The essay examines a specific case of “wood-stripping” that occurs in three related texts: one ancient, Statius's Thebaid, and two medieval romance versions of Statius's poem, Giovanni Boccaccio's La Teseida and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Knight's Tale. It argues that all three writers are gazers at nature (in the sense that they situate action in a natural environment that they make visible), by adopting an “affective fallacy” (traditionally called the “pathetic fallacy”) they also convey the “feelings” of the natural world (in this case, its sorrow, suffering, and mourning). In doing so, they become co-partners, even “co-sufferers” or mourners, in the feelings of natural phenomena. The elegy for the trees in Statius, Boccaccio, and Chaucer provides a pointed example of how the intertwining of thinking and feeling that poetry makes possible allows the authors to enter into an eco-critical space that reveals an affective environmental understanding even without the discursive tradition for writing about nature that modern environmentalism has made possible. In contrast to Ernst Robert Curtius's assumption that medieval literary notions of nature follow standard tropes, medieval literary texts in fact reveal a keen awareness and dedicated study of natural phenomenon. Comparing how the three authors discussed here describe the trees, forest, and defoliation in their elegies highlights their knowledge of the natural environment and their affective response to deforestation. Recognizing this eco-consciousness in medieval texts can enhance our understanding of the period while at the same time contributing to a working history of environmentalism.
Brenda Deen Schildgen; Reception, Elegy, and Eco-Awareness: Trees in Statius, Boccaccio, and Chaucer. Comparative Literature 1 March 2013; 65 (1): 85–100. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2019302
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