The desolate palace and the solitary city: Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Dante
Robert R Edwards. Studies in Philology. Chapel Hill: Fall 1999.Vol. 96, Iss. 4; pg. 394, 23 pgs
Abstract (Document Summary)
In "Troilus and Criseyde," Chaucer inserts his poem within the rich and superbly nuanced intertextuality that joins Boccaccio and Dante. Chaucer depends not only on the "Filostrato," but also on the "Vita Nuova."
Full Text (9569 words)
Copyright University of North Carolina Press Fall 1999
CHAUCER'S Troilus and Criseyde is a poem whose celebration of passionate, sexual love unfolds simultaneously with a critique , of desire. To be sure, much of the thematic counterpoint is only partial and localized, either added to the story of Boccaccio's Filostrato or displaced from its position in the original. When Troilus falls in love at the sight of Criseyde in book i, for example, the episode is described as Cupid's vengeance on his pride, but Chaucer never returns to the motif. In book 4, Pandarus counters the shock of Criseyde's removal from Troy to the Greek camp with the equally shocking suggestion that the love affair is after all only "casuel plesaunce" (4-419).1 Troilus rejects the suggestion, and the narrator just as quickly insists that the remark is not really meant in earnest. Chaucer's structural technique in these passages is a gesture of recognition toward the "chronicle" histories of Troy, in which the main line of tragic action is set tonally and conceptually against its origins in oblique and seemingly minor incidents. As John Lydgate remarks, the city was destroyed "For thing, allas, that was neuer thought" (Troy Book 1.764)2 Elsewhere, however, Chaucer's counterpoint of celebration and reproval is profound and resonant rather than glancingly topical. One important instance of this deep and sustained critique of desire occurs in book 5, in the journey that Troilus takes around Troy after his return from Sarpedon, as he futilely awaits Criseyde's promised return. He goes first to Criseyde's palace, then by the "places of the town / In which he whilom hadde al his plesaunce" (5.563-64), and finally to the gates from which Criseyde left the city. The crucial stanzas are those in which Troilus addresses Criseyde's palace:
"O paleys desolat,
O hous of houses whilom best ihight,
O paleys empty adn disconsolat,
O thow lanterne of which queynt is the light,
O paleys, whilom day, that now art nyght,
Wel oughtestow to falle, and I to dye,
Syn she is went that wont was us to gye!
"O paleis, whilom crowne of houses alle,
Enlumyned with sonne of alle blisse!
O ryng, fro which the ruby is out falle,
O cause of wo, that cause hast ben of lisse!
Yet, syn I may no bet, fayn wolde I kisse
Thy colde dores, dorsete I for this route;
And farwel shryne, of which the seynt is oute!"
These stanzas are one of the most commented-on passages in modern criticism of Troilus and Criseyde. The most recent commentary is by Lawrence Besserman and John V. Fleming, who arrive independently at the same insight that Chaucer through Boccaccio is deeply indebted here to Ovid@ Fleming says, "It seems to me quite certain that in the episodes of the fifth book of the Filostrato (the festivities at Sarpedon's and the secret visitation to Criseida's empty house) Boccaccio was schematically playing off against the themes of Ovid's Remedia" (26). The abortive trip to Sarpendon follows Ovid's advice that a distraught lover should seek company; but when Troiolo reads Criseida's letters and returns to the sites of former sexual pleasures, he violates Ovid's specific injunctions (27).
Fleming goes on to suggest that the Roman de la Rose is a mediator between Ovid and Chaucer, both in its appropriation of lines from Ovid and its parallel, though distinctly Christian, aims of parody and satire. The conclusion he reaches is, I think, generally the right one -namely, that Chaucer exploits the theme of sexual idolatry. But the Ovidian influence that Besserman and Fleming observe is itself framed by a larger literary context. The poem's reproval of sexual idolatry emerges out of a network of textual allusions that forges a critique much more powerful than parody and elegiac satire. For in this passage, Chaucer inserts his poem within the rich and superbly nuanced intertextuality that joins Boccaccio and Dante, and he sets the portrayal of Troilus's love in relation to an exegetical tradition that signals what is finally at stake in his poem. Chaucer depends not only on the Filostrato but also, indirectly, on the Vita Nuova, which is Boccaccio's subtext. These two sources consciously use the figure of the solitary city from the opening of the Book of Lamentations to express the workings of desire and absence. To appreciate fully what Chaucer achieves in Troilus and Criseyde, we must begin with the originary text in Lamentations and particularly with the hermeneutic within which Christian writers like Saint Augustine and subsequent medieval commentators understood the solitary city. From that basis, we can trace a sequence of poetic response that links Dante, Boccaccio, and Chaucer.
The Book of Lamentations, traditionally (though mistakenly) ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, consists of five closely related poems mourning the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-12). These poems draw on earlier Middle Eastern traditions of poetic laments for ruined cities and on funeral songs, but they are unique in recording a moment of terrible historical consciousness, in which God evidently withdraws his favor from the Jewish people as his chosen servants because of Israel's sin. Throughout Jewish history, God's destruction had been a means of correction and chastisement, and restoration had followed reliably from atonement. But in Lamentations the nature of the sin is never revealed and remains unnamed and unknown. Consequently, the poems record, as Norman K. Gottwald observes, a "historical crisis" in which faith in the simple correspondence between virtue and reward is tested by bitter adversity without the prospect of restoration@ The opening strophe of Lamentations serves as a synecdoche to evoke the entire sequence of five poems, and it was understood as such by medieval writers. In Jerome's Vulgate it reads:
Quomodo sedit sola civitas plena populo
facta est quasi vidua domina gentium
princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo?
