1596
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Faerie Queene. Book V. Canto VII.

The Faerie Queene. Disposed into Twelve Bookes, fashioning XII. morall Vertues. The Second Part of the Faerie Queene. Containing the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Bookes.

Edmund Spenser


George L. Craik: "Canto VII. (45 stanzas). — 'Nought is on earth,' observes the poet, in beginning this new Canto, 'more sacred or divine | That gods and men do equally adore, | Than this same virtue that doth right define: the very heavens themselves are ruled by it; | Well therefore did the antique world invent | That Justice was a god of sovereign grace, | And altars unto him and temples lent, | And heavenly honours in the highest place; | Calling him great Osiris, of the race | Of the old Aegyptian kings that whilome were; | With feigned colours shading a true ease; | For that Osiris, whilst he lived here, | The justest man alive and truest did appear.' The wife of Osiris was Isis, and her also they made a goddess of great power and sovereignty, shadowing forth in her person that part of Justice called Equity, which is the thing to be now here treated of.

"Britomart, having come to the Temple of Isis, enters in with great humility by herself, for Talus may not be admitted; and there she will abide all the night: — 'There she received was in goodly wise | Of many priests, which duly did attend | Upon the rites and daily sacrifice'.... But it now grows dark; whereupon she unlaces her helmet, and lays herself down to slumber by the altar's side, for the priests here use no other beds but the lap of their mother earth, thereby enuring themselves to sufferance and mortification; being all besides bound by vows to stedfast chastity and continence.... 'There did the warlike maid herself repose, | Under the wings of Isis all that night; | And with sweet rest her heavy eyes did close, | After that long day's toil and weary plight'....

"While she is thus wondering and happy, suddenly a tempest seems to fill the temple, blowing the holy fire all about the altar and strewing the embers on the ground, so that flames break out in many places, and both the temple and she herself are in danger of being set on fire and consumed. 'With that the crocodile, which sleeping lay | Under the idol's feet in fearless bower, | Seemed to awake in horrible dismay'.... The sacred beast then turning all his pride to meekness and humility, seems to throw himself at her feet and to sue for grace and love; which she accepting, conceives by him and brings forth a lion, that speedily subdues all other beasts. With this she awakens in great terror... 'Whereas the priests she found full busily | About their holy things for morrow mass; | Whom she saluting fair, fair re-saluted was.'

"But they perceive by her looks that she is not well either bodily or mentally; and, one of them, who appears to be the chief, expressing his fears that something ails her, she tells them what she had seen in her vision. The priest is overpowered with astonishment by what he hears; and, addressing her now no longer as 'Sir Knight,' but recognising her true sex, filled with heavenly fury, he breaks out: — 'Magnific virgin, that in quaint disguise | Of British arms dost mask thy royal blood, | So to pursue a perilous emprise; | How couldst thou ween, through that disguised hood | To hide thy state from being understood?'... The crocodile, he goes on to declare, is her faithful lover — 'Like to Osiris in all just endeavour; | For that same crocodile Osiris is, | That under Isis' feet doth sleep for ever.' The knight shall subdue all her enemies, and restore her to the just heritage of her father's crown; and after that she shall bear him a son, who shall be like the lordly lion in eminence and power. And 'So,' says the seer, ending his address, 'So bless thee God, and give thee joyance of thy dream!'

"Much relieved by what has been told her, Britomart, after presenting rich presents to the priests and royal gifts of gold and silver to their goddess, takes her leave, and, continuing her journey, rests nowhere again till she comes to the land of the Amazons. Pitching her pavilion without the gate, even as had been done by Artegal, she spends the night, as he also had done, under the secure guardianship of Talus; while the Amazons, whose queen has heard of her arrival not with the terror natural to a woman, but with the composure and joyous expectation of a warrior, keep watch and ward on their city walls. On the morrow as soon as it is dawn both ladies come forth to the encounter. Before they begin the Amazon proposes her usual condition, that her adversary shall become bound, if beaten, to serve and obey her in whatever she may command; but Britomart indignantly refuses to bind herself to any other terms than those prescribed by the laws of chivalry.

