The Nun's Priest's Tale and Nominalism: A Preliminary Study

Originally published in Richard J. Utz, ed. Literary Nominalism and the Theory of Rereading Late Medieval Texts: A New Research Paradigm. Medieval Studies: Volume 5. The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995, 135-146.

The study of the influence of nominalism on Chaucer's work represents an attempt to specify and extend the contemporary intellectual context, to relate Chaucer to the philosophic currents of his day, rather than assume he simply ignored them. An improvement in our understanding of the philosophical context of late fourteenth-century England has made this possible. Recent decades have seen a growing body of editions and studies of the nominalist philosophers, especially William of Ockham but also of others, and a flow of scholarly studies devoted to them. This study and those like it are heavily indebted to the work of these scholars of late medieval philosophy.1

The influence of nominalism upon the NPT is suggested by the discussion of free will and determinism by Pertelote and Chauntecleer, and by the celebrated lines in which the Nun's Priest as narrator interrupts the story of chickens and fox to explicitly introduce the difficult philosophical problem of reconciling human free will with divine foreknowledge.

This was unquestionably the most significant philosophical controversy of the 14th century, the nub of the sharp disagreements between nominalists and "Augustinians", or, as other scholars would have it, between moderni and antiqui. 2 The issue of human will was also of central concern to Chaucer. 3 The long speech in Book IV of T&C in which Troylus declares for determinism attests to the importance of this issue for Chaucer, and no doubt as well to the interest it held for his audience. 4

In this same speech the NP also mentions by name Bishop Thomas Bradwardine, famous for his attack on the nominalist philosophers and strongly deterministic stance in defense of divine omnipotence. This is one of only two passages in which Chaucer explicitly names a contemporary philosopher-theologian (for the second, see below).5

Although a prima facie case for suspecting the influence of nominalism in the NPT certainly exists, there has been little scholarship on this subject. Mary-Louise Zanoni's dissertation contains a very good discussion of the literary impact of the issue of free will and determinism in the NPT, but ignores the contemporary dispute between antiqui and moderni, as does F. Anne Payne, despite her useful summary of the positions of Augustine, Boethius and Bradwardine. Neither Zanoni nor Payne addresses the question that concerns us: what is this passage doing in this tale? In his book on the influence of nominalism upon Troylus and Criseyde Richard Utz makes some very suggestive remarks about the NPT but does not subject it to a special study. Thus a more detailed discussion seems to be justified. 6

As Gower, Usk, and Deschamps attest, Chaucer's contemporaries regarded him as a "philosophical" poet, and this reputation too suggests he must have been aware of the most significant philosophical dispute of his time. Russell A. Peck makes a compelling argument that nominalist concerns are evident throughout Chaucer's work. 7

Chaucer's circle of friends and audience in the 1380s and thereafter certainly included men of university training. Most notable among these was Ralph Strode, later a notary but, while at university, author of a thoroughly nominalist work on future contingents. 8 However by the late 14th century interest in, even fascination for, the questions of free will and divine omnipotence had spread beyond those with university education to a far broader group. Ockham himself remarked on the interest lay persons showed in his discussions of free will and related matters, as did his follower Robert Holcot later. An educated, non clerical elite had arisen by Chaucer's day whom an alarmed William Langland portrays discussing theological issues in a critical manner.9

Even Chaucer's interest in and use of Boethius is undoubtedly related to the interest the nominalists had focused on the question of free will and determinism, for it was exactly these questions to which Boethius devoted most of Books IV and V of the Consolation. The renewed popularity which the Consolation enjoyed in the late 14th century was most probably due to this very fact. Nor did Lady Philosophy's answer to Boethius' question of how free will could be reconciled with divine foreknowledge satisfy fourteenth century readers; indeed Boethius himself does not seem to be entirely convinced by the argument (though he is convinced of the conclusion). 10