[How deserted lies the city that once was full of people!
Once greatest among nations, she is now like a widow;
Once the noblest of states, she is set to forced labor.] 6
The city here is a polysemous term; it means Zion, the Jewish kingdom, and the people of the covenant present, past, and future. Personified as an abandoned woman, doubly defiled by her own promiscuity and the conquerors' rape, the widowed city is isolated from all social and spiritual community. She is, as Alan Mintz describes her predicament, "a living witness to a pain that knows no release," who suffers "continuing exposure to victimization" because she has no legal standing and "may thus be abused with impunity."7 Her abasement is intensified by the shame of her enemies' exultation, who are not just the blind instruments of God's vengeance but her apparent successors in a history that has suddenly taken on new contours in the rise and fall of nations rather than the enduring covenant between God and Israel.
It is the shock of abandonment more than sheer destruction that lends thematic and emotional unity to the poems of Lamentations and makes them such a powerful, evocative source for later writers. At various points, abandonment is expressed as exile, mourning, captivity, hunger, and slaughter. The writer of the opening poem complements these metaphors with images of the city's desolate gates (1:4) and fire descending (1:13), of disavowing lovers (1:19), groans (1:22), and the repellant sight of the enemies' exultation (1: 5, 7,21). What organizes all these rhetorical figures is the lost presence of God, the full embodiment of numinous power now removed and for the first time seemingly irrecoverable. Lamentations offers no consolation through prophecy, and so it registers the psychological, historical, and spiritual impact of an end to the covenant, to the means of atonement, to the possibility of any reconciliation and restoration.
Christian writers appropriate this rich collection of themes in rhetorical and hermeneutic forms that bear significantly on subsequent vernacular poetry. The rhetorical power of the metaphors and images from Lamentations is nowhere more evident than in Augustine's Confessions. In book 4 Augustine recalls his friendship with a young man who shared his enthusiasm for literary studies and followed him into heresy. When the friend falls ill, he receives baptism. During a brief recovery, Augustine jokes with him about the baptism, but the friend reproves Augustine for mocking the sacrament. The friend dies a few days thereafter, before Augustine can reconcile with him. Augustine's expression of grief (Confessions 4.4-9) takes its language of alienation and spiritual exile from Lamentations:
Quo dolore contenebratum est cor meurn, et quidquid aspiciebarn mors erat. Et erat mihi patria supplicium et paterna domus mira infelicitas, et quidquid cum illo communicaueram, sine illo in cruciatum immanem uerterat. Expectabant eum undique oculi mei, et non dabatur; et oderam omnia, quod non haberent eum, nec n-dhi iam dicere poterant: "Ecce ueniet," sicut cum uiueret, quando absens erat.
[My heart was darkened over with sorrow, and whatever I looked at was death. My own country was a torment to me, my own home was a strange unhappiness. All those things which we had done and said together became, now that he was gone, sheer torture to me. My eyes looked for him everywhere and could not find him. And as to the places where we used to meet I hated all of them for not containing him; nor were they able to say to me now, "Look, he will come soon," as they used to say when he was alive and away from me.] 8
In the Convivio (1.2.14), Dante explains how the Confessions served him as literary model, and certainly the topical elements of the solitary city, as they will appear later, are already directed toward rhetorical ends in Augustine's lament.9 Grief, alienation, the loci of memory, the poignancy of expectation set against the impossibility of restoration-all these wait to be reshuffled into later poetic configurations. For Augustine, the informing idea -what emerges as the hermeneutic clarification of his rhetorical use-comes slightly later in his narrative, and we see it only from the retrospect that controls the forward unfolding of time in his story of conversion. Augustine advances to two stages of understanding about his friend's death. He first realizes that his grief for his friend is grief for himself. If the friend is, as Horace (Car?nina 1.3-8) and Ovid (Tristia 4.4-721) would have it, "the soul's other self" (dimidium animae suae), to suffer his death is to suffer the loss of oneself.10 Eventually however, Augustine realizes that the classical model of friendship -Cicero's "rivalry of virtue" (honesta certatio) and the otiose life of cultured conversation among intimates-is "one huge fable, one long lie" (ingens fabula et longum mendacium): "fuderam in harenam animam meam diligendo moriturum ac si non moriturum" ("I had poured out my soul like water onto sand by loving a man who was bound to die just as if he were an immortal" 14.8.131).11 The false unities of self with other and of the self in a circle of intimates prove to be, in the dual framework of the Confessions, mere adumbrations of what Augustine calls "friendship with God." Augustine's narrative of desolation, then, offers the promise of abundance and plenitude that he reaches by working through false embodiments of presence as it is simultaneously eroticized and sublimated. In the end, the affective bond of friendship signifies God's incommensurable love. Seen from the retrospect of conversion, all desire has its final object in God.
