, with no evidence to support their claims,
even saw the Remedia, the Metamorphoses, and the Heroides as acts of repara-
tion in the hope of pardon.16 These exaggerations testify that the scholastic
tradition paid constant attention to poetry as personal history, tying all Ovid's
works together as a logically developed literary and moral history.
Another set of documents, La Querelle de la Rose, composed at the be-
ginning of the fifteenth century, shortly after Chaucer's death, also recounts
in part the life of Ovid. The participants on both sides of the debate over
the moral worth of the Roman de la Rose refer freely to Ovid's love poetry
and his exile, treating Ovid's life as literary history and as moral exemplum.
In his attack on Jean de Meun, Jean Gerson as Theological Eloquence ar-
gues that the work is a danger to readers, even though it may contain some
virtuous material mixed in with the vicious doctrine. Such a balance of the
healthful and harmful is no saving grace, writes Gerson, who offers the ex-
ample of the crime and punishment of Ovid, who, Gerson implies, was
justly exiled for writing scabrous poetry:

Believe not me, but St. Paul the Apostle, Seneca,
and experience, that evil speaking and writings
corrupt good morals leading to immodest conduct
and destroying all sense of shame..... Why was
Ovid, a learned man and a most ingenious poet,
sent into perpetual exile? He himself is a witness,
that this happened to him on account of his
wretched Art ofLoving, which he wrote in the time
of the Emperor Augustus. And he was exiled,
despite the fact that he had sent out another
book-Of the Remedy of Love-in refutation.17

Gerson continues his attack, saying Jean de Meun's poem contains "things
even worse than anything in Ovid" (Baird and Kane, trans., La Querelle, 83).
In another context, Pierre Col, Gerson's and Christine de Pizan's oppo-
nent, clearly states that the Ars Amatoria caused Ovid's exile, though he
maintains that Ovid was a victim of the Roman husbands who feared that


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

Ovid's work would lead their wives into scandalous adultery. Pierre explains:

When Ovid wrote the Art ofLove, he wrote in
Latin, which women did not understand. There-
fore he gave it only to the assailants [male lovers]
to teach them how to capture the castle.... On
account of this he was exiled, because of the very
great jealousy of the Roman husbands. In fact, this
motive was the beginning, middle, and end of the
reason for his exile.... In fact, Ovid also recanted
by making the book on the Remedy ofLove. Truly, I
do not understand at all how this exile can be
justified by Reason. [Baird and Kane, trans., La '
Querelle, 108]

Like the authors of school vitae, these literary scholars battling over the
Roman de la Rose matter-of-factly refer to the drama of Ovid's life and the
definitive connections between his "art of love," the political and social
reaction to his work, his failed refutation, and his punishing exile.
Since Ovid's life was part of a drama that involves all of Ovid's work,
medieval readers could not have seen Ovid's "life" as separate from his
"art." For in all these vitae, the Ars Amatoria poet creates the poet of the
Tristia and the Ex Ponto, and the ethical, social, and poetic implications of
the Ars Amatoria reveal themselves in these later laments. The exile ele-
gies helped medieval students understand Ovid's art and life, the moral
and poetic issues inherent in the work of the author they were about to
study.18 Chaucer the vernacular poet could not have seen Ovid as the poet
of love without seeing him as the poet of exile.
Did an awareness of Ovid's "biography," of this story of a love poet
exiled for his "song," influence Chaucer and other vernacular poets either
in individual poems or in their views of their own status as love poets? How
did they translate their knowledge of Ovid and the appeal of his story into
their own lives and fiction? Robert Hollander studies how one very promi-
nent vernacular poet responded. Giovanni Boccaccio, Hollander argues,
"constructed details of his own 'vita' in accord with what he found in
Ovid's."19 Boccaccio, who wrote a life of Ovid while commenting on Ovid's
appearance in the fourth canto of the Inferno, saw himself as a poet of love
and as a carnal lover-in short, a "new Ovid."
Most important, Hollander discusses how both Ovid and Boccaccio
address the issue of what it means to be a love poet:


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Each author has a complicated relationship to the
guilty activity he owns as his own. He both
celebrates the passions and condemns them. While
in Ovid the distinction is neat (Ars Amatoria vs.
Remedia Amoris), in Boccaccio it only seems to be
so (early works vs. late works).... The tradition of
the Remedia operates in Boccaccio simultaneously
with that of the Ars as a continual correction to the
bad doctrines of love. In short, Boccaccio, from the
very first of his poems, regards himself as "the new
Ovid" in a positive sense only. When he represents
love in the tradition of the Ars, he does so in order
to condemn it. [Boccaccio's Two Venuses, 115]

As he tries to put this neo-Ovidianism into perspective, Hollander raises
the issue of the medieval Ovid's complexity, noting that some saw the Ars
Amatoria not as a poem of lust but as a mock of carnal love. Our evaluation
of what Boccaccio is doing "depends," Hollander says, "on the way in which
one reads the [Ovidian] text.... Still, the best evidence would seem to
indicate that Boccaccio, whatever his own methods of being the 'new Ovid,'
looked upon the amatory verses of the original Ovid as indeed lascivious
and culpable" (ibid.).
Some of this best evidence lies in Boccaccio's mention of Ovid in his
commentary on the virtuous pagans in the Inferno. While discussing the
fate of Ovid--one of the heathen who are damned because of their igto-
rance of Christ-Boccaccio accomplishes much. First, he gives the life of
Ovid and also, later in the discussion, points out that Dante must be contra-
dicting himself when he says that all those damned in this circle did not sin
(non peccaro), for many here were in fact sinners. He then explains the
crimes of Caesar, Aeneas, and Lucan, but he begins with Ovid, who com-
posed some good and useful things, but also wrote love poems that show
him to be "more than any other, an effeminate and lascivious man" [piutche
alcun altro effeminate e lascivo uomo]. Furthermore, Boccaccio says, in his
De arte amandi (the Ars Amatoria) Ovid "gives the worst and dishonest doc-
trines" [pessima e disonesta dottrina] to his readers.20 For Boccaccio, the
details of Ovid's life and the ethical, practical function of his poems form a
unified moral paradigm. Boccaccio's commentary shows us that when a four-
teenth-century poet set out to explore the implications of being a servant of
the servants of love, he set out, in poetry, to analyze the doctrines of the Ars


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

Another vernacular poet of no small consequence to Chaucer, Jean de
Meun, also makes a series of self-reflexive comments as he portrays him-
self as Love's minion in the Roman de la Rose. The God of Love, telling the
story of the composition of the Roman, promises that he will see that Jean
Chapanell has a painless birth and is raised so that he will tend to the dis-
ciples of Love. Readers, says the god, will call his book a "mirror for lov-
ers." Jean certainly sees himself, or at least sees the persona guiding the
poem, as the new Ovid, Venus's favorite clerk and a magister amoris. The
Ovidian love doctrine and love counselors, such as Ami and La Vieille,
throughout the Roman bear out Jean's ambition, for indeed he offers many
"arts of love," many mirrors for lovers in his completion of Guillaume's
poem. Jean, like Chaucer, refers to his own life and work in terms of his
calling as a love poet, a servant of the servants of love.
We should also consider the twelfth-century Ovidian poet Baudry, who
wrote a version of the Paris and Helen letters in the Heroides, as well as an
imagined pair of letters between the exiled Ovid and a sympathetic friend
who is appalled at the poet's misfortunes.21 He also wrote homosexual love
poetry and used Ovid as his model. As L. P. Wilkinson points out, Baudry in
his later poetry has to defend himself against a charge of frivolity, and he
labors to dissociate his morals from his verse, as Ovid himself had to do in
his own defense in the Tristia. Baidry's plea displays how Ovid's life pro-
vides a model for the playful poet who fears that his game may be taken for
earnest and who thus must provide an apology or palinode for his youthful,
libertine verses.22
Both the ambitions and the worries of these several personae amatoriae
show us that these poets knew Ovid's life and work as part of their standard
literary historical heritage. As they address love they address Ovid. Like
Boccaccio, Jean, and Baudry, Chaucer inherits this Ovidian identity and
lives out a bit of Ovidian biography. We see a striking display of this in the
Prologue to the Legend of Good Women when Chaucer attempts to draw a
parallel between his own literary vita and that of the medieval Ovid. We are
fortunate that occasionally Chaucer provides a pseudo-biographical detail
that, if not historically "true," still indicates how he chose to present him-
self as a love poet.
One of the major sources and models for the Legendis, of course, Ovid's
Heroides. According to medieval commentaries, the love letters of mythic
heroines and heroes serve to "exalt pure love" and "show the evil conse-
quences of illegitimate forms of sexual intercourse."23 As for the biographi-
cal "occasion" for these poems, some commentaries explain that Roman
matrons offended by his Ars Amatoria prompted Ovid to offer the letters as


Chaucer's OvidiantArts of Love

correctives to his dangerous, scabrous arts of love. Other commentaries claim
that Ovid wrote the Heroides from exile as part of his comprehensive at-
tempt to win reinstatement.24
Chaucer may have written his Legendbecause of similar "political" pres-
sure, that is, Queen Anne's dislike of the depiction of women in the Troilus.
The story is not confirmable, but the God of Love does order that the poem
be given to her, and critics have argued for this political, occasional reading.
Chaucer's contemporary Lydgate reports that Chaucer composed the work
"at request of the queen."' The alleged historical events notwithstanding,
in the Prologue to the work Chaucer does simulate just such a dramatic oc-
casion for writing the women's narratives.
The God of Love chastises Chaucer for leading lovers away from him
by translating the Roman de la Rose and for "shewinge how that wemen han
don mis" in the Troilus. In this rhetorical context the legends constitute
Chaucer's attempt to use a new type of poetry to compensate for his past
poetic offenses. Ovid brought on the wrath of the Roman matrons for lead-
ing them and others into love, but Chaucer, according to the God of love,
made "wise folk" to "with drawe" from love-a seemingly parodic reversal
of Ovid's situation. But in both scenarios, the poem is palinode, a public,
political event in the poet's career. And indeed the Troilus, which caused
Chaucer this trouble, is itself his own "art of love," fully saturated with
Ovidian lore. Evidently the God of Love and the Queen of England ap-
proved of Chaucer's "art" as much as the Roman matronae and Emperor
Augustus approved of Ovid's. Their backs to the wall, both clerks of Venus
had to respond with correctives.
The drama that Chaucer constructs about the occasion for the Legendof
,Good Women shows that he could see his poems in the context of his career
as a love poet and could poeticize the compulsions and pressures that he
faced. As it happens, the pressures on Chaucer to write the Legend here
comically reflect those on Ovid to compose the Heroides, the Legend's source
text. We should not be surprised if Chaucer actually based his decision to
write stories of noble heroines on Ovid's similar circumstances. The Heroides,
as the commentaries perceive it, was an instructive, ethical work, and there-
fore an appropriate model for repairing a tarnished poetic reputation and
mending relationships with female audiences.26
It seems that every time Chaucer makes self-reflexive comments, he
involves himself in some sort of palinode. In addition to this scenario in the
Prologue to the Legend, we have the Man of Law's catalog of Chaucer's works
and of course, finally, the Retraction. The Man of Law's list offers a vision of


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

Chaucer's career as a whole, in the way a scholastic vita would. The Man of
Law may have recently been reading the Metamorphoses or the Heroides,
both of which he names and in which he would have found a similar catalog
of Ovid's works. Alfred David argues that the catalog and the subsequent
tale indicate that the Man of Law "regards the function of all poetry, in-
cluding love poetry, as didactic." By contrast, "for the Man of Law Chaucer
is a follower of Ovid, especially the Ovid of the Ars Amatoria and the
Heroides." At this point in the poem, furthermore, Fragment I (A), in its
degeneration to the baseness of the Cook's fragment, has "compounded
[Chaucer's] poetic felonies."27 In light of Chaucer's reputation and in light
of the low state of the tale-telling contest, the Man ofLaw's Tale serves as a
palinode, "a return to the abandoned theme of the Legends, the praise of
constant women" ("Man of Law," 222).
V. A. Kolve agrees, seeing the tale as inspired by the need to "demon-
strate, for the first time within the opening sequence of the tales, what
poetry can do at its maximum dignity, in the service of historical fact and
Christian truth." Kolve calls the catalog a "mock palinode," a parody of the
Retraction. "The Man of Law's summary catalogue offers a partial and preju-
dicial version of Chaucer's works prior to the Canterbury Tales as a means of
reminding us that if indeed that were all Chaucer had undertaken or ac-
complished, his oeuvre would offer a partial and prejudicial view of poetry's
potential dignity and use."28
Whether or not David and Kolve are right to see the tale as a palinode,
they are right to see the catalog in the Prologue as a display of Chaucer's
awareness of a "conflict of interest" concerning poetry and moral doctrine
(see David, "Man of Law," 225). Chaucer, by having his works named and
having himself depicted as a love poet, draws attention to his role as a ser-
vant of the servants of love, a great Ovid, or at least a new Ovid, who has
surpassed the master by telling more stories of lovers "up and doun" than
Ovid ever did (Man of Law's Introduction, 11. 53ff.). Like Jean de Meun and
Boccaccio, Chaucer plays with his poetic identity, and Ovid stands close by
as a point of comparison. Chaucer knew that he was an Ovidian poet and
that his own vita at times fell into Ovidian patterns. This means that he saw
the need for some sort of reckoning, which we find in the Retraction, to
which finally, in David's well-borrowed phrase, he "does not wish to turn
These literary and biographical parallels provide an interesting context
in which to read Venus's address to Chaucer toward the end of the Confessio
Amantis, an allegorical pilgrimage from youth to old age written by Chaucer's


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

friend John Gower. While banishing from her court the aging Amans, now
identified as John Gower, and sending him where "moral vertu duelleth,"
the Goddess of Love tells Gower to greet Chaucer, her "disciple" and her
"poete," who "in the floures of his youth" made many songs for her sake.
She then calls him, exactly as Chaucer himself refers to Ovid in the House of
Fame, her "owne clerk." Later, Venus says, in Chaucer's "daies olde" when
he must "sette an ende of alle his werk," he must also "make his testament
of love" and be shriven as Amans now is.29 In this inside joke between
Ricardian poets, Gower predicts that Chaucer will be summoned one day
to account for his youthful love poems and will have to confess just as Amans/
Gower has.
Did Gower base his statements on personal knowledge of Chaucer's
career at the time? Was Gower upset by the direction Chaucer had taken in
his poetry, away from the Legend of Good Women to the Canterbury Tales?30 We
do not know. But Gower does apply to Chaucer's life a paradigm that is
central to the medieval vitae of Ovid: part of the standard evaluation of the
amatory poems is, as we have seen, that Ovid produced them in his frivo-
lous youth. Ovid himself makes this clear, telling a friend in the Tristia:
"You know that this old song of mine is a game from my youth. These
verses ought not to be praised, but should, rather, be seen as jests."3' For
Ovid, exile will serve as the final reckoning for his frivolity-he could never
come to the type of shriving that the God of Love demands for Chaucer in
Gower's poem. This pagan/Christian opposition notwithstanding, Gower
was still capable of reading Chaucer's life as a medieval schoolmaster would
read Ovid's.
Furthermore, despite Ovid's distinctly pre-Christian predicament, we
must not forget the legends about Ovid's conversion to Christianity. As Quain
summarizes: "Popular tradition had, on one side, made of him a teacher of
morals, a Christian preacher, and they even 'found' a form of retractatio in
which, having seen the light of Faith, Ovid changed the opening lines of
the Metamorphoses so that it began with an invocation of the Holy Trinity."
The "high point" of this tradition, says Quain, comes in the preface to the
spurious De Vetula, said to have been found in Ovid's tomb: "Ad ultimum
ponit fidem suam tractans egregissime de incarnatione ihesu christi, et de
passion, de resurrection et de ascention et de vita beate marie virginis et
de assumption in caelum" [At the end he placed his faith {in God), draw-
ing passionately on Christ's incarnation, the passion and the resurrection
and the blessed life of the Virgin Mary and her assumption into heaven].32
Whether Gower knew or believed such speculation is not important.
Whether Ovid's life ended in miserable exile or in miraculous retraction,


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

Gower offers the life of a love poet, his own and Chaucer's, that reflects the
paradigm we find both in the Tristia and in medieval evaluations of Ovid's
life. His medieval readers saw Ovid as a frivolous poet in youth, and they
knew that he had to be called to account, in punishment, conversion, or
Scholastic commentary and the Ovidian paradigms played out by ver-
nacular poets portray for Chaucer the burdens and dangers a love poet must
face. Chaucer, as a willing clerk of Venus, could not escape confronting this
paradigm as he took his place in the great host of medieval Ovids. But not
all medieval love poets become Ovids in the same way. As Hexter sees
well, Ovid's story "has the appeal of fiction" and has engaged posterity.
This engagement can take many forms. Chaucer likely assimilated the de-
tails of Ovid's biography as part of his literary inheritance, but he also, of
course, simply loved a good story.
In his autobiographical poems Ovid offers confession, monologue, self-
reflexive discussions of craft, literature, virtue, and the connections between
fiction and its maker. Ovid is aware of his audience and of the power of his
voice. In odd ways his discourse in the Tristia has much in common with
the Pardoner's Prologue, studying "intention" and the effect of texts on both
author and audience. Indeed, in much of the Troilus and in the Canterbury
Tales, Chaucer makes literature as Ovid does, creating a voice that reveals
its history and desires, its virtues and vices, its relations to fortune, justice,
and its own craft. Ovid's biography, as told by scholastic commentary, of-
fered Chaucer a model of the life of a lascivious poet who had to answer for
his crimes. Ovid's poems themselves gave him the dramatic, literary mate-
rial that he could mold in his own way as he became the most prominent
new Ovid in English. It is finally both classical text and medieval gloss that
constitute Chaucer's "life of Ovid" and allow him to shape his own neo-
Ovidian amatory fiction.

