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The Assembly of the Gods, Introduction


1 See Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1932; rpt. New York: W. W. Norton, 1960), p. 46.

2 The poem was last edited in 1895 by Oscar Lovell Triggs, as a dissertation for the University of Chicago, and then reprinted by the Early English Text Society in 1896, as The Assembly of Gods: Or The Accord of Reason and Sensuality in the Fear of Death, by John Lydgate, edited from the MSS. with Introduction, Notes, Index of Persons and Places, and Glossary, EETS e.s. 69 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1896). It was then reprinted verbatim by Oxford University Press in 1957. The reprinting supposedly involved corrections made by J. B. Trapp, but I would concur with previous scholars who have located no changes whatsoever in the text from the 1896 edition. According to Bradford Y. Fletcher, in"The Textual Tradition of The Assembly of Gods," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 71 (1977), 191-94, Triggs made over one hundred errors in transcription and provided inadequate variants, for which reason Fletcher recommended that a new edition be prepared. Fletcher also completed an unpublished edition of the Trinity College manuscript in which The Assembly of Gods appears, but without editing the poem itself: "An Edition of Trinity College Cambridge Manuscript R.3.19," 2 vols. (Ph.D. Diss. University of Chicago, 1973).

3 F. W. Bonner, "The Genesis of the Chaucer Apocrypha," Studies in Philology 48 (1951), 461, cites instances in which The Assembly of Gods was considered to be a work within the Chaucer apocrypha.

4 "And bytwene vertue and the lyfe vycyous / Of goddes and goddes[es] a boke solacyous / He dyde compyle" (The Pastime of Pleasure, lines 1362-64). Other works "by Lydgate" cited here include The Ballade in Commendation of Our Lady, The Life of St. Edmund, The Fall of Princes (attributed to Boccaccio), The Chorl and Bird, The Courte of Sapyence, Troy Book, and The Temple of Glass. See Stephen Hawes, The Pastime of Pleasure, ed. William Edward Mead, EETS o.s. 173 (London: Oxford University Press, 1928), lines 1338-1407, pp. 55-57. Hawes refers to Lydgate as his "mayster," "the chefe oryginall of my lernyng" (line 1375). Triggs took this passage as best proof of Lydgate's authorship of The Assembly of Gods, which he dated c. 1420, an attribution and date followed by the OED. But Hawes could not literally have been Lydgate's pupil, as Triggs implies, for Lydgate died c. 1449 and Hawes was born c. 1475. See A. S. G. Edwards, Stephen Hawes (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983), p. 1. "Mayster" must simply mean that in his youth he read Lydgate with pleasure and literary sensitivity.

5 In D this description follows the end of the text: "Here endeth a lytyll Tratyse named Le assemble de dyeus."

6 In Text A, Cambridge Trinity College Library R.3.19, fols. 67b-97b, Lydgate is cited as the author on fol. 68a.

7 The colophon for Text C, British Library G.11587, reads "Thus endeth this lytyll moralized treatyse compiled by dan John Lydgat,"

8 This edition is Text D, British Library C.13.a.21, from around 1500.

9 The works include: Will Cornish's Treatise betwene Truth and Enformation, John Skelton's Elegies upon the Death of the Earl of Northumberland, Lydgate's Stanzas and Testament, and The Assembly of Gods. The Assembly of Gods is listed in the table of contents (fol. 1a) added in the seventeenth century as The Discord betwixt Reason and Sensualytie written by John Lydgate, along with "Names and Places of the Burial of All English Kings from the Conquest to Henry VII," "Their Arms," "The Descent of the Percies," "Proverbs and Lodgings of Two Percy Castles," and "Council of Aristotle to Alexander."

10 If the work had been written by Lydgate, then, according to modern editor Oscar L. Triggs (1896), it must have been written either about 1412, at the time that Lydgate was writing his Troy Book, or about 1420, when Siege of Thebes was being written (p. xii). The OED prefers c. 1420 as well. But even Triggs acknowledges that, because of the unLydgatian poetic phraseology in The Assembly of Gods, "it is not impossible that Burgh or some other of Lydgate's pupils rewrote the poem as we have it in the text" (p. xiv).Triggs identified as Lydgatian the poet's preoccupation with death, along with an encyclopedic love of classical lore and Christian allegory, but the themes are common in the later fifteenth century. Lydgate scholars no longer accept this attribution. See Josef Schick in Lydgate's Temple of Glas, EETS e.s. 60 (London: Oxford University Press, 1891); Albert Rudolph in Lydgate und die Assembly of Gods: Eine Untersuchung über die Autorschaft dieses Werkes auf Grund einer Stilvergleichung (Berlin: R. Trenkel, 1909); Henry Noble MacCracken, ed., The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Edited from All Available Manuscripts, with an Attempt to Establish the Lydgate Canon, 2 vols., EETS e.s. 107 and o.s. 192 (London: K[egan] Paul, Trench, Trübner; New York: H. Frowde/Oxford University Press, 1911 [for 1910]; London: Humphrey Milford/Oxford University Press, 1934 [for 1933]); and Alan Renoir and C. David Benson, "XVI. John Lydgate," in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500 (New Haven: The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1980), p. 2079.

11 See Fletcher, "An Edition," p. xv. J. H. Kern also argues that Lydgate was probably dead by the time the poem was written and remarks on the unLydgatian rhymes, in "Iets over London Likkepeny," Neophilologus 3 (1918), 287. C. S. Lewis, Allegory of Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 260; Walter F. Schirmer, Lydgate: A Study of the Culture of the XVth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), pp. 275-77; and Curt Bühler, "The Assembly of Gods and Christine de Pisan," English Language Notes 4 (1967), 251, reject Lydgate's authorship on various internal grounds. Like Fletcher, Bühler would also place its authorship in the third quarter of the fifteenth century.

12 E. Ruth Harvey suggests that The Courte was written in the middle third of the fifteenth century, no earlier than 1449 or later than 1483 (p. xxii).

13 In Hawes, Sensuality (i.e., lechery) rides upon a goat, as Lechery does in The Assembly of Gods. In The Assembly of Gods, Covetyse rides upon an elephant; in Hawes that mount is awarded Pride, a unique juxtaposition of mount and rider which, as Gluck and Morgan point out in their edition of the poem, may be due to Hawes' reading of The Assembly of Gods. That is, in Hawes, "pryde [is] endued with covetyse" (line 1198), which could explain the borrowing of Covetyse's mount for Pride's conveyance.

14 For the dates and authorship of the translations of Stephen Scrope and the revisions of William Worchester, both of whom had connections with Sir John Fastolff, who brought manuscripts of French works back from Europe on his various trips, see Curt F. Bühler, ed. The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers: The Translations Made by Stephen Scrope, William Worchester, and an Anonymous Translator, EETS o.s. 211 (London: Humphrey Milford/Oxford University Press, 1941), pp. xxxvii-lxii.

15 On late-fifteenth-century poems showing concern for or about women, see Jane Chance, "Christine de Pizan as Literary Mother: Women's Authority and Subjectivity in 'The Floure and the Leafe' and 'The Assembly of Ladies,'" in The City of Scholars: New Approaches to Christine de Pizan, ed. Margarete Zimmermann and Dina De Rentiis (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,1994), pp. 245-59.

16 The other works in Cambridge Trinity College Library MS R.3.19 include (in order of appearance and entitled as the seventeenth-century hand lists on the flyleaf, unless title is omitted) Lydgate's poems, Chaucer's Parliament of Birds, a poem by George Ashby, prisoner in the Fleet, 1463, "Amoret, that was prynce of Salerno, flowre of knyghthood" (the latter omitted from the flyleaf), "Assemble de Dayms by Chaucer," "La Belle dame sauns Mercie by Chaucer," "The 10 Commandments of Love by Chaucer," "The IX Ladyes Worthy by Chaycer," "The Legend of Ladyes by Chaucer," "The Explanation of the Death of Pyte by Chaucer," "The Craft of Lovers by Chaucer," "The Court of Love by Chaucer," "Several other little pieces of Chaucers," Piers of Fulham's "Love Poems," "The Genealogy of the Kings of England from the Normans," and "Autumnus." See Bradford Y. Fletcher's "The Assembly of Ladies: Text and Context," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 82 (1988), especially pp. 230-34, for a study of variants and the manuscript genealogy.

17 The other two manuscripts containing The Assembly of Ladies are British Library MS Additional 34360, fols. 37a-49a, the earliest, and Longleat House MS 258, fols. 58a-75b.