The reading I am offering of this passage operates, of course, within the hermeneutic established by Augustine's narrative framework. The loss represented rhetorically by evoking Lamentations discloses its significance to Augustine only belatedly, in the distance of time and from the perspective of faith. Taken by itself, Augustine's rhetorical strategy is limited and localized. He relies chiefly on analogy, and his aim is to express the measure of grief: his experience is like that of the poet and the widowed city in Lamentations because the feelings of grief, loss, abandonment, and exile are the same. By contrast, medieval commentaries on Lamentations imposed a structure closer to the hermeneutic retrospect that finally controls the Confessions. In their textual commentaries, Christian exegetes recognized the importance of the historical level that gave Lamentations its immediate expressive power, yet they emphasized figurative aspects that yielded applications to the individual soul and to the church as a social paradigm. The medieval commentary on Lamentations is vast (Friedrich Stegmulller's Repertorium Biblicum lists nearly seventy works 12) , but the key text in this medieval reading is the Expositio in Lamentationes Hieremiae by the Carolingian writer Paschasius Radbertus.13 Radbertus's commentary was incorporated in the Glossa ordinaria and so became the dominant reading in the exegetical tradition; it served, for example, as a direct source for Guibert of Nogent and Hugh of St. Victor and for late medieval commentators like the Oxford Franciscan John Lathbury (fl. 1350).
Radbertus treats divine presence as the symbolic constant among the text's multiple meanings. Drawing on Jerome and Rabanus Maurus, Radbertus offers a literal interpretation of the historical fall of the city, which for him includes the prophecy, since realized, of its second fall under the Romans; he then reads the text as an allegory of the church and explains its tropological application to the individual soul.14 The major hermeneutic step in Radbertus's interpretation is to suggest that Lamentations should be read not alone but in the context of the Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles) and the Psalms.15 Just as the Canticle is the preeminent text about lovers' embracing, he contends, so Lamentations stands above other scriptural laments in bemoaning the withdrawal of the husband from his wife: "Quia sicut omnino praecellunt illa [Cantica Canticorum] in quibus sponsus ac sponsa dulcibus fruuntur amplexibus ita et Lamentationes istae uincunt omnia Scripturarum lamenta in quibus abscessus sponsi ab sponsa magnis cum fietibus uehementius deploratur." 16 E. Ann Matter proposes that this comparison is crucial to the plan of exposition: "For Radbertus, the Song of Songs and Lamentations describe contradictory spiritual states; the former tells of the joy of God's mystical embrace, the latter describes the desolation of God's absence."17 Radbertus cites the Psalms, with their repeated theme of God's absence, as parallels because Lamentations shows the feelings (affectus) and reproduces the complaint (lamenta) for which the Psalms serve as exemplary texts: "Quae nin-drum. lacrimarum genera Scriptura diuina latius explanat cum in diuersis Scripturarum locis singulorum uarios demonstrat affectus et lamenta replicat" (5). Like the Canticle, then, Lamentations connects eros and absence, while it bewails, through the Psalms, God's abandonment of his chosen.
In Radbertus's explication of multiple meanings, God's withdrawal is expressed concretely through the figure of the husband abandoning his wife. Radbertus takes the Vulgate phrase sola civitas in a spiritual sense to mean that Christ, the bridegroom of the Canticle, has been driven off by sin (9). The lament is not merely for the city but for mankind. Furthermore, the prophet grieves not because the city is sitting in the dust but because it sits alone; therefore, the adjective sola is correlated with the phrase quasi vidua: "Porro sola quia quasi uidua" Go). The city is like a widow, he reiterates, because her foulness has induced her husband to leave her. Nonetheless, Radbertus insists that the figure is only a simile: the city is like a widow; it is not a widow strictly speaking, for the marital bonds (sponsalitatis iura) remain in place, as does the possibility of returning to an earlier promise of love. Thus, read tropologically, the deserted city as it sits like a widow signifies a soul stripped of virtues and subjugated by vice as its captor (lo-11).
Rabanus has earlier made the same point in his interpretation of the passage. In a mystical sense, Rabanus says, man's faithful soul is lamented because it used to be full of virtues and controlled the lusts of the flesh with various feelings (diversis affectibus); but it has now become inflamed by desire, is devoid of the angels' consolation, and lacks divine fellowship (carens divino consortio): "Mystice autem plangitur anima fidelis hominis, quae plena quondam fuit numerositate virtutum, et imperabat diversis affectibus, dominans concupiscentiis carnis: postea autem a malignis spiritibus flamma libidinis succensa, destituta angelorum solatio, et carens divino consortio, tot servit sceptris dedita quot vitiis." 18
The elements of Radbertus's commentary reappear in later exegetical writers. Guibert of Nogent interprets the widowed city along tropological lines, explaining its isolation as the consequence of the flight of reason and God its spouse: "Domina gentium quasi vidua fit, cum ratio, quae vitiorum gentibus discretionis sceptro praesidere debuerat, expers divini seminis, et Deo conjuge vacat" ("It is said The Queen of nations like a widow, when reason, free from divine essence, which should have watched over the people of vices with the staff of judgment, is without God as her husband").19 Hugh of St. Victor reads the passage on historical, allegorical, and tropological levels. Like Guibert, he stresses the soul's regulation of vices and senses. Though Hugh does not explicitly connect Lamentations with the Canticle, he nonetheless draws on the marital imagery Radbertus had elaborated: "Propterea vero Deus vir dicitur plebis illius; quia earn ad cultum suum. casto sibi amore copulaverat, ne per varias idolorum culturas fornicaretur" ("Therefore, truly God is said to be the husband of that people because he joined it to his faith with a chaste love, lest it commit adultery through various idolatrous rites").20 Moreover, Hugh stresses divine presence as God's habitation of the soul: "Secundum intellecturn moralem civitas significat animam quae sola sedet, quando a Deo derelinquitur; plena autem populo virtutum, quando a Deo inhabitatur" ("According to the moral sense, the city means the soul which sits alone when it is abandoned by God but which is full of people of grace when it is inhabited by God"). He poses a set of questions that builds successively to an understanding that the soul's virtues proceed from God's presence: "Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo? Quomodo anima mea desolata est? Quomodo bonum illum habitatorem perdidit, quo praesente olim plena populo virtutum fuit?" ("How does the city sit solitary that was full of people? How has my soul been forsaken? How did it lose that good inhabitant, by whose presence the people were once full of virtues?" [PL 175:2581).
