contributor.author: Roberta Davidson

title.none: Chance, ed., The Assembly of Gods (Davidson)

identifier.other: baj9928.0005.014 00.05.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Roberta Davidson , Whitman College, davidson@whitman.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Chance, Jane ed.,. The Assembly of Gods: Le Assemble de Dyeus, or Banquet of Gods and Goddesses, with the Discourse of Reason and Sensuality. Teams: Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. Pp. vii, 154. ISBN: 1-580-44022-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.05.14

Chance, Jane ed.,. The Assembly of Gods: Le Assemble de Dyeus, or Banquet of Gods and Goddesses, with the Discourse of Reason and Sensuality. Teams: Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999. Pp. vii, 154. ISBN: 1-580-44022-3.

Reviewed by:

Roberta Davidson
Whitman College
davidson@whitman.edu

In her edition of the fifteenth-century allegorical poem The Assembly of Gods, Jane Chance has brought her familiarity with the works of Christine de Pizan together with her study of myth in Chaucer and Lydgate and attempted to give depth and significance to an otherwise pleasing but undistinguished poem. In her introduction, Chance places the poem in the tradition of those poets who attempted to mediate in their poetry conflicting social, cultural and religious value systems. Such poets, she suggests, "develop from old models new uses of rhetorical figures, particularly personification allegory, descriptions and catalogues of information of the sort yearned for by a newly literate vernacular audience." (1) She argues, further, that although "the poems often seem to be looking backward to the literary models of the fourteenth century, they also anticipate the Reformation in shrewdly original ways by means of their emphasis on the individual through a kind of allegorical process of literary nominalism. The concept of a first person narrator within this context represents a literary desire to explore what might be termed subjectivity and the voice of the individual." (2)

The Assembly of Gods is not the strongest example of this process. The narrator does, indeed, have a vision of Classical Gods, followed by a lengthy battle between Vice and Virtue, all of which is finally glossed for the Dreamer by Doctrine. In the process, the poem combines elements of myth, courtly romance and dream vision, using personification, description and catalogue to allegorize an internal conflict between sensuality and reason, the latter, in this context, almost synonymous with prudence. On the whole, the intellectual level of the poem resembles that of a morality play, demonstrating a similar balance of instruction, entertainment and a moral made explicit enough for anyone in the crowd to understand.

However, it is probable that Chance's primary interest in the work lies in other areas than its intellectual depth or artistic excellence. She is convincing in establishing a connection between Christine de Pizan's work and the reference to the character Othea in the poem. She argues that "The Assembly of Gods may indeed be said to belong to a group of late-fifteenth-century courtly love parliament or assembly debate poems written about women or with female characters, some of which may have been composed by women, or by poets whose patrons and audiences were female." (6-7) She notes the significance of Text A (Cambridge Trinity College Library MS R.3.19, fols. 67b-97b), in which the poem is preceded by The Assembly of Ladies. There are far fewer gendered elements in the plot of The Assembly of the Gods, so such juxtaposition could possibly be credited to an association of the gender of the author rather than the similarity of subject matter, but, on the other hand, the similar uses of allegory in the two poems could be sufficient reason for their association. Chance argues that there are features she sees as "feminized" in the work (13-14), and a limited explicit treatment of gender issues can also be found in some of Christine de Pizan's own works.

Ultimately, readers of The Assembly of the Gods will be drawn to it either because of a strong interest in mythologized allegory or out of an interest in the period as a whole. The poem is weak as poetry, but nonetheless frequently engaging. The battle scenes have a Cecil B. DeMille range of characters--they might make better viewing than reading--and there are several amusing passages, such as the gods' squabbles at the beginning of the poem, or a conversation in which Reason and Sensuality reach an amiable accord on the one belief they have in common: the wise man flees death. On the other hand, Doctrine may remind you of past teachers whose zeal to make sure you understood each and every aspect of their argument was only matched by the length of time it took them to get to the point.