restricted access The Song of Troilus: Lyric Authority in the Medieval Book by Thomas C. Stillinger (review)
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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER THOMAS C. STILLINGER. The Song ofTroilus: Lyric Authority in the Medieval Book. Middle Ages series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Pp. ix, 287. $32.95. Every writer, as well as every critic, has his or her own literary obsession. Few obsessions, however, are as tantalizing and productive as the one that explicitly drives The Song ofTroilus. In this book Thomas Stillinger focuses on the interplay between lyric and narrative modes in Dante's Vita Nuova, Boccaccio's Filostrato, and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde to demonstrate the emergence of a vernacular "lyric authority" that weds the subjective "I'' of erotic poetry with the impersonal voice of Latin biblical commentary. He addresses an impressive number of topics-intertextuality, auctoritas, genre, gender, and history-which have recently infused the scholarship on the Middle Ages with a new critical life. Stillinger's originality lies, I think, in his obsession with form, begin­ ning with a careful analysis of the visual layout of a single page from the Psalter commentary of Peter Lombard and ending with the manuscript rubrics that demarcate the songs of Chaucer's Troilus. The method forces us to see the microcosmic structure of each work and to interpret text and gloss, taken together, as a hierarchy of authority that either mirrors the stability of the Neoplatonic world view or intentionally undercuts and destabilizes that order. This approach enables Stillinger to chart the history of literary influence as a series of authorial revisions of and reactions to the scholastic tradition of exegesis, a process that is by no means unilinear. Chapter 1 of The Song ofTroilus defines and demonstrates the ways in which patristic commentators and medieval compilators of the Psalms are subordinated to the auctoritas of Scripture. This organized filtering of au­ thority results in a textual universe patterned on Augustinian and Pseudo­ Dionysian Neoplatonism. In his second and third chapters Stillinger fo­ cuses on the divisioni in the Vita Nuova to show that they are modeled on the divisiopsalmi but also to explore the ways·in which Dante deviates from the formal structure by creating a tension between the atemporality of lyric and the temporality of narrative that recapitulates the erotic attraction of Beatrice and Dante. In contrast, the Filostrato represents the conscious fu­ sion of lyric and narrative, formally staged in the uniformity of its octave stanzas and characterologically emblematized by the narcissistic identifica­ tion of the poet Filostrato and the mediator Pandaro with the lover Troilo. The result of this breakdown of distinct generic and gender categories, as 282 REVIEWS Stillinger argues in his fourth chapter, is the emergence of a new, self­ authenticating author whose presence is directly revealed in the frame of the poem. The fifth chapter of the book analyzes the figure of Troilus in Benoit, Guido delle Calonne, and others as a way of demonstrating that Chaucer uses efjictio in Troilus and Criseyde to repoliticize his protagonist and hence to address, in Lee Patterson's phrase, "the subject of history. " The reinser­ tion of martial depictions of Troilus (omitted by Boccaccio to extricate his story from the sphere of politics) enables Chaucer to treat the theme of the Trojan War but, more importantly, to call attention to problems of narra­ tive incorporation and authorial control.In the sixth and final chapter Stillinger analyzes the second Canticus Troili by exploring its connections with what he takes to be its Petrarchan and Statian sources as well as with Ricardian political satire.He concludes that this lyric, unlike the first Canticus Troili, occupies a fragmentary space that threatens to dissolve into narrative and ambiguity. By exposing his own poem to indeterminacy, Chaucer paradoxically constitutes himself as an author whose insights about instability extend beyond the confines of the text. As the above summary suggests, Stillinger's arguments are complex and provocative, and he has written a book that raises important questions about a seminal group of texts.The answers he formulates to these queries are always stimulating, though some are more convincing than others.The analysis of Peter Lombard's Psalm commentary in the first chapter leads to the conclusion that it is "a powerful emblem of stable textual...