This book focuses on a knight named Guyon, also known as the Knight of Temperance.
This is also the theme of book 2: temperance, or the ability to bridle one’s passions and maintain control over every aspect of life.
In short, sir Guyon is basically a self-help guru.
Let’s get into the poem:
We open with the title: “The Second Book of the Faerie Queene contayning The Legend of Sir Guyon, or Of Temperance.”
Once again, Edmund Spenser addresses Queen Elizabeth I, and makes an odd comment about hoping that no one accuses him of making up all of these stories. Apparently he wants people to believe that this really happened.
His justification for this is the fact that new worlds are being found all the time (think of the Americas), so why shouldn’t there be a mystical fairyland we don’t know about yet? And actually…that’s not a bad argument Mr. Spenser.
Spenser encourages the Queen to think of these words as a reflection of her and her kingdom, once again reinforcing the allegory.
Bridging Book 1 and 2
This first part of The Faerie Queene acts as a bridge, giving us a glimpse of the characters that we already know and love, whiles introducing us to new characters.
This is a pattern that Spenser often repeats in later books.
Turns out, Archimago has escaped the dungeon where he was thrown, and he’s looking to get revenge on Una and the Redcrosse knight.
Through his scheming, he comes across Sir Guyon and his companion, a pilgrim simply called “the Palmer”.
He decides to take advantage of the opportunity and tells Guyon about Una and the Redcrosse knight, telling him that Redcrosse is a rapist and a villain, which surprises Guyon because he has heard good things about Mr. Redcrosse.
But he is the Knight of Temperance after all, so he cannot let an injustice like this stand.
Archimago takes Guyon to the woman that was supposedly raped, but this is actually Duessa, who was restored to full strength by Archimago after she was defeated by Prince Arthur in the previous book. She confirms Archimago story, and so Guyon goes off to confront and potentially fight the Redcrosse knight.
Just as they are about to fight each other, they see each other’s shields (the Redcrosse obviously has a Red Cross on his shield, but Guyon has an image of the Faerie Queene on his), and they decide to stop fighting.
Understandably, the Redcrosse knight asks Sir Guyon why he decided to attack him, and Guyon explains what happened.
The Palmer shows up and blesses Redcrosse for all that he has and will do. The Redcrosse knight, in turn, wishes them both good luck, and they all go their separate ways.
Guyon Finds Amavia and Mordant
We are now fully introduced to Sir Guyon, our new protagonist.
Guyon and the Palmer travel for some time, and Guyon big comes semi-famous for all of the good deeds that he does. However, one day they hear a voice crying in the forest. The voice belongs to a mother and her baby. The woman is suicidal, thinking that her child would be better off without her parents. She stabs herself just as Guyon gets there, covering herself and her baby in blood. Next to them is the body of a man, another knight, who was also dead.
The horror of the scene takes Guyon by surprise, but he quickly takes the knife out of the woman and stops up her wounds. He then asks for her story.
As she is dying, she tells him the tale:
When her husband never came back, Amavia went searching for him, disguising herself as a pilgrim and giving birth to their child on the way (what a trooper).
When she finally finds her husband, he doesn’t even recognize her for the enchantment that was placed on him, but eventually she is able to wean him off the drugs that had influenced him, and the two leave the Bower of Bliss.
Unfortunately, Acrasia curses them, and Sir Mordant dies in the escape.
It is at this point in the story that Amavia become so distraught with the tale that she dies from grief…and you know…the stab wound.
Guyon is devastated by this story, and finds himself paralyzed with emotions, but the Palmer encourages him to be moderate (Knight of Temperance, remember?).
So Guyon helps bury Amavia and Mordant, then swears an oath that he will avenge their deaths and punish Acrasia.
Acrasia basically embodies the opposite of what Guyon represents, engaging in lustful behaviors when temperance and self-control are more admirable in his eyes.
Following the tragic story of Amavia and Mordant, Sir Guyon takes up the unfortunate baby who had now has no parents. First, he tries to wash all of the blood off of the babies hands, but the blood somehow doesn’t come off, which confuses Guyon. Understandable.
The Palmer then goes into a lengthy explanation about why the blood won’t rub off, which he somehow just happens to know.
He explains that water comes from many different sources. Some comes from under the earth, and some is just regular old water. This particular water comes from a rock that used to be a nymph. The goddess Diana changed this particular nymph into a rock to avoid being raped by a fawn, a classic Greek mythology story.
And this is somehow why the blood won’t run off the child’s hands. It is apparently meant to be a symbol of his mother’s innocence, as determined by this enchanted nymph.
We don’t know why (yet), but Guyon’s horse is mysteriously gone, so Guyon is forced to take the baby and proceed on foot.
Medina and Her Sisters
After much travel, he comes to a castle owned by three sisters, all half-sisters. They all have the same father, but with three different mothers.