Ethice Supponitur

We have seen the central importance of Ovid's "life" in medieval commen-
tary and the various ways Ovid's story could manifest itself in a vernacular
poet's career. The other major facet of the medieval reception of Ovid con-
cerns the poems themselves as "ethical" works, useful in the moral educa-
tion of the Christian reader.33 The accessus adauctores, in addition to provid-
ing the vitae, offer a systematic guide to the ethical interpretation of the
texts they introduce. After the name of the author and of the work, they
uniformly provide an explanation of (1) the work's subject (materia)-for


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

instance, the "boys and girls" addressed by the Ars Amatoria; (2) the occa-
sion-in the case of the Tristia, for example, to "appease Caesar"; (3) the
work's utility (utilitas); and (4) its classification in philosophy-ethics. The
accessus see the Tristia as a story of woe and misery, the utilitas of which is to
teach the reader to avoid the "same mistake" that Ovid made. Ovid's inten-
tion, they say, was to dissuade poets from writing "anything shameful"
[aliquidindignum] through which "they would suffer the same punishment."34
We can understand Chaucer's interest in Ovid's biography because of its
dramatic and narrative appeal, but the interpretive apparatus of the accessus
seems too rigid to have been of any use to a poet of uncertainty and flux.
The fall of a love poet who wallowed in weakness and lust, the stormy
journey into exile, the elegiac laments of the man separated from his faith-
ful wife-we can imagine that Chaucer was enraptured by this. But how
can the ethical grid, the workmanlike, moral classifications of Ovid's words
and deeds, play a role in Chaucer's poetry? The accessus may indeed be
rigid and predictable: the clerical commentators tried to show that Ovid
was an "ethical" poet and should be kept in the curriculum. But they are
also at times provocative, even strangely playful, and can indeed aid us as
we contextualize Chaucer's work. The moral evaluations offered by the
accessus form part of the entanglement of scholastic, theological, and poeti-
cal reactions to the Ars Amatoria that shape Chaucer's "medieval Ovid."
Let us consider the accessus to the Ars Amatoria. The common accessus
tell us that the Ars teaches ethics and gives "a complete guide for loving."
It is a work, as Ghisalberti summarizes, "concerning love, toward the com-
position of an art, designed to establish the foundation of a full and perfect
art of love."35 One commentator, aware that the art of love caused Ovid's
downfall, tells us that the Ars Amatoria was misread. It seems, he says, to
teach adultery (the emperor's claim), but in actuality "it scorns lust and
love and describes how we may love honestly" (Ghisalberti, "Medieval Bi-
ographies of Ovid," 57). If the Ars Amatoria was so healthful and fine a
work, we may wonder why Ovid wrote the Remedia Amoris. To resolve this
contradiction, commentators revise their reading of the Ars Amatoria, claim-
ing now that it fired a destructive passion that led Roman youths to despair
and suicide. In the Remedia, Ovid becomes a divine agent of grace, because
"the ruler of all things did nothing that did not have a remedy" ibidd., 45).36
The schoolmasters, in their "hasty baptism" of pagan authors, knew
how to play with rhetoric and reality, making Ovid serve, in Douglas Bush's
phrase, as "all things to all men."37 Ovid could be a corruptive, lascivious
love poet or an agent of spiritual health. In this fluid interpretive context,
vernacular poets had to evaluate the love poems themselves-in their own


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

poetry. They had to do more than simply follow the interpretive rules es-
tablished by their culture and by the shifting classifications of Ovid's work.
Chaucer read Ovid's poems, the commentaries written between the lines
and up and down the page, and Boccaccio's, Petrarch's, and Jean's Ovid.
Then he turned to confront the poet, to address Ovidian love in his own
artes amatoriae. Chaucer neither swallowed whole, nor could he ignore, ethi-
cal commentary.
But how specific a part did these ethical rules and categories of the
accessus system play in Chaucer's confrontation with Ovid's poems? When
we consider the Troilus, for example, we will want to know what it means
that Chaucer's characters adopt Ovidian doctrines and read life with an
"Ovidian" perspective. Can Ovid's poems actually function as ethics? Can
they teach the young women and men in Chaucer's poetry anything about
love, as the commentaries say they can? If the Remedia Amoris was inspired
by God, can it also help the lovesick, pagan Troilus?
Furthermore, since Chaucer knew Ovid's poems as "ethics," we have
to ask what it meant for Chaucer himself to be a love poet, a "new Ovid."
Did Chaucer see himself as a moral philosopher? If so, was he a successful
one in his own judgment? Did he (and should we) read his own poems as
"ethics," in the way the schoolmasters read Ovid's? Although the accessus
offer no answers to these questions, they do show us that as we study
Chaucer's Ovid and read his medieval Ovidian poetry, we must at least ask


This overview of the medieval scholastic reception of Ovid allows us to
understand some of the basic concerns that Chaucer would have had as he
read and rewrote his favorite poet. We see that Ovid's whole life, the utility
of his works, and their role in his political fortunes would all have been part
of Chaucer's experience of the medieval Ovid. I want to turn to some spe-
cific points raised by the commentaries and by related texts.
One aspect of the medieval Ovid involves what we might generally call
antiovidiana-those texts that teach us that not everyone loved or even
tolerated Ovid in the Middle Ages. Two of Chaucer's contemporaries occa-
sionally offer such anti-Ovidian comments. Petrarch complains that Ovid
acted "womanly" before and after exile and that herein lies the chief defect
of his poems: "That man seems to me to be a great genius, but he was beset
by a prurient and lubricious nature and, ultimately, a female weakness of
spirit."38 As Boccaccio does in his commentary on Dante, Petrarch detects


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Ovid's "female weakness" in the love poems, but Petrarch also criticizes
Ovid for not bearing his misfortunes and exile more bravely. As Hexter
puts it, Petrarch sees Ovid's laments as "one final example of his unmanli-
ness" (Ovid and Medieval Schooling, 97).
At times, medieval authors could attack Ovid by associating him with
their own youthful frivolities and their attraction to both art and love-
crimes that Ovid linked to each other and to himself for ll time. The twelfth-
century abbot, Guibert de Nogent, discusses his misguided adoration of
Ovidian rhetoric, which he links to the wicked stirring of his own fleshly

After steeping my mind unduly in the study of
versemaking, with the result that I put aside for
such ridiculous vanities the matters of universal
importance in the divine pages, I was so far guided
by my folly as to give first place to Ovid and the
pastoral poets and to aim at a lover's urbanity in
distributions of types and in a series of letters.
Forgetting proper severity and abandoning the
modesty of a monk's calling, my mind was led
away by the enticements of a poisonous license.
... By love of it I was doubly taken captive, being
snared by both the wantonness of the sweet words
I took from the poets and by those which I poured
forth myself, and I was caught by the unrestrained
stirring of my flesh through thinking on these
things and the like.39

For Guibert, Ovidian art inspires pride and vile self-indulgence, distracting
the monk from the healing gravity of Scripture. In this paradigm, Ovid is a
dangerous influence whose sweet words lure the holy man from sacred duty.
More severe than Guibert's monastic critique is the attack on Ovid pro-
vided in the anonymous fourteenth-century poem, the Antiovidianus-a text
never before brought to bear upon Chaucer. After dedicating the work to
his master, and before addressing Ovid's corpus, the poet places Ovid's po-
etry in the context of Christian history, linking Ovid's "pleasing verses" to
the false words of the Devil, who tempted man to fall. The poet particu-
larly attacks Ovid for using the beauty of his art to hide his foul and danger-
ous matter-for "gilding dung." "My muse strikes Ovid," he writes, "be-
cause taking up dung, with his shining muse he made it gold, and in his


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

pleasing verses made gall into honey, night into light, death into life, and
labor into rest." Because of this vile duplicity, "[Ovid] wrote nothing that
was not false," and his works "separate the pious from piety."40
This critique of Ovid is an extreme one. An accessus, by contrast, would
never hope that Ovid be "nurtured with the odor of putrid dung" and "re-
freshed by the air that crackles out of his behind" (Kienast, ed., Antiovidianus,
11. 85-86).41 But when we put this critique next to the accessus, we see a vivid
doubleness of attitude toward the Ovidian love poem. On the one hand, we
have its acceptance into the curriculum, and, on the other, its condemna-
tion by Christian writers. This tension is reflected in Chaucer's own accep-
tance of Ovid in his "curriculum" and his final rejection of Ovidian art at
the end of the Troilus. In chapter 4 I will bring this anti-Ovidian attack to
bear on Chaucer's Ovidian Wife of Bath, who takes her own place in the
history of love language and artful rhetoric.
The Antiovidianus also offers a fascinating reading of the poems of ex-
ile: "Nam fles exilium, fles excidium, gemis vrbe / Te pulsum. Non fles, te
quod Avernus habet" [You lament your exile, you lament your downfall;
you groan that you have been driven out of the city. {But} you do not la-
ment yourself, whom Hell has] (11. 121-22). According to the poet, Ovid
was not aware of his spiritual state, and so, misguided and ignorant, he can
only moan. The poet elaborates this point in his evaluation of the Ex Ponto:

Vt tua perlegeres memorando criminal, penam
Hanc dederat iustus tis [sic] miserando deus.
Sed male morbosus, moriturus morte perhenni,
In medium surgis obprobriando deum.
(11. 131-34)

[A just god had given you this punishment so that
you would be exiled remembering your crimes.
But, sick in spirit and about to die an eternal
death, you rise complaining against a healing god.]

The poet does not associate Augustus with the Christian God, but is sensi-
tive to the way Ovid views the emperor, for Ovid himself regularly refers to
Augustus as his "god" while appealing to him for mercy in the Tristia. Not
all commentaries on the Tristia emphasize this point; some merely report
that Ovid sought a pardon he never received. Indeed, reverence for Augustus
is not uniform; some commentaries theorize that Ovid's "error" was seeing


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Augustus with a young boy--thus violating "godes privitee," as it were.42
In juxtaposition to scholastic glosses, then, the Antiovidianus illustrates
the range of interpretation that could be applied to Ovid's exile. We must
wonder if the poet's observation that Ovid's spirit was sick and that the
exile writings offended a "just," "healing god" can help us understand Ovid's
function in Chaucer's career. Hexter, acknowledging that the evidence is
slight and late, cites these lines from the Antiovidianus as part of an associa-
tion of the Tristia with tristitia, the "spiritual sadness that wears men down
and is in direct opposition to the Christian virtue hope."43 To what extent
does Troilus, who wanders in the false "worldes brothelesse," or the Par-
doner, the social, spiritual outcast, suffer from this same sickness of spirit?
Could Chaucer have seen in Ovid's exile an image of despair, a despair that
comes from love-longing or from a love of fallen language?
Since Chaucer's rhetoricians, and Chaucer himself, ultimately consider
the relation between their words and "God," medieval moral condemna-
tions of Ovidian rhetoric must have been part of Chaucer's concern as he
presented characters who spout Ovidian doctrines. Whatever his personal
understanding of Ovid and Augustus, whatever stories he believed, Chaucer
could not have helped seeing that Ovid faced a divine audience and felt
the wrath of divine power. The legends of Ovid's conversion to Christianity
also indicate, from a different perspective, that readers were compelled to
address, in their imaginations, Ovid's connection to the divine.
We witness here a certain confluence of Chaucer's poetry and a Latin
poetic condemnation of Ovid. The Antiovidianus is a uniquely thrilling text,
and I think it repays study. However, in scholastic commentaries we most
often find not confluence but tension between moral philosophy and ver-
nacular poetry. Some commentaries, in an effort to sanitize or rationalize
Ovid, and thus to adopt him gently into a Christian curriculum, often "fal-
sify the poetry," as Ghisalberti starkly puts it.4 Faced with the need to
classify Ovid's love poems as "ethics," one commentary, for example, sees
Ars Amatoria III as a guide for women to "learn how to be retained" by
men.45 The statement is based on Ovid's own description of the work as a
guide for women to learn "to love well so as to avoid being dumped" (my
paraphrase, see Ars III, esp. 41ff.). But the commentary, in its need to clas-
sify, misses the wit, irony, and power of Ovid's art of "arming the Ama-
zons." Ideologically, the commentary fears the strategy that empowers
women and thus makes the poem seem like a simple cosmetic guide. One
would hardly know from reading this gloss that Ovid's poem, among other
things, accuses men of being treacherous and teaches women how to de-
ceive lovers and guardians with notes, tears, and blandishments. The com-


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

mentary restricts meaning and suppresses Ovid's poetry.
By contrast, Jean de Meun's La Vieille and after her Chaucer's Wife of
Bath, as they revise and refocus Ars Amatoria III, take on the power rela-
tions implicit in both Ovid's text and in the commentary and create a new
feminine "ethics" beyond the scope of either Ovid or the accessus. For each
of these mistresses of love, Ars Amatoria III becomes much more than a
book about how women can be retained. When we juxtapose scholastic and
narrative treatments of Ovidian art in this way, we see that "Chaucer's Ovid"
does not directly correspond to academic commentaries but, rather, grows
out of the tensions implicit in his culture's inconsistent approaches to the
poet it alternately adored, studied, and scorned.46
We can see from this brief overview that scholastic commentary can
serve as a useful tool for understanding Chaucer's Ovid. It does not, how-
ever, definitively represent his Ovid, for Ovidian sexual and poetic issues
were fully treated in vernacular poems we know Chaucer studied deeply-
the Filostrato and the Roman de la Rose. Drawing heavily from Ovid, these
poems provide dramatic depictions of love doctrine and of gender and mar-
riage relations that often shadow Chaucer's treatment of Ovid. Our under-
standing of Chaucer's use of Ovid as a source and as an influence must
include his reading of these discourses on, from, and about Ovid in the
books closest to his mind and heart. Both Ovid and Jean de Meun, and
Ovid in Jean de Meun, were indispensable to Chaucer as he created charac-
ters with artistic, social, and sexual ambitions. But Chaucer is writing his
own art of love as he weaves images, ideas, mythic stories, and the names of
actual texts of Ovid in a new poetic universe. Often he develops Boccaccio's
or Jean de Meun's use of Ovid by going back to the original text to create
some tension or irony and to exploit the potentials of the passage, some-
times playing off both immediate and ultimate sources.
My interest in textual interplay is based on my reading of Ovid's love
poems and the particular inheritance they provided these medieval writers.
John Fyler's Chaucer and Ovid views Ovid's works synchronically, as if they
were more or less interchangeable, all pointing to the failure of systems.
Fyler's theme is that both poets offer "skeptical explorations of the sources
of human knowledge."47 One of the strengths of his theory is his provoca-
tive pairing of Ovid and Chaucer against Virgil and Dante, who do see them-
selves as capable of providing answers about the nature of knowledge and
human experience. Chaucer read and understood Ovid and was skeptical
in ways that Virgil and Dante were not.
However, in the Wife's Prologue or in the Troilus, where rhetoric and
sexual/textual power erupt from and around Ovidian texts, we have to look


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

for more than just epistemological worry. In an effort to come to terms with
the shifting material in these, perhaps Chaucer's greatest works, I offer a
reading of Ovidian art, beginning with the playful, magical world of the Ars
Chaucer saw the Ars as a poem not, pace Fyler, about failure but about
infinite success through protean, rhetorical artistry and craft. The scholastic
commentaries state that the Ars offers a "complete art of love." The com-
mentaries do not, however, tell us that this success comes from lying and
from Ovid's infinite control of reality through his control of language. In
almost every piece of advice Ovid offers, we see how craft can overcome
any deficiency or difficulty a young lover may encounter.9 While discuss-
ing seduction strategy, for example, Ovid recommends taking one's lover to
the races and brushing the dust from her dress just to get a chance to touch
her thigh. And if there is no dust, he says, brush it off anyway [tamen excute
nullum] (Ars I, 151). Another plan is to take her to a military procession and
impress her by naming all the heroes. And yet the names need not be the
real ones, so long as they have, in one translator's words, "the ring of truth":s0
"[Say that] this one or that one is a leader, and they will be whatever names
you say; if you can, be truthful; if not, nevertheless say something convinc-
ing.""' These words define Ovidian rhetoric well-things are what you name
them; the act of naming (dicere nomina) controls reality; no external "truth"
need interfere in or prevent this process.52
Along the same lines, Ovid advises men to entreat their women with
promises, because "what harm will there be to promise? Anyone can be
rich with promises" [quid enim promittere laedit? / pollicitis diues quilibet
esse potest] (Ars I, 443-44). As Ovid says elsewhere, always be prepared to
give a gift of words, using the Latin idiom for lying (dare verba). Talk is
cheap, and that is its great benefit, because it can bring success. We see the
same play with "names" in Ovid's advice to tell the woman that "you only
want to be friends" and then maneuver from there: "Let your secret love
sneak in under the name of 'friendship.' I have seen words deceive severe
women in this way. He who was once a friend became a lover."53 "Dare
verba" is Ovid's creed, for words are one's best weapons against the limits
of knowledge and the stubborn elusiveness of the objects of desire.
Words can get one into and also out of love, as Ovid shows in two op-
posing passages from the Ars and the Remedia that sharply display the fluid-
ity of his grand system of illusion and deceit. If your lover is less than ideal,
Ovid says, use names to make her seem attractive, for "faults may be soft-
ened with names" [nominibus mollire licet mala] (Ars II, 657). If she is too
dark, call her "nicely tanned"; if fat, call her "full-figured," and thus "let a


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

vice be hidden in its proximity to good" (1. 661). Ovid reverses the process
in the Remedia. If one wants to fall out of love, he must let beautiful features
be called vices:

profit adsidue uitiis insistere amicae,
idque mihi factum saepe salubre fuit.
"quam mala" dicebam "nostrae sunt crura puellae"
(nec tamen, ut uere confiteamur, erant).
(Remedia, 11. 315-18ff)

[It is useful to dwell continually on the faults of
your girl. This often worked for me. "How ugly," I
would say, "are her legs," even though, to tell the
truth, they were not.]

The physician was sick, but he healed himself with words, turning his
girlfriend's beauty into ugliness.54 Truth is what one says is true, and reality
must answer to the names one gives it. As the master of this system, Ovid
never admits failure, never shows where the game stops. He is forever a
teacher, a doctor, an artist. Problems of love may be endless but so are his
methods.55 In this passage he even uses his own past lovesickness and sor-
row not as signs of weakness or limitation but as selling points for the rem-
edies he is marketing. Ovid is not only the magister amoris, he is also a cli-
Everything is a system; some sort of art comes to the rescue every time.
Although Ovid admits that passion can sometimes force one into submis-
sion to Cupid, he nonetheless creates a remedy for love, a bizarre means of
liberation through excess:

Mollior es neque abire potes uinctusque teneris
et tua saeuus Amor sub pede colla premit:
desine luctari; referant tua carbasa uenti,
quaque uocant fluctus, hac tibi remus eat.
(Remedia, 11. 529-32)

[You are weak and unable to leave; you are held
captive, and cruel Love presses your neck under
his foot. Stop fighting it; give your sails to the
wind. Let your boat go to.wherever the waves call


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Ovid tells his pupil to give up control of his vessel, to make love until he is
beyond need or desire; excessive indulgence eradicates passion:

Explenda est sitis ista tibi, qua perditus ardes:
cedimus; e medio iam licet amne bibas.
sed bibe plus etiam quam quod praecordia poscunt;
gutture fac pleno sumpta redundet aqua.
i, fruere usque tua nullo prohibente puella;
illa tibi noctes auferat, illa dies.
taedia quaere mali: faciunt et taedia finem;
iam quoque, cum credes posse carere, mane,
dum bene te cumules et copia tollat amorem
et fastidita non iuuet esse domo.
(Remedia, 11. 533-42)

[Your thirst, which has made you burn miserably,
must be satisfied. I submit; it's fine to drink from
the middle of the stream. But drink more than
your stomach demands; let the water overflow
from your full throat. Go, enjoy your girl with no
prohibitions; let her steal your days and your
nights. Seek tedium for your woes; even tedium
makes an end. Furthermore, when you think you
are ready to be without her, stay anyway, and while
you fill yourself well, let excess destroy love, and
then her house will seem revolting to you.]

Here Ovid ventures into complex psychological waters, trying to root out
sexual jouissance, to convert it into disgust.56 Sexual revulsion does play a
big part in Ovid's remedies, and medieval medical texts will use disgust as
a cure for lovesickness.57
The efficacy of medieval medicine aside, in Ovid's world of love the
imaginary pupil cannot get hurt because all Ovid's Roman roads lead to
remedy. Even surrender, he contends, ultimately brings victory over pas-
sion. Ovid's boat may go out of control, but as Robert Durling states, "the
effect of such pretenses of doubt and lack of control is obviously a function
of the general pose of absolute control."58 "Since spirits vary," says Ovid,
"we vary our arts, a thousand types of ills, a thousand cures" [Nam quoniam
variant animi, variabimus artes; / mille mali species, mille salutis erunt]
(Remedia, 11. 525-26). In the Ars Amatoria and in the Remedia, Ovid has of-


Chaucer's Life of Ovid

fered a closed, safe world of words in which, as Peter Allen says, "it is pos-
sible to play."59
Ovid's bravado reaches back into mythic history; he would have saved
Phyllis, Dido, and Medea, and would have stopped the Trojan War itself:

uixisset Phyllis, si me foret usa magistro,
et per quod nouies, saepius isset iter.
nec moriens Dido summa uidisset ab arce
Dardanias uento uela dedisse rates,
nec dolor armasset contra sua uiscera matrem,
quae socii damno sanguinis ultra uirum est...
redde Parin nobis, Helenen Menelaus habebit
nec manibus Danais Pergama uicta cadent.
(Remedia, 11. 55-60, 65-66)

[Phyllis would have lived, if she had had me as a
teacher, and would have traveled more often the
road she took nine times. And Dido, dying, would
not have had to see, from the high castle, the
Trojan ships, giving their sails to the wind. Nor
would sorrow have armed the mother against her
children when she sought revenge on her husband
by spilling her own blood. Give me Paris:
Menelaus will have Helen and Troy will not fall to
Danaan hands.]

Of course Ovid knows this is all a game. He tips his hand by telling us that
he could have stopped the Trojan War; he need not admit, in a moment of
sobriety or rhetorical failure, that this is not so.
Ovid discusses the comic essence of the love poems in the Tristia, when
he looks back over his career at the poem that brought him to ruin and
exile. He addresses a "trusted friend":

Utque tibi prosunt artes, facunde, several,
dissimiles illis sic nocuere mihi.
vita tamen tibi nota mea est. Scis artibus illis
auctoris mores abstinuisse sui:
Scis vetus hoc iuveni lusum mihi carmen, et istos,
ut non laudandos, sic tamen esse iocos.
(Tristia I, ix, 57-62)


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

[As your serious art, eloquent friend, is profitable
to you, just so has a different art harmed me.
Nevertheless, you know my life; you know that
the habits of the author remain separate from
these arts. You know that this old song of mine is a
game from my youth. These verses ought not to
be praised, but should, rather, be seen as jests.]