The influence of nominalist thought on other literary works of late fourteenth century England has been well established in recent years. Kathleen Ashley has made a convincing argument, much as Russell Peck has for Chaucer, that the Chester cycle of mystery plays embodies a literary expression of the nominalist position on divine omnipotence. Langland, whose whole subject is "will" in a certain sense, rejects Bradwardine's (and the later Augustine's) position that good deeds are irrelevant to salvation, and therefore asserts that "Will" is all-important. Liberum Arbitrium is even more important in the C-text, as Harwood argues. I am convinced by Adams' argument that Langland directly engages some of the issues of the contemporary philosophical debate and defends moderate nominalist positions.11

Recent research has argued convincingly in favor of a nominalist influence on other works of Chaucer: the PoF (Lynch), Envoy to Bukton (Ruud), T&C (Utz; Eldredge 1976); the HF (Delany 1972; Eldredge 1970). Some issues have been clarified -- for example, that Chaucer himself could hardly have shared Boethius' strongly determinist views, thus calling into question the supposedly unproblematic domination of Boethian ideas in Chaucer's work. Far from presenting a unified structure and straightforward resolution, the NPT is as multivocal as any other work in Chaucer's canon. 12

The mention of Bradwardine's name naturally evokes the debate over nominalist views of free will and divine power for which the Archbishop was famous in Chaucer's day, as well as the continuing influence of his determinist views on the contemporary works of Bradwardine's followers, which included John Wyclif. 13 A more obvious avenue for nominalist influence in the NPT is the work of Robert Holcot, one of Ockham's most radical followers. Robert Pratt has identified Holcot's Commentary on Wisdom as the most approximate direct source for the animal fable of the NPT. Holcot's commentary was "very widely known" in the late fourteenth century, and a principle vehicle for the popularization of nominalist views among the Latin-literate educated public. Chaucer, who depended heavily on other Latin authors such as John of Wales for his florilegia of Latin authorities, unquestionably read the language well. He could well have read other material too, not only Bradwardine but his friend Strode's philosophical works which took issue with Bradwardine and stressed free will.14

How does putting the "free-will vs. determinism" discussion in the NPT into the context of the nominalist-Augustinian debate of the fourteenth century help us to understand the NPT differently? Doing so gives us an intellectual context for the indeterminacy the NPT so clearly demonstrates. Academic philosophic debates, whether in the form of actual disputations or quodlibeta (written disputations) may have had "winners" but they led to no final synthesis; indeed, they attested to its absence. The controversy over how to reconcile human free will, and thus moral responsibility, never resulted in an authoritative resolution. Like Pertelote and Chauntecleer, every philosopher remained in great part unconvincing to many others.15

Insofar as we may consider the NPT a literary dramatization of the philosophic dispute, it is clear that Chauntecleer represents the determinist side. The proud cock concludes his six ensaumples of truthful dreams in this way:

Shortly I seye, as for conclusioun,
That I shal han of this avisioun
Adversitee... (VII 3151-3).

He makes no provision for "future contingents" -- for his own actions as being crucial for what will occur in the future, though the contingency of future events upon the freely willed actions of men in the present is clearly present in five of his six ensaumples (the sixth, that of Cresus, is so briefly told -- three lines in all -- that it hardly counts as an exception). The question of "future contingents" was a favored topic of nominalist philosophers. Holcot himself had set forth the very bold formulation that human actions could change what God knows.16

If Chauntecleer's views have determinist, and thus antinominalist, implications, Pertelote suggests the barnyard equivalent of a fully-fledged nominalist. Nominalists like Ockham were suspicious of statements that claimed a "real" (in the Platonic sense) existence for abstractions; and Ockham's famous "razor" stated that "entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." Pertelote's attitude towards Chauntecleer's dream embodies both concepts. She first denies, in good nominalist fashion, that his dream reflects any "truth" existing in another realm:

Nothyng, God wot, but vanitee in sweven is. (VII 2922)

She then expounds a much more material explanation for Chauntecleer's nightmare:

Swevenes engendren of replecciouns,
And ofte of fume and of complecciouns,
Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.
(VII 2923-5)

, and concludes that the cause of her husband's nightmare is in his digestive system rather than in a prophecy sent from God (VII 2926 ff.). The "beest" of Chauntecleer's dream is imaginary, to can be avoided by appropriate herbal purgatives.17