18 See the discussion of Skeat's opinion outlined in Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson, "The Assembly of Ladies: A Maze of Feminist Sign-Reading?" in Feminist Criticism: Theory and Practice, ed. Susan Sellers (New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1991), pp. 171-96; here, p. 193n9.

19 See G. L. Marsh, "Sources and Analogues of The Flower and the Leaf," Modern Philology 4 (1906-07), 121-68 and 281-328; Eleanor Prescott Hammond, ed., English Verse between Chaucer and Surrey (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1927); Derek Pearsall, "The English Chaucerians," in Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Literature, ed. D. S. Brewer (London: Thomas Nelson, 1966), pp. 201-39; and Derek Pearsall's introduction to his 1962 edition of The Floure and the Leafe and The Assembly of Ladies. The Chaucerian attribution for the latter poem and its association with The Floure and the Leafe resulted from William Thynne's inclusion of it in his edition of Chaucer's works in 1532, which Walter Skeat followed in his 1897 edition of Chaucerian and Other Pieces. See Pearsall's introduction to each poem in his 1990 edition, The Floure and the Leafe, The Assembly of Ladies, The Isle of Ladies (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications), pp. 1, 29. All references in the text are to Pearsall's 1990 edition.

20 See Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, "A Woman's View of Courtly Love: The Findern Anthology," Journal of Women's Studies in Literature 1 (1979), 179-94; Sarah McNamer, "Female Authors, Provincial Setting: The Re-versing of Courtly Love in the Findern Manuscript," Viator 22 (1991), 279-310; Ann McMillan, "'Fayre Sisters Al': The Flower and the Leaf and The Assembly of Ladies," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 1 (1982), 27-42; Alexandra A. T. Barratt, "'The Flower and the Leaf' and 'The Assembly of Ladies': Is There a (Sexual) Difference?" Philological Quarterly 66 (1987), 1-24; and Jane Chance, "Gender Subversion and Linguistic Castration in Fifteenth-Century English Translations of Christine de Pizan," in Violence against Women in Medieval Texts, ed. Anna Roberts (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), pp. 161-94.

21 See Hanson-Smith, "A Woman's View of Courtly Love," pp. 179, 182. For an edition of the Findern manuscript, see Rossell Hope Robbins, "The Findern Anthology," PMLA 69 (1954), 610-42; Robbins argues that two kinds of scribes (of the thirty hands present) aided in writing the manuscript, amateur women from the area and professional copyists who moved from place to place. A facsimile of the manuscript has been published: see The Findern Manuscript: Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6, introduced by Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen (London: Scolar Press, 1977). The introducers of the facsimile note that the manuscript arrived at the Cambridge University Library when George I purchased Bishop John Moore's collection and presented it in 1715. Bishop Moore acquired this and others from the Knyvett family library (from Ashwellthorpe, near Wymondham, Norfolk), initially owned by Sir Thomas Knyvett (c. 1539-1618). Knyvett may have had this particular manuscript from the Findern family, who began compiling it in the mid-fifteenth century (p. vii). The manuscript contains Chaucerian poems and others, including his Parlement of Foules and excerpts from The Legend of Good Women, Thomas Hoccleve's Letter of Cupid (entitled Lepistre de Cupide), excerpts from John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Sir John Clanvowe's Boke of Cupide, and others.

22 There exists a scribe's table of contents for Longleat MS 258, a manuscript once owned by Thynne and from which Thynne set up his copy, that lists The Floure and the Leafe along with The Assembly of Ladies; see Fletcher's discussion in "The Assembly of Ladies," pp. 229-34. For a fuller description of the variants in Thynne and the Longleat MS, see James Blodgett, "William Thynne and His 1532 Edition of Chaucer" (Ph.D. Diss. University of Indiana, 1975), who finds 108 variants (including orthographical differences). For details about the provenance of the translation of Christine by Scrope, see Curt Bühler's introduction to Stephen Scrope, trans., The Epistle of Othea, Translated from the French Text of Christine de Pisan, EETS o.s. 264 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. xiv-xxx.

23 That is, the form mixes prose with lines of verse, as in Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae, Martianus' De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, and other later medieval allegorical works such as Alan of Lille's twelfth-century De planctu Naturae.

24 See Curt Bühler, "The Assembly of Gods and Christine de Pisan," 251-54; and also his introduction to Scrope's translation of the Epistle of Othea. Most telling is the use of the name "Colus" in all the manuscripts and early editions of The Assembly of Gods as a mistake for "Aeolus," a mistake also found in Scrope's translation of Christine's Epistre Othea (Bühler, "The Assembly of Gods," p. 254). Another parallel with The Assembly of Gods found only in the English translation of Christine is that of the euhemeristic creation of deities by the pagan world (stanza 244 of The Assembly of Gods; see Christine's Epistle of Othea, fable 1, p. 6; Bühler, "The Assembly of Gods," p. 253).

25 See Gianni Mombello, "Per un'edizione critica dell''Epistre Othea' di Christine de Pizan," Studi Francesi 24 (1964), 401-17, here, pp. 408-09, for the influence of the Epistre Othea on contemporary French works; and on later periods, see Glenda K. McLeod, ed., The Reception of Christine de Pizan from the Fifteenth through the Nineteenth Centuries: Visitors to the City (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991).

26 Attropos is also masculinized in Scrope's translation of the Epistle of Othea; see Bühler, "The Assembly of Gods and Christine de Pisan," p. 253. Bühler also notes the appearance of Ceres, Isis, and Pan in the same order in both the Epistre Othea and The Assembly of Gods, p. 252.

27 In The Floure and the Leafe, however, Diana's appearance as goddess of chastity, to whom the company of the Leaf owes allegiance, signals an ironic and misplaced pride in purity that matches more obvious spiritual errors of the company of the Flower, according to Cynthia Lockard Snyder, in "The Floure and the Leafe: An Alternative Approach," in New Readings of Late Medieval Love Poems, ed. David Chamberlain (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993), pp. 145-71; here, pp. 156-57.

28 Compare the metallic allegories in Chaucer's The Hous of Fame (lines 1429-1512), which likewise correspond to the equations in The Assembly of Gods.

29 Fletcher, "The Textual Tradition," p. 191. Fletcher agrees with Triggs that A is the authoritative text, arguing that all subsequent copies derive from it (p. 192). For the ownership of Text A by John Stowe, see Montague Rhodes James, The Western MSS in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge: A Descriptive Catalogue, vol. 2 of 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901), p. 69.

30 Gavin Bone, in "Extant Manuscripts printed from by W. de Worde with Notes on the Owner, Roger Thorney," The Library, fourth series, 12 (1931-32), 303, points in the manuscript containing A to printer's ink and marginal pencilings of pages within signatures, suggesting that it was used by de Worde for the earliest quarto edition, known as C, published in 1498. The D edition, however, formerly identified as published in 1500, according to Fletcher, in "The Textual Tradition of The Assembly of Gods," must also be revised in date, probably to 1498, the same as the edition previously identified as earliest (that is, C) (p. 193). The 1976 edition of A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of English Books Abroad, 1475-1640, comp. A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave, second ed., rev. by W. A. Jackson, F. S. Ferguson, and Katherine F. Pantzer (London: Bibliographical Society, 1976), identifies C (17005) as 1498, E (17006) as 1500, and D (17007) as 1500? (2:124). Editions C, D, and E were printed by de Worde, and C (1498) precedes D (1500?), with E being listed as undated, according to H. S. Bennett, in English Books and Readers, 1475 to 1557: Being a Study of the History of the Book Trade from Caxton to the Incorporation of the Stationers' Company, second ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 259. If C followed A, however, then was the source edition for all other copies (BDEFG) C or D, the latter of which has been argued as the source edition by one scholar (see note 35 below)?

31 For information about the dating of these printer's marks, see Edward Gordon Duff, Early English Printing: A Series of Facsimiles of All the Types Used in England during the Fifteenth Century, with Some of Those Used in the Printing of English Books Abroad (Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1974), p. 35. For the printing history and interrelationships of William Caxton, Wynkyn de Worde, Richard Pynson (appointed as King's Printer around 1508-09), and Robert Redman, see Bennett, pp. 76-77, 182-97, 222-25. Caxton died in 1491, at which time Wynkyn de Worde took over the management of the print shop. Wynkyn de Worde used Caxton's facilities until 1500, at which time he moved the operation to Fleet Street. C and D use the old Caxton type and must have been compiled in the original workshop. C has more errors than D. Perhaps D was compiled anew from A, as Bone (p. 303) and Fletcher (p. 192) suggest; or, perhaps, the compiler of D simply made corrections as he reset the text from C. 1498 was a busy year for the print shop, with the second edition of Malory's Morte Darthure, the fourth edition of the Golden Legend, and the third edition of The Canterbury Tales being completed. Perhaps The Assembly of Gods was compiled in haste, which might account for the errors. That the little book went through four printed editions in less than a decade is tribute to its popularity. The two sixteenth-century manuscripts based on the printed editions perhaps suggest that the printings sold out quickly, or that the poem was, at least, in demand.