Radbertus's commentary exercised a wide influence not only through its inclusion in the Glossa ordinaria but also through direct citation by later exegetes. Lathbury places Radbertus at the head of a tradition of commentators that includes Isidore, Gregory, Nicholas Lyra, and Gilbert of Poitiers. Lathbury's Liber moralium super trenis iheremie employs an extrinsic prologue to explain the author, subject matter, form, and intention of Lamentations.21 The subject matter is threefold: historically, the ruin of the city first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans; allegorically, the overthrow of the Roman church by numerous heretics; and tropologically, the overthrow of the Christian soul through sin and invisible enemies. Lathbury continues, "Et hac de causa legam lamentationern lamentationum sicut predecessor legit cantica canticorum. Quia sicut canticum canticorum conuenit patrie benedicte sic lamentacio lamentationurn conuenit uie huius uite maledicte" ("And for this reason I should read Lamentations just as my predecessor read the Song of Songs, because just as the Song of Songs is appropriate to the blessed homeland, so the lament of Lamentations is appropriate to the ways of this cursed life" [Sig. C2^sup vb^-C3^sup ra^] ).22 He restates Radbertus's contrast between the Canticle as a poem about the embrace of husband and wife and Lamentations as a work "in quibus absencia sponsi a sponsa multimodis fletibus deploratur" ("in which the absence of the husband from his wife is lamented in various weepings" [Sig. C3^sup ra^]) . The Canticle leads unlike people - "diuerse persone," literally, people turned away from each other-to nuptial joy ("nuptialia gaudia"), while Lamentations bemoans the separation of dissimilar persons ("diuerse persone abducte"). Lamentations further contains within it two distinct parts - "lamentationes et orationes" (Sig. C4^sup vb^). Its lament deals with sin, while its prayer joins divine power and human need: "In oracione uero copulat et connectit dei ornnipotenciarn et huius rei indigenciam ut ipse deus in clemencia consolatoria et ipse in confidencia meritoria firmius perseuerat" (Sig. C4^sup vb^). Thus whoever reads Lamentations can see himself portrayed in its prophetic mirror as blessed or miserable.
Within and across its exegetical levels, then, the Christian tradition read the image of the solitary city in Lamentations in a way that complicated the themes of abandonment and alienation by discovering further possibilities of textual meaning. If Lamentations represents within Jewish history a crisis of belief in God's justice, medieval Christian writers understood that the text chiefly embodies a metaphysics of presence -in this case, God's favor now withdrawn but still immanent, hence capable of restoration. For them, the absence and abandonment grieved in Lamentations imply the restoration promised by the Song of Songs." Seen alone or paired with others, the biblical text becomes a meditation on desire. Like Augustine, who offers friendship with God as a prospect, structuring his life story as a forward movement seen from the retrospect of conversion, the exegetes envision a temporal continuum from past to future along which desire moves from absence to repletion and plenitude.
This hermeneutic structure of abandonment and return, absence and plenitude, is critical in the intertextual sequence that connects Dante's Vita Nuova, Boccaccio's Filostrato, and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. All three texts employ the figure of the desolate, widowed city in a way that signifies not just the loss of love but, more important, the problematics of restoration. For love restored is not merely love returned, a kind of compensatory justice. What is restored turns out to be radically different, and the lover as desiring subject discovers himself profoundly transformed. He gains not just a perspective on desire, as in Augustine; he also serves the writers as a means for authorial understanding of the final objects of desire, hence of the literary themes that underwrite the authors' own projects of composition.