The NP himself takes a determinist view:

O Chauntecleer...
Thou were ful wel ywarned by thy dremes
That thilke day was perilous to thee; (VII 3232-3)

But immediately thereupon the NP identifies the central philosophical issue in the dispute between the chickens:

But what that God forwoot moot nedes bee,
After the opinioun of certein clerkis. (VII 3234-5)

Not all clerics believe this; real disagreement exists among the philosophers, and the NP admits he cannot really understand it:

Witnesse on hym that any parfit clerk is,
That in scole is greet altercacioun
In this mateere, and greet disputisoun,
And hath been of an hundred thousand men.
But I ne kan not bulte it to the bren...
I wol nat han to do of swich mateere; (VII 3236-40; 3251).

With this reservation, the NP basically comes down on the side of determinism. Augustine, Boethius and Bradwardine were strongly determinist. However, the allusion to the philosophical dispute leaves the issue in doubt. Far from being cited as authorities whose words should be accepted (as, for example, the NP cites "Physiologus" a few lines later) the three philosophers are simply participants, albeit famous ones, in an ancient and ongoing dispute.

In fact, I suspect that Chaucer even evokes the opposite, nominalist position. Chauntecleer's choice to "diffye bothe sweven and dreem" (VII 3171) has been viewed as representing the traditional idea that the Reason, clouded by sin, cannot perceive the truth. I agree that this interpretation of the NPT is clearly available to the audience. However, Chauntecleer can also be said to make a freely-willed decision NOT to choose the good despite knowing what the good is. This is one of Ockham's famous formulations which militates against the intellectual determinism of Augustine and Boethius, in whose view true knowledge of the good was equivalent to choosing it, the intellect therefore "determining" the will. 18

I suggest that Chaucer's indeterminate position on this philosophic dispute is mirrored in the fact that neither Pertelote, Chauntecleer, nor the NP are shown to explain Chauntecleer's dream in a satisfactory manner. None of these interpretations really do justice to any but a small part of the tale. Pertelote's view that the dream has no meaning beyond the condition of her husband's crop is refuted by the appearance of the fox. Chauntecleer believes he will have "adversitee", but in fact he only has it because he chooses to ignore the dream; another choice would have made the dream, and therefore his deterministic interpretation of it, false.

The NP assimilates the fox's appearance to other stories which are inappropriate to the circumstances. First he compares the fox to Judas Iscariot, Ganelon, and Synon. But the desire of a fox to eat a chicken is no treason but a part of the natural order, as is Chauntecleer's fear of him. (VII 3277-81)

After evoking the philosophical dispute, the NP dismisses it and opts for interpreting Chauntecleer's action as another replication of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, the Flesh over the Reason. This fits the story much better and is certainly an appropriate framework for the NP, who would have learned of the philosophical disputes during his time at school but who had no thorough understanding of the issues. It also opens the door for a traditional, fideist interpretation at the end. But this is not true to the Tale itself. Chauntecleer does not go to the yard in obedience to Pertelote's advice to eat the medicinal herbs, as Adam ate the fruit at Eve's behest. In fact, Chauntecleer explicitly rejects this advice. (VII 3153-6) He does want to appear brave, something Pertelote demands. But this may be seen as a logical result of his determinist interpretation of his dream: he is to have "adversitee" sometime, not necessarily that day; and there's nothing he can do about it, so he acts as though he had never had the dream at all!

The NP falls back on an unambiguously traditional interpretation of Chauntecleer's actions. This suggests Sheila Delany's idea of "skeptical fideism" as an appropriate, historically valid intellectual framework for understanding the NPT. The "fideism" of the ending is, to be sure, not as unambiguous as it is in T&C, where Troilus understand, sub specie aeternitatis as Lady Philosophy says God does, what appeared to him as determinism while on earth. 19

The NP's admonition has seemed to many scholars to be a clear appeal to interpret the NPT as an allegory.

But yet that holden this tale a folye,
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,
Taketh the moralite, goode men.
For seint Paul seith that al that writen is,
To oure doctrine it is ywrite, ywis;
Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille. (VII 3438-43).