The three sisters are constantly fighting about their dominion over the castle, arguing for one portion or another.
When Guyon shows up with the baby, he is warmly received by the middle sister, whose name is Medina. Of the three, she represents balance, and therefore fits within the theme of the book. Her other two sisters represent excess and restraint, the two opposite extremes.
Medina, however is very kind to Guyon and shows him to a room so he can rest.
Unfortunately, the other two sisters had boyfriends. These boyfriends heard about Guyon showing up, and decided to drop their own squabbles (they fought each other a lot), so they could focus on this newcomer.
The boyfriends are Huddibras, who is dating the eldest sister, and Sansloy, who we met in the previous book. Sansloy, if you recall, tried to rape Una, before he was driven off by satyrs.
These two boyfriends show up at Guyon’s door, but soon begin fighting with each other again, which prompts Guyon to investigate. As soon as Guyon shows up, they both turn on him, forcing him to defend himself. It should be noted that he does a very good job of this.
Medina shows up and begs the fighting to stop, which they eventually do reluctantly. She gives them a speech about how they need to turn their blood-lust, anger, and lust into less extreme emotions of peace and tranquility.
And while the book doesn’t say anything, I imagine Sir Guyon’s eyes are making big giant hearts at Medina right now.
The knights all agree, and Medina invites everybody to have big feast.
The Extreme Sisters
We then meet the two sisters. The eldest is named Elissa, and she refuses to enjoy anything. The younger is Perissa, and she is the one that represents excess, gorging herself and enjoying everything a little too much. Once again we get that theme of balance being more favorable than any extreme.
Medina is somehow able to manage it all with her good sense, and she asks Guyon to tell the story of how he got there.
Guyon replies and tells them that he is a knight of the Faerie Queen, and that he is currently in pursuit of Acrasia so that he may punish her for the deaths of Amavia and Mordant.
Medina then asks about that, and Guyon tells than the rest of that story until dinner is over and they all go to bed.
Funny that no one has asked about the baby yet.
When the morning comes, Guyon names the baby Ruddymane, referring to the redness of the blood that won’t rub off, but good Lord Guyon, what were you thinking?
Guyon leaves the baby in the care of Medina, before continuing on his way to find Acrasia.
Braggadochio and Trompart
It is at this point that we learn what happened to Guyon’s horse, and the narrative takes a sharp detour, with a side story about the thief.
The thief is a man named Braggadochio who, after he has taken the horse, pretends to be an oppressive and rude knight. After finding a man resting peacefully in a field, he begins to intimidate him. This man’s name is Trompart, and he begs to become Braggadochio’s servant, which he does. But as it turns out, Trompart is smarter than he looks. While he is traveling with Braggadochio, he begins to flatter him constantly, as a form of manipulation.
But at that moment they come across Archimago. Archimago doesn’t realize that Braggadochio is not actually a knight, and assumes he must know the Redcrosse knight or Guyon.
Trompart tells him that Braggadochio is a fearsome foe, and that he is looking to get revenge on someone who stole his sword.
Archimago, being the devious person that he is, decides to use Braggadochio to help him get back at the Redcrosse knight and Guyon. But first, Braggadochio will need a sword, so Archimago tells them that Prince Arthur, who happens to be nearby, has a very famous sword (boy does he), and that Archimago will fetch it for him. After saying this, Archimago disappears.
Apparently Archimago left too fast, because his sudden magical departure makes Braggadochio and Trompart flee in terror.
(It’s fairly clear that this pair was meant to be a form of comic relief, even during Edmund Spenser’s time, as they match other similar comedic pairs, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet.
As they run, they bump into a lady who is dressed as a huntress (we’re not given her name but this might be Belphoebe). And she’s not just any lady, she is gorgeous. She has long blonde hair, a golden bow, and seems to radiate sunlight.
She asks Trompart if the he has seen a deer run by, and she almost kills Braggadochio who was hiding in a bush. But Trompart stops her just in time to explained that he is actually a great knight.
The woman is impressed by Braggadochio’s knighthood, and he goes on to brag about his exploits, before asking her why she is in the woods and not enjoying herself at court.
Turns out this hunter lady hates the court, saying that true honor comes from honest labor, working, hunting, fighting, etc.
But Braggadochio doesn’t seem to be listening, because he is so enchanted by her beauty that he tries to grab her for himself before she can finish explaining.
Not a great move Braggadochio.
The woman threatens them with her spear, before running off again. Braggadochio is disappointed, but Trompart wisely tells him to forget about it, pointing out that she could be a goddess, and therefore trouble.
Braggadochio says that he would not be afraid even if she was a goddess, but the two continue on their way.
We go back to Guyon and the Palmer, who are continuing their way on foot, without a horse. The narrator makes a snide comment about how nobility are better at riding on a horse then the lower classes, making this a form of humiliation for Guyon.