The great drama of Ovid's poetry unfolds, both for Ovid himself and for his
medieval disciple Chaucer, when these "jests" can no longer be isolated in
an amoral world of illusion and artifice.
As we study various characters-Ovid's exiled persona, Pandarus,
Criseyde, Troilus, and the Wife of Bath-we see that dramatic conflict arises
when someone misreads the barriers between art and reality or what we can
call history. When one reads these barriers correctly and can "play the
middle" expertly, as the Wife can, he or she wields great power. The Wife
knows that Ovid's arts are a game, and she becomes expert at the game of
"giving words" in her "real-life" battles with her husbands and with a very
real tradition of antifeminist texts by men. For Troilus, however, tragedy
comes when he takes art too seriously, putting all his hope in a proto-Ovidian
buddy. Conflict in the poem also arises when Troilus eventually refuses to
adjust to change, instead maintaining some sort of "stedfastnesse" and
"trouthe." In Ovid's and in Chaucer's poetry, Ovidian "art" fails when the
rules of the universe seem to change before a character's eyes and verbal
craft simply does not do what it should. Characters who think they live in
the world of the Ars Amatoria find that they live in the Metamorphoses.
Ovid himself creates just such a new, uncaring universe both in his
"book of bodies changed" and in his exile poetry. The Metamorphoses is in
many ways about failed artists-Daedalus, Arachne, Orpheus-and in the
Tristia and the Ex Ponto, no words can halt the poet's tragic sorrows. As
Chaucer shapes his own poetic universe he accordingly draws from the
Metamorphoses, and, to a lesser degree, from the exile corpus, by reference,
parallel, and allusion. In this way Chaucer balances the infinite verbal pre-
tensions of his characters and reflects in his own works the movement from
game to earnest, from locus to severus, that he saw in Ovid's poems and knew
clearly from the Ovidian vitae. As a medieval Christian reader of Ovid,
Chaucer was compelled to address this dramatic conflict and to confront
human rhetoricity and desire in a world of revealed truth. But since he was
a vernacular poet, a "new Ovid," and a self-appointed clerk of Venus, to do
so must also have been his passion and his joy.


Love, Change, and Ovidian
"Game" in the Troilus
Books I and II

He that me broghte first unto that game,
Er that he dye, sore have he and shame!
For it is ernest to me, by myfeith.
Canon's Yeoman's Prologue, VIII, 11. 708-10

What Else Chaucer Did

T THE OPENING of the Troilus, the narrator, ap-
pealing to the fury Tisiphone for inspiration, calls
Himself the "sorwful instrument, / that helpeth
lovers ... to pleyne." He continues:

For I, that God of Loves servantz serve,
)Ne dar to Love, for myn unliklynesse,
Preyen for speed, al sholde I therefore sterve,
So fer am I from his help in derknesse.
But natheles, if this may don gladnesse
To any lovere, and his cause availle,
Have he my thonk, and myn be this travaille!
(Book I, 11. 15-21)

iHere, at the outset, Chaucer draws attention to him-
self s a servant of the servants of the pagan God of
Love He depicts his work as a source of comfort
that may help those who have suffered for love and
"availle" their "cause." It is not clear how exactly
the poem will help lovers to "pleyne" or do them
any "gladnesse," but certainly the stanza promises
some sort of succor for lovers-the chosen audience
of a poet who has cast himself as their servant.


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Ovid opens the Ars Amatoria and the Remedia Amoris with similar claims
to provide succor for lovers. "If anyone in town does not know the art of
love, let him read this and, guided by my song, let him love" (Ars, 11. 1-2).'
The Remedia says: "Come to me for precepts, deceived youths, all you whom
love has betrayed" (Remedia, 11. 41-42).2 In the lines preceding this offer,
Ovid displays his commitment to be a servant of the servants of love when
he negotiates, successfully, with this very God of Love simply for permis-
sion to compose this book of cures for those in pain.
Planning "art" and "remedy," Ovid offers "precepts"; Chaucer, com-
fort and advocacy. These self-appointed servants perceive that lovers need
help, and they set out to provide it. Each promises to improve the lover's
lot, to bring ease where there is pain. As we consider Chaucer's Ovidianism
in the Troilus, we must wonder if Chaucer's aid will take the form of Ovidian
"art" or "remedy." Will this new Ovidian servant of lovers teach strategy or
cure? Will he use Ovid's own texts? How will we measure his success in
antique romance against Ovid's in amatory elegy? Has Ovid offered, in
Chaucer's view, universal ethical precepts, as the commentaries claim?
To get at these questions, we must first examine the Troilus and its
immediate and primary source, Boccaccio's Filostrato. Chaucer's adaptation
of the Italian poem reveals how he read and absorbed Ovid's instructional
works and brought them to bear on the ancient story. By studying Chaucer's
"translation" of the Filostrato, we will see how the actual texts and the vari-
ous medieval manifestations of Ovid serve Chaucer as he fashions his story
of the many "arts of love" practiced by Pandarus, Criseyde, and Troilus.
Putting Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer side by side throws "Chaucer's Ovid"
into relief and shows us Ovid's role in Chaucer's medieval Christian vision.
Studying Chaucer's sources, critics have worked hard to determine
"what Chaucer really did" to the Filostrato. The general thrust of this schol-
arship has been to assess how Chaucer intensified Boccaccio's poem, mak-
ing it more serious, vehement, and philosophically profound. Generally,
critics argue that there is much more at stake in Chaucer's poem, that we
are on a deeper level of discourse.3 But what does Ovid, particularly the
frivolous poet of the artes of love, have to do with this Chaucerian intensifi-
One of the most prominent recent students of the two poems, Barry
Windeatt, explores what he calls the "paynted process" by which Chaucer
translates Boccaccio.4 Windeatt explains that though dramatically the
Filostrato is close to the surface of Chaucer's Troilus, the character and the
implications of the poem have been thoroughly reshaped by Chaucer's art
of translation and interpolation. Chaucer consistently intensifies the


Books I and II of the Troilus

Filostrato by adding references to death and sorrow and by emphasizing the
"contrast between the lovers' assumptions and the nature of reality" ("Ital-
ian to English," 100). Windeatt tells us that there is more weeping in
Chaucer's text, more "intensified contrasts and antitheses," a greater inter-
est in nature and in the "process" of the characters' inward feelings ibidd.,
79, 90-91, 85). Windeatt notices too that Chaucer has added an "Ovidian
sense of a universe implicit with a historic texture of personal unhappi-
ness" ibidd., 99), finding a natural, historical literary framework for the emo-
tional process his characters-as opposed to Boccaccio's more static ver-
sions-must undergo.
Windeatt is right to describe part of what is going on as Ovidian, for in
the process of edievalizing" the Italian story and making it more grave
and vehement, Chaucer also, to coin an ugly word, "Ovidianizes" it, by
alluding to and echoing passages from Ovid. Chaucer's characters seem to
turn to Ovidian rhetoric to attempt to calm flux and harness love-as
Shakespeare's Cleopatra so perfectly puts it, to "shackle accidents an bolt
up change." Armed with Ovidian handbooks, they combat an unpredict-
able Ovidian universe.5 Boccaccio certainly brought Ovid into the story of
Troilus, but Chaucer, as we will see, develops and expands Boccaccio's use
of Ovid. Through such additions, Chaucer brings to the fore a conflict that
in Boccaccio's poem is only embryonic and not specifically Ovidian: the
struggle between protean rhetorical strategy and the grievous world of flux
and mutability, in Chaucer's terms, between "game" and "ernest."
As we study how Chaucer brought Ovid into the Troilus, we must also
notice the special significance of Chaucer's allusions to the Metamorphoses,
for the Filostrato includes virtually no references to the sufferers in Ovid's
epic.6 By tracing the evolving role of Ovid's poems in the Troilus, we see
how Chaucer presents two separate attitudes toward love and art, attitudes
exemplified by two Ovids: the young, brash, urbane poet of the Ars Amatoria
and the older victim of impending, or imposed, exile in the Metamorphoses
and the Tristia. By using cruel fortune to temper the playful rhetorical world,
Chaucer asks if Ovid's love manuals will be of any value in the world of the
"metamorphoses." The poem shows that though the characters constantly
employ rhetoric to counter flux, rhetoric, due to its limitations, becomes
part of the problem and fails to deliver more than mere temporary success
and safety.7
The focus of this conflict is really Troilus. In his lovesickness, he turns
to the Ovidian Pandarus for help, but Troilus does not want to live and love
by quick fixes and clever scams, does not want to see everything as "game."
We have to wonder, finally, if his fidelity to "trouthe" is wisdom or foolish-


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

ness. Is there something wrong with Troilus or, rather, with everyone else
in his universe? All the characters in this poem struggle and suffer, bur-
dened by fear, war, and impending doom. Yet Pandarus and Criseyde seem
to know so much more about living in this world than Troilus does. Even if
we do not speak of his death, Troilus suffers more than anyone else in the
poem. What is it that prevents him from attaining happiness and success?
/Perhaps life would be easier for Troilus if he could believe that the
on'problem in the world was "finding a girl" and that the solution to los-
ing a girl was simply to "find another." To Pandarus, these are the only
problems, the only possible ones he can recognize. Because of his Ovidian
literary genealogy, Pandarus is not designed to address human desire on
any other level. For thousands of lines, however, Troilus has no way of know-
ing this. He does not know what Pandarus-or, for that matter, Criseyde-
really is. Chaucer's entire poem, his art of love, is in many ways the story of
Troilus's education, and the lessons it teaches go far beyond what we hear
in the snappy epigrams of Ovid's original artes amatoriaeThe rest of this
chapter examines Ovidian game as both Pandarus and Criseyde employ it
in the first two books of the poem. Rhetorical play and protean strategy
distinctively mark Chaucer's rendering of Boccaccio's story. But Chaucer
also works here to prepare us for the onset of earnest that will overwhelm
the hopes of the lovers and finally dispel Troilus's illusions.

Learned and "Lewed"

With one notable exception, the main characters in the Troilus are examples
of homo rhetoricus orfemina rhetoric, relying on craft and confident that their
art will create or amend reality as needed. Discussing the Ars Amatoria in
The Motives of Eloquence, Richard Lanham describes this art and its boasts:
"The ability to construct reality... is finally a skill, a talent, a principle of
dynamic balance against change" (51). Lanham's words apply equally well
to the Troilus, where a character's ability to manipulate events is based on
his or her rhetorical skills. In the Troilus this ability most often depends,
seemingly, on how much Ovid the character has read and can employ.
Chaucer showcases various characters' Ovidian power throughout the
work, but one thing remains constant: Troilus's inability to employ language
as effectively as the others do, forcing him to rely on and be controlled by
their games and rhetorical power. John Speirs has called Troilus the "least
Chaucerian of the trio," and to this we must add that he is the least Ovidian,
too. Troilus suffers in this poem, ultimately, because he pledges and main-
tains "trouthe" (see III, 1296ff.). However we may see that insistence sub


Books I and II of the Troilus

specie aeternitatis, belief in "trouthe" has no place in an Ovidian universe.
This issue of "trouthe" brings up a question we will have to confront: In
what kind of poetic world has Chaucer set his Trojan "art of love"? Is it a
world of fiction and Ovidian play, like the Ars Amatoria, or a world in which
history and "reality" confound play and verbal fantasy, as they do in Ovid's
later poetry? Perhaps that depends on a given character's perspective, and
on that character's apparent Ovidian learning.
As he shapes the world of the poem, Chaucer takes pains to show that
Troilus, for one, has not read much Ovid. The first explicit indication of his
ignorance comes as Pandarus, explaining his own unhappy love life, asks
Troilus if he has read Oenone's letter to Paris, the one that tells how Apollo's
medicinal powers fail to heal the god's own love wounds. "Nay never yet,
ywys" (I, 657), Troilus replies, because unlike learned Pandarus he has not
read Ovid's Heroides, from which Oenone's letter comes (Heroides V). The
scene does not occur in Boccaccio's poem. A few stanzas later, using a refer-
ence that also has no parallel in the Filostrato, Pandarus tells the young
lover that it is fruitless to weep over his sorrows "as Nyobe the queene, /
Whos teres yet in marble been yseene" (I, 699-70). When Troilus finally
responds, he expresses his distaste for Pandarus's proverbs and learned al-
lusions: "What knowe I of the queene Nyobe?/ Lat be thyne olde
ensaumples" (11. 759-60). Already we see a clear patter) Pandarus, in his
use of mythic exempla and in his self-characterization as the "ick physi-
cian" of love, adopts the voice of the Ovidian love counselor. Troilus, on
the other hand, is the young student, uneasy, but in dire need of instruction
in the basics.1
Later, i an amateurish attempt at constructing a fanciful alibi for his
whereabouts, Troilus incorrectly refers to Apollo speaking from the laurel
(in Ovid's story it is Daphne who is so transformed). Winthrop Wetherbee
considers the "elaborate" nature of the alibi, its awkward details, and its
passionate closing couplet as evidence of "spontaneity," "urgency," and the
"spiritual tendency of Troilus's feelings," providing "vivid insight into the
instinctively religious element" of Troilus' character. Windeatt claims that
the error is Chaucer's and indicates that the poet "is less interested in the
details of what happened in the classical story than in evoking the kind of
personified natural world where trees are alive with gods."8 But given
Troilus's statements about Niobe and Oenone's letter, I think we are to see
his alibi as further evidence of his amateur rank as a verbal artist. Pandarus
knows his Ovid well, as does Criseyde, who later quotes from the very let-
ter that Pandarus has asked Troilus about (IV, 1548ff.). Since none of these
references, to Oenone, Niobe, or Apollo and Daphne, is in the Filostrato,


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

we see that Chaucer is adding to Boccaccio's poem an Ovidian vocabulary
that develops an important contrast between Pandarus's knowledge and
Troilus's ignorance.
In accord with Chaucer's distribution of Ovidian learning, Troilus has
not read the Ars Amatoria either. Even though Ovid advises young men to
seek women in temples, Troilus goes there to scorn the lovers and only
accidentally catches sight of the enchanting Criseyde. Chaucer makes Troilus
a prime subject for an Ovidian counselor by denying him the romantic ex-
perience that Troilo has in Boccaccio's poem and denying him Troilo's
Boethian awareness of mutability.9 Contemplating the initiation of this new
affair, Boccaccio's hero wonders:

Che e a porre in donna alcuno more?
Che come al vento si volge la foglia,
Cosi in un di ben mille volte il core
Di lor si volge ...
O felice colui che del piacere
Lor non 6 preso, e sassene astenere!
(Filostrato I, 22)

[Why give love to any woman? For even as the leaf
flutters in the wind, so in one day, fully a thousand
times, do their hearts change.... Oh, happy is he
who is not caught by their delights and can hold
himself aloof.]'0

Troilus has no such insight but says only that he has heard of the woes of
getting, maintaining, and, ultimately, losing a woman:

I have herd told, pardieux, of you're lyvynge,
Ye lovers, and you're lewed observaunces,
And which a labour folk han in wynnynge
Of love, and in the kepyng which doutaunces;
And whan you're prey is lost, woo and penaunces.
O very fooles, nyce and blynde be ye!
Ther nys nat oon kan war by other be.
(I, 197-203)

The game of love is going to be new to Troilus, whose swaggering scorn is
no substitute for experience. And in his testimony here he unconsciously
refers to the Ovidian program that Pandarus will put him through, for his

Books I and II of the Troilus

three-part statement reflects the function of Ars I, Ars II, and the Remedia,
respectively. Somewhere he has heard of the woes of winning, keeping,
and losing love, but he has no idea of what is in store for him, no idea that
Pandarus will become those texts to try to help him adjust to every fluctua-
tion in the game of love. It seems that Chaucer wants to prepare us for
Troilus's detailed lessons and eventual suffering because of these specific
texts designed to aid a lover at each stage.
In line with these changes to Boccaccio's poem, Chaucer transforms a
passage in which Boccaccio describes Troilo's engagement and even de-
light at the prospect of his love. After Troilo is smitten, Boccaccio tells us:
"He was anxious only to cure his amorous wounds, and to the task he now
devoted his every thought and in it he found his delight" [Sol di curar
I'amorose ferute / Sellecito era, e quivi ogni intelletto / Avea posto, all' affanno
ed il diletto] (I, 44). Chaucer's Troilus, however, only desires that "she of
him wolde han compassion, / And he to ben hire man while he may dure.
/ Lo, here his lif, and from the deth his cure" (I, 467-69). The English
eliminates Troilo's sense of action, intellection, and delight, all of which
indicate control and confidence independent of his reliance on Pandaro.
Chaucer eliminates thisjouissance, expressing instead Troilus's fear and anxi-
ety. Chaucer wanted not a veteran to play his Troilus, but a novice, a iuvenis,
like those whom Ovid teaches. Throughout the poem Chaucer continually
distinguishes Troilus by his unfamiliarity with Ovid, keeping him out of
step with other characters, making him the poorest strategist in the poem,
and, most important, making him the object of the learning and rhetoric
used by others. As the "game" of love unfolds in these first two books, we
see that Troilus is at best a poor player.

Uncle Amoris

Just as Chaucer emphasizes Troilus's ignorance of Ovid, he correspond-
ingly reveals Pandarus's vast Ovidian wisdom, as we have already seen in
Pandarus's use of the Heroides and his reference to Niobe. And like the
Ovid of the love poems, Pandarus is experienced and expert, though not
always himself successful." His familiarity with Ovid makes him, in the
early books of the poem, an Ars Amatoria incarnate that provides the neces-
sary advice and stratagems for the young lover to win the woman. He is the
author of "game," and the drama of the poem hinges on his imagined vision
of love and truth.
Pledging his loyalty and his aid, Pandarus tells Troilus: "Wherfore I
am, and wol ben, ay redy / To peyne me to do yow this servyse" (I, 989-90).

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

The offer originates in the Filostrato, where Pandaro, also admitting he is
unlucky in love, makes a similar promise (I, 28). But Pandarus's next advice
comes not from Boccaccio but from Ovid, and from an unexpected Ovidian
source at that. Pandarus tells the young, sorrowing lover that though Criseyde
is now his woe, she may soon be the cause of his joy:

For thilke grownd that bereth the wedes wikke
Bereth ek this holsom herbes, as ful ofte
Next the foule netle, rough and thikke,
The rose waxeth swoote and smothe and softe.
(I, 946-49)

The image comes from the Remedia, where Ovid tells his pupils that the
same poet who taught love can now teach the cures for the wounds they
may have suffered. The students should not be concerned about this seem-
ing paradox because "the earth nourishes herbs both healthful and harm-
ful, and the nettle is often next to the rose" [terra salutares herbas eademque
nocentes / nutrit, et urticae proxima saepe rosa est] (Remedia, 45-46).
Ovid here addresses, as we saw earlier, "deceived youths ... whom
love has betrayed" and who need healing. In Chaucer's passage Pandarus,
like Ovid, pretends to be the master of paradox, deftly dancing on the bor-
der between rose and nettle. But this early in the poem the voice of "rem-
edy," particularly a remedy for those betrayed by their love, strikes an omi-
nous note. Pandarus unconsciously points us toward Troilus's betrayal and
the need for a "remedy" before the lovers have even met. We begin to
wonder all too early just whether Pandarus can keep the rose and the nettles
separate and keep Troilus safe, both now and also when the need for rem-
edy really arises. We also begin to wonder what kind of art of love this poem
will be and how it will "availle" the cause of lovers, as Chaucer has prom-
ised. Is Pandarus the vehicle of comfort and aid?
If he is, then this comfort, for Troilus and for eager listening lovers,
comes in the form of game. As part of his complex Ovidian identity, Pandarus,
unlike his Italian counterpart Pandaro, flaunts a specific interest in "game."
When Troilus blushes before finally revealing the name of his beloved,
Pandarus cries out, "Here bygynneth game" (I, 868), a line that has no coun-
terpart in Boccaccio. In the Filostrato, Pandaro is a good companion and a
useful go-between, helping his friend and peer. He and Troilo are two Tro-
jan youths, eager for war and love. But Pandaro is no Ovidian artist, and,
accordingly, he will employ none of Pandarus's mechanisms, the rumors
about Criseyde or the meeting at Deiphebus's house. Pandarus's words and


Books I and II of the Troilus

actions display the important gap between Troilus's hope for truth and
Pandarus's own addiction to play. He later uses "game" twice, as Chaucer
transforms Pandaro's friendly pledge of support into an ambivalent scheme.
Discussing his role in the lives of the lovers, Pandarus says he has "bigonne
a game pleye" (III, 250) and has acted "Bitwixen game and ernest" (III,
254).12 Unlike his counterpart, the worried Pandaro, he makes no indignant
mention of the disgrace of having thrown his honor to the ground; he is not
concerned with honor, with losing or gaining it.
Troilus's anxious worry and Pandarus's love of play develop a tension
between the two men that will become most powerful as they each react to
Criseyde's departure later in the poem. Chaucer heralds this conflict early
on, by giving Pandarus his stark and ominous declaration, "Here bygynneth
game." The poem progresses to the point at which Troilus sees the folly of
this Ovidian-Pandarian game. Like the hapless Yeoman quoted in the epi-
graph to this chapter, he will sadly lament, "It was no game to me."
To develop this dramatic tension elsewhere in Book I, Chaucer em-
ploys images and ideas from Ovid's love manuals and at the same time chal-
lenges their ability to combat the God of Love and the heavy change he
brings. In the "Bayard the horse" passage, for example, completely Chaucer's
addition to Boccaccio's story, the narrator compares Troilus's inevitable sub-
mission to Love to the horse's submission to the law of the whip:

As proude Bayard gynneth for to skippe
Out of the weye, so pryketh hym his corn,
Til he a lasshe have of the long whippe-
Than thynketh he, "Though I praunce al byforn
First in the trays, ful fat and newe shorn,
Yet am I but an hors, and horses lawe
I moot endure, and with me fees drawe"-
(I, 218-24)

Troilus, who never imagined that any force could control him "ayeyns his
wille" must suddenly fall "subgit unto love" (I, 225ff.). The scene recalls
Ovid's own many battles with the Goof Love. Early in the first book of
the Amores, Ovid concedes that he must surrender to Cupid, just as oxen
and horses must surrender to yoke and bit (Amores I, ii, 13-16). At this point
in the Amores, brash Cupid had just routed Ovid's plans to write epic by
"lopping off a foot" from his hexameter, reducing Ovid's second verse to
pentameter and turning his epic into elegy. Similarly, Ovid also counters
Cupid at the outset of the Remedia, where the god grudgingly allows Ovid


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

to save poor stricken lovers as long as he promises not to defame love itself.
Despite all these defeats, in the Ars Amatoria itself Ovid is the one who
makes the rules, equating humble ox and horse not with submissive lovers
but with Love himself:

Sed, tamen et tauri ceruix oneratur aratro,
frenaque magnanimi dente teruntur equi:
et mihi cedet Amor.
(Ars I, 19-21)

[But nevertheless, even the ox's neck must feel
the weight of the plows, and the bit is chafed by
the teeth of the proud horse. And thus even Love
must submit to me.]