This traditional, exegetical and conservative ending befits the NP.20 However, we should recall that allegory was not used in an unambiguously traditional manner in the late fourteenth century. Delany showed that John Trevisa used this Pauline quotation to quite a different purpose in his 1387 translation of Ralph Higden's Polychronicon:

Wherfore in the writyinge of this storie I take nought uppon me to aferme for sooth all that I write, but such as I hav seie and i-rad in dyverse bookes, I gadere and write with oute envie, and comoun to othere men. For the apostel seith nought, "All that is write to our lore is sooth," but he seith "All that is i-write to our lore it is i-write." 21

In the fourteenth century exegesis -- the interpretation of a Biblical story as having spiritual senses which reinforced charity regardless of the literal sense -- was being used in the "humanist" manner of justifying the study of, first, pagan classical authors, and finally of virtually any work, no matter how antithetical to Christian doctrine it might seem superficially. The fact that this manner of interpreting literature was sharply contested by some who believed it would lead to immorality by justifying the study of immoral works was certainly known to some of Chaucer's English contemporaries, and most probably to Chaucer as well.22 It may well go far towards explaining the poet's Re traction of all but his explicitly religious works at the end of his life -- though the Retraction is itself notoriously equivocal, no doubt reflecting Chaucer's ambiguous and contradictory thinking on this subject.

I would like to modify Delany's very suggestive remarks about the decline in allegory beginning in the 14th century, and what is in her view Chaucer's relatively limited use of it. I think that Chaucer tries to have it both ways, like other writers and artists of his day were also beginning to do -- to develop a very "realistic" style, understandable without reference to allegory, but fully retaining the possibility of allegorical interpretation as well, what I have elsewhere called "innovation behind the mask of traditionalism." 23

This style was rapidly growing at the end of the fourteenth century. We see it in Boccaccio's Decameron; in the work of the Limbourg brothers and other "early Netherlandish painters". We see it especially in works of Franciscan origin or inspiration, in which a new delight in verisimilitude, or realistic detail, could grow up combined and enriched by a fundamentally traditional or "Platonic" view of how the realia of the natural world could be read as a book to reveal the hidden meanings of God's design.24

However, the use of allegory as a method of interpretation was also leading in another direction -- as a tool to justify the study of virtually any- and everything, including pagan works and any writing that contradicted Christian morality. It is implicit in the widespread "apologies" for the study of pagan poetry through allegorization, and was known in England at least as early as Richard de Bury's Philobiblon.

An allegorical reading of the NPT has long seemed especially appropriate to some scholars, given (a) the framework of the "povre wydwe" (often taken as an allegory of the Church), and (b) the NP's pregnant admonition "Taketh the fruyt and lat the chaff be stille" (VII 3443). So the NPT has been assimilated to an unproblematic, traditional allegorical interpretation.

And so we should have regarded it -- except for the NP's interjection concerning the philosophic debate between the nominalists and the Augustinians, which disrupts the apparent unity of the Tale and introduces at least a note of the doubt and questioning which pervaded the issue in his own day, and which, I argue, he neither ignored nor escaped.

Grover C. Furr
Montclair State University


1. Many scholars no longer believe the term "nominalist" accurately describes William of Ockham and those who followed him. William Courtenay, following Damasius Trapp, prefers the term moderni; see his article "Nominalism and Late Medieval Thought: A Bibliographical Essay," Theological Studies 33 (1972), 718. I continue to use the familiar term "nominalism." All recent studies of the influence of nominalist thought on literature rely heavily on Courtenay's works.BACK

