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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER THERESA TINKLE. Medieval Venuses and Cupids: Sexuality, Hermeneutics, and English Poetry. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture Series. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. Pp. xiii, 294. $39.50. This is an excellent book: clear and intelligent, innovative and well­ balanced. Basing her analysis on formidable and penetrating research into mythographic writings, Theresa Tinkle destroys the all too long entrenched belief that medieval writing on Venus and Cupid, as love deities, planetary powers, and personifications of passion, can be ade­ quately interpreted in terms of authoritative reifications like the "two loves" or "courtly love." No such simple and hegemonic duality as the two loves emerges from the material, whether iconographical, poetic, or philosophical, usually cited to sanction such interpretations. Classical and medieval iconology was multiple, flexible, inconsistent, and historically subject to change and development. Tinkle's account of Alberic brings out clearly not only the "chaotic polysemy" (p. 61) created by his encyclopedism, analogous to the multiplicity and mul­ tivalence discernible in other twelfth-century discourses, but also the sense of "the sequentiality of the creation of meanings" (p. 61), and of the discrete realms of different kinds of meaning, discernible in his writing. The discovery ofmultiple readings emerges from this book as not merely a twentieth-century taste; it seems for many of the great medieval mythographers a consequence of their efforts to codify an­ cient poetry and myth-making. They are, in Tinkle's title for chapter 2, "semiotic nomads." It proves impossible to make a distinction, as she says on page 32, "between problematic 'literary' and pellucid 'source' texts." Chapter 2 offers an overview of the tradition of mythographic writ­ ing as "one of the very few discourses on sexuality that span the entire Middle Ages" (p. 43), and then outlines the classical sources for the me­ dieval tradition. There follow succinct analyses of several key mythog­ raphers, including Augustine, Fulgentius, and Isidore, considered as writers responding from the perspectives of different Christian eras to the challenge of interpreting and evaluating pagan mythology and fic­ tion for Christian culture. Some mythographers, including Bernardus Silvestris, Boccaccio, and Christine de Pizan (that trio of names alone surely amply indicates the absence of a monolithic inherited tradition) are poets. Conversely both the authors of medieval poetry and also on occasion their scribes, commentators, or imitators may follow mytho340 REVIEWS graphic systems of interpretation slavishly. Some poets in their han­ dling of these personifications of human love limit and determine their readers' interpretations; others-notably but not exclusively Chaucer­ transfer the task or authority of interpretation to their readers. Venus, as the supposed focus of an age-old dilemma at the very heart of human desire, conceived as masculine desire, has dominated schol­ arly writing; gender difference and the evolution of Cupid/Amor has engaged less academic attention. Tinkle clearsightedly corrects the dis­ tortion introduced into much mainstream iconography, literary history, and criticism not only by the overexclusive modern embrace of the "two loves" concept, which obscures the importance of other dichotomies like the contest between Ganymede and Helen (and she writes well on Alain de Lille), but also by the bias among modern scholars toward lo­ cating conflict in opposed images of the female (the two Venuses as Eve and Mary) and ignoring the history and problematic potentialities of the figure of Cupido, "desire." Tinkle writes perceptively (pp. 67-70) of the mixture of careful analysis and confusion in Boccaccio's encyclopedic efforts to catalogue classical mythology in the Genealogia, and she lays welcome emphasis on the central significance of his Promethean self-image as poet-and as modern, vernacular poet in a Christian era-in the proems to that work. Tinkle discusses Christine de Pizan's Epistre d'Othea as a pro­ grammatically contemporary didactic essay that uses parallels between ancient and modern chivalry as commentary on her own society and na­ tion. Christine, Tinkle argues, is innovative both in the precision with which she turns mythography to social commentary (conservative in implication) and also in simultaneously translating what Tinkle calls "clerkly mythography" (p. 73) into the vernacular and attributing it to a female divinity as authority figure. While this is true, it passes over Christine...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 340-343
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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