In light of Ovid's battles with Cupid, how can we read Troilus's encounter?
Chaucer's image gives Love, not craft, the upper hand, indicating that the
Troilus is not set in a rhetorical, Ovidian world where art harnesses Love. In
the Filostrato at this same juncture Boccaccio only warns his readers that
"worldly minds are blind" and "often do things fall out not at all as we
planned" (I, 25; see Troilus I, 211ff.). As Troilus falls in love, Chaucer ex-
presses the events in particularly Ovidian terms, amplifying Boccaccio's
concern for failure and hinting that the "art of love" we are going to wit-
ness, unlike Ovid's, may not work.13
Throughout Ovid's love poems, Cupid polices the world of lovers and
shows Ovid, as he shows Troilus, that his bow is not broken (Troilus I, 208).
Accordingly, Ovid pays his respects to him from time to time. But it is all
play. Ovid offers contradictory accounts of his love battles in the Ars and
the Amores because his is the realm of infinite verbal possibility, a world of
poetic "pro wrestling," just for show with a new winner every week. At one
moment Love has mastered Ovid, and at the next he has torn off his yoke
and proudly slapped it on the neck of his would-be conqueror. Anything
goes. Ovid's poetry teaches the art of love not only to men but also to the
women whom he has just taught the men how to deceive. He offers a guide
to finding love, and also a remedy if one has found love too distressing. He
covers every angle and fearlessly embraces contradiction. Chaucer loves
game too, but in the Troilus he wants to know the limits of rhetorical arts,
and he seeks to define the boundaries of game. Trouble begins, then, when
Troilus believes that Ovidian strategy can really bring him truth in love,


Books I and II of the Troilus

when he tries to makes several out of iocos and earnest out of game, an error
that lies at the heart of his experience in the poem.'4

Seize the Day

In Book II as Pandarus continues to "play," Chaucer prepares us for Fortune's
turn and the imminent sorrowful "changes" of the later books. To convince
Criseyde to welcome Troilus's love, Pandarus uses Ovid's argument about
the frailty of beauty:

Thenk ek how elde wasteth every houre
In ech of yow a parties of beautee;
And therefore, er that age the devoure,
Go love; for old, their wol no wight of the.
(II, 393-96)

Pandarus knows Ovid's warning that "beauty is a fragile good" that "de-
clines with time and is consumed by its own duration" (Ars II, 113-14).15
His following warning that "crow's feet" (Troilus II, 403) will appear under
Criseyde's eyes is modeled on Ovid's image of "wrinkles that furrow your
flesh" [rugae, quae tibi corpus aren't] (Ars II, 118) as the hair turns gray and
the body gives way to age.16 These warnings have their parallel in the
Filostrato, but Boccaccio makes no mention of crow's feet. Chaucer recog-
nized Boccaccio's use of Ovid and then went back to Ovid's text to explore
possibilities that Boccaccio was not interested in developing. His addition
of an Ovidian detail here illustrates the overall process we have been trac-
ing and indicates that Chaucer was working not only from Boccaccio's text
but from Ovid's too.
We also learn something about the origins of rhetoric. At this point in
the Ars Amatoria, Ovid tells young men that they need more than fleeting
beauty to win a lover. A man should thus cultivate himself, learn "two lan-
guages" [duas linguas] or be "articulate" [facundus] like Ulysses, who,
though not handsome, captivated Calypso with his tales of Troy (Ars II,
12 1ff.). Ovidian eloquence arises from this need to compensate for the tran-
sience of physical beauty. Would-be lovers need something more flexible
and reliable. Pandarus, facundus as any man, turns to rhetoric to counter
whatever instability befalls him and the lovers he serves. Both he and his
master Ovid believe that words can overcome experience.
The context and implications of Pandarus's "carpe diem" message,
however, differ from Ovid's. Ovid fashions the capable young lover and in


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

the process mentions the limits of beauty as a tool in the game. Protean
flexibility will amend this easily enough; Odysseus did it and so can any-
one. Age, misery, even the Trojan War itself are no match for Ovid's art.
Chaucer, however, insists that they are. Pandarus speaks more urgently than
the Ovidian master does, depicting a race against time and age, particularly
in the imperative "Go love" and in the active verbs "wasteth" and
Most significant, in the Filostrato, Pandaro's version of this Ovidian
argument actually works. Criseida agrees with Pandaro and immediately
asks for further report of Troilo:

"Alas," said Criseida, "thou sayest truly. Thus do
the years carry us away little by little; and most do
die ere they tread the path of love to the end. But
now leave thinking of this and tell me if I can yet
have the solace and sport of love, and in what
manner thou didst first take note of Troilus."
(Gordon, "The Story of Troilus," 46)

Criseyde's reaction to Pandarus's version of the same warning offers not
agreement but sorrow and anxiety:

With this he stynte, and caste down the heed,
And she began to breste a-wepe anoon,
And seyde, "Allas, for wo! Why nere I deed?"
(II, 407-9)

Chaucer creates this contrast by doing some smart cutting and pasting with
the Filostrato. He has shifted and intensified Criseida's tearful concern for
her honor from Filostrato II, 47, to make it directly follow Pandarus's dis-
cussion of beauty's transience. Boccaccio uses Ovidian doctrine as a suc-
cessful incitement for Criseida to give in; to Pandaro, to her, and to the
narrator, it simply makes sense. By contrast, Chaucer's "edition" of the epi-
sode investigates how the characters respond to change and examines the
emotional cost of their responses.17
Pandarus's letter-writing instructions to Troilus work similarly, for here
also Chaucer plays with the Ovidian context of Pandarus's counsel in order
to convey a heightened sense of urgency. In the Filostrato, even though
Pandaro advises Troilo to write to Criseida, he offers no stylistic guidelines.
Pandarus's advice that Troilus keep his letters free of condescension and


Books I and II of the Troilus

learned pretension, however, is sound craft from the Ars Amatoria (I, 459
ff.) with an added detail borrowed from the Heroides (III, 3):

Towchyng thi lettre, thou art wys enough.
I woot thow nylt it dygneliche endite,
As make it with this arguments tough;
Ne scryvenyssh or craftily thow it write;
Biblotte it with thi teres ek a lite;
And if thow write a goodly word al softe,
Though it be good, reherce it nought to ofte.
(II, 1023-29)

His warning that Troilus not write "dygneliche," "scryvenyssh or craftily"
translates Ovid's advice not to use legalistic "labored words" [molesta verba]
and not to be "too eloquently highbrow" [in front disertus]'8 for fear of
seeming pompous. Pandarus knows Ovid well, but further comparison to
the original Ovidian text adds an interesting twist to this sequence in
Chaucer's art of love. Ovid's advice ends as he encourages his pupil to re-
main confident even if the woman either "will not accept your letter or
sends it back unread" [si non accipiet scriptum inlectumque remittet] (Ars
I, 469). Troilus too fears the "return to sender" stamp on his letter, for he
asks Pandarus what to do if Criseyde "nolde it for despite receive" (Troilus
II, 1049). Ovid and Pandarus, the officiating doctors of love in these respec-
tive texts, respond to this problem differently, and their responses illustrate
the new context that Chaucer has given Ovid.
Ovid tells his student that if the woman refuses the letter, he should
keep trying because all things change in time. Be patient, he says, because
"though you see it took a long time for Troy to fall, nevertheless it did fall"
[capta vides sero Pergama, capta tamen] (Ars I, 478). Ovid advises his stu-
dents to look forward to victory, but since Troilus is a Trojan, Chaucer can-
not use this historical example of the rewards of patience.9 By having
Pandarus adopt Ovid's letter-writing advice but not this image of conquest,
or from a Trojan perspective defeat, Chaucer again juxtaposes Ovidian art
and cold, uncaring history. What sounds so hopeful in Ovid's poem becomes
ironic and ominous in Chaucer's. This shift from victory to defeat is em-
blematic of Chaucer's use of Ovid's love poetry throughout the Troilus. The
fall of Troy, stripped of epic solemnity and gravity by Ovid's playful opti-
mism, becomes powerful and pathetic once again in the Troilus.
When the letter is written, Pandarus promises to hand deliver it and
ensure a response: "For by that Lord that formed est and west, / I hope of


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

it to bryng answer anon / Right of hire hond" (II, 1053-55). Just as when
he drags Troilus into bed with Criseyde, Pandarus takes an active, almost
desperate approach to love, displaying once again an urgency that we do
not sense in Ovid's poem. Pandarus tries to leave no room for error; he
walks through every step with his pupil, almost obsessed with guarantee-
ing each detail of the pursuit. Pandarus is an "ars," but he is not exactly
Ovid's Ars because Chaucer toys with Pandarus's Ovidian roots to create a
less assured doctor amoris, working in a less secure world, and teaching a
more passionate and ultimately less malleable young man.

Helenic Art

Book II sees the rise of another Ovidian whose rhetorical skills continue to
develop the tension between Ovidian art and Chaucerian drama. Through-
out the book, Criseyde's words echo those of Ovid's Helen in her letter to
Paris (Heroides XVII); here she vacillates between indignation and passion-
ate submission as she debates accepting the Trojan Paris's love. The com-
plex resonances of this Helenic language allow Chaucer to bring into the
poem a greater sense of history and also to develop Criseyde as a skillful
Ovidian. Helen's epistle is at once part of the history of Troy, part of Ovid's
poetic project of telling a new history of women, and, for medieval scholas-
tic commentators, part of Ovid's ethical project of stigmatizing base de-
sire.20 The Helen of the Heroides would have been many things to Chaucer:
a sign of doom; a source of verbal power and art; and also an example, ac-
cording to the accessus, of "corrupt desire" amorr incestus].21
Chaucer folds these conflicting identities into his inherited material as
he simultaneously empowers Criseyde and undermines her power by lo-
cating it in history-in the tragic history of Troy. This "power" arises be-
cause the Heroides, not formally part of the Ars Amatoria, share many fea-
tures with it and in many ways create the same sealed world of free play.
The Heroides take part in Ovid's plan to "arm the Amazons" (Ars III) and
must be seen in the context of his comprehensive study of men and women
negotiating desire through language.
Chaucer subtly, but unmistakably, associates Criseyde and Helen. These
parallels insist that it is dangerous to consider either woman "fidelem,"
because they both respond to change with change, adjusting to new situa-
tions expediently.22 Criseyde's concern for keeping her "honour sauf" (see
Troilus II, 479 ff.; III, 159), fear of fickle, deceitful men (II, 786-87), and her
dubious claim that she is new at love-letter writing (II, 1212ff.), all appear


Books I and II of the Troilus

in Helen's text."2 The first two have analogues in Boccaccio,24 but her claim
about letter writing is Chaucer's own addition from Ovid's poem:

"Depardieux," quod she, "God leve al be wel!
God help me so, this is the first lettre
That evere I wroot, ye, al or any del."
(Troilus II, 1212-14)

Examining these parallels, one critic argues that Criseyde learns from
Helen how to act without acting and how to decide without deciding.25
Such a view is by no means anachronistic, for as Hexter has shown, at least
one medieval commentary on the Heroides displays an appreciation for
Helen's rhetorical art. The commentary states: "[Helen] speaks as a lover
because now she wants to and now she doesn't."z6 This insightful and sen-
sitive comment allows us to broaden our view of the commentary tradition
on Ovid's poem, seeing that medieval teachers were not restricted to a dry
moral interpretation of the letters as promotions of chaste love or criticisms
of impure [incestus] love. It is useful and important for our analysis of
Criseyde to npte that Helen commonly exemplifies the latter.7 However,
the clever commentator could go deeper, discovering the verbal arts and
strategies that make a character an accomplished lover and a skilled rheto-
Ovid's Helen and Chaucer's Criseyde are both. Although taken aback
by their respective suitor's advances, neither is unaware of her own beauty.
Criseyde says she is "oon the faireste, out of drede" (II, 746), recalling
Helen's claims that though she may doubt Paris, it is "not because I lack
confidence or because I am unaware of my appearance" [non quod fiducia
desit, / aut mea sit faces non bene nota mihi] (XVII, 37-38). Accordingly
both Ovid and Chaucer give their heroines an appreciation and appetite for
men, expanding their historical, literary identities and giving them inde-
pendent will and "taste." Criseyde does not fail to notice Troilus's "shap,"
as her spontaneous intoxication upon seeing him makes clear, and Helen
recognizes the mutual attraction that captivates her and Paris: "My hus-
band is away, and you too sleep alone, and we are seized in turn by each
other's beauty" [Et vir abest nobis, et tu sine coniunge dormis, / inque vicem
tua me, te mea forma capit] (XVII, 179-80). This extraordinary verse wraps
the lovers together between their possessive pronouns.
Helen adds that Paris's beauty just might lead her to forget her mod-
esty and surrender, since, though he pretends he is a warrior, he is really
made for love: "Perhaps, forgetting shame, I might become wise and, fi-


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

nally conquered, give my hesitating hands" [Aut ego deposit sapiam fortasse
pudore / Et dabo cunctatas tempore victa manus] (XVII, 259-60). Helen is
quite capable of "getting down to business," and so is Criseyde, who inter-
rupts one of Troilus's labored pledges to "trouthe" to take him finally as
her lover:

But lat us fall awey fro this matere,
For it suffiseth, this that seyd is heere,
And at o word, withouten repentaunce,
Welcome, my knyght, my pees, my suffisaunce!
(III, 1306-9)

Helen, for her part, acts out an Ovidian paradigm, for her last statement
about surrender echoes Ovid's letter-writing advice that women will sub-
mit to craft and "give their hands to eloquent men" [tam dabit eloquio
victa puella manus] (Ars I, 462). We are not surprised, then, that Helen's
description of Paris's flirtatious behavior at the banquet-tracing love let-
ters in wine and drinking from the place her lips touched the goblet--comes
right out of the Amores, where the master himself is flirting with his mis-
tress under her husband's nose.9
In the Paris-Helen sequence, then, we witness a successful, textbook,
Ovidian seduction. But Helen is no abstract object of pursuit, not the name-
less victim ofArs Amatoria strategy; she is, rather, a qualified Ovidian her-
self. In this exchange of letters, Paris and Helen clash without either of the
Ovidians losing self-respect or verbal control. Their mutual goal is mutual
enjoyment. In other letters in the Heroides, we hear formerly suppressed
emotional histories. In this pair, Ovid imagines the artistry and the wit of a
woman not lamenting her naivet6 and scorning her betrayer, but thinking,
desiring, negotiating, well armed with Ovid's gift of words.
Criseyde's echoes of Helen thus portray her too as crafty and able to
adjust to circumstances without ever losing verbal control or dropping her
rhetorical guard. Criseyde, like Helen, is a player in the game of love and
change, a competent Ovidian, a true niece of Pandarus, and rhetorically far
beyond Troilus, who, unlike his distant brother, the Paris of the Heroides,
can only mangle logic about free will and sigh Petrarchan sonnets. In fact,
later in the poem Troilus himself becomes a composite of the scorned women
in the Heroides, waiting endlessly for the return of his lover, recalling past
promises, writing letters, and wishing for death.
A feature of Paris's own letter in this sequence has added significance
for the Troilus, bringing into the story a hint of the large historical move-


Books I and II of the Troilus

ment that will ultimately confound all hopes. Paris ends by ominously as-
suring Helen that no one will try to rescue her and if anyone does, his men
will easily repel them (see XVI, 341ff.)-famous last words indeed. Chaucer's
implied association of Criseyde with Helen, then, again brings into his poem
the overarching theme of Troy's fall. Helen's affair leads to the fall of Troy
and Criseyde's to the fall of Troilus. Criseyde's musings, like Helen's, thus
conceal a cataclysmic situation, for behind each of their rhetorical displays
is the reality of war, failure, betrayal, and death.
But here we must maintain one important distinction between the
Heroides and the Troilus. The Heroides, despite the epic magnitude of the
names "Helen" and "Paris" and the verbal irony in the discussion of war,
are still, like the Ars Amatoria, set in a world of play. Ovid's celebration of
language and the characters' emphasis on their personal, emotional lives
neutralize the gravity of epic situations. By re-creating Helen's artful mono-
logues and romantic spirit in Criseyde, a character in a tragic story that ex-
tends beyond the boundaries of the closed Ovidian love-world, Chaucer
puts gravity back into the Troy story by putting love-language back into the
world of change. And by throwing Helen's voice into Criseyde, Chaucer
continues the dramatic question he began to explore in Book I with
Pandarus: Can a character lift Ovidian craft outside the shielded fantasy
world of "art"? As the poem progresses we will be anxious to see if Criseyde's
verbal power can help her when she and Troilus have to part. Will her Ovidian
training come into play when she meets the crafty, Ovidian lover, Diomede?
The next chapter will try to answer this.
Stepping back from the first two books of the Troilus, we see how
Chaucer throws Ovidian voices into his characters almost as if they were
unconsciously turning to Ovidian texts for guidance and identity. Yet in this
game of love we see constant signs of sorrow and doom-in this last ex-
ample, the inevitable fall of Troy and Trojan--as Chaucer darkens the world
of play with the threat of failure and tragedy. Verbal games are powerful,
and those who master them can control any set of circumstances, changing
as the external world does. But because rhetoric sustains happiness and
control only until new circumstances demand a new plan, it wins many
battles, but can never win the war, never subdue what Ovid in the Metamor-
phoses calls the "tanta... rerum inconstantia" [the great inconstancy] that
twists men, or what Chaucer or Boethius would call mutability or Fortuna.
Mutability should logically pose no problem for an Ovidian, who would
simply fight change with change, reshaping himself or herself in amoral,
protean fashion. However, great folly comes when one uses Ovidian rheto-
ric but takes it for truth, forgetting that all things change and that a success-


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

ful Ovidian lover has to change too. And at a certain point even the best
Ovidian shape-shifting and the sweetest of lies fail to stop Fortune's wheel.
The world of art and fantasy has to give way to history and tragedy. As the
rest of the poem unfolds, Chaucer will continue ever more powerfully to
make earnest out of game and expose the frailty of the love-world Pandarus
has built on Ovidian doctrine. Chaucer does this in part by turning again to
Ovid, not in his incarnation as the playful doctor of love, but as the author
of metamorphosis and as the man of many sorrows, buffeted himself by
change and exile.


Change and Remedy
Books III, IV and V of the Troilus

HE CHARACTERS frantically search for "remedy"
in the final books of the Troilus, as Ovidian game
encounters Ovidian mutability. Before we trace this
confrontation, however, we must acknowledge that
Pandarus's arts do indeed bring the lovers together.
An elaborate, pretentious dinner party, the inven-
tion of Troilus's imaginary rival "Horaste," a "secre
trap dore" and a little leading "by the lappe" finally
unite the lovers. Ovid would have been proud of such
devices, for to win a love, he says, one must adopt "a
thousand devices" [mille modis]. "Whoever is wise,"
he continues, "will be infinitely versatile" (Ars I,
756ff.).' Pandarus is busy being a good Ovidian. Yet
in the course of Book III, Chaucer undermines
Pandarus' scheming and the union his devices have
created. In this book and continuing toward the
poem's tragic climax, Ovidian art becomes more and
more dubious and less and less capable of keeping
Troilus and Criseyde together. As the rest of the
poem unfolds, the characters seem to grow farther
apart. Of course, Criseyde's leaving Troy contributes
to this separation, but the divisions between her and
Troilus and between Troilus and Pandarus reveal
themselves as essential divisions of belief. Simply
put, Chaucer will separate Troilus from his friend
and from his lover, both of whom remain disciples
of Ovid.


