Medieval Legends of Good Women
Medieval Legends of Good Women: At the end of the fourteenth century, the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer produced, among his last works, a collection of narratives he called "Seintes Legende of Cupide." Alternatively titled The Legend of Good Women, the collection contains stories about a dozen ancient women (and their men), e.g., Cleopatra, Dido, Thisbe, Medea, to mention a few. A close reading of the Legend reveals how Chaucer‘s late-medieval narratives about these classical heroines have been influenced by genres like the Christian saint‘s life and the traditions of so-called "courtly love." The tensions between the ideals of Christian hagiography and courtly romance lend a lively complexity to his stories, and to their interpretation.
This course will attempt to define these competing ideals by discussing literary examples from ancient times – in the Old Testament (e.g., the books of Ruth, Judith, and Esther) and Ovid‘s Heroides -- through the Middle ages, with its rich range of saints lives, retellings of Ovid, and classic works like the Romance of the Rose, Dante‘s Vita Nuova, and Boccaccio's Famous Women. After looking at Juan Ruiz's Book of Good Love, we‘ll turn to Chaucer's Legend (and perhaps some of his other works), and conclude with his near-contemporary, Christine de Pizan, esp. her Book of the City of Ladies.