Furor and Occasion
As they journey, they come across a strange sight: there is a madman dragging a young man by the hair, followed by a horrible old lady with hair growing out of her face.
The old lady is hurling insults at the young man as he’s being dragged by the madman.
Guyon is not okay with the situation, so he knocks the old woman aside and fights with the madman, but the madman does not fight like a normal foe. He goes into a berserker rage, punching and kicking and hurling himself at random, even hurting himself in the process. Guyon is taken aback by this attack, and is thrown to the ground, which naturally hurts his pride and makes him angry.
Just as Guyon is about to kill the madman, the Palmer intervenes and once again seems to have a perfect knowledge of the situation.
The Palmer tells Guyon to subdue the mother first, because her words give Furor strength, and he will continue to be stronger than Guyon unless she is restrained.
So Guyon does as instructed, grabs Occasion, and stops up her tongue. After this, he is able to bind Furor with iron chains.
Now he can turn his attention to the young man who was being dragged by the madman earlier. So the young man tells them his story.
What follows is a similar story to what we get in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and indeed, The Faerie Queene is one of the sources for that play, which came later.
The young man says that his troubles come from his supposed friend: Philemon. The two grew up together and were best friends, and when this young man grew up and had the opportunity to marry, Philemon seemed happy for him.
However, Philemon then told the young man that he suspected his fiancée was not being loyal (the fiancé‘s name was Claribell).
But Philemon needs proof, so he seduces the handmaiden of the fiancé, a girl named Pyrene, and pretends that it’s Claribell when the young man was walking by.
The young man is heartbroken to think that his fiancée was cheating on him, so he found the real Claribell and killed her. After he had done this, Pyrene tells them that she had been the one seduced by Philemon, not Claribell.
This overwhelms the young man with grief, and he then poisons his friend Philemon, after which he tries to kill Pyrene as well (this guy needs to find some new coping mechanisms).
Thankfully for Pyrene, the young man bumps into Furor and Occasion on the way to kill her, which brings us to the present day.
Guyon and the Palmer then instruct the young man, who we learn is named Phaon, that he should be more temperate in his actions (you think?), and that his extreme emotions have led to the trouble that he is in now.
The Introduction of Pyrocles
But at that moment, a squire comes running in announcing his master. The squire is named Atin, and his Lord is a knight named Pyrocles, brother of Cymochles, both of whom are grandsons of Night that we saw in book 1, which also makes them brothers to Duessa.
Atin says that his master is looking for Occasion, because he wants a good fight.
The Palmer says that this is silly, as no one should be looking for a fight, and Guyon tells Atin to relay that message to his master.
Atin doesn’t like this response, so he throws a dart at Guyon, and Guyon easily blocks it with his shield before Atin runs away.
At that moment, Pyrocles arrives, wearing blood-red armor, and riding a great horse.
He immediately attacks Guyon upon arriving and Guyon easily wounds the horse, so that Pyrocles is forced to fight him on the ground, leveling the playing field.
Angry at the situation, Pyrocles insults Guyon and deals him a heavy blow, but this doesn’t seem to faze the knight of temperance.
The two fight for some time, with Guyon gaining the upper hand, constantly able to duck and cover out of the way of Pyrocles’s attacks. Soon enough, Pyrocles gets tired, and Guyon gets the better of him until Pyrocles begs him for mercy.
Guyon, being a smart knight, tells him that he can live as long as he is obedient to Guyon.
Pyrocles agrees, albeit reluctantly, and Guyon tells him not to be embarrassed for losing, but instead to use this opportunity to rid himself of his preoccupation with violence.
Only then does Pyrocles ask who the old woman and the madman are, and they must’ve looked odd being tied up the way they were.
The Fight Resumes
Guyon makes the fatal mistake of telling Pyrocles that he can do whatever he wants with the pair, because Pyrocles immediately goes and let’s Occasion loose. Furor is freed soon after, and begins attacking Pyrocles.
Occasion tries to convince Pyrocles and Guyon to fight each other, but Guyon is immune to her verbal magic. Yet Pyrocles is losing so bad that he calls to Guyon for help. Guyon wants to help, but the Palmer tells him not to, telling him that this is a just punishment for what Pyrocles has done in seeking out violence (dark, Palmer).
Atin Fetches Cymochles
Pyrocles’s servant, Atin, believes his master to be dead and runs off to tell Cymochles, the brother of Pyrocles.
Turns out Cymochles is not just another terrifying knight, but he is also the boyfriend of Acrasia, the woman that Guyon and the Palmer are looking for.
Atin makes his way to the Bower of Bliss to inform Cymochles that his brother is dead. But Cymochles is spending too much time enjoying the pleasures of the Bower of Bliss, which is a very enjoyable place by all standards.
Atin sees Cymochles being tended on by women, and lazily enjoying his time in the beautiful gardens, and he is disgusted. He tell Cymochles that he is weak and that he needs to get up and avenge his brother’s death.