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Success and Myrrha

Let us first look at the lovers' union to see how even in success Ovidian art
appears out of harmony with human love. Pandarus's fabrication of a rival of
Troilus, for example, is an excessive tactic in this case and almost backfires.
Pandarus tells Criseyde that Troilus fears a competitor, Horaste, and needs
a sign of security. Making one's lover fear a rival is a solid Ovidian device,
and Pandarus must assume that the general air of jealousy will bring the
lovers closer. He is right, but it does not happen so easily. In the Amores,
Ovid's opponent, the old woman Dipsas, tells her female pupils: "Do not
let [your suitor] love free from anxiety, fearing no lover; / love will not en-
dure well if you eliminate conflict" (Amores I, viii, 95-96).2
Pandarus, as a third party, adopts this love-enhancing device, but it
does not suit the needs or wishes of either of the lovers. Criseyde, the ob-
ject of Pandarus's trickery here, explodes with dismay and grief; she knows
no Horaste and has no desire to make Troilus jealous. Later, necessity will
compel Criseyde herself to employ Ovidian survival strategy, but at this
point, unlike Pandarus, she is no cynical plotter. She denies that "jealousy
is love," and she cries to think that some fool has told Troilus this nonsense
and that he has believed it (see III, 806ff., 988ff). Troilus, whom Pandarus
intends to benefit by the story of the false rival, instead suffers because of
the ploy. The tears Criseyde sheds over this accusation make Troilus feel
the "crampe of deth" upon his heart, and he begins to regret Pandarus's

And in his mynde he gan the tyme acorse
That he com there, and that, that he was born;
For now is wikke torned into worse,
And al that labour he hath don byforn,
He wende it lost; he thought he nas but lorn.
"0 Pandarus," thought he, "allas, thi wile
Serveth of nought, so weylaway the while!"

Than seyde he thus, "God woot that of this game,
Whan al is wist, than am I nought to blame."
(III, 1072-78, 1084-85)

Troilus thinks the Ovidian "games" worthless, but he cannot yet fully ar-
ticulate his feeling, even though his sorrow shows that the poem is building


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

toward this realization. Despite the tears shed, Pandarus's little device does
work; it so upsets the lovers that they fall into mutual consolation that cul-
minates in the heavenly bliss of sexual consummation. Even so, the plan
would have failed if Pandarus had not thrown Troilus into bed with Criseyde.
By having Pandarus employ the Horaste strategy, Chaucer exploits the ten-
sion between the pretense of rhetorical strategy and the pathos of human
pain. Every Ovidian game demands an emotional price in the Troilus, but
Pandarus does not understand this. Incapable of what are now called value
judgments, he operates from radical contingency. If a strategy is "useful"
he uses it, with no regard for anything but victory.
In essence I am arguing for "Chaucerian gravity" in these later books
of the poem, and to understand the specifically Ovidian terms with which
Chaucer expresses this gravity, we have to consider the role of Ovid's poem
about "bodies changed." To discuss the Metamorphoses, we should first de-
fine what "change" means in Chaucer's text. As Wetherbee points out in
his discussion of Ovid and the Troilus, it does not mean mere physical change:
"There is change in Chaucer's Ovidian world, but no true metamorphosis."
Wetherbee rightly makes this distinction between the two poets, for though
Chaucer alludes directly to many stories of metamorphosis, such as Niobe
and Daphne, change in the Troilus is not physical or mythic. Chaucer's char-
acters never escape their plights by turning into something else.3
Equally important, however, is the poets' shared vision of change, for
often in the Metamorphoses itself, there is "no true metamorphosis," no mythic
escape or liberation. Instead, Ovid focuses on the same type of instability
and flux that fills the Troilus, the movement from woe to weal to woe. Who,
for example, recalls the "metamorphosis" in the story of Orpheus? The
episode ends with his female murderers turned to trees by Bacchus, but
the point of the story is the fragility of happiness and the ever-present threat
of loss, culminating in Eurydice's disappearance: "Loving, he turned his
eyes to see her and she suddenly vanished" [Flexit amans oculos: et protinus
illa relapsa est] (Metamorphoses X, 57).4 Similarly, we all, like Pandarus, know
that Niobe was turned to stone, but the true "change" in her story is from
the presumptuous pride of abundant motherhood to the misery and sorrow
of childlessness (see VI, 146ff.).
The daughters of old Anius in Book XIII are turned to doves by Bacchus
so they may escape captivity, but the most important transformation in the
story is that of Anius himself, from a father of five to a man "nearly bereft."
When Anchises wonders if he errs in thinking Anius a father of several
children, the old man replies:


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Non falleris, heros
maxime; vidisti natorum quinque parentem,
quem nunc-tanta homines rerum inconstantia versat-
paene vides orbum.
(XIII, 644-47)

[No, you do not err, O greatest hero. You once saw
the father of five children, whom now-so does
the great inconstancy of things twist men-you see
nearly bereft.]

The great inconstancy of things that twist men-this mutability constitutes
metamorphosis for both Ovid and Chaucer. Ovid testifies to this concep-
tion of "change" not only throughout the Metamorphoses but also in the Tristia.
From exile Ovid writes that his own life story is fit to be in his book of
"bodies changed," since his freedom and renown have been transformed
into exile and despair. He too is a victim of the rerum inconstantia; he too has
fallen "out of joie," as he tells his poem before sending it to Rome:

Sunt quoque mutatae, ter quinque volumina, formae,
nuper ab exequiis carmina rapta meis.
his mando dicas, inter mutata referri
fortunae vultum corpora posse meae.
namque ea dissimilis subito est effect priori,
flendaque nunc, aliquo tempore laeta fuit.
(Tristia I, i, 117-22)

[And there are, in fifteen volumes, the changed
forms, songs lately snatched from my funeral rites.
Tell them the face of my fortune can be consid-
ered among the bodies changed, for things are not
now what they were before. Now there is cause for
woe, where there once was joy.]

Though Chaucer's Ovidian allusions in themselves are relevant, his com-
plex crafting of stories in which joy turns to woe requires attention.
But I do not want to reduce either Ovidian or Chaucerian metamor-
phosis to simple "mutability." Metamorphosis can indicate a great many
types of change, social, sexual and emotional, as Leonard Barkan demon-
strates so thoroughly in his study of Ovid's poem.5 To understand better


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

Chaucer's use of Ovid and the function of Chaucerian metamorphosis, let
us examine one scene in some depth, looking at a story about mutability
and about mythic and human change, a story about sexual experience that
is one of the most unsettling in Ovid's poem. In Book IV, Chaucer com-
pares the sorrows of the lovers to those of Myrrha, whose story comes from
the Metamorphoses:

The woful teeris that they leten falle
As bittre weren, out of teris kynde,
For peyne, as is ligne aloes or galle-
So bittre teeris weep nought, as I fynde,
The woful Mirra though the bark and rynde-
That in this world their nys so hard an herte
That nolde han rewed on hire peynes smerte.
(IV, 1135-41)

Chaucer's allusion, which has no counterpart in the Filostrato, is particu-
larly striking because the tale of Myrrha strangely parallels the story of the
lovers in Book III of the Troilus. Chaucer uses an elaborate series of images
that force us to fear for the lovers' fate. The important "change" in Ovid's
story is not Myrrha's transformation into a tree, though this is how Chaucer
explicitly recalls her. The focus is, rather, the movement from youthful de-
sire to incest and exile, a tale of unrestrained and unquenchable passion in
which a young lover, led by an older, wiser counselor, is finally united with
her love object.6 Examining the specific imagery in Ovid's and Chaucer's
episodes shows us just how Chaucer has employed this tale of change.
Having spent his first night with Criseyde, Troilus awakes and curses
"nyght," whose departure signifies the end of the lovers' pleasure:

O blake nyght, as folk in bokes rede,
That shapen art by God this world to hide
At certeyn tymes wyth thi derke wede,
That under that men myghte in reste abide,

Thow doost, allas, to shortly thyn office,
Thow rakle nyght! Ther God, maker of kynde,
The, for thyn haste and thyn unkynde vice,
So faste ay to oure hemysperie bynde
That never more under the ground thow wynde!


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

For now, for thow so hiest out of Troie,
Have I forgon thus hastili my joie!
(III, 1429-32, 1436-42)

As Robinson long ago pointed out, Chaucer models much of Troilus's speech
(not found in the Filostrato) onAmores I, xiii, which also mentions the night-
time affair of Jove and Alcmena (11. 45-46). However, Ovid's poem exclu-
sively invokes accursed Dawn, who comes too soon because she will not
lounge with her old husband, Tithonus, but Troilus addresses night only,
emphasizing its blackness and its ability to hide the world. Troilus laments
not that dawn has come but that the protective covering of night is gone.
Similarly, in the Metamorphoses, Myrrha, as she joins with her father, is pro-
tected from recognition by darkness: the incest occurs when "the golden
moon had fled the sky, dark concealing clouds covered the stars, and night
was lightless" (Metamorphoses X, 448-50).7
The father's curiosity leads him to bring in a torch and with "light
brought in" [inlato lumine] (1. 473) he discovers the crime [scelus]. The
"change" occurs as the father pulls his sword and chases the daughter away
into exile and she begs the gods to transform her, to take her beyond her
plight. They turn her into a tree-the image that Chaucer uses to recall the
primary themes of the story: the advent of young, forbidden desire, the
power of an uncontrollable human will, and the fragility of the secret affair
wrought by deceit in darkness. When Chaucer compares the lovers' sor-
rows to those of Myrrha, then, he does not offer a sympathetic or romantic
reflection of their "exploitation" by Pandarus. Rather, he provides a darker,
more severe coloring to their affair, deflating their lofty language and hopes,
particularly Troilus's, during their night of indescribable bliss. The direct
reference to Myrrha summons a world of change that breaks the illusions of
love poetry and love strategy. The story of Myrrha serves particularly well
here because in the context of Ovid's corpus it functions as Ovid's own
deflated version of the "art of love," the earnest version of the game and
play we find in the Ars Amatoria.
How does Myrrha appear in Ovid's love poetry? In her two appear-
ances there, she serves as nothing more than an amorous exemplar, first of
lust, then of bad timing. In the Ars Amatoria, she exemplifies female ag-
gression, proving "that all women can be caught" [prima tuae menti ueniat
fiducia, cunctas / posse capi] (Ars I, 269-70). "If we males did not ask the
woman first, the woman, already won, would play the aggressor" [Conueniat
maribus, ne quam nos ante rogemus, / femina iam parties uicta rogantis aget]
(277-78). In the Remedia, Myrrha appears as proof of Ovid's argument not


Books III, IV and V of the Troilus

to delay starting one's therapy. Do not keep saying, "I'll start tomorrow,"
says Ovid, because delay is dangerous: "If you had sensed early, Myrrha,
how great a crime you were preparing, you would not be hiding your face in
bark" [Si cito sensisses quantum peccare parares, / non tegeres uultus cortice,
Myrrha, tuos] (Remedia, 11. 99-100). As usual, Ovid's bravado purges the
myth of gravity and turns tragedy into bold hope.
But in the Metamorphoses, as in the Troilus, characters are left to their
fates.8 The game of love stops and experience overcomes art. Chaucer saw
this movement in the poems of Ovid and casts it in his own poem by com-
paring his lovers to Myrrha. The one-line allusion alone does not do all the
work. But by allowing his own story, in its imagery and detail, to recall Ovid's
story of darkness, pandering, and incest, Chaucer invokes the world of meta-
morphosis that lies behind the simple comparison at IV, 1139. He shows
that the lovers are doomed and that Pandarus's plans, like those of Myrrha's
nurse, but unlike those of the magister in the Ars Amatoria, will ultimately
In darkening the expectations of game by conjuring Ovid's Metamor-
phoses in Book III, Chaucer neither judges the lovers directly, nor makes it
easy for us to do so. He invites us to rethink the Ovidian rhetoric that has
brought them together.9 Chaucer, having the advantage that the texts of
Ovid's career are simultaneously before him, mingles the playful world of
the artes amatoriae and the world of grievous change in ways that Ovid in
his early poetry could not.
But Chaucer's complex allusion to Myrrha and metamorphosis neither
negates nor ironizes the "hevene blisse" of the lovers, celebrated in one of
the greatest Middle English praises of human sexuality:

Of hire delit or joies oon the leeste
Were impossible to my wit to seye;
But juggeth ye that han ben at the feste
Of swich gladnesse, if that hem liste pleye!
I kan namore, but thus this ilke tweye
That nyght, bitwixen drede and sikernesse,
Felten in love the grete worthynesse.
(III, 1310-16)10

Rather, Chaucer exploits the tension between the bliss and the power of
change. Ovid himself, in a unique passage in the Ars Amatoria, also cel-
ebrates mutual sexual joy. After endless catalogs of strategy, Ovid offers a
moment of quiet repose: "Behold how the bed consciously accepts the two


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

lovers. Stay outside the closed doors, Muse. Without you and following their
own desires, they will speak those oft repeated words. Nor will hands lie
idle in the bed, but fingers will find what they might do in those places
where Love moistens his secret dart" (Ars II, 703-8). This is the time for
neither game nor sadness, but for a seemingly perfect moment. So too in
the night of bliss shared by Troilus and Criseyde we find no game and no
woe. Here we have a free, still, sexual paradise, beyond the poet's scope,
beyond language. Ovid's love scene is "extra-musical," for the lovers them-
selves need no inspiration, no craft to prompt them to do and say the right
things. Words, craft, and wit create these strangely parallel passages in Ovid's
and Chaucer's respective arts of love. The bliss of Ovid's lovers is timeless
and perfect; that of Chaucer's lovers is qualified and soon to be bound up in
Chaucer's addition to the Filostrato of other, explicit references to the
Metamorphoses contributes to the sense of impending doom in Book III. In
Book II, the "swalowe Proigne" wakes Pandarus with the story of the disas-
ter that befalls her and her sister (II, 63ff.), preparing us for Criseyde's omi-
nous comparison to the "newe abaysed nyghtyngale" (III, 1233)." Troilus,
praying for strength and success in love, calls Venus and Apollo to help him
for the sake of "Adoun" and "Dane" (Daphne). Although Troilus here seems
to finally display some knowledge of Ovid, his innocent references to disas-
trous, even fatal love ironically point to the mutability and the calamity that
will befall him.12
Chaucer employs Ovid's stories of change as an inventive philosophi-
cal "remedy." Ovid balanced his own works: he led his pupils to love, then
gave the wounded ones healing remedies. Chaucer provides a comparable
balance, but on a graver level. In the later books he invokes the powers of
change in specifically Ovidian terms to counter the power of the love strat-
egy that he had also portrayed in specifically Ovidian terms. Chaucer seems
to be following the view of one medieval commentator who reports that
Ovid wrote the Remedia Amoris to offset the Ars Amatoria because "the high-
est creator of all things did nothing without providing a remedy."'3
Chaucer knew well from Boethius and from Jean de Meun that bad
fortune provides the soul a better remedy than good fortune does, because
it alone gives true wisdom, revealing the mutability and frailty of the world.'4
Chaucer's references to the Metamorphoses, in that they reflect the many
changes that Troilus suffers in his double loss of Criseyde, have the poten-
tial to become this corrective, showing the reader that Ovidian change is
overcoming Ovidian art. The reader can see this, but Fortune's many changes
serve to frighten the lovers without necessarily enlightening them. At the


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

very end of the poem, Chaucer expresses the Boethian remedy to the prob-
lem of change in explicitly Christian terms. But before he does, he depicts
how the three central characters variously respond to change as they test
out several types of Ovidian remedy.

Change, Pandaro, and Pandarus

In Book IV, which opens with Fortune at her wheel, change becomes for-
midable and rapid. Previously, in the first change of the poem, the cynical
Troilus became a stricken would-be lover; sudden shock made the scoffer
at love into a disciple. But Troilus is never comfortable with change. Stead-
fast and true, even as an opponent of love, how did he cope with his new
status? Pandarus, as master of the Ars Amatoria and therefore a master of
flexibility, helped Troilus deal with change and fulfill his desire. As master
equally of the Remedia Amoris, Pandarus will attempt again to succor his
friend when the next change occurs, when Criseyde must leave Troy. But
any hope for his success fails as the imagery of mutability begins to domi-
nate the poem and to devastate the lovers. Ovidians can only do so much
when the rules of the universe change, when the "playing" field evolves
into a battlefield of history. Pandarus cannot help Troilus, and Criseyde,
realizing that the world is changing quickly, can only hope to save herself.
At the Trojan council's discussion about exchanging Criseyde for
Antenor, Troilus hears the fateful proposal: "For which ful soone chaungen
gan his face, / As he that with tho words wel neigh deyde. / But natheles
he no word to it seyde" (IV, 150-52). In the Filostrato, Boccaccio tells us
that Troilo is "pierced to the heart" by the news and thinks he will die, but
Boccaccio does not offer the vocabulary of "change" or focus on Troilus's
visage as Chaucer does.'" Boccaccio dramatizes mutability in his poem,
especially in Troilo's complaint, "La mia letizia s'6 voltata in pena" [My joy
has turned to woe] (IV, 45). But Chaucer intensifies the theme and portrays
it in explicitly Ovidian terms whenever he can, in these lines and through-
out the final two books.
Therefore, a few lines later in Chaucer's poem, in a passage that has no
parallel in the Filostrato, Troilus becomes a tree "Ibounden in the blake
bark of care, .. So sore hym sat the chaungynge of Criseyde" (IV, 229,
231). He is thus Myrrha again, as he was in Book III, or Daphne, driven to
this new form by disastrous love. At this point we do not have to pin down
the association because we see clearly what is happening: Chaucer is satu-
rating Boccaccio's story with an Ovidian vocabulary that overwhelms the
language of the poem as the characters fall into a maelstrom of change.


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Of course, the changing referred to in this passage is the exchange of
Criseyde for Antenor, but it foreshadows the next change---Criseyde's be-
trayal of Troilus in Book V. These changes together bring on Troilus's own
neo-Ovidian transformation, for in the Troilus, as in the Metamorphoses, "the
inconstancy of things" transforms life, replacing joy with sorrow. And de-
s'pite the fantastic nature of Ovidian change, the subject's consciousness
does not stop; the transformed one always knows what has happened. As
Ovid says of the unlucky hunter Actaeon when Diana turns him into a stag,
all was changed but "his mind alone remained the same" [mens tantum
pristine mansit] (III, 203). Troilus feels but still does not understand the
power of change that betrays him but does not obliterate his consciousness.
And yet, he hopes for escape, telling Pandarus that to relieve him of his
sorrows, Pandarus must first "transmewen" him "in a ston" (IV, 467). In
Book I, Troilus impatiently asks Pandarus, "What knowe I of the queene
Nyobe?" and now he seeks to be turned into stone, as she was, to escape his
sorrow. Buffeted by change and swirling in allusion, Troilus is finding that
he lives in an Ovidian universe from which Pandarus can offer him no es-
cape. The vocabulary of transformation dominates Criseyde too. Through
her distress over the exchange, Criseyde's face "was al ychaunged in an-
other kynde" (IV, 865). Chiding Pandarus for first bringing her into love's
service, she calls herself "Criseyde, / That now transmewed ben in cruel
wo" (IV, 829-30). Criseyde cannot escape the sorrow of separation, but, as
we will soon see, she can and will, as Pandarus advises, "take care of her-
self" by embracing change in ways that Troilus simply cannot.
Although everything looks bleak for Troilus, his friend Pandarus be-
comes for him the Remedia Amoris, a handbook designed to aid suffering
lovers. Pandarus's transformation from the Ars Amatoria into theRemedia
directly reflects the medieval academic understanding of the relationship
between these two texts. According to commentary on the Remedia, Ovid
wrote the work to relieve the misery and to stop the suicides of his pupils
who had fallen into "error" and despair because of the doctrines of the Ars
Amatoria.'6 Similarly, William of St. Thierry's twelfth-century theological
treatise De natural et dignitate amoris contends that Ovid was compelled to
write the Remedia by his suffering disciples.17 Troilus certainly qualifies as a
pupil whom an "art of love" has led into error and distress; thus, like Ovid's
students, he needs the "remedies." As Ovid begins the Remedia, he tells his
worried pupils not to fear and not to be surprised that the same man who
taught love now proposes its cures. Pandarus displays this same fluidity, the
ease and delight of a rhetorician changing styles to accommodate a new set
of circumstances.


