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Criseyde, Cassandre, and the Thebaid: Women and the Theban Subtext of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde Catherine Sanok Vniversity ofCalifornia, Los Angeles hen Pandarus first v1s1ts Criseyde to inform her of Troilus's love in book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde, he interrupts his niece and her companions as they listen to a maiden read "the romaunce of Thebes," a text that turns out to be Statius's Thebaid. Throughout Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer borrows widely from the Latin epic, em­ ploying Statian invocations and incorporating into his poem elaborate references to the Theban story. In a text replete with allusions to the Thebaid, however, the most explicit and extended of them are associated with women. Criseyde reads Statius's poem in book 2, and Cassandre recounts its argument in her interpretation of Troilus's dream of Criseyde's betrayal in book 5. Indeed, the narrative of the love of Troilus and Criseyde is bracketed by the Thebaid: Criseyde's reading marks the beginning of the affair, and Cassandre's explanation of Troilus's dream marks its end. These two extended references and most of the incidental allusions to the Thebaid are original to Chaucer's version of the story. In fact, the Theban subtext may well be the most significant addition Chaucer makes to Boccaccio's Filostrato.1 Although the groundwork for an analy­ sis of Chaucer's use of the Latin epic was laid in 1911 with Boyd Ashby Wise's study, The Influence ofStatius upon Chaucer, subsequent attempts to refine his work were until recently largely confined to tracking down 1 The Filostrato is Chaucer's primary source. He also used Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie and Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae. Chaucer's engage­ ment with Boethius is, of course, also highly important. Winthrop Wetherbee suggests the Divine Comedy as another significant source ofinfluence; Chaucerand the Poets: An Essay on Troilus and Criseyde (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984). 41 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER rather than interpreting Chaucer's Statian references.2 A renewed interest in the Theban material in Chaucer's poem has prompted a reconsideration of Statius's influence, especially in the important work of David Anderson and Winthrop Wetherbee,3 but has perhaps also served to obscure the marked relationship between the Latin epic and women. Anderson does link Criseyde's reading of the Theban story to Cassandre's summary ofit, but he finds the significance of this juxta­ position in a comparison ofPandarus and Cassandre, not Criseyde and Cassandre. Wetherbee is interested in the issue ofTheban references in the poem, those derived from Dante and Ovid as well as from Statius, and his broader area of inquiry also obscures the particular conjunction of these two scenes. As the scenes of Criseyde's reading and Cassandre's interpretation suggest, the relationship between women and the Statian epic is highly textual,4 and a broad interest in allusions to Thebes-or what Lee Patterson calls "Thebanness"-rather than the Thebaid, tends to obscure it. But it is also the strangeness of Chaucer's use ofthe Thebaid that has obscured its striking association with women in Troilus and Criseyde. Statius's epic seems at first an extraordinary text to give to female char­ acters, especially to the heroine of a love story, even one as ambiguous as Criseyde. Epic is hardly a genre associated with women in modern critical canons,5 and Statius's poem, with its vividly gory account of the 2 Boyd Ashby Wise, The Influence ofStatius upon Chaucer (New York: Phaeton Press, 1911; rpt. 1967), especially pp. 4-36. 3 See David Anderson, "Theban History in Chaucer's Troilus," SAC 4 (1982): 10933 , and Wetherbee, Chaucer and the Poets, esp. ch. 4, "Thebes and Troy: Statius and Dante's Statius." See alsoJohn Fyler's discussion in "Auctoritee and Allusion in Troilus and Criseyde," RPLit 7 (1984): 73-92. A. C. Spearing questions the assumptions that under­ write the interpretations ofFyler and Wetherbee in "Troilus and Criseyde: The Illusion ofAllusion," Exemplaria 2 (1990): 263-77. Paul Clogan discusses Criseyde's book and Cassandre's interpretation in relation to the Thebaid and the Roman de Thebes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 41-71
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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