Cymochles, rightly ridiculed, gets up and gets ready for battle.
The narrator reiterates how strong emotions are inferior to self-restraint, as they can cause you to be unreasonable.
The narrator tells us that Guyon does not have this problem, but Cymochles does.
Cymochles Gets Distracted
This is why, when Cymochles comes across a woman in a small boat who is laughing to herself, he decides to get distracted instead of going to avenge his brother.
She lets Cymochles onto her boat, but not Atin, and the two set sail. The ship guides itself, while the girl tells him made up stories, laughing and putting flowers in her hair, etc.
Cymochles thinks this is great, completely forgetting why he had left the Bower of Bliss in the first place. When he asks her who she is, she is surprised that he does not know because they both serve Acrasia.
Her name is Phaedria, and the lake they are sailing on is called the Idle Lake, where she spends time going around in circles.
They come to an island in the lake where they alight and Cymochles falls asleep in Phaedria’s lap.
Phaedria leaves him, apparently drugged, and returns to her boat.
Guyon Doesn’t Get Distracted
As it turns out, Guyon shows up at that exact moment, and he is also looking for a way across the lake.
Phaedria agrees to take him, but doesn’t let the Palmer onto the boat.
Just as she had done with Cymochles, she tries to influence Guyon to take a break and rest, but he isn’t having it. She takes him to the island, which is not where Guyon wanted to go but he doesn’t know what else to do because Phaedria isn’t leaving, so he gets off.
Phaedria continues to try and tempt him, but he still resists. However, Cymochles is now woken up and is upset that he was distracted from his mission. Thankfully for him, Guyon is nearby, and so he attacks Guyon after also assuming that he was seducing Phaedria.
The two have another long fight before Phaedria intervenes and asked them not to fight for her. She tells them that they should move away from violence and instead turn toward romance.
But Guyon is having none of this, so he asks to leave, and Phaedria grants this, knowing that her charms are not working on him. Cymochles stays with Phaedria.
The Return of Pyrocles
As Guyon is leaving, Atin finds him and starts accusing him of doing terrible things, which Guyon just ignores. Atin then waits for Cymochles who has stayed with Phaedria. While he is waiting, he sees a knight plunge himself into the lake as if on fire. He goes and finds that his master Pyrocles, whom he thought was dead, is still alive but believing that he is burning. This is why he threw himself into the water.
Atin tries to save his master from drowning in the water by jumping in after him, but this only puts him in danger as well. Pyrocles claims that Furor is burning him, even though Furor is nowhere to be found. Apparently some enchantment is at work.
At this moment, Archimago shows up and agrees to help them. He cast a spell to reverse the enchantment on Pyrocles.
Guyon is now without the Palmer, and he finds himself traveling in an empty wilderness with no one around.
The Encounter with Mammon
He eventually runs into a man covered in dirt and grease who is sitting next to a cave and wears an iron jacket covered by a golden jacket, and he is surrounded by piles of gold.
This is Mammon, the God of riches and money, and he introduces himself to Guyon. He tells Guyon that if he works for him, all of this money can be his.
But of course Guyon refuses, saying that he is interested in glory and not wealth.
Mammon counters by saying that wealth is a great way to gain glory, but Guyon shoots back by listing all of the horrible things that money is responsible for in the world.
They continued the debate when Mammon then asks why so many people care about money, and Guyon maintains his brand by saying that it is because they lack temperance.
He further states that he will take no money unless he knows it has been acquired fairly.
Mammon offers to show him much greater wealth, and the two go deep into a cave until they arrive at the gates of the underworld itself, guarded by beings called Revenge and Pain.
Guyon in the Underworld
Before these gates is a house called the House of Riches, which is guarded by a being called Care.
Inside, there is a fiend who is watching Guyon at every moment, waiting for him to take something since is it is against the laws of the underworld to take anything.
In this place, Guyon sees a number of creatures from classical mythology, including Arachne who was turned into a spider by the goddess Athena.
The rooms of this palace are full of gold and even made of gold, and it is the largest collection of wealth that Guyon has ever seen. Mammon continues to try and tempt him to take some of the wealth, but Guyon is too good for that. Mammon even takes him into a massive forge where all wealth in the world is created, and that does nothing.
They go into several rooms, each of them revealing something different.
Eventually, they come to a room with a beautiful woman, but apparently she is only beautiful because she is wearing a ton of makeup. This woman’s name is Ambition, and she is the daughter of Mammon. She holds a chain that everyone is trying to grab so she can lift them up, whilst also trying to push other people down.
Side note, this is really a pertinent allegory for modern-day capitalism as well as the economy of Edmund Spenser’s day.
Mammon suggests that she would be a great wife for Guyon, but none of us are surprised when Guyon turns this marriage proposal down. He states that he is in love with another woman (likely the Faerie Queen), which infuriates Mammon.
