This article examines the extraordinary penance prescribed to Sir Gowther, which permits him to eat only food that is received from “the mouths of dogs” and forbids him from communicating in human language. There has been much debate as to whether Gowther's canine performance should be understood as symbolic or literal, performed or essential, rehabilitative or punitive. Drawing on previously unexplored analogues from the Perceval/Parzival cycle in which sinful knights undergo comparable canine performances, this article argues that Gowther's penance represents a rehabilitative and curative “technology of the self.” Moreover, it demonstrates that the ultimate inspiration for Gowther's penance derives from the legends of the Cynics, who advocated living life in the manner of dogs and according to the barest possible forms of animal existence. In the final analysis, the tale of Sir Gowther embraces a view of animality that rejects the normative hierarchy God–human–animal, and posits a surprising inversion: God–Christian–animal–sinner.

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