2. Courtenay, "The Reception of Ockham's Thought in Fourteenth-Century England," in Anne Hudson and Michael Wilks, eds., From Ockham to Wyclif. Studies in Church History, Subsidia 5., Oxford, 1987, 107, notes that Ockham's influence in Oxford was important, although he had no "school" of followers there in the late fourteenth century. For the importance of this philosophical controversy, see Janet Coleman, Piers Plowman and the 'Moderni', Rome, 1981, 27; Russell A. Peck, "Chaucer and the Nominalist Questions," Speculum 53 (1978), 746 nn. 6; see n. 7 for the importance of this concern throughout Chaucer's lifetime, and thus for Ockham's indirect importance for Chaucer, through other thinkers. For good, brief summaries of this issue, see Denise Baker, "From Plowing to Penitence: Piers Plowman and Fourteenth Century Theology", Speculum 55 (1980), 717-720, and 717-8, n. 7, for sources; Robert Adams, "Piers' Pardon and Langland's Semi- Pelagianism", Traditio 39 (1983), 369-70. Kathleen M. Ashley, "Divine Power in the Chester Cycle and Late Medieval Thought," JHI 39 (1978), 393, outlines the controversy over divine omnipotence vs human free will and the rejection of determinism. In his notes to the Variorum edition of the NPT, Derek Pearsall underlines "the sense of urgency with which the question was debated in the late fourteenth century. It is this urgent concern that is reflected elsewhere in Chaucer, and playfully here in the distorting mirror of NPT." Without delving into the question of nominalist influence, Pearsall thus problematizes the passage, which had been long treated as simply an example of Boethian influence (Derek Pearsall, ed., A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Volume 11: The Canterbury Tales. Part Nine: The Nun's Priest's Tale, Norman, OK 1984, p. 218, note to line 4430).Back

3. Derek Pearsall writes "All Chaucer's serious poetry seems to me to be preoccupied with the question of free will and the manner in which it is possessed by human beings..." (The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, Cambridge, MA 1992, p. 162). Charles A. Owen, "The Problem of Free Will in Chaucer's Narratives," PQ 46 (1967), 433-456, shows this in detail, but without reference to the philosophical debates of the time. See also Sheila Delany, "Undoing substantial connection: the late medieval attack on analogical thought", in Medieval Literary Politics: Shapes of Ideology, Manchester and New York, 1990, p. 39.Back

4. For an analysis of R.K. Root's argument from MSS evidence that this passage may have been a later addition to T&C, see H.R. Patch, "Troilus on Predestination," JEGP 17 (1918), 401-2 and n. 7; Patch concludes that it may well have been omitted in some MSS by copyists. An essential recent treatment of the passage is in Richard J. Utz, Literarischer Nominalismus im Spätmittelalter: eine Untersuchung zu Sprache, Characterzeichnung und Struktur in Geoffrey Chaucers 'Troilus and Criseyde', Frankfurt am Main and New York, 1990.Back

5. For Bradwardine see Gordon Leff, Bradwardine and the Pelagians (Cambridge 1957), and Heiko A. Oberman, Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine: A Fourteenth Century Augustinian (Utrecht, 1958). On the fourteenth century philosophical disputes between antiqui and moderni, the basic account is now William J. Courtenay, Schools and Scholars in Fourteenth-Century England (Princeton, 1987).Back

6. Mary-Louise Zanoni, Divine Order and Human Freedom in Chaucer's Poetry and Philosophical Tradition, diss. Cornell University, 1982, 102-138; F. Anne Payne, "Foreknowledge and Free Will: Three Theories in the Nun's Priest's Tale," Chaucer Review 10 (1975), 201-219.Back

7. Peck, 745 n. 2 gives the citations from contemporary authors.Back

8. Chaucer dedicated his T&C to "moral Gower and "philosophical Strode" in V, 1856-7. For Strode as an Ockhamist see Utz, p. 57. Pearsall, Life, p. 133-4, thinks Chaucer could have discussed questions of free will and predestination with Strode, and believes Strode was indicative of the "larger London milieu" of Chaucer's audience and acquaintances (184). Walter Clyde Curry, "Destiny in Chaucer's Troilus," PMLA 45 (1930), 166 n. 79, recognized that Strode opposed determinism. For Strode as indicative of the turn by academic philosophers from careers in theology to those in law, as well as for further bibliography on Strode, see Courtenay, Schools and Scholars, p. 341, and Ch. 12, p. 356 ff.; J.A.W. Bennett, Chaucer at Oxford and Cambridge, Toronto, 1974, pp. 63-65.Back

