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REVIEWS female characters in The Canterbury Tales and offers only obvious and safe conclusions. For the specialist in medieval studies, Women in theMiddle Ages breaks no new grounds. For the beginning student of medieval history or literature, however, it may be a helpful introduction to the status, activities, and contributions of medieval women. The book is carefully edited, and its precise vocabulary and fluid style make it a pleasure to read. The apparatus-index, bibliography, and table ofabbreviations-competently guides the reader to read­ ily available modern English translations of historical documents, treatises, sermons, etc.; to creative medieval literature produced by, for, and about medieval women; and to appropriate secondary source materials. UTE STARGARDT Alma College A.J. MINNIS, ChaucerandPaganAntiquity. Chaucer Studies, No. 8. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982. Pp. viii, 200. $47.50. Chaucer is one ofthe very few poets ofthe Middle Ages who can be called a true antiquarian. Among contemporary English writers only John Gower shares anything like his enthusiasm for stories of pre-Christian times, and even Gower does not achieve Chaucer's complex response to paganism: a sharp understanding of cultural differences combined with close emotional sympathy. Over twenty years ago Beryl Smalley described a group of"classicizing" clerics in England during the early fourteenth century, and even earlier Morton Bloomfield had shown that Chaucer possessed a sophisti­ cated "sense ofhistory" about the ancient past. The present book by A. J. Minnis is a useful attempt to extend these two previous and still influential studies. In his first chapter Minnis goes beyond mere parallel passages to discover wider sources for Chaucer's knowledge of paganism in 205 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER commentaries on Boethius and in such writers as Vincent of Beau­ vais, Robert Holkot, Thomas Bradwardine, Pierre Bersuire, and the medieval historians ofTroy. Chaucer's concern, we are told, is not to allegorize this ancient material for moral truth but to present it "with literal truth, with the historical sense" (p. 21). Thus he depicts the pagan world with accuracy (by contemporary standards), re­ spect, and even sympathy. In his second and most valuable chapter, "The Shadowy Perfec­ tion ofthe Pagans," Minnis explores what Chaucer's contemporaries saw as the virtues and failures ofthe ancients. Although the central fact of idol worship was regarded as both absurd and dangerous (because of the intervention of devils), Minnis shows that late­ medieval writers found positive qualities in paganism. Authorities like Bradwardine and Nicholas Trivet distinguish between the errors ofsome heathen thinkers and the truths ofothers on such subjects as fate andpredestination. Many writers in the age ofChaucer empha­ size the intellectual and moral achievements ofpagans, pointing to those who, like Virgil, predicted the coming of Christ, and those whose virtues, like those of Socrates, Seneca, and Trajan (identified with the "friends of God" mentioned in Wisdom 7:27), put many Christians to shame and whose possible salvation was widely discussed. In his final two chapters, Minnis attempts to apply contemporary views of paganism to Trozlus and Criseyde and The Knight's Tale. He finds that Chaucer adopts in Trozfus a typical medieval strategy that allows the objective reporting ofpagan attitudes while making his own Christian values clear. Minnis contrasts Chaucer's sym­ pathetic ponrait of Cassandra as a good and enlightened sibyl to that of the wicked astrologer Calcas, who exploits his powers "in a selfish and sordid way" (p. 82). As for the two main characters, Criseyde is seen to combine the "modern" practice offin'amors with "ancient" fear, thought to be the basis of idol worship; Troilus is a thorough but admirable pagan, "a gentile philosopher capable of wise speculation about the nature of the universe" (p. 93). In contrast to the Christian narrator of Trozlus, the narrator of The Knight's Tale "empathizes with his characters and allows them to define their pagan standard without direct interference" (p. 108). 206 REVIEWS Although the characters in this tale resemble the gods they worship, they are actually superior to them. The young people are fatalists whose belief makes them susceptible to the ambiguous promises of devilish oracles, but Theseus is "the most perfect of all Chaucer's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 205-208
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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