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

Pandarus first encourages the Trojan youth to "fight change with
change," telling Troilus to find someone else:

And ek, as writ Zanzis, that was ful wys,
"The newe love out chaceth ofte the olde";
And upon newe cas lith newe avys.
Thenk ek, thi lif to saven artow holde.
Swich fir, by process, shal of kynde cold;
For syn it is but casuel plesaunce,
Som cas shal putte it out of remembraunce.
(IV, 414-20)

The doctrine originates in the Remedia (11. 441ff.) in a passage that culmi-
nates in advice to follow the example of a certain protean lover who lost one
woman but immediately found another. After the lover's speech defending
his actions, Ovid tells us:

dixit et hanc habuit solacia magna prioris,
et posita est cura cura repulsa noua.
ergo adsume nouas auctore Agamemnone flammas,
ut tuus in biuio distineatur amor.
(Remedia, 11. 483-86)

[He spoke and had her as a great solace for his
former loss, and so a rejected love was replaced by
a new interest. Therefore, follow new flames
according to the example of Agamemnon, so as to
divide your love into two.]

The context of this passage in the Remedia makes it particularly appealing
to see Ovid as Chaucer's source here. For Ovid's model protean lover, wise
enough to find another woman, is Agamemnon. When Chryseis's priestly
father demands that she be returned to him, her Idrd Agamemnon capitu-
lates and casually appropriates Achilles' lover, the captive Briseis, in her
stead. We cannot determine if Chaucer knew the complex history of
Criseyde's name, but it is hard to ignore the fact that Pandarus's advice
echoes an Ovidian passage about how to get over Criseyde's literary great-
grandmother. Finding a new woman should be no problem, both Pandarus
and Ovid agree, for the "town is ful of ladys al about" (IV, 401), and "as
many are the stars in the heavens, so are the women in your Rome" [quot


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

caelum stellas, tot habet tua Roma puellas] (Ars I, 59). Furthermore, as Ovid
tells his readers at the end of this section on the judgment of Agamemnon,
if you read Ovid's books, "your boat will be full of girls" plenaa puellarum
iam tibi nauis erit] (Remedia, 1. 488).
In Chaucer's development and deflation of Ovidian strategy, we see
the deep rift between the fantasy of the "arts of love" and the gravity of the
Troilus. "Getting over" a lost love is no problem in the Remedia. The epic
situation is characteristically diffuse, Ovid speaking of his exemplar
Agamemnon as if his "new care" [cura nova] were without consequences.
Ovid forgets, or rejects as unimportant, the rest of the story-the wrath of
Achilles and the disaster it brings down upon the Greek troops. But such
details, an incursion of "history," would only distract us from Agamemnon's
stroke of amorous wisdom. All we know and all we need khow are the quick
fixes that calm the stricken lover. Agamemnon's political identity, later life,
and ultimate fate, like those of Achilles, Odysseus, Romulus, and all the
other hero-lovers in the poem, do not concern us.
Much of Pandarus's advice on this subject comes directly from Boc-
caccio, for Pandaro tells his friend much the same things, particularly that
"the new love chases out the old" [il nuovo amor sempre caccia l'antico]
(IV, 49), and "the town is full of women" [questa cita si vede / piena di belle
donne e graziose] (IV, 48). However, his additions to Boccaccio's Ovidian
scene invite our comparison of Chaucer's text with Ovid's original verses,
for they make Pandarus more of an Ovidian than his Italian counterpart. To
support his "new love" argument, Pandarus tells Troilus something about
the other fish in the sea:

What! God forbede alwey that ech plesaunce
In o thing were and in non other wight!
If oon kan synge, an other kan wel daunce;
If this be goodly, she is glad and light;
And this is fair, and that kan good aright.
Ech for his vertu holden is for deere,
Both heroner and faucoun for ryvere.
(IV, 407-13)

This elaboration grows naturally out of Boccaccio's Ovidian verses because
it too is Ovidian, modeled after one of the Amores:

haec quia dulce canit flectitque facillima uocem,
oscula cantanti rapta dedisse uelim;
haec querulas habili percurrit police chordas:

Books III, IV and V of the Troilus

tam doctas quis non possit amare manus?
illa place gestu numerosaque bracchia ducit
et tenerum molli torquet ab arte latus.
(Amores II, iv, 25-30)

[One, most skilled, sings sweetly and modulates
her voice. I would like to have given snatched
kisses to that singing mouth during its song.
Another runs over the complaining strings with
graceful fingers; who can fail to love those clever
hands? That one pleases with gestures and
rhythmic movements of her arms, and with her
soft art sways her delicate sides.]

In this particular lyric, Ovid suffers from what we might call amor synech-
dochus-he loves each woman according to some partial attribute, and can-
not or will not allow any woman a complete identity.
Pandarus, perceiving that Troilus has fetishized Criseyde as the "only
woman" for him, tries to show him the appeal of shifting, "casual" Ovidian
love. "Artow for hire and for noon other born?" Pandarus asks him (IV, 1095),
incredulous that Troilus would believe in romantic destiny. Indeed, Ovid's
problem in this love lyric is not that he is smitten but that his desire floats
freely, incapable of fulfillment-"so many women, so little time." In this
context "getting over" a lost love could not possibly pose a problem, but
sticking to one would.
Romantic relief does not come so easily in the Troilus. Pandarus tells
Troilus, as Troilus distills it into a epigram, "Thenk not on smart, and thou
shalt fele noon" (IV, 465). Pandarus argues, in Ovidian fashion, that the
willful embrace of illusion is just as powerful as any reality that Troilus
experiences. But Troilus is no Ovidian; he cannot see the world as fiction
and play and maintains that his love is real and true:

She that I serve, iwis, what so thow seye,
To whom myn herte enhabit is by right,
Shal han me holly hires til that I deye.
For Pandarus, syn I have trouthe hire hight,
I wol nat ben untrewe for no wight,
But as hire man I wol ay lyve and sterve,
And never other creature serve.
(IV, 442-48)


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Sorrow does not simply go away, and Troilus cannot, irn his own metaphor,
play "raket," switching lovers "to and fro" in a careless game of romantic
tennis (see 11. 456ff.). Troilus even hopes to carry on his lament after he
dies, pledging to "eternaly compleyne" after he is "down with Proserpyne"
(470ff.). Pandarus does not want him to cry for even another minute, since
the world abounds with potentially new lovers. The narrator himself inter-
jects this point as he begins to perceive how the gap between Ovidian teacher
and "trouthe"-loving pupil widens. Commenting on Pandarus' advice about
replacement lovers, he tells us:

Thise words seyde he for the nones alle,
To help his friend, lest he for sorwe deyde;
For douteles, to don his wo to falle,
He roughte nought what unthrift that he seyde.
(IV, 428-31)

More strongly here than at any time before, a voice in the poem explicitly
confronts Pandarus, whose strategy now unravels.'8 By comparison, Boc-
caccio shows no interest in criticizing his Pandaro, who has functioned as an
intermediary but not as a strategist, as a friend but not as a merchant of
unthrift advice.
This distinction between the panderers is worth developing. As we
saw, Pandaro advises Troilo to write letters but sets up no guidelines in
matters of style. He arranges meetings for the lovers but does not contrive
an elaborate plan and a false story about Criseyde's plight. He horastes no
Horastes, borrows no Ovidian verses about roses, nettles, and the trials of
love. Because he is less of an artist, he is less responsible for uniting the
lovers. Pandaro never physically drags the lovers together or shoves a hesi-
tant Troilus into bed. He does not represent an "ars amatoria" as Pandarus
does. Boccaccio's narrator has no reason to turn against Pandaro or chal-
lenge his advice, particularly in light of Pandaro's anti-suicide speech-his
valiant call-to-arms that wakes Troilo from his self-indulgent torpor,
Chaucer's complete omission of this martial exhortation displays his
major reworking of the character of Pandaro. Pandaro tells the sorrowing
Troilo not to betray himself to death but to talk of fighting and, if he must
die, to die in war. Let us go to the battlefield, he says:

quivi, si come giovani pregiati,
combatterem con loro, e virilmente
loro uccidendo, morrem vendicati...
(Filostrato VII, 45)

Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

[There shall we, like well famed youths, fight
against them, and slaying them we shall manfully
die, not unavenged]
(Gordon, The Story of Troilus, 112)

Pandaro's tone is rational, strident, dutiful. He exhorts Troilo as one noble
Trojan youth to another, not as an Ovidian love counselor to his pupil. This
speech would have added an epic gravity to Pandarus that would have
clashed with his identity as Ovidian magisteramoris.
Pandaro's words bring into the Filostrato the larger issue of the Trojan
War, not as an ironic reflection of Troilo's ultimate doom, his link to the
falling city, but rather as a hearty slap in his morbid, lovesick face. Such a
"remedy" did not fit into Chaucer's Ovidian world. The Filostrato does not
seek to trace the limitations of Pandaro's art or of his rhetorical perspective
on reality. Pandaro never plays a game for his own benefit, does not pry
under the sheets after the lovers' night together, and has no obsession with
game. Since Boccaccio does not develop Pandaro as homo rhetoricus, he does
not offer us a divine perspective on rhetoric, as Chaucer does in Troilus's
apotheosis to the eighth sphere. Chaucer, rather than Boccaccio, forges this
opposition between worldly words and transcendent wisdom.19
At this point in Chaucer's poem, Troilus, like the narrator, begins to
take the offensive and challenge his friend and counselor: "Whi hastow nat
don bisily thi myght / To chaungen hire that doth the al thi wo?" (IV, 486-
87). Troilus's disgust culminates with "Nay, God wot, nought worth is al thi
red" (IV, 498), finally articulating a sentiment that in Book III he could only
contemplate. We do not find this last phrase, this bold attack, in Boccaccio's
version of the encounter. In the Filostrato, Pandaro continues to try to pro-
vide comfort for Troilo; he cries with him, "and he often offered comfort as
lovingly as he could" [e nondimen sovente il confortava / quando poteva il
piupietosamente] (IV, 63). Chaucer's Pandarus, however, has no reply to
Troilus's accusations and can only "holde his tunge still" (IV, 521). Faced
with Pandarus's silence, and beset by his own disillusionment and anger,
Troilus becomes even more desperate in his search for a "remedie" for his

"No Remedie"

As the poem progresses, however, it becomes clear to everyone that there
will be "no remedie" for Troilus. For now that the lovers separate, Troilus's
search for comfort abounds with ironic references and parallels to the Remedia
Amoris. Ovid's poem offers remedies that apply to all sorts of love-related

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

sorrows: separation, betrayal, anxiety, excessive desire. Ovid can heal what-
ever wound Love has made, calming the troubled heart and preventing
suicide. He teaches the lover, essentially, to change with circumstances, to
leave the past behind, and to look with hope to the future. This plan works
well in witty epigrams but not in Chaucer's poem. Chaucer thus must build
a definition of "remedy" that transcends Ovidian illusion and game.
But resolution comes slowly, as Chaucer meticulously explores the char-
acters' various responses to change. All three protagonists must decide how
best to combat mutability, but Troilus has the worst time of it. What keeps
him specifically in pain, through both separation and betrayal, is his hope-
he refuses to believe that Criseyde does not love him. Thus Troilus falls
into a classic Ovidian error: "We keep delaying" our liberation, Ovid says,
"because we hope that we are still loved; as long as we are pleased with
ourselves, we are a gullible bunch" (Remedia Amoris, 11. 685-86). "Do not
believe women's words, for what could be more deceptive?" And do not
believe, he warns finally, "the authority [of their oaths] to the eternal gods"
(11. 687-88).
Troilus, however, does just this; he believes he is still loved because he
believes in Criseyde's words and in her oaths. Criseyde certainly believes
in him and loves him. But as we have seen in her Helenic rhetoric, Criseyde
can play the game of love and can play it in specifically Ovidian terms. In a
world of change and without many options available to a woman in her
position, Criseyde has to save herself, even if it means betraying Troilus.
She speaks in an Ovidian voice as she explains to Troilus her need to de-
part. After pledging fidelity by swearing "on every god celestial On
satiry and fawny more and lesse" (IV, 1541, 1544), she then tells the river
Simois to "retourne backward" to its source on "thilke day that [she] untrewe
be / To Troilus" (IV, 1548ff.).20
In Ovid's Heroides, Oenone, in a letter discussed earlier, quotes Paris's
oath to her. Paris's pledge differs from Criseyde's only in the river he in-
vokes: "When Paris abandons Oenone and still breathes, let the waters of
Xanthus return to their source" [Cum Paris Oenone poterit spirare relicta /
Ad fontem Xanthi versa recurret aqua] (Heroides V, 29-30). Paris's faithless-
ness naturally leaves Oenone anxious to see this phenomenon-"Hurry
back, Xanthus, return to your source" [Xanthe, retro proper, versaque
recurrite lymphae] (V, 31). In Book I, Troilus admits to Pandarus that he has
not read Oenone's letter; if he had, he would have realized its dubious na-
ture. As usual, Troilus's unlearnedness makes him prey to the verbal arts of
Ovidian rhetoricians. He is simply not "textual" enough to identify
Criseyde's allusions and see their implications for his future.


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

Criseyde's use of this letter displays that she, however, is indeed tex-
tual enough to respond well to change. In the stanzas leading up to her oath
to Troilus, she offers him a series of pledges and promises, her "gift of words."
Criseyde must know, as Ovid says, that "anyone can be rich with prom-
ises." Among the encouraging words comes the hope that her exchange
will perhaps bring peace to the Greeks and Trojans. We remember Ovid's
boast that he could have stopped the war by curing Paris of his desire.
Criseyde enters here into a world of Ovidian illusion; her words alone cre-
ate hope, and her imagination invents reality.
In Book V, Criseyde will adopt the final Ovidian remedy-welcoming
a new lover. But even in Book IV we are prepared for her actions and learn
of her skill. Discussing the problem of separation with Troilus, she claims
that she has "art enough" to "slen this hevynesse" (IV, 1266-67). Here she
is talking about the lovers' mutual concern and of her plan to trick her fa-
ther, but her confidence in her art shows that she intends to survive any
way she can.
Pandarus senses this, encouraging her with a reminder that "Women
ben wise in short avysement" and standing anxious to see "how [her] wit
shal now availle" (IV, 936ff.). Again, Pandarus refers to the problem of sepa-
ration, but his emphasis on wit looks forward to Criseyde's self-preserving
"changes," her expedient, protean decision to find another lover. She be-
lieves-as Pandarus and Ovid do, but as Troilus does not-that lovers can
be exchanged. Drawing unfortunate attention to the issue of Criseyde's
sincerity, the narrator tells us that all she said was spoken in "good entente"
and that "hire herte trewe was and kynde" (see IV, 1415ff.). Troilus, to his
credit, is skeptical of her forecast and still fears that she will meet some
"lusty knyght" among the Greeks (see IV, 1485ff.). But he soon puts his
doubts aside and keeps his faith in her words and oaths.
In accord with this delusion, and in contrast to the "remedies" Criseyde
is preparing, Troilus systematically violates Ovidian dicta on how to survive
a lost love. In all these instances, just as in his blind faith in Criseyde's
oaths, Troilus seems foolish, incompetent, and hopelessly incapable of
employing the healthful Ovidian cures that should be able to save him.
However, as the rift between Troilus and Pandarus grows, and the differ-
ence between the lovers' responses to change sharpens, these seeming fail-
ures allow Chaucer to depict most starkly the confrontation between game
and earnest, between illusion and reality, and between Ovidian flexibility
and human "trouthe."2'
First, Troilus rereads Criseyde's old letters (V, 470ff.). Ovid explicitly
condemns this act: "Beware the stored-up letters from your sweet lover;


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

old letters can affect even the strong willed" [Scripta caue relegas blandae
seruata puellae: / constantis animos scripta relecta mouent] (Remedia, 11.
717-18). Troilus then surveys Criseyde's house and various places of senti-
mental importance for the lovers:

Lo, yonder saugh ich last my lady daunce;
And in that temple, with her eyen cleere,
Me kaughte first my right lady dere....
And yonder ones to me gan she seye,
"Now goode swete, love me wel, I preye."
(V, 565-67, 571-72)

Again, Ovid is very clear on what to do in this situation:

et loca saepe nocent; fugito loca conscia uestri
concubitus; causes illa doloris habent.
"hic fuit, hic cubuit, thalamo dormiuimus illo;
hic mihi lasciua gaudia nocte dedit."
admonitu refricatur amor uulnusque nouatum
scinditur: infirmis culpa pusilla nocet.
(Remedia, 11. 725-30)

[And often places can be harmful; flee sites that
knew your lovemaking; they are causes of woe.
"Here she was, here she lay, in this room we slept
together, here in the playful night she gave me
her joys." Suggestion can make love burn again,
and a wound, newly healed, can be reopened. A
small thing can be harmful to the infirm.]

Troilus applies no clever remedies. Instead, he deliberately and actively
seeks to keep the flame alive, in ways that Ovid depicts as very dangerous.
Boccaccio first lifted this material from Ovid (see Filostrato V, 54ff.),
but Chaucer's addition to the scene reveals his art of adaptation. In the
"Canticus Troili," Troilus calls Criseyde his "sterre" whose "bemes bright"
can guide him away from Charybdis (V, 638-44). Chaucer here makes fur-
ther use of the passage in the Remedia that discusses avoiding the sites of
love, immediately after which, Ovid warns of the dangers of reminiscing:

tu loca, quae nimium grata fuere, caue.
haec tibi sint Syrtes, haec Acroceraunia uita;

Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

hic uomit epotas dira Charybdis aquas.
(Remedia, 11. 738-40)

[Beware the places that once brought you great joy.
These may be your Syrtian quicksand; avoid this
Acroceraunian peak; here ferocious Charybdis
vomits up her waters.]