In the Vita Nuova, Dante quotes the opening of Lamentations at the most crucial point in his work. It is his only direct citation of the Bible in a text otherwise resonant with biblical echoes. As Charles Singleton proposed long ago, the solitary, widowed city is Dante's typological figure for Beatrice's death.24 In his prose narrative (chap. 27), Dante relates that he began composing a canzone to express Beatrice's miraculous powers over him and so to remedy the incomplete account of her given in two previous sonnets, which register her social virtues in the manner of Guido Guinizelli and the poets of the Dolce stilnuovo. Having completed the first stanza of the new poem (itself a complete sonnet), Dante learns of Beatrice's death. The passage from Lamentations opens the subsequent chapter (chap. 28) with striking and dramatic force, and it takes the place of any discursive announcement of Beatrice's death:
Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! facta est quasi vidua domina gentium. lo era nel proponimento ancora di questa canzone, e compiuta n'avea questa soprascritta stanzia, quando lo segnore de la giustizia chiamoe questa gentilissima a gloriare sotto la insegna di quella regina benedetta virgo Maria, lo cui nome fue in grandissima reverenzia ne le parole di questa Beatrice beata.
["How cloth the city sit solitary that was full of people! How is she become a widow, she that was great among the nations!" I was yet involved in composing this canzone, and I had completed the above stanza when the God of Justice called this most gracious one to glory under the banner of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose name was always spoken with the greatest reverence by the blessed Beatrice.] 25
The passage marks the loss of Beatrice by her absence and by the remarkable strangeness of the typological figure. Not only is Beatrice's death veiled, but Beatrice herself is removed as a referent. Dante speaks of her simply as "questa gentilissima" ("this most gracious one"), and her name (troped as an etymological figure, "Beatrice beata") reenters only by displacement, in mention of her devotion to the Virgin, the first mention of such devotion in the text. Beatrice's death is further removed to a species of textual commentary. Dante explains on a historical level that he was composing a canzone that survives as a finished sonnet, and this account provides a context for interpreting the symbolism of the genres. The finished sonnet signifies a secular love theme carried to its fulfillment, while the canzone represents the larger poetic project of moral and exemplary discourse.26
In the next chapter (chap. 3o), Dante portrays Beatrice's departure by a textual citation of Lamentations that is already an allegorical reading of the city's bereavement: "rimase tutta la sopradetta cittade quasi vedova dispogliata da ogni dignitade; onde io, ancora lagrimando in questa desolata cittade, scrissi a Ii principi de la terra alquanto de la sua condizione, pigliando quello cominciamento di Geremia profeta che dice: Quomodo sedet sola civitas" ("all of the previously mentioned city was left a widow, stripped of all dignity; wherefore, still weeping in this barren city, I wrote to the princes of the earth concerning its condition, taking my beginning from the prophet Jeremiah where he says: 'How doth the city sit solitary'"). The passage is cited, he remarks, "quasi come entrata de la nuova materia che appresso vene" ("as if to serve as a preface for the new material that follows"). The solitary city appears again in the next chapter (chap. 31), where Dante begins a new canzone. There he diverges from his usual practice and divides the poem into three parts beforehand rather than afterwards in order to make it appear "widow-like" ("piii vedova")." Later, he sees pilgrims passing through the middle of the city and knows them to be foreigners because "if they were from a neighboring town they would in some way appear distressed while passing through the center of the mournful city": "lo so che s'elli fossero di propinquo paese, in alcuna vista parrebbero turbati passando per lo mezzo de la dolorosa cittade" (chap. 40). The sonnet he addresses to them is calculated to cause them to depart in tears after he explains how the city has lost its source of blessings, which is identical in name and substance to Beatrice: "Ell'ha perduta la sua. beatrice."
Singleton explains the absence of historical details and the typological use of Lamentations for Beatrice's death on the grounds that Beatrice resembles Christ. What he calls the "underground presence... of that resemblance" makes the figure "not too lofty and sacred a proclamation of the death of a mortal creature," and the "same hidden metaphor" explains the address to the princes of the earth and to the pilgrims on their way to Rome to see Veronica's veil, itself "the image of the departed Christ" (23). Other readers have looked for a narrative logic beyond Singleton's pattern of typological resemblance. Margherita de Bonfils Templer finds a justification for citing Lamentations in Dante's insistence from the very start that his Book of Memory records significance rather than circumstances, essence rather than accident.28 Vittore Branca sees Beatrice in the tradition of the speculum Christi, by which human contemplation of Christ operates through intermediate material substances.29 Of late, revisionist critics have begun to resist Singleton's doctrinal explanations and find instead contradictory and problematic motives behind the employment of Lamentations. Robert Pogue Harrison insists that Dante's efforts to veil Beatrice and especially Beatrice's physical body succeed paradoxically in drawing attention to them.30 John Kleiner argues, "while Dante's vision of Beatrice's death is cast as a revelation, her actual death is closer to a rhetorical 'reveiling'; at the climax of Dante's story, Beatrice vanishes into a fold of the narrative that Dante refuses to open." 31
The veiling of Beatrice is less problematic -and surely less aesthetically suspect-if we see Dante's use of Lamentations in the context of the dominant medieval reading of the text. Dante's representation proceeds from the dual structure articulated in the commentaries. He insists that Beatrice is a historical and social being; the city left empty by her departure is preeminently a social structure, a web of relations among men and women stratified by status and common values. Though Beatrice is now lost to Dante, her full significance lies in the deferred restoration promised in prophecy. For while the present city is by turns dolente, desolata, and dolorosa, Beatrice has been made one of Ii cittadini di vita eterna" (chap. 34-1). Dante builds a promise of repletion and plenitude into his text in the final chapter of the Vita Nuova, where he records his hope "di dicer di lei quello che mai non fue detto d'alcuna" ("to write of her that which has never been written of any other lady") and to ascend "a vedere la gloria" ("to behold the glory") of Beatrice as she gazes on God (chap. 42). The first of these hopes is sometimes taken as an anticipation of the Commedia, but Harrison is probably right in insisting that Dante's real innovation is to connect two orders of time, human chronology and "God's eternal now" (134). Dante's second hope is the promise of numinous presence that Beatrice only signifies but does not embody and of a restoration that is not the remedy of her loss but the end of his own spiritual estrangement.