Mammon keeps his anger in check and takes Guyon to a garden filled with depressing trees, which happens to be the garden of Persephone, the wife of Hades.
Guyon climbs a tree with golden apples that features from classical mythology, and gets a better look at the underworld. Here he sees a number of figures including Tantalus from Greek mythology, as well as Pontius Pilot, the Roman judge who sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.
While Guyon is spending time looking at the underworld, Mammon suggests that he take one of the apples in the tree, but Guyon knows that this is a bad idea and decides that he is ready to go home.
Disappointed but unable to do anything else, Mammon leads him back to the upper world, where Guyon faints from exhaustion.
The narrator starts by reminiscing about heaven and whether heaven actually cares about humans, before talking about angels and how they are definitely helping humans by coming down to earth and the fairyland to make sure things are okay.
The Palmer Defends Guyon
We then learn about the Palmer, who was looking everywhere for Guyon. The Palmer finds Guyon passed out after his adventures with Mammon, and he finds a young man sitting beside him.
The man says that he is an angel sent by God to tell the Palmer that he must protect Guyon at all costs.
The angel then flies away before the Palmer can say anything. Surprised, the Palmer checks to make sure Guyon is still alive, which he is. Unfortunately, Pyrocles, Cymochles, Atin, and Archimago are coming nearby. Pyrocles immediately spots them and assumes that Guyon is dead, and they all mock the Palmer for protecting a dead body.
The Palmer tells them off for mocking, saying that it is not good to defile a corpse. But Pyrocles suddenly becomes upset that he did not get the chance to kill Guyon, so he decides to take Guyon’s armor instead. The Palmer tries to stop this but is unable to make much of a difference.
Suddenly, none other than Prince Arthur shows up with his squire Timias, and the Palmer tells Pyrocles and Cymochles that they better get ready for a fight, because it’s about to go down.
They are about to fight, when Pyrocles realizes he doesn’t have a sword. Archimago, whom if you recall had set out to find Arthur’s sword, explains that he actually has Arthur’s sword with him, but that it cannot be used against Arthur, the rightful owner.
Pyrocles doesn’t care and takes it anyway before he and Cymochles go to confront Arthur.
Arthur greets the two but asks why Guyon is on the ground and what happened. The Palmer tells him that Guyon has died (even though he knows this isn’t true), and that the two knights were going to defile his corpse.
Arthur tells the two knights to apologize and leave Guyon alone, but they naturally refuse and Pyrocles charges Arthur with Arthur’s own sword.
Even though the sword will not directly harm Arthur, together between Pyrocles and Cymochles they actually do a lot of damage. Arthur is thrown from his horse, and barely manages to hold them off before stabbing Cymochles in his thigh.
This enrages Pyrocles, who lunges forward and manages to break Arthur’s sword and stab him in the side.
Even though Arthur is wounded, he manages to hold his own until Palmer rushes to him with Guyon’s sword.
Arthur takes Guyon’s sword and manages to hold his own again, killing Cymochles by stabbing him in the head and forcing Pyrocles to the ground. When Pyrocles refuses Arthur’s offer of peace, Arthur lobs his head off as well.
At this moment Guyon wakes up and realizes that he has neither his sword or shield, but the Palmer tells him what happened. Guyon is very relieved and thanks Arthur for saving him, offering to pledge his loyalty.
Arthur tells him that this is necessary. Meanwhile, Archimago and Atin, who have observed the whole thing, flee the scene.
The narrator begins Canto 9 by observing how fickle the human body can be, even though it is a gift from God, because when it falls into temptation and corruption, it can become a huge problem.
Arthur and Guyon Travel to Alma’s Castle
We now return to Arthur and Guyon, who now has all of his armor returned to him.
Among his affects is his shield with a picture of the Faerie Queen on it. Arthur comments on it, asking him why he has this image, and Guyon tells him that it is a picture of the Faerie Queen, and that if Arthur is taken with the image, he should wait until he sees her in person.
Arthur responds by saying that it would be wonderful to serve the Faerie Queen as a knight, to which Guyon replies that the Faerie Queen would be happy to bring Arthur on as a knight.
Arthur reveals that he has been wandering for seven years looking for her, but he has yet to find her to which Guyon responds that he wishes he could take Arthur to her, but he has another task to complete.
Arthur asks what this task is, and Guyon tells him about Acrasia and all of the wicked things she has done.
They travel until the evening when they find a castle where they hope they can rest, but it is locked. Thankfully Arthur’s squire, Timias, has a magic horn (previously used at Orgoglio’s castle), which he blows.
A watchman appears over the gate, and tells them to run because the castle has been under siege for seven years.
Under siege? So who is attacking the castle?
Well at that moment, out come a huge number of attackers from out of the rocks and caves, all of them armed to the teeth with rudimentary weapons.
These men far outnumber Arthur and Guyon, but the two are eventually able to fight them back, after which they retreat to the gate of the castle.