"The fight is a very furious one; they hack and hew at one another with no regard to the better uses for which the loveliness they are defacing and mangling was made, struggling together, and wasting one another's blood, like a tiger and lioness over a disputed prey; Britomart is severely wounded in the shoulder; but in return she smites Radigund so fiercely on the helmet that the weapon pierces to the very brain, and the Amazon falls prostrate; on which the wrathful Britoness, giving her no time to come to herself again, with one more stroke cuts off her head. On seeing this all her followers fly into the town; yet not so fast 'But that swift Talus did the foremost win; | And, pressing through the preace unto the gate, | Pelmell with them at once did enter in: | There then a piteous slaughter did begin'....

"Even 'the noble conqueress,' when she follows him into the place, and sees the heaps of slaughtered carcases, is touched with pity, and desires him to slack his fury; otherwise, we are assured, he would not have left a soul alive. Then, inquiring for the prison in which her lord is confined, she angrily breaks open the door and enters. The sight of the disguised knights fills her noble heart with indignation and shame; and especially when she comes to her own love so disfigured and degraded she turns her head aside, unable to endure the hateful spectacle. Then every other feeling is swallowed up in pity, and, looking upon him with more wonder and astonishment than Penelope on her Ulysses when he came home to her so worn by his twenty years' wandering, that she did not know him, 'Ah! my dear lord, what sight is this, quoth she, | What May-game bath misfortune made of you? | Where is that dreadful manly look? where be | Those mighty palms, the winch ye wont to embrue | In blood of kings, and great hosts to subdue?'...

"Then bringing him without further delay into a chamber she makes him doff 'those uncomely weeds,' and array himself in other raiment and armour bright, of which abundance is found in the palace of the Amazonian queen. 'So there awhile they afterwards remained, | Him to refresh, and her late wounds to heal: | During which space she there as princess reigned; | And, changing all that form of common-weal, | The liberty of women did repeal'.... The captive knights she appoints all magistrates of the city, making them swear fealty to Artegal, and endowing each of them with 'great living and large fee.'

"But Artegal must now set out again upon his original adventure; and Britomart, although his departure brings back her sorrow, is too tender of his honour and her own to oppose his going. For a space she remains where he has left her; but at last she too takes her departure from the city of the Amazons — in the hope that the change of air and place may 'change her pain, and sorrow somewhat ease'" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 2:221-27.



Britomart comes to Isis' Church,
Where she strange Visions sees:
She fights with Radigund, her slays,
And Arthegal thence frees.

Nought is on Earth more Sacred or Divine,
That Gods and Men do equally adore,
Than this same Vertue, that doth Right define:
For th' Heavers themselves, whence mortal Men implore
Right in their Wrongs, are rul'd by righteous Lore
Of highest Jove, who doth true Justice deal
To his inferior Gods, and evermore
Therewith contains his heavenly Commonweal:
The Skill whereof to Princes Hearts he doth reveal.

Well therefore did the antique World invent,
That Justice was a God of sovereign Grace,
And Altars unto him, and Temples lent,
And heavenly Honours in the highest Place;
Calling him great Osyris, of the Race
Of th' old Egyptian Kings, that whilom were;
With feigned Colours shading a true Case:
For that Osyris, whilst he lived here,
The justest Man alive, and truest did appear.

His Wife was Isis, whom they likewise made
A Goddess of great Pow'r and Sov'reignty,
And in her Person cunningly did shade
That part of Justice, which is Equity,
Whereof I have to treat here presently.
Unto whose Temple whenas Britomart
Arrived, she with great Humility
Did enter in, ne would that Night depart,
But Talus mote not be admitted to her Part.

There she received was in goodly wise
Of many Priests, which duely did attend
Upon the Rites and daily Sacrifice;
All clad in linnen Robes with Silver hem'd;
And on their Heads, with long Locks comely kem'd,
They wore rich Mitres shaped like the Moon,
To shew that Isis doth the Moon portend;
Like as Osyris signifies the Sun,
For that they both like Race in equal Justice run.

