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Scientia vera? Holcot and Chaucer on astrological determinism, magic, talismans, and omens.

Cartlidge, Neil (2020) 'Scientia vera? Holcot and Chaucer on astrological determinism, magic, talismans, and omens.', Chaucer review., 55 (3). pp. 279-297.


This article suggests that Robert Holcot’s Wisdom commentary served as the immediate source for the House of Fame, 1259–70, and the Parson’s Tale, X 603–7. To prepare the ground for these suggestions (which are new), it begins with a discussion of the two authors’ (apparently shared) skepticism about the limits of human knowledge. The Chaucerian narrator’s reluctance to learn about the stars in the House of Fame (991–1017) reflects the skeptical attitude to human knowledge that Holcot expresses in Lection 98. This lection seems to have provided the model for the list of magical/astrological charlatans in the House of Fame. Chaucer’s reference to magical “ymages” is not paralleled in Lection 98, but this is a key topic in Lection 159, which develops Saint Augustine’s account of superstitious practices in On Christian Doctrine. The distinctive spin Holcot puts on Augustine’s thinking shapes Chaucer’s discussion of such practices in the Parson’s Tale.

Item Type:Article
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Date accepted:03 July 2019
Date deposited:28 August 2019
Date of first online publication:24 June 2020
Date first made open access:28 July 2020

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