Dante's use of the solitary city from Lamentations marks a point where textual discourse hovers between scripture and literature, and it is arguably Dante's poetic objective to cultivate precisely such ambiguity. His text registers both the loss signified by Lamentations and the restoration promised by the Song of Songs. Much as Beatrice is called to glory under the banner of the Virgin, she is seen in the end in the double vision of her beholding God directly. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that such careful thematic and structural balance closes the narrative. Dante as poet and protagonist remains in time, though Beatrice does not. The complex time scheme of Dante's book, like the dual framework of Augustine's Confessions, continually plays off the temporal difference between then and now; the poet is sometimes the protagonist moving forward in time, sometimes the author looking back. Only in the retrospect of Beatrice's death does a circular, repetitive pattern become clear. Absent, she is seen definitively as a miracle, and we realize, too, that a sequence of visions has already announced her death. Time thus becomes for Dante the condition of desire, while desire is for Beatrice the condition of full and authentic being.
In the Filostrato, Boccaccio sets out to deconstruct the promise of restoration that Dante extracts from the shock of loss. In effect, he reverses the trajectory of the Vita Nuova, moving from repletion to absence and turning the text from spiritual aims back to the secular tradition Dante had sought to transcend, if not transform.32 The clearest evidence of Boccaccio's strategy is the double inscription of Lamentations. In the proem to the Filostrato, the poet-narrator reports that his lover, real or fictitious, has abandoned Naples for Sennio, taking from his eyes what he should value most. Naples is the "dilettevole cittA" (18), not Dante's "dolorosa cittade."33 The lady's angelic face ("vostro angelico viso") is a stilnovist conceit rather than, as in Dante, a miracle whose utter difference and strangeness is a sign of God's mystery. The poet prays for a return that is an ambiguous peace restored: "se [sc. cosi] Iddio tosto coll'aspetto del vostro bel viso gli occhi miei riponga nella perduta pace" (that God "soon restore to my eyes, by the sight of your fair face, the peace which they have lost").34 His eyes turn away from the civic landscape that desire has eroticized and filled with private significance:
Oh me, quante volte per minor doglia sentire si sono essi spontanamente ritorti da riguardare li templi e le logge e le piazze e gh altri luoghi ne' quali giA vaghi e disiderosi cercavano di vedere, e talvolta lieti videro, la vostra sembianza, e dolorosi hanno il cuor costretto a dir con seco quel misero verso di Geremia: "0 come siede sola la citta la quale in qua addietro era piena di popolo e donna delle genti!"
[Alas, how often, to save themselves suffering have [my eyes] of their own accord avoided looking at the temple, the balconies, the public squares, and the other places, where once, full of longing and desire, they sought to see and sometimes did see your countenance; and in their grief they have forced my heart to utter that verse of Jeremiah: "How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people, she that was great among the nations,"]
The solitary city is Jerusalem and Naples superimposed on each other, and this image underwrites the metafiction of Boccaccio's narrative, which is directed not to a future project of writing but to a lover on spring holiday.
The second inscription of Lamentations replicates the first, connecting the metafiction of the Filostrato with the narrative of the love affair between Troiolo and Criseida. After Priam exchanges Criseida for Antenor, Troiolo consoles himself during her absence by visiting her "closed house" ("la magione / chiusa," 5.51.7-8) and the other loci of their pleasure. By means of the visit, Boccaccio formulates a chain of amatory reasoning, a logic of desire. The house contained joy and light, just as Criseida contained Troiolo's peace of mind. Lacking her now, the house is left in darkness. Troiolo does not know if it will contain her again and so, by substitution, whether he will possess peace of mind again. His lament before her house and his journey through the solitary city are a topical and partial allegory for the poet's imagined situation; Criseida is lost to Troiolo as Fiammetta is lost to the poet. In his proem, Boccaccio explains that Troiolo's weeping and his lamenting the departure of Criseida are a figure for his own "words, tears, sighs, and agonies," while Criseida's beauty, manners, and excellent qualities stand for the corresponding virtues in his lover:
Nelle quali se avviene che leggiate, quante volte Troiolo piangere e dolersi della partita di Criseida troverete, tante apertamente Potrete conoscere le mie medesime voci, le lagrime e' sospiri e Vangosce; e quante volte la bellezza e' costumi, e qualunque altra cosa laudevole in donna, di Criseida scritta troverete, tante di voi esser parlato potrete intendere.
As Robert Hanning notes, the decoding of the allegory in the frame tale is "notoriously incomplete" and may include "beneath its refined discourse of yearning a current of resentment and accusation directed at the recalcitrant object of desire.""' What Boccaccio leaves temptingly undefined are the vices proper to Criseida but ostensibly inapplicable to the departed lover.