Alma Gives Arthur and Guyon a Tour
Seeing what they have done, the lady of the castle welcomes them in and entertains them. Her name is Alma who is a beautiful maiden that, as of yet, has never married, despite many men trying.
Alma gives them a tour, and we learn that this castle is well put together, beautifully designed, and built with the finest of materials.
Alma introduces them to many of the servants of the castle, all of which seem to have highly allegorical names (most of them related to food), including:
- A steward named Diet
- A marshal named Appetite
- A cook named Concoction
- An assistant named Digestion
- And more
The two knights are spellbound by the castle, and Alma leads them into a parlor room with a wide variety of ladies, all with different personalities. Each of these ladies stop what they are doing and go to greet Arthur and Guyon. During the conversation, Arthur and Guyon split to talk to two different ladies in particular.
Arthur and Guyon Socialize
Arthur begins talking to a girl named Praysdesire, who is very sad, thoughtful, but also ambitious for glory and fame. She also suspects that Arthur embodies all of these qualities as well.
Guyon talks to a lady named Shamefastnesse, who is quite modest, reserved, and shy, and she constantly blushes as Guyon probes her for information. Eventually Alma has to come over and explain who she is, and that her name means “a fear of shame”, which is a quality that Guyon also possesses.
The two spend an enjoyable time with these ladies.
Alma later takes them to a tall tower where two beacons like the sky. In this tower there are many rooms, but three in particular that each contain a wise sage:
- One who knows the future: he is called Phantastes, and he lives in a brightly colored but overall disorganized chamber, containing all shapes and forms of fantastical beasts like witches, centaurs, elves as well as more normal objects like lions. He is also surrounded by flies that buzz around his room, filled with all kinds of dreams, opinions, thoughts, etc.
- One who knows the present: this man sits contemplating different aspects of life, including law, judgment, art, philosophy, etc.
- One who knows the past: this man is called Eumnestes, and he is mostly blind. He sits holding all of the memories of the past. The room was full of scrolls and books, all decayed by time, and he has a young boy named Anamnestes who helps him retrieve documents from around the room.
They stay in this room for a time looking at the books, and Arthur finds a book about the history of Britain, while Guyon finds one about the history of fairyland.
They are both eager to read these books, and so Alma allows them to stay for a time.
At this point the narrator takes us into the book that Arthur is reading, giving us a history lesson along with him.
This book is about the ancestors of Britain (meaning the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth I), and we learn that Arthur is an ancestor of the Queen.
Note: some of this information is taken directly from the famous version of the Arthur myth: The History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Monmouth. If you have read that book, much of this will sound familiar.
And so we begin:
The First Kings of Britain
We learn that Britain was once a wild wasteland, where everyone was in constant fear of giants, monsters, etc. It remains in chaos until Brutus, a Roman nobleman, made himself king of the land.
But these monsters continued to plague the people, and so three heroes eventually rise, dividing parts of Britain between the three of them. They are:
- Corineus: he takes Cornwall
- Debons: he takes Debonshire
- Canute: he takes Cantium
Brutus also has three sons who divide up Britain as a whole, and their names are:
- Locrine: he takes England
- Albanact: he takes Scotland
- Camber: he takes Wales
But unfortunately a group of Huns (yes, Huns) attack, destroying the peace, but thankfully Locrine is able to defeat them.
The downside is that Locrine begins to fall to pride, and starts indulging in a more luxurious lifestyle. He cheats on his wife, Guendolene (a daugher of Corineus), with another woman named Estrild.
Naturally, Guendolene becomes a master slayer, and in the most epic bout of revenge ever, defeats her husband in battle, puts him in jail, kills his mistress, as well as Estrild’s daughter by Locrine, Sabina.
She then takes Locrine’s place on the throne until their son, Madan, is able to rule.
Ebranck and His Sons
We then get a succession of kings: Madan, then his son Memprise, then his son Ebranck. While the first two were not great kings, Ebranck was.
Ebranck also had a crazy the large family, including 52 children, 20 of which were sons. Together, they even invaded Germany until France kicked them out.
But one of Ebranck’s sons, Brutus the Second, conquers parts of France. His son, Leill, would eventually tone things down and start building a lot of castles.
Peace continues for the next two generations, with the kingship passing from Leill to Huddibras, and from him to Bladud. Bladud was an intelligent man, bringing the arts and sciences into much of England.
Next we learn of his son, named Leyr, and yes, this is the King Lear upon whom Shakespeare based his famous play, although Shakespeare was likely drawing as much from the original History of the Kings of Britain than this rendition here.
Leyr had no sons, and wanted to divide his kingdom equally between his daughters, but required that they prove their love for him first. The oldest (Gonorill) and youngest (Regan) do so, but the middle daughter (Cordeill) says that she loves him but has nothing to prove.
So Leyr banishes her from his will, and she escapes to France with her husband.