Ironically, then, Troilus heads for the very disaster he hopes to avoid, un-
aware, as usual, of the Ovidian context of his words and actions. In Boccaccio,
Troilo's actions may be sad, but they are not ironic. Chaucer not only makes
them ironic, but by fleshing out the Ovidian context in ways that Boccaccio
did not, he depicts Troilus's actions as explicit violations of the Remedia.
Boccaccio gives Troilo no such song; he exposes no such ignorance because
he is not interested in developing Troilo's unlearnedness or his victimiza-
tion by Ovidians. He borrows from Ovid a scene of particular pathos, but he
does not reveal any games.
All this verbal irony seems to indicate that Troilus would be better
equipped to survive his loss if he had read more Ovid. He would know the
ominous context of his actions and wisely stay away from dangerous memo-
ries. Since Pandarus has led Troilus according to Ovid's Ars Amatoria, the
Remedia now appears his only hope. However, at this point, we wonder if
reading Ovid would actually help him. We begin to see now that no de-
fense could ever prevent him from remembering the sights and sounds of
his lost love. Ovid's words seem a desperate shout from far away, strident
yet hopeless. Troilus's actions do, however, remind us that there is an
"Ovidian" way of responding to change, a code or plan or perspective that
either fails or is impossible to reconcile with "trouthe." Thus we would be
fooled, as Troilus is throughout most of the poem, if we think that reading
the Remedia would help him at all. By this point, the limits of Ovidian art for
Troilus are clear. Change overcomes game, confounding the system that all
along has only countered flux with imperfect and transient solutions.
As Book V unfolds, it obliterates any remaining notions we may have
that the Remedia will work or that any remedy exists for Troilus, as the al-
most choral repetition of the phrase "no remedie" hauntingly shows.2" Ap-
propriately it is Diomede who tells Criseyde, "Lat Troie and Troian fro
you're herte pace! ... For Troie is brought in swich a jupartie, / That it to
save is now no remedie" (V, 912, 916-17), making explicit the connection
between man and city that has been implicit all along. Here Chaucer's trans-
lation adds the concept of "remedy," for Boccaccio's character says to Criseida
only that "Troy has now come to such a pass that all hopes that men have

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

there are lost" (VI, 20) [Ch'a tal partito omai Troia e venuta, / ch'ogni speranza
ch'uom v'ha 6 perduta] (Gordon, The Story of Troilus, 104). Chaucer trans-
lates the Filostrato so as to develop the involvement of Ovid's Remedia in
ways that Boccaccio did not pursue.
Later, the narrator, speaking of Troilus after his long, futile wait for
Criseyde's return, says, "He kan now sen non other remedie / But for to
shape hym soone for to dye" (Troilus V, 1210-11). Here Chaucer again in-
tensifies the Filostrato, for Troilo only "wastes away" [Troilo se ne con-
sumava] (VII, 16), and Troilus prepares himself for death. But equally im-
portant is the addition of the ominous phrase "no remedy." Troilus then
tells Pandarus that he now seeks only his own death, "Syn that their is no
remedye in this cas" (V, 1270). In this context, Pandarus's final words in the
poem reveal the same sentiment. Although he echoes Pandaro, Pandarus
speaks also as the incarnated voice of the Remedia Amoris. However, we
would never find his words in Ovid's poem:

If I dide aught that myghte liken the,
It is me lief; and of this tresoun now,
Got woot that it a sorwe is unto me!
And dredeles, for hertes ese of yow,
Right fayn I wolde amende it, wiste I how.
And fro this world, almyghty God I preye
Delivere hire soon! I kan namore seye.
(V, 1737-43)

Here the Remedia Amoris confesses that he is out of his depth; game has
become earnest, and he can do no more for Troilus. Pandarus must do what
Ovid would not-give up the battle and fall into vengeful verbal attacks on
the woman.23
Yet the failure of the Remedia for Troilus does not chase Ovid from the
poem, for Ovidian rhetoric reappears in the language of Criseyde's new
suitor.24 We have heard Diomede say that there is no "remedie," but obvi-
ously he knows that there is an "ars." The narrator describes him as a fish-
erman who "leyde out hook and lyne" (V, 777), recalling Ovid's image of
the smart lover as a crafty fisherman (Ars I, 47-48).25 He is of "tonge large,"
and he muses that in the wooing of Criseyde, all he has to lose is his "speche"
(V, 798), echoing Ovid's notion that the only gift a poet can offer a woman is
"words" (dare verba, "to deceive") and proving himself a suitable vehicle
for all Ovid's strategies. Diomede drinks wine with the woeful Criseyde,
for like Ovid he knows that "wine prepares the spirit and incites the fire of


Books III, IV and V of the Troilus

love; good strong wine chases cares away" [uina parent animos faciuntque
caloribus aptos; / cura fugit multo diluiturque mero] (Ars I, 237-38). Diomede
is not above deceit: he "feyned hym with Calkas han to doone" and speaks
to Criseyde "with double words slye" (846, 898). Boccaccio's Diomede
has, in contrast, an "honorable purpose" [cagione onesta] (VI, 9) in talking
to Calkas. Indeed, none of Chaucer's "Ovidiana" comes from the Filostrato,
where Boccaccio says Diomede is "fluent of speech" (VI, 23). Chaucer has
added these details to portray Diomede as a textbook Ovidian lover. The
line between rhetoric and falsehood is a thin one, as Chaucer's poem shows
again and again. Diomede already knows and can do everything that
Pandarus has to teach and do for Troilus. As a rather comic coincidence,
Ovid at the opening of the Remedia says, in humble supplication, "Non ego
Tydides" [I am not Diomedes], attempting to appease Cupid, whose mother
Diomedes wounded in the Trojan War. In Chaucer's poem, to his great mis-
fortune, Troilus is no Diomedes either.
In Diomede's speech, we see that Chaucer undermines and exposes
Ovidian rhetoric, but his characters summon it anew, in his depicting men
and women as ceaselessly rhetorical. Ovidian rhetoric perpetuates itself
throughout the poem because in a limited sense it works; it brings Troilus
and Criseyde together, and it certainly works for Diomede. Likewise,
Criseyde shows herself a fine student of Ovid when she enacts the Ovidian
axiom, "The new love chases out the old." The love of Diomede and
Criseyde has no "celestial" pretensions, and both characters know it. Rather,
this love is born from a shift in circumstance; it is a lean-to, slapped to-
gether with good Greek wine and a "tonge large." We witness here the
genesis of stock Ovidian love, and we suspect that the dreadful, endless
cycle of woe and weal is starting up again, as it will later in Robert Henryson's
continuation of the story. Chaucer takes us beyond Ovid's amorous games
by asking us to think about this prisonlike cycle and to doubt the merits of
the rhetorical system that invigorates it. The neo-Ovidian couple in which
Criseyde has taken refuge, however, lacks pathos, innocence, and hope-
features that give Troilus and Criseyde's love humanity and, unfortunately,
open it to all sorts of doom-filled Ovidian ironies.

"Worldes Brotelnesse"

Troilus's apotheosis to the eighthe spere," from which he can look down
upon "this wrecched world" and curse "al oure werk that foloweth so / The
blynde lust, the which that may nat last" (V, 1823-24), celebrates his es-
cape from language and desire. Throughout the poem he has been manipu-

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

lated by other characters who are skilled in Ovidian craft. But what in the
mundane sphere amounts to bumbling unlearnedness becomes innocence
and genuineness when cast in celestial light. Chaucer does not argue that
salvation or wisdom comes from ignorance of Ovid, but he does put rheto-
ric and fiction in Christian perspective, as he will do again at the endof the
Canterbury Tales, exposing them as tools of worldly "vanite" or, at the very
least, the lot of homo rhetoricus.
Believing all along in the truth of love, Troilus now sees the foolishness
of Ovidian game. The survivors, Pandarus, Criseyde, and Diomede, will go
on creating reality for themselves with words. They adjust and readjust in
protean fashion to circumstances, never hoping for or even perceiving some-
thing higher, truer, and eternal. Chaucer's appeal to the Trinity "eterne on
lyve" is thus more than a simple contrast between worldly and divine joy; it
is the poet's appeal to something above the chaotic world ofwords. In mak-
ing this appeal, the narrator must reject Ovid and all that Ovidianism im-
plies about flux, desire, and human experience. Criseyde herself, as a sur-
viving Ovidian woman, must bear much of this condemnation, both in
Pandarus's forced words of comfort to Troilus and in subsequent literary
Troilus's final vision implies a certain reading of Ovid, one based upon
Chaucer's medieval Christian apprehension of Ovid's life and art and of the
relationship between earthly love and exile. Part of Chaucer's reading is
based upon the way Ovid read himself, for Ovid in his Tristia discusses
both his love poems and his Metamorphoses.2 We are fortunate to have such
self-reflexive commentaries, something that Chaucer, who enjoyed court
favor and was certainly no exile, never had to write. To comprehend
Chaucer's use of Ovid and his sensitivity to the ethical concerns that arise
in Ovid's texts, we can make an extended parallel between Ovid's political
fortunes and Troilus's romantic life. Chaucer's Book V, like Ovid's Tristia,
confronts the Ars Amatoria and tries to make sense of its fictive language of
To understand this comprehensive analogy between the classical and
medieval reflections on the arts of love, we have to recall something about
Chaucer's reception of Ovid through medieval accessus and through the com-
prehensive vitae that introduced Ovid's poems.2 As we have seen, the me-
dieval accessus link all Ovid's works as part of one logically developed his-
tory. Accordingly, the ethical implications of the young Ovid's play, the Ars
Amatoria, reveal themselves in the old man's lament, the Tristia. Chaucer
knew what happened to Ovid because of the Ars Amatoria, and here at the
end of the Troilus we see the sorrow, the tristitia, of a young lover who has,


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

despite his own innocence and steadfastness, been guided by an Ovidian
"text" incarnate. In Ovid's "story," the author of the art of love suffers and
is punished; in Chaucer's poem, the naive pupil absorbs the disaster. Troilus
did not write a playful yet misunderstood poem about love; he led a life of
misunderstanding allegiance to both Ovidian love and to "trouthe." This
indecorous mix mires him in sorrow and propels him into exile.
Chaucer's awareness of the overall shape of Ovid's poetic career allows
us to see how Book V of the Troilus may parallel the Tristia. Although the
Tristia is an autobiographical elegy and the Troilus a long narrative poem,
both works study how fortune can change powerfully and tragically when
one takes game for earnest. Ovid repeats over and over that his love poetry
was not at all "real," just a joke and a trifle."9 The Ars Amatoria had no effect
on reality, he says, despite what people might fear:

sed neque me nuptae didicerunt furta magistro,
quodque parum novit, nemo docere potest.
sic ergo delicias et mollia carmina feci,
strinxerit ut nomen fabula nulla meum.
nec quisquam est adeo media de plebe maritus,
ut dubius vitio sit pater ille meo.
crede mihi, distant mores a carmine nostro-
(vita verecunda est, Musa iocosa mea)
magnaque pars mendax operum est et ficta meorum:
plus sibi permisit compositore suo.
(Tristia II, 347-56)

[No wives perpetuate any deceit because of my
teaching. No one who knows so little could
possibly teach such arts. And so I wrote delightful
things and light songs in such a way that no
scandal has ever been attached to my name. Nor
are there any married men, even among the plebs,
who doubt their fatherhood because of any crime
of mine. Believe me: my life is not like my song.
It's modest, but my muse is playful. A great part of
my work is lies and fiction, and it has given itself
more freedom than its author ever had.]

Ovid argues that the strategies and conceits of the love poems are not, fi-
nally, true doctrine or a design for living.


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Chaucer, like Ovid, knows the dangers of the art of love and the dan-
gers that arise if one takes play for high seriousness. Prince Troilus, by put-
ting faith in Pandarus's doctrines and by stubbornly insisting on his faith in
Criseyde, makes just this error. The exile he suffers is spiritual, as he wan-
ders in the "false worldes brotelnesse" (V, 1832), far from the true home of
God's love. Both Troilus and Ovid undergo the pain of separation; Troilus
from his only love, and Ovid from the sweet joys of his beloved Rome.30
Troilus's exile on account of the Ars Amatoria can thus be regarded, at least
in part, as a "medieval" or "Chaucerian" version of Ovid's. Chaucer makes
the connection powerfully stark by giving Troilus a lament that recalls Ovid's
proposed epitaph from Tristia III:

O ye lovers, that high upon the whiel
Ben set of Fortune, in good venture,
God leve that ye fynde ay love of stiel,
And long mote you're lif in joie endure!
But whan ye comen by my sepulture,
Remembreth that you're felawe resteth there;
For I loved ek, though ich unworthi were.
(IV, 323-29)

(Tristia III, iii, 73-76)

[I, who lie here, once played with tender loves.
Naso, the poet, I was destroyed by my own wit.
And to you who pass let it not be any burden,
lover, to say "may the bones of Naso rest softly."]

Ovid is not only a lover but the too playful poet of love, destroyed by his
own wit, and he addresses lovers who would pity his plight. Troilus, as a
lover, addresses lovers; he, too, hopes for pity.
In this lament, Chaucer has given Troilus the "sickness of spirit" that
the fourteenth-century Antiovidianus perceives and chastises in Ovid. As
we saw earlier, the anonymous poet tells us that Ovid was sent into exile to


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

think about his crimes, but he responded foolishly: "sick in spirit and about
to die an eternal death, you rise complaining against a healing god" (Kienast,
ed., 11. 133-34; my emphasis).32 The poet goes on to contrast Ovid to
Boethius, an exile who overcame complaint and distinguished himself. Both
Ovid and Troilus suffer from what medieval moral philosophers called
tristitia; in Hexter's words, that is "the spiritual sadness that wears men
down and is in direct opposition to the Christian virtue hope" (Ovid and
Medieval Schooling, 98). And both, now at the bottom of Fortune's wheel,
think on their graves.
To express the change from weal to woe that has led to tragic loss in
their respective works, Ovid and Chaucer each allude to episodes from the
Metamorphoses. Discussing the mysterious "error" that helped lead to his
banishment, Ovid asks:

cur liquid vidi? cur noxia lumina feci?
cur imprudenti cognita culpa mihi?
inscius Actaeon vidit sine veste Dianam:
praeda fuit canibus non minus ille suis.
(Tristia II, 103-6)

[Why did I see anything? Why did I make my eyes
guilty? Why to my unsuspecting self was the fault
made known? Actaeon was unaware when he saw
Diana naked: nevertheless he was prey to his own

Earlier on, Ovid gives himself the lament that the mute and metamorphosed
Actaeon is denied: "Me Miserum" (see Tristia I, ii, 19ff.). Explicitly and
implicitly Ovid lives out the changes in fortune suffered by his mythic charac-
ters. Like Chaucer, Ovid looks for a vocabulary to express the sorrow of
unforeseen change and finds it in the Metamorphoses.
In the Tristia, Ovid has taken us far from the world of the love poems,
as we can see when he compares himself to Ulysses (I, v, 57ff.). He tells his
readers: "Write, learned poets, about my sorrows instead of Ulysses's: I have
suffered more evils than he has" [Pro duce Neritio docti mala nostra poetae
/ scribite: Neritio nam mala plura tuli]. Ulysses, like Troy and all its sect,
was only an amorous exemplar in the Ars Amatoria: Ulysses was not hand-
some, so he used words to seduce women. Now, in Ovid's new world of
sorrow, Ulysses gets his identity back as an exile, a man of many sorrows.
The deep difference underlying the two, Ovid hastens to add, is that Ulysses'

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

suffering was false, a fiction, and Ovid's own is all too real: "Remember that
the greatest part of that man's labors are fiction; there is no fable in my
sufferings" [adde, quod illius pars maxima ficta laborum, / ponitur in nostris
fabula nulla malis] (Tristia I, 79-80). Ovid concludes that in any case Ulysses
did get home, something he can at this point only remotely hope for. Ovid
uses Ulysses here to balance the great wanderer's playful appearance in the
Ars and to indicate Ovid's own "change" from one poem to the other. Once
the powerful and popular poet of the Ars Amatoria, Ovid is now in exile.33
So too is Troilus; once catapulted into bliss by his own personal "ars
amatoria," he has now been metamorphosed into a sorrowing wanderer.
Ovid's use of the Metamorphoses continues in the short but stunning
fourth poem of Tristia I, where Ovid recounts his trials aboard ship on his
way to Tomis. During a storm, the ship goes out of control, and the fright-
ened sailor must submit to the sea:

navita confessus gelidum pallore timorem,
iam sequitur victus, non regit arte ratem.
utque parum validus non proficientia rector
cervicis rigidae frena remittit equo,
sic non quo voluit, sed quo rapit impetus undae,
aurigam video vela dedisse rati.
(Tristia I, iv, 11-16)

[The sailor's pale face confessed a frosty fear:
conquered, he follows, unable to rule the boat with
his art, as a rider, less than powerful, slackens the
useless reins on the rigid neck of the horse. Thus,
I see that not where he wishes, but where the
force of the waves takes him, the helmsman gives
the boat the sail.]

Ovid expresses lack of control in the metaphor of the charioteer giving up
the reins, as if the literal image of the foundering ship were not concrete
enough to convey the sense of futility and disorder. Ovid is not simply log-
ging in his experience; he is finding imagery to express his change in for-
tune, the shifting circumstances that have sent his life tragically out of con-
trol. He is writing an "art of exile."
Ovid uses a similar image in the Metamorphoses in the story of Phaeton.
As he depicts Apollo's son, he reverses the comparison offered in the Tristia:


Books III, IV, and V of the Troilus

palluit et subito genua intremuere timore...
iam Meropis dici cupiens ita fertur, ut acta
praecipiti pinus borea, cui victa remisit
frena suus rector, quam dis votisque reliquit.
(Metamorphoses II, 180, 184-86)

[He grew pale and suddenly his knees began to
tremble with fear.... Desiring to be called
Apollo's son, he is thus borne along like a boat by
the north wind whose helmsman lets the con-
quered steering fall, as he relinquishes the vessel
to the gods and prayers.]

A few lines later, Phaeton himself, like the fearful pilot in the Tristia, gives
over: "Mentis inops gelida formidine lora remisit" [Mad with icy terror, he
lets the reins fall] (1. 200). This passage and Tristia I, iv, share strikingly
similar imagery: pallere, remitterefrenum, gelidus, vincere. The Metamorphoses
provides for Ovid a vocabulary that closely describes his own "real-life"
battles with the "the inconstancy of things" [rerum inconstantia] that has
routed his hopes and ambitions.4 Ovid means what he says when he claims
that in exile he now is fit to take a place in his own poem, for he tells his
story of exile as a story of metamorphosis.
His play with nautical images becomes significant to our understand-
ing of the unity of imagery across Ovid's works when we look at the open-
ing words of the Ars Amatoria: "By art, sail, and oar, swift craft are driven-
light chariots too-and thus Love ought to be guided by art" [Arte citae
ueloque rates remoque mouentur, / arte leves currus: arte regendus Amor]
(11. 3-4). In the Remedia, too, it is smooth sailing with Ovid at the helm:
"With me as the leader, men, put off your harmful cares; with me leading,
it's steady as she goes for ship and crew" [Me duce damnosas, homines,
conpescite curas, / rectaque cum sociis me duce nauis eat] (11. 69-70). As
Ovid spins his love doctrines, he sails carelessly through calm seas. But in
the Tristia, art is at a loss, and he himself becomes a victim of metamorpho-
sis and nautical disaster. As art and power submit to fortune and chaos,
Ovid is lost at sea.
So too is Troilus, already described as "steerless" without his beloved
lodestar Criseyde. Troilus fears further that should Criseyde leave, he would
not know where fortune would take him: "If that Criseyde alone were me
laft, / Nought roughte I whider thow oldest me steere" (IV, 281-82).35
These images of fragile, fearful voyaging in which only hope guides him


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

show that Troilus is bound for disaster. The Ovidian Pandarus promised
the control and artistic power of the Ars and later the Remedia, but Troilus
must face the Metamorphoses and Tristia instead. In both the Tristia and the
fifth book of the Troilus, then, loss and separation obliterate art and leave
their respective protagonists "steerless" and fearful.
The parallels continue. Ovid's most elaborate analogy for his night of
banishment is the fall of Troy: "If it is possible to compare great things with
small, it was like Troy, when it was being taken" [Si licet exemplis in parvis
grandibus uti, haec facies Troiae, cum caperetur, erat] (see Tristia I, iii, 21-
26). In the playful context of the Remedia, Ovid tells us he could have saved
Troy if he had been called in to clear up the vicious triangle: "Give me
Paris: Menelaus will have Helen, and Troy won't fall to Danaan hands"
[Redde Parin nobis, Helenen Menelaus habebit / nec manibus Danais
Pergama uicta cadent]. But no art can save Ovid from suffering his own fall.
Ovid's Trojan War analogy marks a serious reversal in the tone and nature
of the reference in his poetry. Now that his own fortunes have turned, Ovid
gives the fall of Troy back its power and pathos. Just so, late in the Troilus,
the reality of the Trojan War asserts itself powerfully as Chaucer's refer-
ences to it multiply and intensify.36 Warlike Achilles, not a broken heart,
kills Troilus.37 Men have died, from time to time...
These parallels and shared themes, particularly in the context of
Chaucer's awareness of Ovid's tragic career, suggest that Chaucer may have
had the Tristia in mind while composing Book V. But Chaucer, finally, does
something that Ovid does not and indeed cannot do. Through Pandarus,
Troilus has taken the Ars Amatoria seriously, and it leads him to a love that
brings sorrow and death. And the narrator rejects this "feyned" Ovidian
love in favor of the Trinity. Follow God, he tells us, and since "he nyl falsen
no wight.... What nedeth feynede loves for to seke?" (V, 1845, 1848).
In the Tristia we learn that the Ars, a game, was taken seriously by its
readers, or at least by the humorless emperor who sent Ovid into exile.
Responding to the charge, Ovid repudiates his love poetry: "{Having failed
at epic} I returned to a light task and stirred my breast with fictional love"
[Ad leve rursus opus, iuvenalia carmina, veni, / et falso movi pectus more
meum] (Tristia II, 339-40).8The crux of the matter lies in these two words,
Ovid's "falsus" and Chaucer's "feynede." In the Troilus, feyned means
"simulated, counterfeit, spurious, false, not real.""39 Chaucer uses the word
morally, contrasting the human and the divine. Ovid'sfalsus, however, means
"fictive," "non-mimetic," and thus implies no moral universe. Far from
rejecting the Ars Amatoria, Ovid uses its falseness as his defense: If read
with an "upright mind," his poem is harmless." As Ovid tells the emperor:


Books III, IV and V of the Troilus

"{If you had read my poem} you would have found no crime in my Art"
[nullum legisses crime in Arte mea] (Tristia II, 240).41
For Ovid, poetry brings personal dangers; for Chaucer, moral ones.
Chaucer believes that falsus ("fictional") does not excuse poetry because it
cannot be separated from the other sense of the word, what Chaucer means
by feyned-"unreal," "ingenuine," "deceitful." Ovid, anxious to return to
Rome, regrets his love poems for what they did to him. Chaucer rejects
these same Ovidian poems for the false understanding they bring to his
hopeful lovers. The medieval accessus classify the Ars Amatoria as a "com-
plete guide for loving," but Chaucer exposes it as a false and dangerous
game. His address to "yonge, fresshe folkes" at the end of the Troilus be-
comes a new version of Ovid's paternal address to the youth of Rome (iuvenes)
in the Ars and the Remedia.42 At the end of his work, Chaucer turns to his
young audience, teaching them about a love beyond Ovidian art, one that
will never "falsen" them.
Chaucer's reevaluation of Ovid thus finally provides the real "remedia
amoris." Instead of looking for a temporary, fragile cure for an entangling
passion, Chaucer repudiates carnal love. Ovid tells his pupils that to rem-
edy love, one must pretend his lover is fat even though she is not, or that he
must go to her house unexpectedly and see how unattractive she is without
makeup. Further, he advises that when one is already exhausted and dis-
gusted by sexual frenzy, he should contemplate the blemishes and flaws of
his lover's body.43 Chaucer sees no remedy here, or in any of the Ovidian
techniques suggested by Pandarus or trampled by Troilus. And so, at the
end of the Troilus, he redefines love and points his readers away from the
protean, rhetorical world to the Trinity, unchanging and eternal, asking them
to learn what Troilus only glimpses after death and what Ovid, an exile and
a pagan, could never learn.
We have seen how Chaucer's revision of the Filostrato creates a dra-
matic conflict between Ovidian game and different types of truth-the truth
of human emotion, the truth of history, and the truth of the divine Word.
The world of the Troilus evolves from the Ars Amatoria and the Remedia
Amoris into the Metamorphoses and the Tristia. As the universe of the poem
becomes more and more dire, what do the Ovidian disciples do? Pandarus
disappears, since he is not designed to negotiate real emotion, and Troilus's
inability to change with circumstances dooms their teacher-student rela-
tionship. Criseyde, for her part, survives through Ovidian strategy: She makes
false promises, swears false oaths, "travels," accepts a new love, and leaves
the past behind. But the un-Ovidian, unprotean Troilus pays an emotional
price, suffers, and finally dies. All told, what has language done for lovers in


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

the Troilus? Seemingly everything and nothing, depending on the beliefs
and the perspective of the given lover.
In the following chapter, we turn to a new question, one that Chaucer
asks later in his Ovidian career. What would happen if Ovidian art could be
mastered by someone who is willing to change, has no nostalgic allegiance
to "trouthe," and makes the rules of the universe herself, immune from the
reality of history and war that burdens the cast of the Troilus? What if one
uses Ovidian art not just to get, keep, and "get over" a lover but to wage a
battle for romantic and marital justice? In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer
attempts to answer these questions by creating the Wife of Bath, his great-.
est Ovidian scholar and disciple. She tells all about her verbal craft and her
consummately successful arts of love in one of medieval literature's great-
est battles of books and authorities. But what role exactly does this gritty,
contemporary, bourgeoise play in this battle, and what might "success" ac-
tually mean?