At first glance, Boccaccio's reinscription of Lamentations must seem ironic and satirical. Hanning proposes that Boccaccio's parallels between the narrator's situation and Troiolo and Criseida "constitute an obvious parody of Beatrice's death and Dante's decision to write his Commedia" (127n). Chauncey Wood contends, "Boccaccio's use of Jeremiah is more boldly inapposite in all respects than Dante's," which he takes as a device "to show the self-indulgent young lover [of the Vita Nuova] at his worst."36 For even if Beatrice is Christ by analogy, how can Criseida resemble Beatrice except as a grotesque distortion? And what of the absent lover who is only partially (which is to say, potentially) Criseida? One might argue that the very distance between the Vita Nuova and the Filostrato is intended to provide a moral perspective on Boccaccio's love story. On this view, Boccaccio, rewriting the Vita Nuova in secular and sensual terms and so returning to its origins, ironizes both his story and the conditions of his own writing. But it is more likely, I think, that Boccaccio grasped Dante's analogical strategy well and called it forth to make a point whose seriousness is not mitigated by irony any more than Boccaccio's powerful ambivalence is resolved by revising Dante. Boccaccio shows what happens when Dante's bold strategy of creating a textual discourse between scripture and literature is relocated in literary conventions, for Troiolo's love seeks to enact the promise of restoration and plenitude that medieval exegetes had made a feature of Lamentations and that Dante seized as the prospect of future writing that lay beyond his Book of Memory. Boccaccio's final address to young lovers, in which he urges them to "see yourselves imaged in the love of Troiolo" ('nell'amor di Troiol vi specchiate," 8.29-5) and not to choose an inconstant woman over one of true nobility, certainly invites a restrictive moral reading. But more is meant in Boccaccio's poem. His narrator sends the poem in the garb of exile to seek the promise of the lady's return (canto 9), much like the pilgrim spirit in the final poem of the Vita Nuova (chap. 41). Though the narrative ends in loss and death, the metafiction remains open to the lover's return and the restoration of an undefined peace that is the token of plenitude.
In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer, like Dante, portrays the empty city at a moment of defining crisis in his poem, as civic and personal destiny, largely deferred heretofore, impinges on the narrative and gives it a historical shape. After the Trojans agree to exchange Criseyde for Antenor, Troilus spends a fitful night dreaming of the "dredefulleste thynges / That myghte ben" (5.248-49). Pandarus, detained by attendance on the king, comes belatedly to comfort him. After he dismisses Troilus's dreams (in a way that incidentally dismisses the dream lore of Chaucer's early poetry), Pandarus sounds the theme of Troy's plenitude, the civic corollary to Criseyde's [email protected] He exhorts Troilus to action, speech, and remembrance: "Ris, lat us speke of lusty lif in Troie / That we han led, and forth the tyme dryve; / And ek of tyme comyng us rejoie" (5-393-95). His rhyming of Troy and joy is, of course, only one of many instances of a narrative irony that begins in the very first stanza of the poem. Echoing his earlier and cynical, if apt, claim that the "town is ful of ladys al aboute" (4-401), he says, "This town is ful of lordes al aboute" (5.400) and urges Troilus to rejoin their numbers and the shared spectacle of their lusty life. The sojourn with Sarpedon that Pandarus proposes fails, however, to improve Troilus's disposition, and as they come back to Troy, Pandarus rightly predicts that Criseyde's return will be delayed. She remains in the Greek camp, not the city, and her absence is the point dramatized in the journey that Troilus begins at her desolate palace.
Troilus's journey around the city recapitulates the love narrative in processional form. His circuit resembles civic spectacle, with attendant retainers and retinue; but its aim is private, and the mock spectacle has been made to celebrate a secret that cannot be divulged. The journey begins at the place where, in book 2, Criseyde first sees him as he triumphantly enters the city and she begins to incline toward him. It passes by the temple where Troilus first saw her and the house where "My lady first me took unto hire grace" (5.581). It ends at the place where Troilus handed her over to Diomede, a separation he now marks by gesturing over "yonder hille" (5.61o). At the level of poetic technique, Troilus's journey enacts the precepts traditionally set down for the exercise of artificial memory.38 Like the orator coached by pseudoCicero, Troilus moves through familiar loci, each containing the subject matter to be recalled in his discourse -in this case, the material in his lament and his tale of "newe sorwe, and ek his joies olde" (5.558).
At a thematic level, the journey transposes absence and repletion. Criseyde's removal has emptied the city of its joy. As Troilus stands at the city gate, gesturing beyond to where Criseyde now abides, he locates the vanishing point of his emotional landscape and gives voice to a desolation that is identical to the city's: "And here I dwelle out cast from alle joie, / And shal, til I may sen hire eft in Troie" (5.615-16).
