Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Chaucer and Malory to classical river god providence, where epic poets wrestle with the ideas of empire and fate by questioning the river god's ability to exert his autonomy. Because river god providence is finite, it is susceptible to a peculiar frustration in exerting its legitimate authority at the hands of fate. Homer, Statius and Lucan all present versions of a failed river god providence, while Virgil alone creates a successful example of the tradition. His example, however, is in turn parodied by Ovid, which highlights further the ambiguities of river god providence. Medieval chroniclers and romancers utilize a Virgilian theme of river providence, removing the local gods and putting in their place either God's will or some other supernatural force (such as ghosts or fairies). River providence may be ambiguous at times in medieval literature, but is for the most part successful; the sovereign autonomy of river providence is questioned less than the moral autonomy of the hero who encounters these divinized rivers. Chaucer, through Criseyde’s oath in Troilus and Criseyde, suggests that river providence is a failure because it cannot assist a will in moral choices due to its pagan origins. Malory, on the other hand, presents in Le Marte D 'Arthur river providence which successfully executes its authority, ultimately suggesting that pagan traditions are acceptable when used to highlight Christian virtues. River providence ultimately investigates the frustration of autonomy in general, in a world which often aggressively limits any being's ability to make moral choices.
Cirilla, Anthony G., "Rivers of Divinity: The Impact of a Classical and Medieval Tradition on Chaucer and Malory" (2010). English Master’s Theses. 27.