The Championess them greeting, as she could,
Was thence by them into the Temple led;
Whose goodly Building, when she did behold,
Borne upon stately Pillars, all disspred
With shining Gold, and arched over-head,
She wonder'd at the Workman's passing Skill,
Whose like before she never saw nor read;
And thereupon long while stood gazing still,
But thought that she thereon could never gaze her fill.

Thenceforth unto the Idol they her brought,
The which was framed all of Silver fine,
So well as could with cunning Hand be wrought,
And clothed all in Garments made of Line,
Hem'd all about with Fringe of Silver Twine.
Upon her Head she wore a Crown of Gold,
To show that she had Pow'r in things Divine;
And at her Feet a Crocodile was roll'd,
That with her wreathed Tail her Middle did enfold.

One Foot was set upon the Crocodile,
And on the Ground the other fast did stand,
So meaning to suppress both forged Guile,
And open Force: and in her other Hand
She stretched forth a long white slender Wand.
Such was the Goddess; whom when Britomart
Had long beheld, her self upon the Land
She did prostrate, and with right humble Heart
Unto her self her silent Prayers did impart.

To which the Idol as it were inclining,
Her Wand did move, with amiable Look,
By outward Shew her inward Sense defining:
Who well perceiving how her Wand she shook,
It as a Token of Good Fortune took.
By this, the Day with Damp was overcast,
And joyous Light the House of Jove forsook:
Which when she saw,her Helmet she unlac'd,
And by the Altar's side her self to Slumber plac'd.

For other Beds the Priests there used none,
But on their Mother Earth's dear Lap did lie,
And bake their Sides upon the cold hard Stone,
T' enure themselves to Sufferance thereby;
And proud rebellious Flesh to mortify.
For by the Vow of their Religion,
They tied were to stedfast Chastity,
And Continence of Life; that all forgon,
They mote the better tend to their Devotion.

Therefore they mote not taste of fleshly Food,
Ne feel on ought the which doth Blood contain,
Ne drink of Wine; for Wine they say is Blood,
Even the Blood of Giants, which were slain
By thundring Jove in the Phlegrean Plain.
For which the Earth (as they the Story tell)
Wroth with the Gods, which to perpetual Pain
Has damn'd her Sons, which 'gainst them did rebel,
With inward Grief and Malice did against them swell.

And of their vital Blood, the which was shed
Into her pregnant Bosom, forth she brought
The fruitful Vine; whose Liquor bloody red,
Having the Minds of Men with Fury fraught,
Mote in them stir up old rebellious Thought,
To make new War against the Gods again;
Such is the Pow'r of that same Fruit, that nought
The fell Contagion may thereof restrain;
Ne, within Reason's Rule, her madding Mood contain.

There did the warlike Maid her self repose,
Under the Wings of Isis all that Night;
And with sweet Repose her heavy Eyes did close,
After that long Day's Toil and weary Plight.
Where, whilst her earthly Parts with soft Delight
Of sensless Sleep did deeply drowned lie,
There did appear unto her heavenly Spright
A wondrous Vision, which did close imply
The Course of all her Fortune and Posterity.

Her seem'd, as she was doing Sacrifice
To Isis, deck'd with Mitre on her Head,
And Linnen Stole, after those Priestes Guize,
All suddenly she saw transfigured
Her Linnen Stole to be of Scarlet red,
And Moon-like Mitre to a Crown of Gold;
That even she her self much wondered
At such a Change, and joyed to behold
Her self, adorn'd with Gems and Jewels manifold.

And in the midst of her Felicity,
An hideous Tempest seemed from below,
To rise through all the Temple suddenly,
That from the Altar all about did blow
The holy Fire, and all the Embers strow
Upon the Ground: which kindled privily,
Into outrageous Flames unwares did grow,
That all the Temple put in Jeopardy
Of flaming, and her self in great Perplexity.

With that, the Crocodile, which sleeping lay
Under the Idol's Feet in fearless Bow'r,
Seem'd to awake in horrible dismay,
As being troubled with that stormy Stow'r;
And gaping greedy wide, did straight devour
Both Flames and Tempest: with which growen great,
And swolne with Pride of his own peerless Pow'r,
He 'gan to threaten her likewise to eat;
But that the Goddess with her Rod him back did beat.