32 William Ringler argues that A allies with C, especially in lines 104, 974, and 981, in "The Fragment 'Vertu' and 'The Assemble of Goddes': STC 24844a and 17005-17007a," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 47 (1953), 378-80, here, p. 379.

33 Ringler also notes that B derives from D, because B agrees with the error made in D in fourteen passages, lines 104, 210, 235, 607, 648, 673, 721, 966, 970, 974, 981, 1074, 1591, and 2103, countering Triggs' proposition that C is copied from A, and B from C. Fletcher, in "The Textual Tradition of The Assembly of Gods," describes B as an "elegant collection" intended for the Percys and written between 1450 and 1520, because in the same hand, following the poem, is a "Kings of England" that continues as far as Henry VIII, and because Lydgate's "Testament" also appears in the manuscript, copied from Pynson's 1515? print (STC 17035) (p. 191).

34 Ringler, pp. 378-80.

35 According to Triggs, later printings generally show "no important textual differences." The most recent edition of the Short-Title Catalogue lists these editions: C is STC 17005 (W. de Worde, at Westminster, c. 1498), owned by the British Library, the Huntington Library (imperfect), and Pierpont Morgan Library; E is STC 17006 (de Worde, at Westminster? c. 1500), owned by Cambridge University Library; D is STC 17007 (de Worde, at Westminster? c. 1500?), owned by the British Library and the Huntington (imperfect); F is STC 17007.5, by R. Pynson (c. 1505), with a fragment of this edition at Oxford (formerly 24844a) and an imperfect copy at the Huntington Library; and G is STC 17007a [J. Skot for] R. Redman (after 1529), also at the Huntington. Ringler concludes that "C is the earliest edition, carelessly printed with many errors; that D is a reprint of C, corrected by an intelligent compositor but without recourse to any manuscript; that E and F are independent reprints of D which introduce new errors of their own; and that G is a paginary reprint of E" (p. 379). Fletcher, in "The Textual Tradition of The Assembly of Gods," however, responds that because C corrects an error in the original manuscript, A, that is not corrected in D (and later editions), that correction isolates D as the copy edition for later editions and not C, as Ringler argued. Fletcher also states that "B, C, E, each varies independently so much that they can not be more closely related than through a common ancestor." His hypothesis is that "BCDEFG all derive from A through a single one of their number, if one allows for just a few corrections of manifest error in later copies" (p. 192). Finally, he finds that BCE agree with D against A in lines 47, 84, 157, 217, 235, 256, 336, 337, 351, 402, 513, 536, 587, 634, 635, 648, 661, 687, 702, 721, 767, 857, 962, 966, 970, 1074, 1113, 1184, 1194, 1309, 1404, 1462, 1590, 1718, 1767, 1780, 1909, 1963, 1995, 2048, and 2055. BCE, individually or together, do not agree with A against D, and if they disagree with D, it is to correct D's errors, in 267, 607, 673, 974, 981, 1591, 1608, and 2034; for CE correcting D, without B, 266, 570, 661, 974, 981, 1475, and 1710. In several instances CE correct D differently, in 169, 937, 953, and 1485.

The importance of the fifteenth century in England has often been ignored by modern literary critics and historians. Douglas Bush described "the long interval between Chaucer and the early sixteenth century" as a "period of sterility" that might best be characterized as a "seedtime" for the "abundant promise of harvests to come."1 Certainly this vast century was a "seedtime," but far from sterile. In the fifteenth century a large number of English poets, following the lead of John Lydgate, imitated Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower in their attempts to mediate in their poetry conflicting social, cultural, and religious value systems. In doing so, they created a substantial canon of literature highly ingenious in addressing concerns of the day, especially those of a new readership eager for education. As heirs of a long classical humanistic tradition passed down through schools and universities, the English writers of the fourteenth century introduced with remarkable vigor classical mythology into their settings, characterizations, and imagery. Some of the influences came directly from Latin traditions, some from Old and Middle French models such as the Roman de la Rose and the poetry of Froissart, Machaut, and Deschamps, but, in the fifteenth century, much of it came indirectly, from earlier English writers. These fifteenth-century English poets compose a philosophical poetry to juxtapose cultures both social and psychological. And they develop from old models new uses of rhetorical figures, particularly personification allegory, descriptions, and catalogues of information of the sort yearned for by a newly literate vernacular audience.

Lydgate, Hoccleve, and writers like the author of The Kingis Quair advance further uses of the classical theogony, particularly through the genre of dream vision and the personification of various moral categories. The poetic text becomes more expansive than before, often relying on lists and theological categories for dramatic substance. In keeping with the epistemological allegories of William Langland's Piers Plowman, the subsequent narrative poems, like the mystery and morality plays, often attempt to deal with issues of the individual conscience in its pilgrimage through life. Written during a time of enormous social chaos and religious turmoil, the poems of the mid-fifteenth century are often overlaid with didactic and moral functions overshadowed by crises within the church. It is not uncommon to find scenes from nature juxtaposed with allegorical landscapes inhabited by virtues and vices in debate over metaphysical issues. Allegory in general, of course, marks many Middle English poems of this era and the prior fourteenth century; the propensity for combining classical (Latinate) mythological allegory and the secularized dream-vision with the didactic and moralizing function of the sacramental and liturgical, whether performed by a cleric or by a Christian poet, as in the mystery and morality play, signals a trend to which John Gower, John Lydgate, and Christine de Pizan, among others, contributed. Although the poems often seem to be looking backward to the literary models of the fourteenth century, they also anticipate the Reformation in shrewdly original ways, by means of their emphasis on the individual through a kind of allegorical process of literary nominalism. The concept of a first person narrator within this context represents a literary desire to explore what might be termed subjectivity and the voice of the individual.

The Assembly of Gods, an anonymous English dream-vision allegory of 2107 lines arranged in 301 rime royal stanzas, appears at the end of the third quarter of the fifteenth century (c. 1478-83), just prior to Caxton's introduction of the printing press to England. The poem follows closely the new "traditions" of English poetry that Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate introduced. Like Gower in his paradigmatic Confessio Amantis (1390), the Assembly-poet draws freely upon the classics in the redactions of various mythographers. In Confessio Amantis Gower provides the classical figure of Genius, priest of Venus, who shrives the courtly lover Amans for his sins against love and instructs him in the remedia for these sins and for the deadly sins of classical tales as well. Like Chaucer the poet draws freely upon the philosophical matter of Boethius and the Roman de la Rose. And from Lydgate the poet learns much about new uses of description and the dramatization of moral debate. But the poet also makes intelligent use of Franco-Italian poet Christine de Pizan through the mid-century translation of her Epistre Othea (1399) by Stephen Scrope (c. 1440). In this influential work, Christine combines classical myth, moral gloss, and allegory with biblical and liturgical contextualization: she introduces a hundred fables of the classical gods in what purports to be a letter of moral instruction written by Othea, goddess of prudence, to youthful Trojan hero Hector, exemplar of chivalry and founder of France through his nephew Francio. A similar conjoining of classical, courtly, and Christian appears in Christine's Epistre au Dieu d'Amours (1401), in which the narrator Christine, behind the mask of the God of Love, Cupido, sues for a moral redress of courtly ills caused by the promiscuity and misogyny of chivalry. Following these models and others, The Assembly of Gods weds the didactic to the mythological and courtly within the dream vision of the narrator, who desires to bring Reson and Sensualyté into accord by means of a convention of the classical gods that will adjudicate the relative merits of Discorde's desire to overthrow Vertu.

Unusual in its combination of classical and Christian images, The Assembly of Gods has received little critical attention during the twentieth century, despite its association with Chaucer and its popularity in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries as a printed edition. 2 Once considered as a work within the Chaucer apocrypha, 3 Le Assemble de Dyeus appears as the second of two tracts, the first of which is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in one of the earliest printed editions, Text C (British Library G.11587, c. 1500). And the poem is often found in early anthologies with Chaucerian poems, such as The Legend of Good Women, or with poems themselves often described as "Chaucerian," such as Lydgate's The Temple of Glass. Clear from even a cursory perusal of the poem are the reasons for its link with Chaucer: The Assembly of Gods features a distraught narrator; the appearance of a god, in this case, Morpheus, to a vexed dreamer caught between sleeping and waking, as in The Book of the Duchess; and the stanzaic form of the poem, rime royal (a seven-line stanza rhyming ababbcc), which Chaucer favored in many of his balades, The Parlement of Foules, Troilus and Criseyde, and several of his religious tales.