Leyr retired with first his older daughter, then his younger, both of whom grew tired of him. Finally, he turned to his middle daughter, who took him in and then warred against her two sisters for the throne, solidly defeating them and eventually taking over after Leyr died.
However, the children of Gonorill and Regan (Cundah and Morgan) later rise up against Cordeill, imprisoning her until she eventually hung herself.
Cundah and Morgan then fight for the throne, with Cundah eventually defeating Morgan.
The bloodshed continues with their son (Gorbogud) eventually fighting his own sons (Ferrex and Porrex) who imprison him.
The squabbling over the throne continues (were getting a real Game of Thrones vibe here) when Porrex kills Ferrex, but then their mother (Wyden), kills Porrex.
The End of the Line of Brutus
By then, the line of Brutus has officially ended, and all descends into chaos once more until a man named Donwallo rises up and brings peace and unity to the people.
Not only does he unite all of Britain, but his sons (Brennus and Belinus) also conquer much of Rome, Greece, France, Germany, etc.
Belinus’ sun (Gurgunt) continues this trend, conquering all of Norway, Denmark, and Ireland.
He is followed by Guitheline and his wife, Martia. Various kings follow, until two sons of Morindus take the throne, first Gorboman, then his brother Archigald. Archigald is eventually deposed but then put back on the throne, then gives it to Elidure, who has it ripped away from him again by two men called Peridure and Vigent.
Elidure is eventually able to retake the throne, and he ushers in a new generation of kings that lasts for some time.
One of the sons is named Hely, and he leaves the throne to his sons: Androgeus and Tenantius, but they are too young so he puts their uncle in charge.
The Arrival of the Romans
And it is finally at this point that we get to recorded history (albeit skewed), where Julius Caesar and the Romans attack and eventually defeat Britain due to a betrayal by Androgeus. Caesar fights with a hero named Nennius, and only wins by the skin of his teeth.
Tantius takes over Britain, then his son, during whose reign Jesus is born.
After this, the Roman Emperor Claudius once again attacks Britain. They kill the king, but a man named Arvirage takes over the armies and manages to repel the invaders, eventually marrying the Emperor’s daughter, Genuissa, who convinces him to make peace with Rome.
There is once again a time of peace, ending in a man named King Lucius, who also brings Christianity to the isles.
He leaves no heirs upon his death, and so a warrior-Queen named Bunduca (known in real-world history as Boadicea) challenges Rome and almost defeats them, ultimately killing herself though.
Multiple kings make several attempts to defeat Rome, all without success. We are promised that Arthur will eventually overthrow Roman rule.
Rome eventually sends Constantius to work with the British king Coyll, who agrees to give him his daughter, Helena, to wife.
She and Constantius give birth to Constantine, famously known as the first Christian emperor of Rome.
Later, a man named Octavius becomes king of Britain, gives his daughter to the Roman Emperor Maximilian before he dies.
But chaos descends as the Roman Empire dissolves, Britain is picked apart by warring tribes of Huns and Picts, etc.
The Line of Arthur
Eventually, a second Constantine rises, leaving several sons to rule at a young age. Their uncle (Vortigere) takes over in their stead, sending them to Brittany while he asks for aid from Germany, but the Germans eventually betray him and he barely manages to escape with his life.
Meanwhile, the children of Constantine are older, and their names are Ambrose and Uther. They arrive in England, take their kingdom back, kill Vortigere, and Ambrose takes over first before he is killed, succeeded by Uther.
This is the same Uther Pendragon that is Arthur’s father, and therefore the book cuts off at this point because the rest has not been written yet.
Arthur has been incredibly moved by reading this history, but Guyon is still reading the history of the fairyland, and thankfully the narrator tells us that he doesn’t have time for a full history on that. Otherwise we might be here forever.
We do learn, however, that the book starts by telling us of the history of Prometheus and how he created man and gave them fire, for which he was punished. He also created a being called “Elfe”, which means “quick”.
The first Elfe king has a queen named Fay, and they are the sires of elves and fairies throughout the world.
They have a long line that continues until we learn of an Elfe named Elficeos, who had a son named Oberon. It would be Oberon that gave his power to the current Faerie Queen, supposedly the greatest of them all.
Thankfully, Alma interjects at this point and lets them know how late it is, and that they must follow her for supper.
Whew! That was a lot to process (and quite honestly, this section took me forever to write), but we are over it and on to the next canto.
The narrator starts out by telling us that extremes ruin our bodies and health (something we definitely see in today’s world).
We then go back to Guyon, who is up early the next day and ready to set out and find the Bower of Bliss.
Arthur Defends Alma’s Castle
But sadly, we are not going to follow him just yet. We are still at Alma’s castle, which is still under siege by all of those bandits outside. In fact, they are ruthlessly attacking the castle now, and Alma grows concerned that they might succeed.