Tho, turning all his Pride to Humbless meek,
Himself before her Feet he lowly threw
And 'gan for Grace and Love of her to seek:
Which she accepting, he so near her drew,
That of his Game she soon enwombed grew,
And forth did bring a Lion of great Might,
That shortly did all other Beasts subdue.
With that, she waked, full of fearful Fright,
And doubtfully dismay'd through that so uncouth Sight.

So, thereupon long while she musing lay,
With thousand Thoughts feeding her Fantasy,
Until she spy'd the Lamp of lightsom Day,
Up-lifted in the Porch of Heaven high.
Then up she rose fraught with Melancholy,
And forth into the lower Parts did pass:
Whereas the Priests she found full busily
About their holy Things for morrow Mass:
Whom she saluting fair, fair resaluted was.

But by the Change of her unchearful Look,
They might perceive she was not well in plight;
Or that some Pensiveness to heart she took.
Therefore thus one of them (who seem'd in sight
To be the greatest, and the gravest Wight)
To her bespake; Sir Knight, it seems to me,
That thorough evil Rest of this last Night,
Or ill apaid, or much dismay'd ye be,
That by your Change of Chear is easy for to see.

Certes, said she, sith ye so well have spy'd
The troublous Passion of my pensive Mind,
I will not seek the same from you to hide,
But will my Cares unfold, in hope to find
Your Aid to guide me out of Error blind.
Say on, quoth he, the Secret of your Heart:
For, by the holy Vow which me doth bind,
I am adjur'd, best Counsel to impart
To all, that shall require my Comfort in their Smart.

Then 'gan she to declare the whole Discourse
Of all that Vision which to her appear'd,
As well as to her Mind it had recourse.
All which when he unto the end had heard,
Like to a weak faint-hearted Man he far'd,
Through great Astonishment of that strange Sight;
And with long Locks up-standing, stiffly star'd,
Like one adawed with some dreadful Spright:
So, fill'd with heavenly Fury, thus he her behight.

Magnifick Virgin, that in quaint Disguise
Of British Arms dost mask thy royal Blood,
So to pursue a perillous Emprize,
How could'st thou ween, through that disguised Hood,
To hide thy State from being understood?
Can from th' immortal Gods ought hidden be?
They do thy Linage, and thy Lordly Brood;
They do thy Sire, lamenting sore for thee;
They do thy Love, forlorne in Womens Thraldom, see.

The End whereof, and all the long Event,
They do to thee in this same Dream discover:
For, that same Crocodile doth represent
The righteous Knight, that is thy faithful Lover,
Like to Osyris in all just endeavour.
For, that same Crocodile Osyris is,
That under Isis' Feet doth sleep for ever:
To shew at Clemence oft, in things amiss,
Restrains those stern Behests, and cruel Dooms of his.

That Knight shall all the troublous Storms assuage,
And raging Flames, the many Foes shall rear,
To hinder thee from the just Heritage
Of thy Sire's Crown, and from thy Country dear.
Then shalt thou take him to thy loved Fere,
And join in equal Portion of thy Realm:
And afterwards, a Son to him shall bear,
That Lion-like shall shew his Pow'r extream:
So bless thee God, and give thee Joyance of thy Dream.

All which when she unto the end had heard,
She much was eased in her troublous Thought,
And on those Priests bestowed rich Reward:
And royal Gifts, of Gold and Silver wrought,
She for a Present to their Goddess brought.
Then taking leave of them, she forward went,
To seek her Love, where he was to be sought;
Ne rested till she came without relent
Unto the Land of Amazons, as she was bent.

Whereof when news to Radigund was brought,
Not with amaze, as Women wonted be,
She was confused in her troublous Thought,
But fill'd with Courage and with joyous Glee,
As glad to hear of Arms, the which now she
Had long surceas'd, she bade to open bold,
That she the Face of her new Foe might see.
But when they of that iron Man had told,
Which late her Folk had slain, she bad them forth to hold.

