A blog by Dr. David B. Gowler (Oxford College of Emory University) about the reception history of the parables of Jesus. It includes reflections on issues from three of my books on the parables: What are They Saying about the Parables? (Paulist), The Parables after Jesus (Baylor), Howard Thurman: Sermons on the Parables (Orbis).
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
The Rich Man and Lazarus (part 22): John Gower (part 2)
For some reason I often type "Gowler" instead of "Gower" in this section.
The sixth book of Gower’s Confessio Amantis begins with the “Confessor” (Genius) noting that
gluttony is “Sin’s great and awful origin” (6.1) and it has so many branches
that he will treat only two, although he mentions other aspects of gluttony in
passing (Gower had discussed five aspects of gluttony in his Mirroir de l’Omme). Both drunkenness and
delicacy are compared and contrasted with love. The drunken person and someone
in love, for example, could be described as “bewhaped and assorted and having
“loste his wit” (6.80-82), although drunkenness is a choice and being in love
is not (6.90-92; cf. 6.117). The Confessor begins with drunkenness, which
“turns a wise man to a fool” (6.18). Amans admits that he is intoxicated, but
he is drunk with love instead of alcohol (e.g., 6.112-32). The primary issue is
not to allow (love) drunkenness to separate the mind and its thoughts from
wel, hou so it the befalle,
kep thi wittes that thou hast,
let hem noght be drunke in wast 6.314-16).
The Confessor then notes that the god Jupiter has
two different “drinks of love,” one is sour and the other is sweet. Cupid, the
god of love, is blind, however, and sometimes mistaken serves the wrong “drink
of love.” It is only through prayer that one’s thirst might be satisfied, and
the Confessor cites a story about Bacchus (the son of Jupiter and the god of
wine) who was dying of thirst in the desert. He prayed to Jupiter, a “wether”
(ram) appeared, it caused fresh water to spring out of the ground, and Bacchus
was saved (6.396-425). The moral of the story is that one should pray for God’s
grace (6.440-445). The Confessor also offers stories of the negative effects of
drunkenness, such as Ovid’s tale of the wedding feast of Pirithous and
Hippodamia (Metamorphoses Book 12)
The second aspect of gluttony, “delicacy,” also
pertains to love as well as material possessions and pleasures (e.g., the
one who is “delicate” (gluttonus) in love also is not faithful to his wife; no
matter her excellent qualities, he is never satisfied; 6.677-686).
The attachment to excessively fine or exotic food is not
possible for those in poverty (6.619), which makes it easier to condemn than
drunkenness. Such fine foods also are not good for one’s health: “comun mete”
(common meat) is better for one’s “sustenance” and “governance” (6.649-652).
Likewise, delicacy in love can also damage one’s health (6.665-66). To make
sure that Amans understands what delicacy is, the Confessor illustrates
delicacy with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, since it is not a “fable
and is a “tale accordant unto this”:
Crist seith: "Ther was a
A mihti lord of gret astat,
And he was ek so delicat
Of his clothing, that everyday
Of pourpre and bisse he made him gay,
And eet and drank therto his fille
After the lustes of his wille,
As he which al stod in delice
And tok non hiede of thilke vice.
This mighty lord
with a great estate ate and drank his fill. Then a deadly-hungry Lazarus
appeared at the rich man’s gate and asked for food (“axed mete”), a direct
request for help not mentioned in the Lukan parable:
And as it scholde so betyde,
A povere lazre upon a tyde
Cam to the gate and axed mete:
Bot there mihte he nothing gete
His dedly hunger forto stanche;
The rich man, who
had a full paunch from all the food and drink that he had lusted after, would
not deign to speak a word to Lazarus and offered him not even a crumb. The
man’s lack of charity toward the poor is thus made even more explicit, because
Lazarus could not survive without alms from the rich man:
For he, which hadde his fulle panche
Of alle lustes ate bord,
Ne deigneth noght to speke a word,
Onliche a Crumme forto yive,
Wherof the povere myhte live
Upon the yifte of his almesse (6.986-1005).
translates the above quote into modern English:
A mighty lord of great estate
There was, who was so delicate
In clothing, that he made him gay
In lawn [linen] and purple every day;
And he would eat and drink his fill
After the pleasures of his will –
Like one who, wrapped in luxury,
Gives not a fig for gluttony.
It happened that a leper stood,
One day, before his gate; and food
Was all the unhappy wretch’s prayer.
He did not get a morsel there,
To keep his dreadful hunger still;
That other, who had gorged his fill
On all the pleasures of the board,
Deigned not to answer, nor afford
Even a single crumb whereby
The wretched leper might not die
But live upon his charity.
There are a number
of developments so far in Gower’s retelling of the parable, but most of them
are insignificant (e.g., Lazarus is definitively a leper, not just “covered
with sores”). The major development is that the rich man—who had a “full
paunch” due to his excess—refused a specific request from Lazarus for a morsel
of food (he “axed mete” = asked for food), so his lack of charity toward the
poor is made even more explicit.
The next post will continue the examination of how
the “Confessor” elaborates the parable.