Thankfully, they have Arthur at their disposal, and he offers to fight for them, putting on his armor and heading out to face the villains.
When they see him, these men shower him with arrows, but he catches them all on his shield and keeps advancing.
Out comes the leader of this crew, a fearsome warrior named Maleger. He rides a tiger, carries a bow and arrow, and is flanked on either side by two aggressive-looking women: Impotence and Impatience.
Arthur vs Maleger
The two begin to fight, with Maleger running around on his tiger, while Arthur has to chase him down. Arthur decides to wait and let Maleger run out of arrows, but finds that one of the women companions of Maleger has been picking up his used arrows and giving them back to him. So he ties her up.
The other woman comes to the aid of her sister, and between the two of them they manage to get Arthur on the ground. Maleger is about to kill him when Timias, Arthur’s squire, comes to the rescue and pulls both women off of Arthur.
This leaves Arthur free to attack Maleger, eventually knocking him off his Tiger and dealing him a heavy blow. But Maleger retaliates by throwing a huge stone at Arthur, which Arthur barely avoids before stabbing Maleger in the chest.
Arthur is elated, thinking that he has won, but unfortunately there is no blood coming from the wound, and Maleger seems to be just fine. Arthur is dumbstruck, assuming that there is some kind of magic at work, so he decides to grab Maleger with his bare hands and crush the life out of him, but that doesn’t work either.
Arthur realizes that Maleger must get his powers from the earth, so he crushes Maleger again, but this time in the lake, drowning him. When this happens, Maleger dies and the two women kill themselves.
Arthur, exhausted from the ordeal, faints, and Timias takes him back to the castle to be tended to by Alma and her women.
But now we go back to Guyon, who is finally on his way to the Bower of Bliss, along with the Palmer. They have commissioned the Ferryman to take them to the Bower, sailing for three days before hearing a huge roar.
The Ferryman tells them that they are close to the Gulf of Greediness on one side, and a cliff called Magnes on the other, both of which result in ships being either sunk or crushed. But they are able to pass safely, with the Palmer mentioning that they have seen an example of how dangerous luxury and indulgence can be.
Note: basically we are seeing Guyon take that middle road, the balanced narrow path between two extremes, in keeping with the theme of temperance.
Guyon thinks that he has seen land, but the Ferryman tells him that those are actually the Wandering Isles, where all who step on them are never able to leave. On one of them they spot Phaedria, who tries to flirt with them until the Palmer sends her away, and they pass through the Wandering Isles with no further problems.
They pass through more trials, including the Quicksand of Unthriftiness, the Whirlpool of Decay, a sea of monsters, sirens trying to lure them away, thick fog, and violent birds. But they manage to navigate through it all before finally stopping on land.
Guyon arms himself and continues with the Palmer, repelling many beasts with a magical staff that the Palmer has, a staff made from the same wood as Mercury’s Caduceus.
The Bower of Bliss
Eventually they finally arrive at the Bower of Bliss, which is a beautiful spot full of gorgeous scenes of nature, a garden, a gate depicting the story of Jason and Medea, etc.
They come to a man named Genius (meaning “spirit”). Guyon strikes down his bowl of wine and staff, and enters into the Bower of Bliss. The place is beautiful, full of flowers, no bad weather, basically the most beautiful garden you have ever seen.
But Guyon does not stop to smell the roses.
Instead he heads to the next gate, made entirely of grapevines tempting him with their fruit. Next to them stands a lady named Excess who is making wine with the grapes. When she offers them to Guyon, he throws the goblet to the ground and breaks it before continuing past her.
Next he comes to a beautiful area with a huge fountain in the center, decorated with images of a young boy at play. In the fountain are two completely naked women, wrestling each other, and it seems that this is enough to at least distract Guyon for some time.
Thankfully, Guyon has the Palmer with him, and he manages to set Guyon straight, and the two continue to the center of the Bower of Bliss.
There, they hear a unique music and they follow it to the source: Acrasia herself.
Acrasia is actively sucking the soul out of a lover when they arrive, a knight lying helplessly in bed with her.
We learn that Palmer had made a net to catch Acrasia, and together with Guyon they jump forward and catch her in the net. Acrasia and her lover try to escape, but doing so is impossible. So they put her in chains and let her lover go free.
We learn that the lover’s name is Verdant, and Guyon gives him some advice before completely destroying the Bower of Bliss.
As they are exiting the Bower with Acrasia and Verdant in tow, they are once again attacked by beasts that the Palmer is able to deal with.
When Guyon asks what those beasts are, the Palmer tells them that they used to be men transformed by Acrasia. Feeling bad for them, Guyon asks the Palmer to change them back, which the Palmer does.
However, some of the men do not want to be changed back, and some are even angry that they are men again and that Acrasia is a captive.
Guyon and the Palmer reflect on how shameful it is to see men want to be beasts, but unfortunately they can’t do anything about it, so they continue on their way.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur