Professor publishes critical edition of 15th-century poem

Josh Knight, Staff Writer

Dr. Ed Eleazer, professor of English at Francis Marion, recently published a critical edition of the 15th-century poem, “The Gast of Gy.”

The book was released over the summer through Edwin Mellen Press with the title, “The Quatrain Verse of ‘The Gast of Gy’: A Late Medieval Poem.” The large and complex book is designed for library usage, and it is meant not for the purchase of individuals.

“(‘The Gast of Gy’) is a story that was very popular during the middle ages,” Eleazer said. “The awareness of which was lost for several decades, but it was a very influential story.”

“The Gast of Gy” tells the story of man from southern France who comes back to earth from purgatory in spirit form. Returning around Christmas time, the ghost then torments his living wife for a few days and warns her of what lies beyond the world of the living. The ghost, naturally having insider knowledge of the divine, also verifies points of church doctrine that would later become controversial.

The profusion of manuscripts for the story shows that it, at the very least, had a large impact popular medieval thought.

“The story started in France and then spread all over the world,” Eleazer said. “We have Spanish versions and German versions. We have Swedish versions. It just shows up everywhere. But, in England, it was extremely popular. Most of the manuscripts that survive come from England.”

However, as the theory of purgatory become controversial, Eleazer believes that story served as a rhetorical tool to answer and enforce a large number of theological questions.

“The Church was developing this story to combat Lollardy, [a political movement which, among other things, challenged traditional points of church doctrine],” Eleazer said. “At least, I argue that in the book, as I also do in my article coming up in ‘Medieval Perspectives.'”

The history of Eleazer’s work on “The Gast of Gy” goes back to the beginning of his academic career. He actually began studying “The Gast of Gy” during his doctoral work at Florida State University, and he went on to write his dissertation on the 15th-century poem.

“I discovered it then and did a good enough job to get a Ph.D,” Eleazer said. “I then sent it to the University of Leeds in England, and they agreed to publish it. That must have been 1985 … They told me to take my time.”

Eleazer then spent ten years researching “The Gast of Gy” and perfecting his work for publication. During those ten years, Eleazer did extensive research into the linguistic, literary and cultural contexts surrounding “The Gast of Gy.” The complex process of comparing manuscripts and deciding which is most accurate required Eleazer to be proficient in both Middle English and Latin.

“Most importantly, my work with “The Gast of Gy” taught me to be a good linguist,” Eleazer said. “It is how I learned to teach the History of the English Language course.”

After a long back and forth with Leeds UP, Eleazer ceased his studies of “The Gast of Gy” and pursued other intellectual endeavors. This decision resulted in Eleazer taking a ten year break in his writing of the critical edition.

“I knew what I wanted to know, and that was good enough for me,” Eleazer said.

However, after reading a few misinformed articles regarding “The Gast of Gy,” Eleazer decided to once more attempt to publish his work. He sent his work to Edwin Mellen Press, and they quickly jumped on the opportunity to publish a work based on 25 years of intensive thought and research.

Dr. Meredith Reynolds, assistant professor of English at Francis Marion, peer reviewed Eleazer’s work.

“I think Dr. Eleazer’s new book is going to be a benefit to the academic community,” Reynolds said. “It will invoke a lot a discussion and study.”