9. For Chaucer's audience and its relation to Latin learning, see Pearsall, Life, and Bennett. For the increasing number of Latin-literate lay persons and their interest in philosophical discussions, see Coleman, pp. 13-15; 149; 171.Back

10. Coleman, p. 150; Courcelle, La Consolation de Philosophie dans la tradition littéraire, Paris, 1967, Chapter 4. Coleman, p. 224 n. 3, points out that Books IV and V of the Consolation were taken from Aristotle's peri herminias (On Interpretation), and discusses the popularity of this work, and of Boethius' two commentaries on it, in the fourteenth century, as does Zanoni, Ch. 3. Peck, 746-7, n. 7, also refers to "the period's enormous interest" in the Consolation. John Huber, "Troilus' Predestination Soliloquy", NM 66 (1965), 124-5, points out that in the Consolation Boethius himself is none too clear about how to reconcile free will with God's foreknowledge, though he never doubts that they are reconcilable. Clearly Boethius' answer did not satisfy many fourteenth century readers. The Nun's Priest declares he can't understand this explanation either.Back

11. Ashley, "Divine Power,"; Adams, "Piers' Pardon," 387 & n. 54, argues that Langland rejects Bradwardine's position that good deeds are irrelevant to salvation, and therefore asserts that "Will" is all-important, though grace is also essential. Britton J. Harwood argues that "Liberum Arbitrium" is even more important in the C-Text, but without reference to nominalism ,in "Liberum Arbitrium in the C-Text of Piers Plowman," PQ 52 (1973), 680-95. A number of scholars have suggested that Chaucer knew at least the A-Text of PP; see discussion and references in Pearsall, Life, p. 333 n. 12.Back

12. See Jay Ruud, "Chaucer and Nominalism: The Envoy to Bukton," Mediaevalia 10 (1984), 199-212; for Utz, see note 4; for Delany 1972 and Eldredge 1970 see note 19. Katherine Lynch, "The Parliament of Fowls and Late Medieval Voluntarism," Chaucer Review 25 (1990), 4-5, points out that Chaucer was strongly opposed to the "intellectual determinism" of Augustine and Boethius. Boethius' intellectual determinism is briefly explained by Laurence Eldredge, "Boethian Epistemology and Chaucer's Troilus in the Light of Fourteenth-Century Thought," Mediaevalia 2 (1976), 56-58.Back

13. For Bradwardine, see n. 5 above. For his other works, see Heiko A. Oberman and J.A. Weisheipl, eds., "The Sermo Epinicius Ascribed to Thomas Bradwardine (1346)," AHDLdMA 33 (1958), 295- 329. Bradwardine's de futuris contingentibus has been edited by J.-F. Geneste in Recherches Augustiniennes 124 (1979), 249-336.Back

14. For Holcot, see Courtenay, Schools and Scholars, pp. 302-3, 350, and passim; Beryl Smalley, English Friars and Antiquity in the Early Fourteenth Century, Oxford, 1960. Coleman, pp. 147-50, 152, notes that Holcot's commentaries were "very widely known." Chaucer certainly knew them; see Robert A. Pratt, "Some Latin Sources of the Nonnes Preest on Dreams," Speculum 52 (1977), 538- 570, argues strongly that Holcot's work is the main source for the NPT.Back

15. Zanoni discusses the "debate" in the NPT, but without reference to the nominalist-Augustinian dispute of the fourteenth century.Back

16. See Ernest A. Moody, "A Quodlibetal Question of Robert Holcot, O.P., on the Problem of the Objects of Knowledge and of Belief, Speculum 39 (1964), 53-74. Back

17. Delany suggests that "Pertelote is a scientist" in Medieval Literary Politics, p. 149. Chaucer was very interested in science; see Pearsall, Life, pp. 21617 on Chaucer and his "Treatise on the Astrolabe." Back

18. For the former reading, see D.W. Robertson, Jr., A Preface to Chaucer, Princeton, 1962, p. 284; 376; Mortimer J. Donovan, "The Moralité of the Nun's Priest's Sermon," JEGP 52 (1953), 506; Ockham's remark, from his commentary on the Sentences, has been widely quoted, for example Delany, Medieval Literary Politics, p. Back

