Book Series Cursor Mundi, vol. 18

Dreams, Medicine, and Literary Practice

Exploring the Western Literary Tradition Through Chaucer

Tanya S. Lenz

  • Pages: 212 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:2 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2014

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53481-7
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-56052-6
  • E-book
  • Available


"The originality of this book purports to lie in its consideration of the role of medicine in Chaucer’s oeuvre. The connection between dreams and medicine having been lost in our modern era of scientific materialism, contemporary scholarship has largely ignored Chaucer’s frequent references to medicine and accordingly ‘no previous work has specifically addressed the poetic intersection of medicine and dreams in Chaucer’ (...). It is a sophisticated, complex, and sensitive analysis and a spirited defence of both dreams and literature as a means of healing for ourselves and our communities. Lenz has read widely in the immense field of Chaucerian scholarship. She has found a fresh perspective to it and her contribution is a stimulating and valuable one that does credit to her subject’s genius." (Lola Sharon Davidson, in: Parergon, 32.1, 2015, p. 252-253)

"In tracing the relationship between dreams and medicine in Chaucer’s poems, this book draws welcome attention to a theme that has largely remained absent from the recent surge of medical interest among literary scholars." (Michael Leahy, in: Speculum 91, 2, April 2016, p. 518-520)

 “Lenz engages with relevant and current scholarship, particularly on dreams and dream theory in the Middle Ages” (Michael Leahy, in Speculum, April 2016, 91/2, p. 520)


This groundbreaking volume explores the intersection of dreams, medicine, and literary practice in the poetry of Chaucer and influential literary works from antiquity through the late fourteenth century. An introductory exploration considers topics such as Asclepian dream healings of ancient Greece, Old English poetry, medieval mystics, and foundational works by Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen, Avicenna, Macrobius, and others. Detailed analyses of a series of Chaucer’s poems follow. Frequently incorporating and commenting on antecedent works, these late medieval poems span various genres including the dream-vision, the romance-tragedy, and the comic tale. Dreams and medicine are woven into the fabric of these texts, the author contends, revealing distinct and often surprising insights. One such insight is the ‘double potential’ of literary practice, medicine, and dreams - that is, each is capable of facilitating healing and wholeness yet equally capable of causing harm and disease. Ultimately, this book shows that the joining together of medicine and dreams constitutes a vital dimension of these key works in Western literature - one that reveals a profound connection between literature and the fundamentally human experiences of disease, healing, and dreaming.




Introduction: Dreams and Medicine in Western Antiquity

and the Middle Ages

Chapter 1. Chaucer, Literary Asclepian:

Late Antique Dream Theory and the Book of the Duchess

Chapter 2. ‘God turne us every drem to goode!’

Dreams, Transformation, and Medicine in the House of Fame

Chapter 3. ‘The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne’:

The Parliament of Fowls

Chapter 4. Literary Lechecraft:

Contagion and Cure in Troilus and Criseyde

Chapter 5. ‘Thy litel wit aslepe’:

The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women

Chapter 6. Ravishing the Dream: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale