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Idleness Working

the Discourse of Love's Labor from Ovid through Chaucer and Gower

Gregory M. Sadlek

Publication Year: 2012

Inspired by the critical theories of M. M. Bakhtin, Idleness Working is a groundbreaking study of key works in the Western literature of love from Classical Rome to the late Middle Ages.

Published by: The Catholic University of America Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

Writing a book that conjoins two of the most fundamental areas of human experience has been a daunting challenge and a continuous pleasure. While it is not true that nothing matters beyond love and work, it would be difficult to find two more basic building blocks by which humans construct meaning and purpose for their lives...

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1. The Discourse of Love’s Labor and Its Cultural Contexts

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pp. 1-23

Erotic love has been a major theme in Western literature at least since the poetry of Sappho but at no time more so than in the Middle Ages. Although partially tied in complex ways to human biology, “love” is also in large part a cultural construct, which changes and evolves as it passes from culture to culture and epoch to epoch.1 Its complexity...

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2. Labor Omnia Vincit: Roman Attitudes toward Workand Leisure and the Discourse of Love’s Labor in Ovid’s Ars amatoria

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pp. 24-54

John Gower claims to have constructed his Confessio Amantis from two sources: the world “in olde dayes passed” and the world “which neweth everi dai.” Most critics would agree that something similar could be said of Chaucer’s love poetry, and their sources for the past were, of course, “olde...

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3. Noble Servitium: Aspects of Labor Ideology in the Christian Middle Ages and Love’s Labor in the De amore of Andreas Capellanus

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pp. 55-89

The last chapter demonstrated that Ovid co-opted the Roman discourse of labor and incorporated it subversively to present the works of love as activities of otium negotiosum (busy leisure), not otium otiosum (unproductive idleness). He did this on several levels, borrowing key words, motifs, figures, and even a didactic genre from Roman labor discourse. Comparing courtship to the labor of soldiers...

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4. Homo Artifex: Monastic Labor Ideologies, Urban Labor, and Love’s Labor in Alan of Lille’s De planctu naturae

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pp. 90-113

Alan of Lille’s De planctu naturae, written around the years 1160 to 1170, is a significantly different work from either Ovid’s Ars amatoria or Andreas Capellanus’s De amore. Far from a handbook of love, the De planctu is a menippean satire, a moral work, written in alternating sections of prose and verse, in the tradition of Boethius’s...

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5. Repos Travaillant: The Discourse of Love’s Laborin the Roman de la rose

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pp. 114-166

The Roman de la rose is a comprehensive treatment of all aspects of love and includes a healthy dose of the discourse of love as passion. The discourse of love’s labor, however, is at its very heart, for this long poem of nearly 22,000 lines presents the first and, to a much greater extent, the second labors of Ovid’s Ars amatoria (finding and winning...

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6. The Vice of Acedia and the Gentil Occupacioun in Gower’s Confessio Amantis

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pp. 167-207

Like all of the works studied so far, John Gower’s Confessio Amantis treats the subject of love.1 Unlike most of the others so far, however, the Confessio is not an art of love. It is a story collection framed by the confession of a frustrated lover. Far from an ars amatoria, in fact, the Confessio is a remedia amoris.2 By the end of the work, the narrator...

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7. Love’s Bysynesse in Chaucer’s Amatory Fiction

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pp. 208-258

Chaucer’s love poetry, like that of Ovid, takes its particular coloring from the discourse of love’s labor, and his labor discourse double-voices not only that of Ovid, Alan of Lille, and the authors of the Roman de la rose but also that of his own contemporary society. Of course, the discourse of love’s labor is placed into dialog with the...


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pp. 259-266


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pp. 267-282

Subject Index

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pp. 283-295

Index to Authors Cited

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p. 296

E-ISBN-13: 9780813216522
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813213736

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 820009910
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Idleness Working

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Literature, Medieval -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Medieval -- Roman influences.
  • Love in literature.
  • Work in literature.
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey, -- -1400 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Guillaume, de Lorris, fl. 1230. Roman de la rose.
  • Alanus, de Insulis, d. 1202. De planctu naturae.
  • André, le chapelain. De amore et amoris remedio.
  • Gower, John, 1325?-1408. Confessio Amantis.
  • Ovid, 43 B.C.-17 or 18 A.D. Ars amatoria.
  • Ovid, 43 B.C.-17 or 18 A.D. -- Influence.
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