Despite this association with Chaucer, The Assembly of Gods was initially attributed to John Lydgate (1370-1449). The Assembly of Gods is described by the poet Stephen Hawes in The Pastime of Pleasure (1505-06) as one of seven Lydgatian works. 4 Called Le Assemble de Dyeus in the two earliest (late fifteenth-century) printed editions (Texts C and D), 5 the poem was originally attributed to "Lydgate" in the authoritative manuscript (Text A) 6 and at the end of one printed edition (Text C) 7; it was also included with other works by Lydgate in early editions, chiefly the Wynkyn de Worde printed edition (Text D) 8. Text D names Le Assemble de Dyeus as the second of three tracts, the first and third of which were written by Lydgate, The Storie of the Destruction of Thebes and The Temple of Glass. In the later British Library manuscript copy of Text D, known as Text B, the poem is clearly included because of its Lydgatian characteristics: the portion dating from the fifteenth century contains Lydgate's Troy Book and his Siege of Thebes; the portion dating from the sixteenth century, in which The Assembly of Gods appears, contains work by William Cornish, John Skelton, and Lydgate. 9

Modern scholars have argued against Lydgate's authorship of The Assembly of Gods, however, despite its retention of the attribution to Lydgate into the twentieth century and its Lydgatian didactic moralism, allegory, and classical mythological figures. 10 The rhymes, meter, and other internal features are not like those of Lydgate; more importantly, the date of this London poem, c. 1478-83, as established by facsimile editor Bradford Y. Fletcher, is considerably later than any allowable in fact for authorship by Lydgate. 11 It seems likely that the work was written several decades after Lydgate had died, or, perhaps, at the earliest, between the time of his death (1449) and 1483.

Most likely written, then, in the early fourth quarter of the fifteenth century, at about the same time as several other similar dream-vision allegories, The Assembly of Gods can best be described, with them, not so much as "Chaucerian" as "Lydgatian," and Lydgatian in nature rather than in fact. Such Lydgatian allegories, as exemplified by the anonymous The Courte of Sapyence (c. 1449-83), 12 shared a scholastic or didactic nature, that is, they presented characters as personifications amidst long allegorical sequences and catalogues drawn from medieval psychology, classical mythology, Old Testament typology, the seven liberal arts, the seven deadly sins, and so forth. This type of Lydgatian poem was imitated in the late-fifteenth to early-sixteenth century in The Bowge of Courte (c. 1499) by John Skelton (c. 1460?-1529) and The Example of Vertu (1509) by Stephen Hawes (1475-1523?). Indeed, it has been suggested that The Example of Vertu was itself influenced by The Assembly of Gods, in its autumnal opening; its representations of Vices mounted upon the backs of beasts; its elaborate catalogues; and its calling of Morpheus by the name "Morpleus" and Eolus by the name "Colus," as does The Assembly of Gods, along with the use of a somewhat unusual phrase "nat worth a peere" (compare The Assembly of Gods, line 597, and The Example of Vertu, line 1015) 13. But The Example of Vertu may also have been influenced by The Courte of Sapyence, particularly in its elaborate debate structures; its use of personification allegory, in which characters like Sapyence, Vertu, Fortune, and Nature are given prominent roles; its delight in theological issues involving the four Daughters of God; and, in an admixture of pagan and Christian lore, its representation of classical deities (especially Minerva) and its treatment of the Nine Worthies. But whatever the case, it is evident that The Assembly of Gods was read and admired as a Lydgatian work well into the sixteenth century.

Other influential and characteristic didactic, allegorical, and scholastic works of about the same time include translations into English from the French, such as Christine de Pizan's The Epistle of Othea (1440-41, revised before 1488), and The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers (1450, revised by 1472), both by Stephen Scrope and reviser William Worchester (Caxton published Earl Rivers' separate translation of The Dicts in 1478) 14. Still other Chaucerian and Lydgatian dream-vision allegories, such as The Floure and the Leafe (1460-88) and The Assembly of Ladies (1470-80), centered on courtly love behavior and the relationships between men and women.

A third literary context for The Assembly of Gods, like the first two derived from manuscripts or anthologies in which the work ppears, has remained relatively unexplored. The Assembly of Gods is associated in the copytext manuscript, Text A, the earliest and most authentic manuscript, with courtly love and dream-vision poems that share a concern with women by both Chaucer and Lydgate and bears a more explicitly gendered title, as Banquet of Gods and Goddesses. Within this context, The Assembly of Gods may indeed be said to belong to a group of late-fifteenth-century courtly love parliament or assembly debate poems written about women or with female characters, some of which may have been composed by women, or by poets whose patrons and audiences were female15. Significantly, The Assembly of Gods is preceded in Text A (Cambridge Trinity College Library MS R.3.19, fols. 67b-97b) by Assemble de Damys (better known today as The Assembly of Ladies), fols. 55a-65b16. Written in the same hand, the Text A Assemble de Damys is one of only three versions in existence17, a fact that the earliest editor of The Assembly of Gods, Oscar L. Triggs, neglected to mention. This poem in particular was singled out by early Chaucer editor W. W. Skeat as having been possibly authored by a woman, probably the same author as that of The Floure and the Leafe18. Such poems include some similarly identified by early anthologizers as Chaucerian apocrypha, given their focus on courtly love, their indebtedness to Chaucerian forms and style, and their inclusion in manuscripts with other works by Chaucer19. Among these poems are the lyrics of what is known as The Findern Anthology (c. 1456), The Floure and the Leafe (1460-80?), The Isle of Ladies, and, as indicated above, The Assembly of Ladies (1470-80), as well as a number of manuscripts or translations of the works of Christine de Pizan. 20

Female authorship and/or reception would explain the label of "courtly" previously affixed by early Chaucer editors. In addition, some of these poems include female speakers, subjects related to the limitations on behavior proscribed for women aristocrats by the society they inhabited, and common appearances in the same manuscript. Signs of female audience are also reflected in the poems' preference for chastity and morality in loving (as in the group who adhere to the Leaf in The Floure and the Leafe) or in an interest in female courtly behavior and problems of individuality and identity that ensue from such behavior (as in The Assembly of Ladies). The Findern Anthology (c. 1456) was believed to be the product of the Findern family country house and is signed by several women - Frances Crucken, Elizabeth Coton, Elizabeth Francis, and Anne Shirley - whose families lived in Derbyshire in the Findern area21. In addition, Longleat MS 258, which includes The Assembly of Ladies, once also included The Floure and the Leafe (what would have been fols. 33-48); Longleat MS 256 contains The Isle of Ladies; and Longleat MS 253 contains Stephen Scrope's Middle English translation of Christine de Pizan's Epistle of Ladies, dedicated to Sir John Fastolf, his stepfather, who brought a Middle French copy of Christine's text back from France around 1440. 22

Aside from its gendered character, the title of Banquet of Gods and Goddesses in the colophon for the work in Text E (STC 17006; Wynkyn de Worde, post 1499) is in some ways preferable to The Assembly of Gods because it conjoins to this text the ancient Graeco-Roman genre of the "banquet" or "feast" used by Plato in the appropriately titled Symposium and by first-century Petronius in the Menippean satire of the Cena Trimalchionis (Trimalchio's feast), one complete episode in the fragmentary novel Satyricon. In late antique parlance, the "banquet" is also known as "satura" (satire, but literally "a mixed stew") and often called a prosimetrum, or mixture of prose and poetry. 23 Petronius' prosimetrum, the earliest Latin work of a continuous narrative like that of the modern novel, also contains two examples of Milesian fable, a form used in second-century Apuleius' Metamorphoses as a model for his beast fables, theorized in fourth-century Macrobius' commentary on the Somnium Scipionis and the fifth-century Martianus' allegorical prosimetrum, and thereafter funneled to the Middle Ages in a variety of mythological and mythographic collections involving truth hidden by a false cover or cloak, most influentially in Fulgentius' Mitologiae.

In this mythological and fabulous context, The Assembly of Gods serves up an extended narrative of mythological dream-allegory in which the gods, in a macrocosmic attempt to resolve a problem of internal division within the individual microcosm, spar verbally, Aeneid-like, in dispute over an issue of territorial and regional governance and definition. To reflect the poem's emphasis on classical mythology, ever more popular in the Renaissance, sixteenth-century printers Richard Pynson and Robert Redman entitle the poem The Interpretacyon of the Natures of Goddys and Goddesses (Texts F and G, c. 1501-40). They borrowed their title from the Text A table of gods' names preceding the poem (fol. 66b), "Here folowyth the Interpretacion of the names of goddys and goddesses as ys rehersyd in this tretyse folowyng as poets wryte," to refer to both the table and the poem.