19. For "skeptical fideism," see Sheila Delany, Chaucer's House of Fame: The Poetics of Skeptical Fideism, Chicago, 1972, especially Chapters 13 and Epilog. There has been a debate among scholars of fourteenth century philosophy concerning whether the fourteenth century nominalists should in fact be termed "skeptics." By this they mean whether, given the stress on God's omnipotence, anything is really knowable, since (for example) past, present and future are also "contingent" in that an all-powerful God can change them at any time, as well as create perceptions of nonexistent things. For the earlier view (they were skeptics) see Leff (1957) 11, 13 and passim; Moody, 55; 74 and passim. For the use of this concept in literary studies, see Laurence Eldredge, "Chaucer's Hous of Fame and the Via Moderna," NM 71 (1970), 109; Eldredge, "Boethian Epistemology," 5658; Ashley, 396. Leff signals a change in his estimate of Ockham in William of Ockham: the metamorphosis of scholastic discourse (Manchester, 1975), p. xiii. See also Courtenay, "Nominalism," 724; and the extended discussion in Marilyn McCord Adams, William Ockham (Notre Dame, 1987), I, pp. 551629.

However, I use the term "skeptic" in quite the different, and more colloquial, sense set forth by Delany, Chaucer's House of Fame, p. 2: "that sense of the unreliability of traditional information which Chaucer deliberately incorporates into the style and structure of his poetry". See also her discussion in Chapter 2, "Skeptical Fideism in the Middle Ages."Back

20. See Charles Dahlberg, "Chaucer's Cock and Fox," JEGP 53 (1954), 2845, 290, and the works cited in note 18.Back

21. Cited in Delany, Medieval Literary Politics, pp. 4 and 26. Back

22. Richard de Bury, Philobiblon, Book XIII, and Boccaccio, Genealogia Deorum Gentilium, Books XIV and XV, expound this method of reading literature. Robertson's Preface is perhaps the classic discussion of this "exegetical" method. The allegorization of the classics was under attack around the turn of the fifteenth century by such diverse figures as the Dominican monk Johannes Dominici, writing against the Florentine humanist Coluccio Salutati (Lucula Noctis) and by Jean Gerson and Christine de Pisan, attacking the allegorical reading of the Roman de la Rose in their famous "quarrel" with Gontier Col. Thomas Hoccleve took sides with the Col brothers and the Roman in his version of Christine's "Epistre du Dieu d'Amors"; see John V. Fleming, "Hoccleve's 'Letter of Cupid' and the 'Quarrel' over the Roman de la Rose," Medium Aevum 40 (1971), 2140.Back

23. For a thorough discussion see Grover Furr, The 'Roman de la Rose' and Fourteenth Century Humanism, dissertation, Princeton University, 1979, Chapter 3.Back

24. On the Limbourg brothers, see Erwin Panovsky, Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character, Cambridge, MA 1966. For Franciscan emphasis on realistic detail and its widespread influence on vernacular literature outside the Franciscan Order, see Lynn White, Jr., "Natural Science and Naturalistic Art in the Middle Ages," AHR 52 (1947), 4325. White also connects nominalist philosophy, mainly a Franciscan phenomenon, with Franciscan 'realism'. More recent discussions include: John V. Fleming, An Introduction to the Franciscan Literature of the Middle Ages, Princeton, 1977, especially Chapters 1 and 6, and David L. Jeffrey, "Franciscan Spirituality and Vernacular Culture," in D.L. Jeffrey, ed., By Things Seen: Reference and Recognition in Medieval Thought, Ottawa, 1979, pp. 143160, esp. p. 156. John V. Fleming, From Bonaventure to Bellini: An Essay in Franciscan Exegesis, Princeton, 1982, shows how Bellini's painting combines "realism" with allegory.Back

25. Robertson, Preface, p. 284, asserts that the "surface discreteness" or "separateness" of this passage masks an "underlying unity" in English Gothic style, but does not explain this unity further.Back

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