New Armor for the Amazons
The Wife of Bath and a Genealogy
of Ovidianism

Chaucer and His Ovid

N HIS IMAGINARY letter of consolation to the
exiled Ovid, the bishop-poet Baudry offers this la-
ment: "What we are is crime, if it is a crime to love,
/ For the God who made me, also made me love."'
"Allas," says the Wife of Bath some 250 years later,
"that evere love was synne," expressing a sentiment
inherent to medieval lovers, who are subject to judg-
ment just as Ovid, the servant of the servants of love,
was subject to exile and ban. Those in a Christian
universe, like the twelfth-century bishop and the
fourteenth-century fictional weaver, find themselves
confronting forces of authority that are in conflict
with their art and their experience.
As a prominent document in the history of this
struggle between love and authority, and specifically
in the literary history of Ovidian love, the Wife of
Bath's Prologue and Tal examines the ambitions of a
uniquely constructed master of Ovidian art. The
Wife is the most deeply embroiled of all Chaucer's
characters not only in Ovid's texts themselves but in
their medieval manifestations and implications.2 She
is, like Ovid, the master of "experience" (usus).3 She
applies an explicitly Ovidian strategy from both the
Ars Amatoria III and from Ovid's Old Woman of the
Amores, and she tells a story from the Metamorphoses.
In addition, her husband owns a copy of the Ars
Amatoria in his book of wicked wives. The interplay


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

between these many "Ovids" constitutes one of Chaucer's most profound
dramatizations of sexual and marital power and authority. More than any
other poet in Chaucer's library, Ovid was concerned with the power of men
and women in the games of love. And so to understand fully the literary
historical significance of the Wife and to perceive the full extent of Chaucer's
interest in the gendering of authority, we must understand the Wife's Ovid,
the Venerean's use of "Venus's clerk."4
The Wife's "Ovid," furthermore, is in many respects Jean de Meun's,
for the "art of-love" that sprawls across thousands of lines of allegory in the
Roman de la Rose lies behind much of Alison's own art and struggle. This
clash of not so ignorant armies helps Chaucer shape the Wife, her many
husbands, Jankyn's book, and the battles that ensue. As many scholars have
seen, the Wife draws from the advice to lovers offered by her literary
"mother," La Vieille. Equally important to our study of the Wife's marital
battles is the discourse of Ami, the Ovidian "friend" of Amant whose Jeal-
ous Husband's speech is a close analogue and indeed a source for the anti-
feminist material in the Wife's Prologue.5
In the entire discourse of Ami we find a "genealogy of Ovidianism"
that shows how female greed and male domination caused the end of the
Golden Age by creating the need for trickery and fraud-that is, for Ovidian
art.6 This genealogy is explicitly based on Ovid's story of the decline of the
Golden Age and the origins of his own love doctrines as described in the
Ars Amatoria and the Amores. As the Wife takes on the antifeminist tradi-
tion, she attempts, ultimately, to depict a model for returning to that "golden
age" by getting beyond treachery and the claims to authority and power
that prevent love. Chaucer's use of Jean's poem not only allows us to com-
prehend "Chaucer's Ovid" but also illustrates how Chaucer transforms parts
of Jean's diffuse allegory into a compressed narrative monologue.7 As Chaucer
reimagines the work of his literary fathers, Ovid and Jean de Meun, he
allows the Wife to reimagine the words of her own literary ancestors and to
become, finally, his most powerful Ovidian artist.
An artist and a protean rhetorician, the Wife invents reality as both
Ovid and her most immediate precursor, Pandarus, do. She enacts various
stratagems of Ovidian deceit and basically "holds her husbands on hand"
in any way necessary. She "twists" them and extracts, as both Dipsas and
La Vieille advise, money and gifts. In return, she offers her husbands what
Ovid would call a gift of words, openly lying (11. 226 ff.) and at times feign-
ing appetite (1. 417). She twice tells the pilgrims that all she says to her
husbands "was fals" (11. 382, 582), and she sums up her art thus: "Atte ende
I hadde the bettre in ech degree, / By sleighte, or force, or by som maner


The Wife of Bath and a Genealogy of Ovidianism

thyng" (11. 404-5), for God gave women the arts of "Deceite, wepyng, [and]
spynnyng" (1. 401).8
The vital dynamic of the Wife's Prologue comes in part because Ovid's
love poems are the source, not only of the Wife's craft, but also of much of
the conventional antifeminism she embodies. As we will see, her drinking,
sexual appetite, trickery, and callousness in looking for a new husband at
the last one's funeral are all common antifeminist complaints rooted in Ovid's
poems. For the Wife, as for any medieval reader, Ovid was both an ancient
actor who knew the wiles of women and also a crafty counselor who knew
the "art of love." Ovid is, then, at once her adversary and her benefactor,
the founder of the tradition that opposes her and also, ultimately, her own
creator.9 The origins of this duplicity lie in Ovid's own double agency, for in
the Ars Amatoria he arms both "Greeks" and "Amazons." In the Troilus we
saw how Chaucer exploits the tension between two Ovidian "moments"-
the youthful love poetry and the poetry of change and exile. In the Wife's
Prologue, Chaucer orchestrates a battle between two opposing Ovidian in-
carnations-the antifeminist founder and the savior of disempowered
In the thick of the battle is Jankyn's book of "wykked wives"-that
bound version of the Jealous Husband's speech in the Roman de la Rose.
The false authority it assumes demands that it be surrendered and burned,
despite Jankyn's anxieties over losing his source of male power. Through-
out her Prologue and Tale, the Wife combats the subjection that arises from
the definitions of sexual difference generated by antifeminist texts. As she
strips Jankyn of the book, she strips him of what he thought was his warrant
of wisdom and superiority. As the Wife becomes a new Ovid and composes
a new art of love, we can tell that Chaucer's concerns with authority, expe-
rience, and textual power create a drama that we did not see in Troy. But we
must wonder if "trouthe," which both doomed and ennobled Troilus, will
play a part here too.

Ovid and Marriage: "Then Let the Bride Read Nothing"

To understand better Ovid's diverse role in the Wife's battles, we should
examine Ovid's own views on marriage relations-views that contributed
to his scandalous reputation and eventually to his exile and ban.'0 He was
charged with teaching men to corrupt married women through seduction,
and with teaching women to deceive their husbands and commit adultery.
The corruption of married women, the matronae, is at the heart of each
accusation, but the crimes refer to Books I and II of the Ars (which arm the


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

Greeks) and to Book III (which arms the Amazons). These teachings were
unpopular with Caesar Augustus. Medieval schoolmasters commonly ob-
served that Ovid was exiled in part because "Roman matrons were cor-
rupted" [corruptae fuerant romanae matronae] by his Ars Amatoria."
Ovid had tried to preempt controversy by specifying his audience for
the Ars-high-class courtesans only, the hetaerae, and not the matronae.'2 A
letter to Maximus (Ex Ponto III, iii) addresses the accusation that men-
armed with the Ars Amatoria-were nonetheless seducing the higher class
of women. Ovid contends that he has "not disturbed lawful wedlock," and
he asks the God of Love: "Have you at any time, by following my law,
learned to deceive brides and to make descent uncertain?" (III, iii, 53-54).
Nevertheless, to Rome his games were serious matters, shifting marital
power relations and endangering the future of the patriarchal social order.
Ovid was aware that some might think his guidance in Ars Amatoria III
would dangerously empower the matronae to seek secret love for them-
selves. He tried again to specify his audience while teaching the newly
freed slaves to deceive their men and guardians. So that no one will think
he intends these arts for the matronae, he pointedly announces a politically
correct Roman marital doctrine: "Let the bride fear the husband" [nupta
uirum timeat], "for this is what law, right, and modesty command" (III,
613-14). As Wilkinson observes, "Ovid is at pains to emphasize that his
poem has nothing to do with married or "respectable' women."13 Augustus
felt, however, that "respectable" women were learning from Ovid how to
deceive their husbands anyway. The emperor did not believe Ovid's claim
that Roman fathers "need not fear the legitimacy of their children," and he
may even have felt that Ovid's games led his own granddaughter Julia into
disgraceful adultery.14
In the Tristia, Ovid addresses these charges by distinguishing his po-
etry from the popular mime plays that "show" women how to deceive men
(Tristia II, 497ff.). He repeats his claim to an unmarried audience (II, 253ff.),
and states explicitly that "no brides learned deception" from him as teacher
(II, 347). In response to Augustus's statement that matronae might learn
adultery despite Ovid's innocent intentions (II, 253), Ovid issues the bold,
even Miltonic challenge, "Then let the bride read nothing" [Nil igitur
matrona legat] (II, 255). If poetry translates immediately into behavior, then
almost any poem ever written could prove dangerous. The only way to pro-
tect the public, if individuals cannot choose for themselves, is to ban all
poetry. As Ovid says elsewhere, "Any text can corrupt" (see Tristia II, 255-
56, 264).
In this entire controversy, we learn something about Ovid's teachings
that will prepare us to consider the literary historical context of the Wife's

The Wife of Bath and a Genealogy of Ovidianism

encounter with authority. In banishing Ovid, Augustus was trying to pro-
tect Roman law and mores; the issue of antifeminism does not arise. De-
spite his place in medieval antifeminist texts, Ovid never wrote explicitly
about the evils of women, not even in the Remedia Amoris, where Amor, not
femina, provides the opposition. If a pupil gets too deeply embroiled in
love and flirts with suicide, then Ovid can liberate him from this self-de-
structive passion.'5 Indeed, part of the Remedia's advice is to find another
woman, and Ovid explicitly states that though he addresses the Remedia to
men, his words will help women as well.16 Ovid has no committed agenda
or antifeminist burden. Unlike church fathers and medieval clerks, he does
not argue an ecclesiastical position exhorting celibacy. Rather, he plays-
and plays so as to join lovers, not keep them apart. It is the manner of "join-
ing" that brought on Roman wrath.
Even though Ovid is not essentially an antifeminist author," medieval
intellectual and literary history saw the Ars and the Remedia as antifeminist
texts. Christine de Pizan makes this clear in her treatment of Ovid in the
Book of the City of Ladies, which she wrote specifically to counter the ex-
cesses of antifeminism. Christine asks the character Reason why Ovid (a
renowned poet, though inferior to Virgil) would write such foul things about
women in these two poems.'8 Later, Rectitude responds to a similar ques-
tion, saying that since Ovid and other antifeminist writers armed men against
deceitful women, these writers ought to have done the same for women-
arming them against the wiles of deceitful men (II, 54, 1).'9 These passages
tell us that the love poems, though not initially designed, of course, as mi-
sogynist or misogamist texts, were appropriated as such by the medieval
authorities whom Christine battles. Accordingly we find Ovid's works in-
cluded in antifeminist anthologies, as Chaucer's index to Jankyn's book of
wicked wives indicates. The Wife's and Christine's specific references to
Ovid's status provide our best evidence that Ovid, despite his intentions
and despite the rhetorical complexities of his gendered voices, was a found-
ing father of the medieval antifeminist tradition.
A survey 6f the works in Jankyn's book further indicates Ovid's role in
the antifeminist tradition and shows precisely what the Wife of Bath must
confront.20 The book contains, among many others, "Valerie," "Theofraste,"
and "Seint Jerome." Valerius, the fictional name of Walter Map, refers to
his Discourse to Ruffinus the Philosopher Lest He Take a Wife. Theophrastus
wrote a tract against marriage, known only because it is preserved by Saint
Jerome, whose Epistola Adversus Jovinianum is one of the founding texts of
medieval antimarital literature. And, of course, the anthology includes
"Ovides Art" (Wife's Prologue, 1. 680). Ovid appears here (and is the focus of
Christine's attack) because the antifeminist texts draw from Ovid's love

Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

poems and make them, like the Metamorphoses, sources for sordid details
about mythic women such as the incestuous Myrrha and Pasiphae, the bride
of a bull. Ovid's poems, furthermore, sometimes describe woman as greedy,
vain, and given to "that fierce female lust" [ista feminea libidine] (Ars I,
341). Despite Ovid's supposed fairness in arming both Greek and Amazon,
many of his comments on sex, however playful, rhetorical, and, indeed,
contradictory, lend themselves easily to antifeminist use.2'
Jankyn's book offers us a definitive example: the wife lists for us the
characters her husband has studied, including Pasiphae, who is grouped
with Eve, Delilah, and Clytemnestra-women who brought their men to
disaster. Jankyn reads to the Wife:

Of Phasipha, that was the queene of Crete,
For shrewednesse, hym thought the tale swete;
Fy! Spek namoore-it is a grisly thyng-
Of hire horrible lust and hir likyng.
(11. 733-36)

In the margins of a Canterbury Tales manuscript, we find a gloss on this pas-
sage from one of the actual texts in Jankyn's book-Jerome's own catalog of
wicked wives:

Why should I refer to Pasiphae, Clytemnestra, and
Eriphyle, the first of whom, the wife of a king and
swimming in pleasure, is said to have lusted for a
bull, the second to have killed her husband for the
sake of an adulterer, the third to have preferred a
gold necklace to the welfare of her husband, etc.,
thus Metellius Marrio according to Valerius.22

In its manifestations as Jankyn's reading and as an actual gloss to a fifteenth-
century manuscript of Chaucer, Jerome's short catalog indicates that women's
lusts bring their husbands to disaster.
Ovid alludes to the story in the Metamorphoses but tells it in full in Ars I,
among a series of catastrophes brought on by "female lust." Ovid offers
here not a vote for celibacy but proof that women can be had: "Come, then,"
he encourages his students, "do not doubt that all women can be won"
[Ergo age, ne dubita cunctas sperare puellas] (Ars I, 343). Ovid is playing-
sperare may also mean "to fear"-but the context is winning women, not
rejecting them, as an antifeminist text would. Ovid says that women are


The Wife of Bath and a Genealogy of Ovidianism

lustful and therefore all the more available to the eager seeker. Jerome con-
verts Ovid's advice into a misogamist argument: Women are lustful and
therefore dangerous, so stay away. Jankyn has not only the original story of
Pasiphae in his copy of the Ars Amatoria but also Jerome's comments, giv-
ing him both text and gloss and allowing him access to the details that Jerome
The Wife's refusal to tell the "tale" in any detail-a tale Jankyn thinks
"swete"-hints that she knows the full, "grisly" version of the story found
in the Ars Amatoria. Furthermore, her phrase "horrible lust" may be an
echo of Ovid's "ista feminea libidine," for it accurately translates the scorn-
ful Latin intensifier "ista." In this episode, then, Ovid's hopeful, albeit rather
bestial, assertion of a man's chances of sexual conquest becomes a frighten-
ing argument against marriage and a fitting inclusion in Jankyn's antifemi-
nist book. We see here why the Wife has to do battle with glossators and
clerks in this complex combat of words and authorities, a medieval battle of
the books that seriously studies gender and power.23 We also see here the
power inherent in collections like Jankyn's that include both primary Ovidian
material and patristic glosses; the book's diversity and cross-referencing make
it a dynamic, elastic force.
As we move through the Prologue and look at the Wife's defenses against
this book, we have to try to determine which antifeminist texts lie behind
her words. Displaying rhetorical genius and sound scholarship, the Wife
uses Ovid against the antifeminist texts that themselves, as in the case of
Pasiphae, form another part of the medieval Ovidian tradition. Ovid pro-
vides power to whomever can use him well, and as the Wife herself says,
the first one at the mill is the first to grind the wheat (1. 389).

Ars and the Woman

To begin to understand the intertextual complexity of these Ovidian battles,
we must examine in detail the Wife's use of Ovid to see just how compre-
hensively Chaucer has shaped the Prologue into a neo-Ovidian art of love.
By embodying details from the antifeminist tradition and incarnating the
sterile bits of academic detail from Jankyn's book, the Wife becomes what
men fear most, the fully armed, nimble Amazon, wise through experience
yet still skilled at the "olde daunce." She reclaims parts of Ovid's Ars
Amatoria III and employs its stratagems against men. However, when Ovid's
arts are insufficient or counterproductive, the Wife bends them to suit her
own needs. Her protean flexibility in this regard does not surprise us, for it
is itself an Ovidian hallmark.


Chaucer's Ovidian Arts of Love

I would like to look at five primary instances of the Wife's use of Ovid
in her Prologue. In the first, she renders some Ovidian verses on the func-
tion of the woman's body in sexual economics. In the next four, I will first,
if possible, consider the Wife's words in the context of antifeminist ideol-
ogy, and then examine the original Ovidian verses behind what she says.
Tracking down both text and gloss reveals the ideological assumptions and
conventional imperatives of the Wife's play and illustrates that she knows
how to set Ovid and the antifeminist conventions against each other. Promi-
nent in some of these instances is the Wife's use of the body: Although she
is a "text," she is also a "body," powerfully asserting her physicality in sexual
politics. As H616ne Cixous says of women writers, "A woman without a
body... can't possibly be a good fighter."24
1. After her long disquisition on Scripture and virginity and after the
interruption of the Pardoner, the Wife offers the pilgrims a sample discourse
on how to control a husband, in the course of which she takes on and re-
futes a long series of antifeminist accusations. One issue is woman's free-
dom-as the Wife attacks her theoretical husband for wanting to "Be master
of my body and of my good" (11. 308ff.). "We love no man," says the Wife,
"that taketh kep or charge / Wher that we goon; we wol ben at oure large"
(11. 321-22). He cannot control both her body and her goods; if he locks up
her goods, he must be ready to say, "Wyf, go where thee liste; / Taak you're
disport, I wol nat leve no talys" (11. 318-19). At the end of this assertion of
independence, the Wife tells her husband that as long as she continues to
please him, he should not worry about what she does with her body on her
own time: "Have thou ynogh, what thar thee recche or care / How myrily
that other folkes fare?" (11. 329-30). She continues:

For, certeyn, olde dotard, by you're leve,
Ye shul have queynte right ynogh at eve.
He is to greet a nygard that wolde weme
A man to light a candle at his lanterne;
He shal have never the lasse light, pardee.
Have thou ynogh, thee thar nat pleyne thee.
(11. 331-36)

Editors are fond of citing Cicero's De Officis and the Roman de la Rose for
this passage.2z The version in the Roman is a difficult one in which Ami
criticizes Jealousy and says that she is so greedy that if she had to share
anything, she would still want to retain the whole of her initial portion, the
way a lantern retains its entire flame. There is no concrete sexual applica-


Full Text
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd
INGEST IEID EM3LRAX3N_7SDWB0 INGEST_TIME 2014-04-09T16:46:17Z PACKAGE AA00010097_00001