Ultimately, as a type of late-fifteenth-century Lydgatian poem, as defined at the beginning of this Introduction, the poem displaces and marginalizes the classical gods in favor of a Christianized and moralized center in which personifications of psychological faculties eventually resolve and harmonize their differences because of the fact of death. The poem includes, first, a dream frame in which a perplexed dreamer, caught between sleep and waking, introduces the possibility of bringing Reson and Sensualité into accord (lines 1-35; 1469-2107); second, the Assembly proper, in which Eolus (god of winds, the air) disputes with Diana (goddess of the woods and the hunt) and Neptunus (god of the sea) over a matter of jurisdiction, the resolution of which Apollo, the sun (god of truth), promises, in a banquet at which the assembled gods will convene to hear arguments (lines 36-616); and third, the longest part, the psychomachia, the battle between Vertu and Vyce, or Reson and Sensualité (lines 617-1468). Because Dyscorde, who has not been invited to Apollo's banquet, shows up anyway as a disgruntled guest, as she does at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (which led initially, of course, to her disruptive rolling of the golden ball into the festivities, followed by the Judgment of Paris and, eventually, the fall of Troy), there is no room for her at the table. After she leaves in anger, she meets male Attropos, the third Fate and here equivalent to Dethe, who returns to represent her case. Attropos complains that only one individual has broken his vow to him (line 483) - Vertu (line 591). All the gods agree to aid Attropos in destroying this one (unnatural) offender, which leads to the question of jurisdiction: if Vertu inhabits the aerial region, as Athena suggests, then Diana (ruler of the woods) and Neptunus (ruler of oceans) must be asked to forgive Eolus, but Pluto may well control the god of air, because Eolus was shut into the earth within a crevice and taken prisoner by Cerberus, porter of hell. Because Othea, goddess of prudence, also entreats Neptunus to forgive Eolus, Pluto grants the aid of his son, the bastard Vyce, in battling Vertu.

At this point the poem moves into its third and longest part, a morality play and psychological epic combined with social satire (lines 617-1468). Despite Vyce's protests, Vertu is warned of danger by Apollo (line 717) with the assistance of Morpheus and a catalogue of lesser virtues; then Vertu sends out the messenger of Ymaginacion to warn others in his company (line 748). Vertu is appropriately aided by his host, Baptym and Cryme Oryginall, the four knights of the cardinal virtues (Ryghtwysnes, Prudence, Streyngth, and Temperaunce), and the seven remedia for sins (Humylyté, Charyté, Pacyence, Lyberalyté, Abstynence, Chastyté, and Good Besynesse). Minor captains accompany them, including the three theological virtues, Feythe, Hoope (line 828), and Charyté (line 804), Konnyng, and the seven liberal arts (lines 854 ff.). The field of battle is the microcosm (line 932, mistakenly listed as "Macrocosme"), in which judge Conscience will decide who wins (line 934) and the lord at hand is Frewyll (line 996). At this point Reson counsels Frewyll not to succumb to the spy Sensualité and Vyce (lines 1050-55).

Why do the gods support Eolus' complaint, going so far as to mercifully forgive him (lines 575-81), and, therefore, also support Attropos' complaint and his bid to overthrow Vertu (lines 961-63)? The chief reason is that Attropos threatens to withdraw his service to them if Vyce fails (lines 964-66). The captains on this side include Falshood, Dyssymulacion, Symony, Usuré, and others. Fortunately, with Conscience as judge, the lady Prescience follows Vyce through the gates of hell, and Predestinacion grants a heavenly home to Vertu, at which point the Vices repent. Frewyll blames Vyce as the cause of his diversion (lines 1225-28) and agrees to deliver the microcosm, while Vyce is placed in the care of Reson and Frewyll, now to be guided by Sadnes (line 1265). Although Nature protests that Vyce should be freed (lines 1269-74), nevertheless, Vertu delegates to Morpheus, god of dreams, the job of guarding the five gates of the senses (lines 1296-97).

The second complaint of Attropos to the gods (lines 1315-21) is answered by Apollo, who declares that his patent is legal only within Nature (lines 1324-26), forcing Attropos to turn to the one God (lines 1331-37), saying, "Youre names shal be put to oblyvyone" (line 1337). That is, the gods are part of Nature, not high enough in the celestial hierarchy to represent the power of supernature. Thus Attropos, his name changed to "Dethe" (line 1403), is allocated a place in the microcosm by Ryghtwysnes (lines 1419-20), after which Vertu sends Presthood to the field with the sacraments and Penaunce (lines 1426-32). The field is cleansed by Reson and Sadnes, and they see the Eukaryst (line 1439). Holy Unccion follows with a chrismatory (line 1444) and then Dethe (the former Attropos) arrives (line 1447). Vertu is apotheosized (line 1465) and the Christianization of the pagan allegories of Martianus is complete.

The concluding dream-frame envelope (lines 1469-2107) is fitted to this allegory: the Dreamer comes to an arbor with four walls (line 1479) and is admitted by Wytte, chief porter, to the school of Dame Doctryne, next to whom is seated Holy Texte, Glose, and Moralyzacion, attended by scribe Scrypture (lines 1499-1504), in a scholastic allegory like Christine de Pizan's tripartite division of each fable as text, gloss, and allegory in the Epistre Othea a Hector (1399). The iconography of the walls provides a biblical context: on one wall appear Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Moses, and other characters from the Old Testament (lines 1520-54). On the second wall appears material from the New Testament and the Church Fathers (lines 1562-87), ending, in another feminized and Christine-like touch, with the "nobyll prophetyssa" Sybyll (line 1589), who dominated the last fable of the Epistre Othea, involving the conversion of Caesar Augustus to Christianity. Dame Doctryne's subsequent glosses on the gods are moral: Eolus indicates that unbridled wealth increases misrule and causes folly (lines 1632-38). Mynos, judge of hell, represents God's righteousness, for which reason he is called "juge of crewelnes" (lines 1643). Diana and Neptunus battling Eolus reflect "fooles reson" (line 1645), or the folly of attempting the impossible, by trying to control Eolus, the wind. Apollo diverts them; that is, the gods are false idols (line 1676), a passage of euhemerism (lines 1702-08) in which the gods, particularly Ceres and Isys, are understood as historical persons who distinguished themselves in times past. At the end of The Assembly of Gods, the narrator awakens from the dream (lines 2052-2107), having dismissed it as chaff in a Chaucerian echo: "Try out the corne clene from the chaff" (line 2071). Like Christine's Sibyl, the narrator appeals to Christians to apply free will to virtue and to look forward to heavenly reward, in particular the beneficence of Christ, son of Mary (line 2105).

In form the poem is a dream-vision allegory like Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess, The Parlement of Foules, The Hous of Fame, and the Prologue to the The Legend of Good Women, and like John Lydgate's The Temple of Glass, the latter with which it appears in one early Wynkyn de Worde printed edition (Text D, c. 1500?); it also resembles Christine's visionary allegories of Dit de la Rose and Livre de la Cité des Dames. The dream-vision of The Assembly of Gods includes a distraught male narrator, made anxious by the tension between reason and sensuality, very much like Chaucer's in his division of self, but also like the narrator in The Assembly of Ladies, "Al amased" as she is (line 739), who dreams "La semble de Dames" (The likeness of Ladies) in pursuit of her own identity.

After the dream-vision frame or envelope is introduced, along with the dream "problem" (lines 1-35), the poem shifts its generic gears: because of the convention of gods to address the request of Eolus, it can also be described as a parliament, assembly, or banquet poem, like Chaucer's The Parlement of Foules and the mid-fifteenth-century The Parlement of Thre Ages. The poem also includes a debate among the gods, very like debate poems such as The Owl and the Nightingale and The Debate between the Soul and Body, and like lyrics such as "The Holly and the Ivy," and others.

In addition, the psychomachia between opposing forces, the virtues and vices, resembles those described by fourth-century Prudentius (from which the name of the form derives); Alan of Lille's twelfth-century Latin epic allegory, the Anticlaudianus; Lydgate's Reason and Sensuality; and also fifteenth-century English morality plays such as Mankynd, The Castle of Perseverance, and Everyman. The clash of personifications for and within the soul of an individual locates the poem within the same tradition of interiorized salvation that marks the literary progression of the protestantization of the Church, even though the allegory firmly supports the need for sacerdotal intervention in this process and the need for sacramental endorsement.

