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20.08.11 Hodapp, The Figure of Minerva in Medieval Literature

The Medieval Review

20.08.11 Hodapp, The Figure of Minerva in Medieval Literature


This learned book begins with the text of a little-known vision poem, "Vpon temse fro London myles iii," in which in the opening stanza the figure of Venus appears to the dreaming narrator. The poet's use of this figure, Professor Hodapp notes, "would be meaningless without an intertextual tradition signifying that the underlying topic is the 'psychology of human love'" (3). From such a readily grasped, yet thought-provoking observation, Hodapp moves to the implicit, more demanding question of how antiquity was interpreted in medieval culture. Here, Hodapp introduces Minerva as his particular interest. To prepare the vast ground, he first examines terms in current use ("classical," "medieval") and their limitations; and establishes the early origins and meaning of others ("dream-vision," "allegory," "mythography"). A mini-essay on Minerva sets out her multivalence as a figure of wisdom both divine and human. Lastly Hodapp outlines the six chapters to follow, and the logic behind the selection of medieval texts. There is much care here, and throughout, with translations of the many Latin texts quoted, life dates appended to first references to the ancient and medieval writers mentioned, a meticulous bibliography, and a well cross-referenced index.

The first chapter investigates Roman ideas of mythography and wisdom--when Minerva, as goddess, is "more than human intelligence alone" (22) and, as patroness of Rome, represents both the arts of war and the diplomacy of peace--laying a valuable foundation for Hodapp's later-literature studies. Ovid's hope that Minerva will accept his verse for the festival sacred to her (Quinquatrus), Hodapp notes, portrays poets in particular as wise, or at least as "purveyers of wisdom" (23). This idea of the vates is then linked to later terms, such as makar, and to the image of the wise craftsman of Vinsauf and other medieval theorists. Because it juxtaposes worldly and spiritual wisdom, Clanvowe's Two Ways is given in-depth analysis here, as is much else that is pertinent to the ways in which medieval poets integrated the physical, historical, and allegorical traditions of wisdom; for instance, in the frequent appearance of female figures of wisdom, the idea of Christ as divine wisdom (as illustrated by the morality, Wisdom), or the influence of Cicero's theories of divinity in De natura deorum.

In chapter 2 Professor Hodapp pursues Minerva's associations with Sapientia ("a living, divine force permeating the universe," 44) and the related tradition rooted in Jewish wisdom literature. He first studies this in two earlier Latin texts (the "O Antiphons"; Boethius's metrum 8 from the Consolatio), then in those of Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the later Henry Suso. Hodapp illustrates the continuing use of the tradition in studies of two later visions, Reson and Sensuallyte, possibly by Lydgate, with its Minerval interest in "intelligent reading and proper judgment" (69); and The Palice of Honour, by Gavin Douglas, in which Minerva is said to be "a representative of contemplative wisdom" (75).

Minerva's links to education and to the liberal arts in particular are traced in chapter 3, Martianus Capella's expansion of Minerva's ancient association with intelligence and practical arts in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii receiving extended attention. Hodapp draws also on the comments of ancients, Cicero, Vitruvius, and many others, then on later Christian voices, Cassiodorus and Augustine among them. The medieval response to this "Martianus tradition" (81) is examined in two texts, The Court of Sapience (Hodapp the first to focus on Minerva's role in it), and Skelton's Garland of Laurel.

In chapter 4, Hodapp explores what he has called the "Patrona tradition" (120), which, within Graeco-Roman culture, saw Minerva as Pallas Athena, associated with politics. She is patroness / benefactor and founder / protector of the city state, and of the prince himself; for example, in Homer's Illiad and Odyssey, Aeschylus'Oresteia, or Ovid's account of the founding of Thebes in the Metamorphoses. After detailed discussion of more images of Minerva (Suetonius, Statius, Martial, and others), Hodapp turns to study medieval advisory works, including the Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon, Christine de Pizan's Epître d'Othéa; and two poems by Stephen Hawes, TheExample of Vertu and The Pastime of Pleasure. In the latter Hodapp examines Minerva as inventor of armour, warrior-protectress and strategist, who assists and teaches the narrator, "Graunde Armoure."

Chapter 5 opens with a discussion of the impact of Christianity after Constantine on the pluralistic religious culture of late Roman times, with close study of the associated anti-pagan re-classification of Minerva and other deities as idols. Hodapp traces that change as it appears in Christian Latin writing (Augustine, Paulinus of Nola, Sulpicius Severus, Prudentius, Isidore, Guido delle Colonne) where Minerva becomes either "a demon [revising the sense of daemon] or human intellectual powers used in pursuit of worldly or self-centred ends" (163). He considers the goddess, among other deities--their divinity discounted--in late medieval poems where Pallas Athene is kept distinct from, yet linked to, Minerva: Chaucer's Troilus; Gower's Confessio Amantis; The Assembly of Gods ("Christianity's overthrow of polytheism," 187); and William Dunbar's Goldyn Targe.

Professor Hodapp returns to Aphrodite-Venus and Athena-Minerva in chapter 6, noting that in the Graeco-Roman literature he explores (Homer's Iliad; Apollodorus' The Library) this relationship is one of "mutual indifference if not outright conflict" (202). Hodapp also observes that although medieval writers acknowledge the conflict between the two goddesses, they can depict them in alliance, Minerva assisting Venus to promote the cause of love. His in-depth discussion of Ovid's works argues that these roles derive from Ovid in particular, but the works of others (Walter Map, Petrarch, Maximianus) are also considered. Hodapp then turns to medieval illustrations: Chaucer's Troilus, Lydgate's Temple of Glas, James I's Kingis Quair (in which Minerva's alliance with Venus underscores a "key theme," the "relationship between love and wisdom," 231), and Charles d'Orléans' Fortunes Stabilnes.

In The Figure of Minerva Professor Hodapp has attempted a huge project; for those scholars interested in the theoretical and historical contexts for analysis of Minerva in medieval literature, it is a rich resource. Hodapp's lengthy plot-descriptions of many texts, both Graeco-Roman and medieval, are put to good use in his efforts to demonstrate continuities and differences over hundreds of years. The book is helpful, too, for specialists in related areas, including the medieval dream vision and its origins; the forms, iconography, and influence of wisdom literature; and for those pursuing specific topics and themes--The Four Daughters of God; Fulgentius; responses to Chaucer's House of Fame; princely education; anti-pagan discourse in patristic works.

Among the few errors, the reference (75, 85n.) to Davidson's c. 1535 edition of Douglas's Palice as the "earliest surviving" should be qualified: what survives of this edition is a fragment of only four leaves. It is not easy, surprisingly, to identify which edition (1553? 1579?) of the Palice Hodapp has consulted, but some form of "lewdly/ie" should correct "lewdy" in the quotation on page 77. Allusions to a tale in twelfth-century Joseph of Exeter's Yliados as one "familiar from Lydgate's Reson and Sensuallyte" (136, 146) is a small shock to the chronology, if quickly understood to be a reference to earlier discussion in the book; even smaller, "Williams, Janet Hadley" should read "Hadley Williams, Janet." If many of the lengthy footnotes could have been condensed, they are almost always helpful. ​