NUMBER AND NUMERICAL COMPOSITION: TRADITION AND PRACTICE IN "SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT"

MARY CALLAGHAN, Fordham University

Abstract

This dissertation examines some of the elements of number and numerical composition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This is perhaps beginning at the end, however, or at least in medias res. The practice of numerical composition in the middle ages was founded on a long-standing tradition in earlier literature and aesthetics. Historically, two distinct literary considerations of number are manifest, number as symbolic, allusive, occult entity, and number as structural, organizational principle. The study of a fourteenth-century English romance must discriminate to what end and extent number is used as a poetic element.^ Underlying numerical analysis there remains the deeper question of purpose. A modern reader still justifiably wonders at the rationale and obvious appeal of number and numerical composition in western medieval literature. Only in this expanded context does the focus of this particular study become specific: why and how and to what degree does the SGGK-poet utilize this approach and technique in his own work?^ Chapter One, therefore, introduces the problem of examining the elements and functions of number in an anonymous alliterative poem. Chapter Two suggests the ultimate source for the use of number in literature--the persistent, pervasive mathematics in nature. In this light, Chapter Three and Four study the background and theory of number in literature and the actual practice of numerical composition in classical, biblical and medieval works other than SGGK. Chapter Five explores the various ways in which the tradition and practice of number and numerical composition are present in SGGK. It also identifies previously unremarked instances of number as a thematic or structural element.^ Perhaps the most prominent conclusion of this essay is that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is most firmly grounded in that ubiquitous medieval maxim: omnia in mensura et numero et pondere disposuisti (Wisd. 11:21). The specific aim here goes beyond simply identifying examples of numerical references in the verse. This dissertation places the poem in its broader tradition of number and numerical structures and numerical poetic structures in particular.^

Subject Area

Medieval literature

Recommended Citation

CALLAGHAN, MARY, "NUMBER AND NUMERICAL COMPOSITION: TRADITION AND PRACTICE IN "SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT"" (1982). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8219231.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8219231

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