The Assembly of Gods ends with a cataloguing of specific types within a rogues' gallery indebted in nature both to the lists of the gods' vicious "children," in the descriptions of the altars of Venus, Mars, and Diana in Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, and to the social satire of William Langland's Piers Plowman (except that it ridicules the third estate). In The Assembly of Gods, a long catalogue of the petty captains who aid the Seven Deadly Sins (lines 617-714) under Pluto's bastard son Vyce begins with Sacrylege, Symony, and Dyssimulacion (lines 635-65) and ends with Idylnesse, who "set the comons in aray" (line 666); the Commons range from "bosters, braggars, and brybores, / Praters, fasers, strechers, and wrythers" (lines 673-74) to "Pylary knyghtes, double-tollyng myllers, / Gay joly tapsters with hostelers of the stewes, / Hoores and baudys that many bale brewes" (lines 698-700). The estates satire reflected here in miniature mirrors that of Chaucer's General Prologue and the first passus of Piers Plowman.

The poem manifests unmistakable signs of the influence of Christine de Pizan's Epistre Othea, probably through the mid- to late-fifteenth-century translation into English by Stephen Scrope, the Epistle of Othea (c. 1440-59). 24 These signs of literary reception are important for suggesting a new role for Christine outside the French court and her impact there on letters; although recently the history of her reception has been traced through the centuries following, there has been little attempt to identify a specific fifteenth-century influence on Middle English letters, and yet the many English translations of her works in the fifteenth century by scholars and poets (including Thomas Hoccleve) argue for a literary presence in England as well as in France. 25 Chief among these signs is the appearance of the name and character of the mythical figure Othea, goddess of prudence, created by Christine de Pizan by combining O (I would suggest taken from the church antiphons for Advent, many of which celebrate the Virgin Mary) and thea, "goddess," and of the lone Fate Attropos, named as "Dethe" and made male instead of female. 26 As in Christine's Epistre Othea, Othea in her role as "Rewler of knyghthode" (line 305) appears here seated next to Cupido; she it is who resolves the dispute among Diana, Neptunus, and Eolus. Isys, Mynerve, and Ceres reinforce the feminized governance of earthly process and fruition found in Christine's epistolary allegory and also in the Cité des Dames, symbolic of the spiritual growth of virtues: Ceres is goddess of corn, who the "craft of tylthe founde" (line 1710), and Isys is goddess of fruit, who "fyrst made hit multyply / By the meane of gryffyng" (lines 1717-18). The strong presence of female deity is accentuated by the figure of Diana, goddess of chastity and the hunt, who here occupies the same role as in Christine de Pizan's early fifteenth-century courtly dream-vision and complaint poems, Epistre au Dieu d'Amours and Dit de la Rose; Diana also appears in The Floure and the Leafe,27 in the same dominant role as female Loyalty in The Assembly of Ladies. That is, Diana here protects the woods and the deer, the places and properties of the hunt, but she can also be said to ally with Vertu because she opposes Eolus, and thus she also opposes (at the next level of narrative discourse) Attropos and his captain, Vyce.

What other features are feminized about this mythological allegory? The actual assembly of the gods is reminiscent of the assembly of ladies in the poem of the same name with which it appears in the Trinity manuscript; there is as well the same emphasis on order in the hierarchy in which the gods are introduced that is equivalent to the hierarchy of the female personifications who govern the Castle of Pleasant Regard in The Assembly of Ladies. Both poems invest in a legal setting and terminology (also similar to Christine's Epistre au Dieu d'Amours and Chaucer's The Legend of Good Women) to redress wrongs to women, either aristocratic ladies or royal Diana in The Assembly of Gods. The poem emphasizes description of the clothing of the gods, details of fabric, color, adornment, and symbolism, very like that of the female petitioners in The Assembly of Ladies, in which the sleeves and their embroidered mottoes somehow typify both the ladies' complaints (their bills, "Without ever giving cause," "I can never rise," "Rest assured," and so forth) and also their identities, fragmented and socially proscribed as they might be. Aurora, goddess of morning, the dawn, for example, is dressed in "moyst clothes with teares all bespreynt; / The medewes in May shew therof her compleynt" (lines 258-59). Diana, goddess of the hunt, wears a mantle of black silk bordered with powdered ermine, as if she were royalty (lines 265-67). In The Assembly of Gods, the colors and fabrics of the gods' clothing, the jewels and metals of their crowns, and the symbolic significance of both mirror Christine's metallic allegories in Epistre Othea: Jupyter in both is crowned with tin, Saturne, with lead, and Venus, with red copper; 28 Othea in both poems wears pearls, as does Alceste in The Legend of Good Women.

Other literary and mythological influences can be discerned, most obviously, from the Latin and scholastic tradition, in particular from Martianus Capella's fifth-century prosimetrum, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, upon which scholastic commentators lavished their attention between the ninth and the twelfth centuries, with differences clearly traced in this Middle English work. In that Latin work, Mercury's search for the appropriate bride results in his journey through the celestial and planetary spheres accompanied by Apollo to petition the gods; their assembly anticipates that of this fifteenth-century Middle English allegory, with the result that, by the conclusion of the visionary frame in the first two books of Martianus' work, Mercury marries the mortal Philology, who is then apotheosized. The remaining seven books detail the liberal arts of the trivium and quadrivium, that is, grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, followed by arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. A similar disquisition, much abbreviated, appears in the seventh book of Gower's Confessio Amantis, on the education of a prince, and also in the fifteenth-century The Courte of Sapyence, with its similar humanist linkage of classical and Christian. In The Assembly of Gods, the "marriage" takes place between Reson and Sensualyté, and the adjudication concerns the debate among Eolus, god of winds, Diana, goddess of the woods, and Neptunus, god of the sea. The issue centers on jurisdiction: Who controls the air, between earth and sea and heavens? Within the microcosm, who controls free will, caught between reason and sensuality?

The order of the gods invited through Apollo's intercession also resembles the Stoic celestial hierarchies of Martianus Capella in De nuptiis, of which there are several in the epic: a description of the planetary spheres and regions through which Mercury (accompanied by Apollo) must fly in his journey to seek Jupiter's aid, the gods who assemble at Jupiter's invitation to adjudicate Mercury's petition, and the descent of Mercury through the spheres afterward, which allows Martianus to describe yet other regions and their rulers, especially of the sublunary and earthly realms. But in The Assembly of Gods, in the first four hundred lines or so, the classification resembles the Stoic hierarchy of the four regions, of fire, air, water, and earth: following Eolus' remorse, there is Aurora ("Daybreak," morning, line 254); Mars (line 260); Diana (the moon, line 265; also the poet adds Phebe later on, as sister to Apollo); Jupyter (line 269) and Juno (line 275), rulers of the ether and air, respectively; and Saturne ("Chronos," time, line 279), Cretan father of Jupyter and ruler of the outermost translunary sphere. The denizens of earth and earthly process begin with Saturne's wife, Ceres ("Ops," matter, line 289), goddess of grain, plus Cupido, named like the god of love in Christine's Epistre au Dieu d'Amours, who embraces Ceres (line 301), as if identical to the god of love and the daisy queen Alceste in Chaucer's Prologue to The Legend of Good Women; the Athenian goddess of prudence, Othea (line 304); dark Pluto, ruler of the underworld (line 309); Fortune (line 316); Pan (line 324); Ysys, goddess of fruit (line 330); fishy Neptunus, god of the sea (line 337); Mynerve, goddess of armor and warfare (line 344); and Bachus, god of wine (line 351). The catalogue returns to the planets below the sun, with Phebe (the moon, line 358); Mercurius, god of speech (line 365); and Dame Venus (line 372), with her "wanton ey" (line 378). At this point, Dyscord enters (line 409).

