, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 357-368

Chaucer’s ‘litel bok’, Plotinus, and the Ending of Troilus and Criseyde

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Abstract

Towards the end of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, as almost all of the tragic strokes of the story have fallen, the narrator-makere turns away from his material to address a kind of envoy to his ‘litel bok’. In two stanzas he sends his poem on its way, cautioning and exhorting it in the same breath. This article is a re-examination of the ending, with special emphasis on these two stanzas, in the light of Plotinus’s Neoplatonic scheme of exitus and reditus, or emanation and return-to-source, that appears to influence the imagery and language of the poem at this stage. Although Plotinus’s Enneads were not read in their own right in the Middle Ages, they were transmitted through various influential channels, including Augustine and the pseudo-Dionysius. Through these thinkers, the idea of exitus and reditus came to influence Aquinas, and the theology of the later medieval period. In a discussion that draws upon Dante, the letter to Can Grande della Scala, and the Cursor Mundi, the author of this article traces the implications for the value of the poem, and its flawed, worldly subject, that the invocation of the Neoplatonic scheme of emanation entails.