Memory works here as the consequence and ostensible remedy of absence. If Criseyde is gone, Troilus can effect some measure of repletion by summoning images of her presence: he can fill the city with tokens of his lover.39 As the text makes clear, Troilus's memory is not only of events but sensation. He rides by locales associated with sight, sound, and touch:
Troilus's memory, in other words, is sensitive memory.40 The affective images are impressed from lived experience on the soul. Yet by evoking them so powerfully through "the places of the town," Troilus paradoxically demonstrates the emptiness of Troy. Chaucer thus signals the profound complications of love and desire in a city where, as Pandarus says earlier, "love of frendes regneth" (2-379) and friends are joined in their common project of being lovers.41 As Eugene Vance observes, "Troy is now a mirror that will not reflect what Troilus desires. It is a city without love, which, in a universe of courtiers, is to say that it is without life ."42
Though Troilus apostrophizes Criseyde's "paleys desolat," it is the entire city that has been made barren for him. His bereavement recalls Augustine's account of finding familiar places rendered intensely alien. But Criseyde's house is only the initial destination in a tour of his matrix of pleasures recalled, and his journey at length produces a prayer to Cupid: I Waxe in guerdoun but c, bone- / That thow Criseyde ayein me sende sone" (5-594 -95).Troilus asks Cupid for a congruence of desires that will leave the city replete and his visual appetite satisfied: "Destreyne hire herte as faste to retorne / As thow doost myn to longen hire to see" (5-596-97). For her part, Criseyde looks on Troy as a place where pleasure and joy have turned to gall (5.732). She resolves to return; but in an authorial interjection that equates empty Troy and forlorn Troilus, the narrator signals the ebbing away of her resolve: "For bothe Troilus and Troie town / Shal knotteles thorughout hire herte slide; / For she wol take a purpos for t'abide" (5-768-70).
Chaucer's reworking of Boccaccio in the scene before Criseyde's house is a measure of the conceptual differences that separate the two poets, just as Boccaccio's citations of Dante and Lamentations mark the difference of the Filostrato from the Vita Nuova. The stanzas addressing the "paleys desolat" that I quoted at the start of this essay represent Chaucer's specific addition to Boccaccio's text. They are a conscious reinscription of Lamentations into a scene that Boccaccio had already associated with the biblical text. Chaucer retains the imagery of light and darkness from Boccaccio, but he replaces Boccaccio's amatory reasoning about absence and desire with a cluster of visual images, beginning with the desolate palace. Criseyde's palace is not only "empty and disconsolat" (5-542), a lantern with an extinguished light, a ring without its stone; it is also a shrine that has lost its relic. In these additions, Chaucer evokes other figures that he has earlier added to Boccaccio, particularly in the consummation scene of book 3. The ring without its stone recalls the brooch Criseyde gives Troilus "[iln which a ruby set was lik an herte" (3.1371). The ring image is repeated soon thereafter in Troilus's wish that he "Mere in youre herte iset so fermely / As ye in myn" (3.1488-89), a passage in which Barry Windeatt notes that Chaucer's "imagery of fixity, inwardness, replaces B[occaccio]'s stress on duration (star continuamente, 'remain continually')."43 Both images are anticipated by Pandarus's speech in book 2, which discloses Troilus's love to Criseyde and argues the lovers' fitness to each other: "And be ye wis as ye be fair to see, / Wel in the ryng than is the ruby set. / Ther were nevere two so wel ymet" (2-584-86). The last image in Chaucer's sequence, in which the distraught Troilus imagines himself kissing the "colde dores" (5.552) of the house, evokes the final image of the Roman de la Rose. The empty shrine "of which the seynt is oute" is iconically the architectural structure that jean de Meun uses to represent the rose's genitalia as the dreamer symbolically penetrates the aperture of the castle. In some measure, Troilus's sterile worship reenacts the dreamer's joyless consummation in-the-Rose.
If the scene is a parody and satire of sexual idolatry at a moral level, as Besserman and Fleming suggest, it also opens up a more complex spiritual domain that Chaucer's biblical, exegetical, and literary sources help to identify. As Troilus stands "bitwixen hope and drede" (5.63o), he mourns not only the false icon of earthly desire but, more important, the promise of superabundant and incommensurable love. As in the commentaries on Lamentations, the desolate palace and the solitary city of Troilus and Criseyde represent this promise in a double movement of withdrawal and restoration. The images are primarily symbols of loss. Independently from Dante and Boccaccio, Chaucer adds stylistic echoes of Lamentations to enforce the desolation of the scene. Criseyde's "hous of houses" (541) echoes the Vulgate "princeps provinciarum." Similarly, the phrase "crowne of houses alle" (547) is a reminiscence of "domina gentium." Yet the added images also carry the promise of return, as the commentaries suggest that a full reading of Lamentations must. Empty or replete, the desolate palace and the solitary city promise divine presence. Through them, Chaucer offers a critique not only of idolatry and Boethian "false felicity" but of the metaphysics of desire with its demand for the absolute presence of the other. While Criseyde repeatedly seeks and attains "suffisaunce" (3-1309, 4.1640, 5.763), Troilus asks for the wrong thing and for too much. He goes beyond Palamon's desire in the Knight's Tale to "have fully possessioun / Of Emelye," which means to die in Venus's service (1.2242-43). He seeks instead to satisfy an impossible absence, and so he demands numinous presence, a divine plenitude rendered doubly impossible because he stands outside both the Old Law and the New Covenant, situated as he is in the fallen world of pagan tragic history. What is at stake for Troilus, then, is not merely a false object of desire but an impossible desire directed toward an immeasurable order of magnitude.
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