The Faerie Queene | Study Guide

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene | Book 2, Cantos 7–9 | Summary



Book 2, Canto 7

Alone on the lake without the Palmer, Guyon wanders through a lonely glade. He soon encounters Mammon, a savage man surrounded by gold. Once Mammon notices Guyon he rushes to hide his money. Guyon stops him and asks him what he's doing there.

Mammon introduces himself as the greatest god on earth. He repeatedly offers Guyon money, power, and kingdoms if Guyon will be his servant. Guyon declines, preferring the noble life of a knight. He also believes riches cause only evil.

To tempt Guyon further Mammon takes him to his secret horde of wealth, a dark cave. They descend to the gates of hell, passing forces like Pain, Revenge, Hate, and Jealousy along the way. In hell they see sinners Tantalus and Pilate suffering horrible punishments for their greed. They also meet the fearsome golden giant Disdain and the royal maiden Ambition, Mammon's daughter, whose gold chain holds her followers captive.

When Guyon finally ascends from hell he's exhausted. He hasn't had food or water in three days, and he collapses.

Book 2, Canto 8

The poet is amazed heavenly forces care about humans and intervene in their lives.

While Guyon was in Mammon's cave, the Palmer managed to get to the Bower of Bliss on his own. He finds an angel guarding the sleeping Guyon. The Palmer thanks the angel for his help. Before leaving the angel warns Guyon is about to face evil.

Soon the Palmer sees Pyrochles and Cymochles approaching with Atin and Archimago. Pyrochles and Cymochles think the sleeping Guyon is dead. They intend to rob him as vengeance, though the Palmer tries to talk them out of it. Arthur approaches and the Palmer thinks he and Guyon are saved. But Archimago has Arthur's magical, undefeatable sword, and Pyrochles steals Guyon's shield.

Arthur tries to convince the brothers that robbing an unfortunate knight would be an evil act. Pymochles becomes convinced Arthur and Guyon worked together in crime. He strikes Arthur first—a violation of the law of arms. Enraged, Arthur fights back.

Cymochles joins his brother in the fight. Arthur is losing badly and suffers a wound. But the Palmer gives him Guyon's sword, and he renews his strength, killing Cymochles. Arthur, now winning, offers to spare Pyrochles's life if he renounces evil. Pyrochles refuses, and Arthur kills him.

Guyon wakes and thanks Arthur for saving him. Arthur replies Guyon owes him nothing since all knights are bound to fight oppressors. Meanwhile Archimago and Atin escape.

Book 2, Canto 9

Guyon and Arthur continue traveling together. Guyon asks Arthur about the woman on his shield. Arthur explains his allegiance to Gloriana (the Faerie Queene) and Guyon shares the details of his own quest.

As night falls they seek shelter in a castle. From inside a squire warns them to run; the castle has been under siege by enemies for seven years. A thousand villains emerge from the rocks. Guyon and Arthur decide to fight their way inside and successfully arrive at the castle gate.

The lady of the Castle of Temperance, the respected Alma, welcomes them. The castle wall is high with a partly circular and partly triangular frame. Between the frames is a base "proportioned equally by seven and nine." Two gates guard the castle, open to friends and closed to foes.

Guyon and Arthur find a well-designed, harmonious castle within. They meet a sad, solemn lady named Prays-desire and a modest lady named Shamefastness.

Continuing on their tour, they arrive at a turret so beautifully constructed it reminds the poet of heaven. Inside live three wise men who advise Alma. The first advisor, Imagination, is a youth who sees things to come. His room is full of dreams, prophecies, and magical creatures. The second advisor, Reason, is a middle-aged man who understands the present day. His room has paintings of wizards, governors, philosophers, and other wise figures. The third advisor, Memory, is an old man who can remember the past. His room is full of ancient scrolls.

Arthur finds an ancient book of British monuments in the old man's library. Guyon finds another book chronicling the antiquity of Faery land. They both eagerly read the books about their histories.


Many epic heroes—Odysseus in Greek poet Homer's Odyssey, Aeneas in Roman poet Virgil's Aeneid, and Dante in the Divine Comedy—make visits to the underworld. Spenser continues this convention with Guyon.

But Spenser puts a Christian religious spin on Guyon's trip. Mammon's name signifies money or riches. Both Spenser and Guyon are familiar with how Jesus counsels his followers they can't serve God and Mammon at the same time. Guyon goes a step further in Canto 7, Stanza 12 by suggesting money is at the heart of all trouble, another biblical sentiment.

And the evidence for his position seems clear. Mammon and Care, who lives in the underworld, guard their treasure so diligently they can't do anything else. Malbecco the miser of Book 3 will have a similar miserable end.

Mammon, like Phaedria in Cantos 5 and 6, tries to entice Guyon with pleasure. Spenser adapts a story in the biblical gospel of Matthew in which Satan tempts Jesus to worship him. Guyon's faith and commitment to knighthood help him resist each offer.

But he isn't prepared for the horrors he sees in hell where residents' punishments fit their misdeeds in life. Judean governor Pontius Pilate (d. 36 CE), for instance, was a biblical official who condemned Jesus to death by saying he washed his hands of the affair. Now Pilate must wash his hands forever. Tantalus, who served his son as a banquet to the gods, must hunger for food just out of reach. Mammon's daughter, bright and alluring like the vain Lucifera in Book 1, punishes the ambitious by forcing them to climb a gold chain. Scenes in the underworld allow Spenser to illustrate the consequences of sin in graphic, concrete ways.

As a faithful Christian Guyon has the protection of the divine. Like Jesus after his temptations, Guyon gets the benefit of an angel watching over him as he recovers. Pyrochles and Cymochles lack such benevolence. As Paynim or pagan, non-Christian knights they don't have heavenly protection. When Cymochles dies, his spirit goes straight to hell. Pyrochles refuses the grace and forgiveness Arthur offers and meets the same fate.

After a fight for his life and with some help from Arthur, Guyon, like the Redcrosse Knight before him, is ready to travel to the home of his virtue. But first he faces the savage villains storming Alma's castle. These villains may represent native Irish residents fighting English colonial rule. Spenser was living in Ireland and working for English deputies when he wrote The Faerie Queene. He found the job challenging. The Irish rebels were mainly Catholics who resisted English Protestant domination. Spenser viewed them as wild and lawless.

Life is more peaceful within the castle. The lower floors of Alma's castle represent the physical parts of man like diet, appetite, and digestion. Temperance is a trait affecting both the body and mind. The poet is keenly aware of the body's mortality. In Canto 9, Stanza 21 he points out nothing on earth, not even the castle, will last.

Guyon and Arthur's ascent to the castle's turret demonstrates a transition from the physical to the mental aspects of human life. Alma's three advisors represent imagination, reasoned judgment, and memory. Imagination pictures what might happen in the future. Reason and judgment make sense of what happens in the present. Memory recalls the past. Each role is equally important. The castle wall described in Canto 9, Stanza 22 reflects complete harmony between body and mind. The rectangle and its equal proportions suggest unity and completion.

Guyon and Arthur also meet two women who reflect their own inner longings. Prays-desire represents the need for praise, a need Arthur can relate to. Shamefastness displays modesty by covering up her earthly form. Guyon, who is modest about his accomplishments, recognizes himself in her. In Book 2, Canto 10 both knights will learn more about themselves and where they come from.

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