In Book 6 of the Confessio Amantis, telling the “Tale of Ulysses and Telegonus,” John Gower says of the former, “He was a gret rethorien / He was a gret magicien,” thereby capturing deep connections between rhetoric and magic. The seriously flawed necromancers of Book 6 exemplify only negative connections, however. Ulysses, by embracing verbal trickery and deploying his knowledge of the liberal arts for inferior aims, fails as both hero and speaker. Worse than Ulysses is Nectanabus, whose deceitful “carectes” seem to serve as a critique against spoken enchantments. Later in Book 7, however, Gower recuperates a concept of magical rhetoric. He does so by transitioning from Nectanabus—Alexander the Great’s first tutor—to Aristotle, the more mature conqueror’s adviser. Through allusions to the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum and Rhetorica ad Alexandrum as well as to Latin translations and commentaries on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Gower outlines a syncretic discipline with the potential to charm audiences with the plain truth. In a lecture on rhetoric’s place among the liberal arts, he insists that persuasive speech is much like the philosopher’s stone or medicinal herbs: all three require incantatory words for great effect, though words are more powerful than other numinous objects. To compose his own incantations and mesmerize his audience, Gower builds in figures of repetition, especially anaphora, as a bolster to a plain style, and he attributes enchanting speech to the Augustinian Word. By casting verbal enchantment in a Christian light, Gower remediates Ulysses’ and Nectanabus’s faults and theorizes a rhetoric that shuns deceit while it charms with the truth.


First and foremost, I thank Eve Salisbury, whose willingness to edit this special issue allowed me to submit an article. Eve is a most generous colleague and the best of editors. In addition, I thank the anonymous reviewers, whose thoughtful criticisms compelled me to nearly double the original page length of this article. Any remaining gaps in argumentation are, of course, my own responsibility. Gratitude also goes to the members of the Medieval Association of the Pacific and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies who heard and commented on the conference paper that became this article.