It is at the court of Mynos the judge where this issue of Eolus' complaint is first debated. Although Mynos figures importantly in Dante's Commedia because his decision relegates the sinner to the appropriate circle of hell, the "juge desperate" (line 28) in this poem occupies a role similar to that of the presider in the courts of love debates in which Christine de Pizan participated (in particular, the god of love, in her early visionary allegory, Epistre au Dieu d'Amours [1399], loosely translated by Thomas Hoccleve as Letter of Cupid). Seated next to Mynos in his court is the god of the underworld, Pluto. That the debate in The Assembly of Gods actually takes place in hell, the underworld governed by Pluto, should be no surprise if readers are familiar with the scholastic Boethian and Martianan commentaries that outline the old Stoic cosmic divisions as equivalent to fire or ether, Jupiter; air, Juno; water, Neptune; and earth, Pluto. These elemental regions correspond roughly to the equivalents of the translunary spheres (fire or ether would be Mercury, Venus, Mars, the sun, Jupiter, Saturn), the sublunary sphere (the aerial region is beneath the moon), and earth, the underworld, with its seas and bodies, but which in the Neoplatonic scheme of the universe also represents hell, that corporeal center of the universe. In The Assembly of Gods, the action moves from the court of Mynos, judge of Pluto's underworld, to the translunary fortress of Apollo, where the banquet takes place, then to the field of battle on which Vyce and Vertu clash, that is, to the microcosm, and eventually, through Attropos' second complaint, to God Himself, and heaven.

And yet, despite this celestial backdrop for the mythological adjudication, the psychological and moral issue of which faculty, reason or sensuality, should rule the individual, and whether it is possible to bring them into harmony, is common to both Christine and Hoccleve in the more courtly context of the misogynistic treatment of the ladies whom courtiers love and spurn. One answer provided by Christine is for women to govern themselves rationally and refuse importuning lovers intent on sexual congress. It is no accident that Diana, Christine's goddess of chastity in Dit de la Rose and the goddess to whom the company of the Leaf owes allegiance in The Floure and the Leafe, as well as the governing ruler of the Castle of Pleasant Regard in The Assembly of Ladies, supports Vertu here against Vyce and against his captain, Eolus, god of winds and ruler of the air - that region in which both the House of Fame and the whirling House of Rumor, in Chaucer's The Hous of Fame, are situated. The point is that malicious rumors can blacken a lady's reputation, complains Christine in Epistre au Dieu d'Amours, rumors that a chaste life quashes entirely.

The psychological allegory of The Assembly of Gods, heightened by the mythological adjudication, returns to the same point as Christine's God of Love in her early courtly allegories, but the secularization is deleted and a Christianized ending substituted. The lady's best friends may be her priest and the sacraments of the Church, but the poem ends with a focus on the individual, that is, on free will, virtue, and "benygne Jhesu, that born was of Mary" (line 2105). The hero is Jesus, who, as in John Donne's holy sonnet, "Death Be Not Proud," alone of all the gods, has power over death - Attropos. "'A, haa,' seyd Attropos, 'then I se well / That all ye goddes be but counterfete. / For oo God ther ys that can everydell / Turne as hym lyst'" (lines 1331-34). Understanding finally, to the pagan gods he cries in victory, "And yef I may ones to hys servyce come, / Youre names shal be put to oblyvyone" (lines 1336-37). If the gods do not recognize the power and importance of death in facilitating religious faith and virtuous life, well, then, God does.


My text is based on Text A, a single substantive manuscript, Cambridge Trinity College Library MS R.3.19, fols. 67b-97b (c. 1480), identified as a "fascicular miscellany" compiled by the successors to John Shirley and once owned by John Stowe.29 This manuscript apparently provided the printer's copy for what Gavin Bone believes to have been the earliest printed edition, C (1498), by Wynkyn de Worde, although another early edition, D (1500?), also by Wynkyn de Worde, has been dated recently by Bradford Y. Fletcher as equally early (even though Caxton's device follows the text in this edition, British Library printed edition C.13.a.21, or STC 17007, and precedes it in the edition that Triggs, Bone, and I believe to be the first printed edition, C, British Library printed edition G. 11587 [2], of 1498).30 The positioning may be significant in determining the date, for the device was used by Caxton initially at the beginning of books and thereafter at the more customary final position; after Caxton's death, de Worde used it during his entire career, that is, until his death in 1535.31 The edition known as C is closer textually to A than to D, the latter of which, because of its many textual changes and errors in meaning, constitutes an entirely different edition.32 There exists one other manuscript, British Library Royal MS 18.D.ii, fols. 167a-180b (known as B), which now appears to be a later copy made for the Percys from D, somewhere between 1450 and 1520.33 A manuscript fragment of two leaves, Oxford Bodleian Library Douce MS f. 51 (1), described as "Vertu" in Short Title Catalogue 24844a, is apparently a copy of lines 1213-1323 made from Richard Pynson's printed edition of 1501-30, the latter of which can be found in the Huntington Library (88195).34 Other printed editions (E, F, G) were even later in date and all derived from the original manuscript through a single printed copy, most likely D.35

The text of this edition is based on a photocopy from microfilm of A, Cambridge Trinity College Library MS R.3.19 (2), the earliest manuscript of the work, which I have also examined at Cambridge. What errors there are in A have been primarily corrected by microfilm copies of C, Wynkyn de Worde's 1498 printed edition, and D, surmised to be a 1500? edition. I have also consulted B, British Library Royal MS 18.D.ii (a copy of D), and E, de Worde's 1500 edition, for variant readings and checked the text once more against F and G. Significant variations in meaning are listed in the Textual Notes. All letters have been normalized or spelled out according to modern English, including thorns, yoghs, and ampersands; all Roman numerals have been spelled out. The scribal practice of using v for u and i for j has also been silently emended. A regularly uses the for the second person singular familiar pronoun. Rather than place an accent on the vowel to indicate its length I have transcribed the word as thee, to differentiate it from the article. Elsewhere, if -e is a long vowel with syllabic value, I have transcribed . Punctuation has for the most part been added and capitalization, while based on A, is emended according to modern usage. "Morpheus" is substituted for the incorrect name of "Morleus" and "Eolus" for "Colus," both obvious errors in ACDEF. The table of the gods that appears in ACDEF, "Here foloweth the Interpretacion of the names of goddys and goddesses," does not appear in B and, although included under the general title of The Assembly of Gods, is set off in this edition from the poetic text of Banquet of Gods and Goddesses. Because there are many variants, especially in spelling, in all the printed editions, and because the original manuscript (and copytext) has long been accepted as A, unless there is a significant point to be made about the variations, in relation to emendations in A and differences from T, I have not included them in the notes. Most of the differences between A and T can be explained by T's penchant for capitalization and singular features found only in manuscript Text B, which T appears to have followed in some instances instead of A (see, for example, line 1051, where stood and is omitted only in BT, and line 1091 for entent, which is expanded to entente only in BT).

Go To The Interpretation of the Names of Gods and Goddesses
Select Bibliography


A = Cambridge, Trinity College Library MS R.3.19 (2), fols. 67b-97b (written down after 1463; c. 1480). [The copytext for The Assembly of Gods. See Manuscript Trinity R.3.19. Trinity College, Cambridge: A Facsimile. Introduction by Bradford Y. Fletcher. In A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1987. This edition erroneously interchanges 87v and 88v.]

B = British Library Royal MS 18.D.ii, fols. 167a-180b [alleged copy of D].

H = Oxford, Bodleian Library Douce MS fragment, f. 51 (1), "Vertu," lines 1213-1323 [fragmentary copy of F].

Early Printed Editions

C = (STC 17005) Wynkyn de Worde, 1498? British Library G.11587; Pierpont Morgan Library 737; Huntington Library 32073.

D = (STC 17007) Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1500? British Library C.13.a.21; Huntington Library 31533; University of Minnesota Law Library (no number).

E = (STC 17006) Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1500. Cambridge University Library AB.4.58 (19); facsimile edited by Francis Jenkinson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906.

F = (STC 17007.5) Richard Pynson, c. 1501-30, probably 1505. Huntington Library 88195; Oxford, Bodleian Library Douce MS fragment f. 51(1).

G = (STC 17007a) [J. Skot for] Robert Redman, c. 1530-40, but after 1529. Huntington Library 31641.

Modern Editions

Triggs, Oscar Lovell. The Assembly of Gods: or The Accord of Reason and Sensuality in the Fear of Death, by John Lydgate, edited from the MSS. with Introduction, Notes, Index of Persons and Places, and Glossary. Ph.D. Diss. University of Chicago, 1895. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1895.

---. The Assembly of Gods: or The Accord of Reason and Sensuality in the Fear of Death, by John Lydgate, edited from the MSS. with Introduction, Notes, Index of Persons and Places, and Glossary. EETS e.s. 69. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1896. (Reprinted London: Oxford University Press, 1957, with corrections allegedly added by J. B. Trapp.)

Secondary Materials

Barratt, Alexandra A. T. "'The Flower and the Leaf' and 'The Assembly of Ladies': Is There a (Sexual) Difference?" Philological Quarterly 66 (1987), 1-24.

