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Absent Presence: Auchinleck and Kyng Alisaunder

Bridges, VRL (2016) Absent Presence: Auchinleck and Kyng Alisaunder In: The Auchinleck Manuscript: New Perspectives. Manuscript Culture in the British Isles (6). York Medieval Press, pp. 88-107. ISBN 9781903153659

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According to Chaucer’s Monk, Alexander the Great’s presence in the Auchinleck manuscript is unremarkable: "The storie of Alisaunder is so commune That every wight that hath discrecioun Hath herd somewhat or al of his fortune." For the Monk, Alexander’s story is an exemplum of ‘false Fortune’ despite his chivalric glories (‘of knyghthod and of fredom flour’). The use of Alexander as an exemplum is indeed ‘commune’ in late-fourteenth-century literary culture, as shown by contemporary texts like John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, in which Alexander (educated by Aristotle) is the perfect kingly ruler. Gower’s deployment of Alexander in this way is not an innovation, since the Macedonian is found as an exemplum throughout his medieval literary career. Yet not all treatments of Alexander are equally didactic. The ‘storie of Alisaunder’ found in romance material is a multifaceted weaving together of ethical and philosophical reflection, battle prowess, and marvels both Oriental and magical. As his legend develops from late antiquity, the common feature in the accreted narratives is variety, making Alexander and his story a complex phenomenon, based in history yet depicted in fictive literature from an early date, and ethically ambivalent despite the conqueror’s frequent extrapolation as an exemplum. The Monk’s statement that Alexander is ‘commune’ is therefore accurate only up to a point. The Macedonian hero may well have been ubiquitous, but his ‘fortune’ was not a single one nor always easy to interpret from an exemplary standpoint. Before individual narratives and witnesses are considered, Alexander himself, a hero-villain who occupies indeterminate territory between history and fiction, makes contextualizing his narratives a difficult business.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects : Literature
Divisions : Surrey research (other units)
Authors :
Editors :
Fein, S
Date : January 2016
Copyright Disclaimer : © Contributors 2016 All rights reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner
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Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 16 May 2017 15:39
Last Modified : 23 Jan 2020 15:10

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