Bennett, H. S. English Books and Readers, 1475 to 1557: Being a Study of the History of the Book Trade from Caxton to the Incorporation of the Stationers' Company. Second ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

The Bible of the Poor (Biblia Pauperum): A Facsimile Edition of the British Library Block book C.9.d2. Trans. with commentary by Albert C. Labriola and John W. Smeltz. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1990.

Blodgett, James. "William Thynne and His 1532 Edition of Chaucer." Ph.D. Diss. University of Indiana, 1975.

Bode, Georgius Henricus, ed. Scriptores rerum Mythicarum latini tres Romae nuper reperti. Celle, 1834; rpt. Hildersheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1968.

Bone, Gavin. "Extant Manuscripts printed from by W. de Worde with Notes on the Owner, Roger Thorney." The Library, fourth series, 12 (1931-32), 284-306.

Bühler, Curt F. "The Assembly of Gods and Christine de Pisan." English Language Notes 4 (1967), 251-54. [The only literary analysis of The Assembly of Gods, this note traces Christine de Pizan's influence on it.]

Chance, Jane, ed. The Mythographic Art: Classical Fable and the Rise of the Vernacular in Early France and England. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1990. [Contains essays on Ovid commentaries and myth in Chaucer and Christine de Pizan.]

---. Christine de Pizan's Letter of Othea to Hector, Translated, with Introduction, Notes, and Interpretative Essay. Newburyport, MA: Focus Information Group, 1990.

---. "Christine de Pizan as Literary Mother: Women's Authority and Subjectivity in 'The Floure and the Leafe' and 'The Assembly of Ladies.'" In The City of Scholars: New Approaches to Christine de Pizan. Ed. Margarete Zimmermann and Dina De Rentiis. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994. Pp. 245-59. [An analysis of the possible influence of Christine de Pizan on two anonymous poems with female narrators.]

---. Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433-1175. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. [A survey of major mythographers and traditions from late antiquity to the High Middle Ages.]

---. The Mythographic Chaucer: The Fabulation of Sexual Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. [A study of Chaucer's mythography in the Canterbury Tales and other poems that traces his narrative and imagistic appropriation of the mythographic tradition.]

---. "Gender Subversion and Linguistic Castration in Fifteenth-Century English Translations of Christine de Pizan." In Violence against Women in Medieval Texts. Ed. Anna Roberts. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998. Pp. 161-94. [An analysis of the ways in which Christine's feminine authority and authorship are circumscribed by English translations.]

Charles of Orleans. The English Poems of Charles of Orleans. Ed. Robert Steele and Mabel Day. EETS o.s. 215, 220. London: Oxford University Press, 1941, 1946.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987. [All references to Chaucer are taken from this edition.]

Christine de Pizan. The Epistle of Othea, Translated from the French Text of Christine de Pisan by Stephen Scrope. Ed. Curt Bühler. EETS o.s. 264. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. [Scrope's Middle English translation of Christine's Epistre Othea may have provided the source for some of the mythologies in The Assembly of Gods.]

Dante Aligheri. Divina Commedia: English and Italian. Trans. Charles Singleton. 3 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977. [Second printing, with corrections.]

Duff, Edward Gordon. Early English Printing: A Series of Facsimiles of All the Types Used in England during the Fifteenth Century, with Some of Those Used in the Printing of English Books Abroad. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1974.

Edwards, A. S. G. Stephen Hawes. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

Evans, Ruth, and Lesley Johnson. "The Assembly of Ladies: A Maze of Feminist Sign-Reading?" In Feminist Criticism: Theory and Practice. Ed. Susan Sellers, Linda Hutcheon, and Paul Perron. New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1991. Pp. 171-96. [The best theoretical analysis of The Assembly of Ladies.]

Fenster, Thelma S., and Mary Erler, eds. Poems of Cupid, God of Love. Leiden, Belgium: E. J. Brill, 1990. [The early dream-visions of Christine de Pizan, among other poets, are both edited and translated in this volume.]

The Findern Manuscript: Cambridge University Library MS. Ff.1.6. Intro. by Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen. London: Scolar Press, 1977.

Fletcher, Bradford Y. "An Edition of Trinity College Cambridge Manuscript R.3.19." 2 vols. Ph.D. Diss. University of Chicago, 1973. [This edition unfortunately omits The Assembly of Gods and other works.]

---."The Textual Tradition of The Assembly of Gods." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 71 (1977), 191-94. [The most recent textual criticism of The Assembly of Gods and Triggs' edition.]

---. "The Assembly of Ladies: Text and Context." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 82 (1988), 229-34.

Gower, John. The Complete Works of John Gower. Ed. G. C. Macaulay. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901.

Hammond, Eleanor Prescott, ed. English Verse between Chaucer and Surrey. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1927.

Hanson-Smith, Elizabeth. "A Woman's View of Courtly Love: The Findern Anthology." Journal of Women's Studies in Literature 1 (1979), 179-94.

Harvey, E. Ruth, ed. The Court of Sapience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

Hawes, Stephen. The Pastime of Pleasure. Ed. William Edward Mead. EETS o.s. 173. London: Oxford University Press, 1928.

---. The Minor Poems. Ed. Florence W. Gluck and Alice B. Morgan. EETS o.s. 271. London: Oxford University Press, 1974. [The Example of Vertu, pp. 1-71.]

James, Montague Rhodes. The Western MSS in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge: A Descriptive Catalogue. Vol. 2 of 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901.

Jeffrey, David L. A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992.

Langland, William. Piers the Plowman: A Parallel Text Edition of the A, B, C and Z Versions. Ed. A. V. C. Schmidt. Volume I: text. London: Longman, 1995.

Loukopoulos, Halina Didycky. "Classical Mythology in the Works of Christine de Pisan, with an Edition of L'Epistre Othea from the Harley Manuscript 4431." Ph.D. Diss. Wayne State University, 1977.

Lydgate, John. The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Edited from all Available Manuscripts, with an Attempt to Establish the Lydgate Canon. Ed. Henry Noble MacCracken. 2 vols. EETS e.s. 107 and o.s. 192. London: K[egan] Paul, Trench, Trübner; New York: H. Frowde/Oxford University Press, 1911 (for 1910); London: Humphrey Milford/Oxford University Press, 1934 (for 1933).

Macrobius. Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. Trans. with introduction and notes William Harris Stahl. New York: Columbia University Press, 1952.

Marsh, G. L. "Sources and Analogues of The Flower and the Leaf." Modern Philology 4 (1906-07), 121-68, 281-328.

McLeod, Glenda K., ed. The Reception of Christine de Pizan from the Fifteenth through the Nineteenth Centuries: Visitors to the City. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.

McMillan, Ann. "'Fayre Sisters Al': The Flower and the Leaf and The Assembly of Ladies." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 1 (1982), 27-42.

McNamer, Sarah. "Female Authors, Provincial Setting: The Re-versing of Courtly Love in the Findern Manuscript." Viator 22 (1991), 279-310.

Mombello, Gianni. "Per un'edizione critica dell"Epistre Othea' di Christine de Pizan." Studi Francesi 24 (1964), 401-17.

Orr, Patricia R. "Pallas Athena and the Threefold Choice in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde." In The Mythographic Art: Classical Fable and the Rise of the Vernacular in Early France and England. Ed. Jane Chance. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1990. Pp. 159-76.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth. Third ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Ed. David High Farmer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Pearsall, Derek, ed. "The Floure and the Leafe" and "Assembly of Ladies." London: Thomas Nelson, 1962.

---. "The English Chaucerians." In Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Literature. Ed. D. S. Brewer. London: Thomas Nelson, 1966. Pp. 201-39.

---. John Lydgate. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

---, ed. The Floure and the Leafe, The Assembly of Ladies, The Isle of Ladies. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1990. [The standard edition of these works.]

---. John Lydgate (1371-1449): A Bio-bibliography. English Literary Studies Monograph Series No. 71. Victoria: University of Victoria, 1997.

Pollard, A. W., and G. R. Redgrave, comps. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of English Books Abroad, 1475-1640. Second ed., rev. W. A. Jackson, F. S. Ferguson, and Katherine F. Pantzer. London: Bibliographical Society, 1976.

Ringler, William. "The Fragment 'Vertu' and 'The Assemble of Goddes': STC 24844a and 17005-17007a." Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America 47 (1953), 378-80.

Robbins, Rossell Hope. "The Findern Anthology." PMLA 69 (1954), 610-42.

Skelton, John. The Complete English Poems. Ed. John Scattergood. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. [The Bowge of Courte, pp. 46-61.]

Snyder, Cynthia Lockard. "The Floure and the Leafe: An Alternate Approach." In New Readings of Late Medieval Love Poems. Ed. David Chamberlain. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993. Pp. 145-71.