So, there without the Gate (as seemed best)
She caused her Pavilion be pight;
In which, stout Britomart her self did rest.
Whiles Talus watched at the door all night:
All night likewise, they of the Town in fright,
Upon their Wall good Watch and Ward did keep.
The morrow next, so soon as dawning Light
Bad do away the Damp of drouzy Sleep,
The war-like Amazon out of her Bow'r did peep.

And caused Straight a Trumpet loud to shrill,
To warn her Foe to Battel soon be prest:
Who, long before awoke (for she full ill
Could sleep all night, that in unquiet Breast
Did closely harbour such a jealous Guest)
Was to the Battel whilome ready dight.
Eftsoones that Warriouress with haughty Crest
Did forth issue all ready for the Fight:
On th' other side her Foe appeared soon in sight.

But e'er they reared hand, the Amazon,
Began the straight Conditions to propound,
With which she used still to tie her Fone;
To serve her so, as she the rest had bound.
Which when the other heard, she sternly frown'd
For high Disdain of such Indignity,
And would no longer treat, but bade them sound
For, her no other Terms should ever tie
Than what prescribed were by Laws of Chevalry.

The Trumpets sound, and they together run
With greedy Rage, and with their Faulchins smote;
Ne either sought the other's Strokes to shun,
But through great Fury both their Skill forgot,
And practick Use in Arms: ne spared not
Their dainty Parts which Nature had created
So fair and tender without Stain or Spot,
For other Uses than they them translated;
Which they now hack'd and hew'd, as if such Use they hated.

As when a Tyger and a Lioness
Are met at spoyling of some hungry Prey,
Both challenge it with equal Greediness:
But first the Tyger Claws thereon did lay;
And therefore loth to lose her Right away,
Doth in defence thereof full stoutly stond:
To which the Lion strongly doth gainsay,
That she to hunt the Beast first took in hoed;
And therefore ought it have, wherever she it fond.

Full fiercely laid the Amazon about,
And dealt her Blows unmercifully sore:
Which Britomart withstood with Courage stout,
And them repaid again with double more.
So long they fought, that all the grassy Floor
Was fill'd with Blood, which from their sides did flow,
And gushed through their Arms, that all in Gore
They trode, and on the Ground their Lives did strow,
Like fruitless Seed, of which untimely Death should grow.

At last, proud Radigund with fell Despight,
Having by chaunce espy'd Advantage near,
Let drive at her with all her dreadful Might,
And thus upbraiding, said; This Token bear
Unto the Man whom thou doost love so dear;
And tell him for his sake thy Life thou gavest.
Which spiteful Words she, sore engriev'd to hear,
Thus answer'd; Leudly thou my Love depravest,
Who shortly must repent that now so vainly bravest.

Nath'less, that Stroke so cruel Passage found,
That glauncing on her Shoulder-plate, it bit
Unto the Bone, and made a griesly Wound,
That she her Shield through raging Smart of it
Could scarce uphold; yet soon she it requit.
For, having Force increas'd through furious Pain,
She her so rudely on the Helmet smit,
That it empierced to the very Brain,
And her proud Person low prostrated on the Plain.

Where being laid, the wrathful Britoness
Stay'd not till she came to her self again,
But in revenge both of her Love's Distress,
And her late vile Reproach, though vaunted vain,
And also of her Wound, which sore did pain,
She with one Stroke both Head and Helmet cleft.
Which dreadful Sight, when all her warlike train
There present saw, each one (of Sense bereft)
Fled fast into the Town, and her sole Victors left.

But yet, so fast they could not home retreat,
But that swift Talus did the foremost win;
And pressing through the Press unto the Gate,
Pelmel with them attonce did enter in.
There then a piteous Slaughter did begin:
For, all that ever came within his reach,
He with his iron Flail did thresh so thin,
That he no Work at all left for the Leach:
Like to an hideous Storm, which nothing may impeach.

And now by this, the noble Conqueress
Herself came in, her Glory to partake;
Where though revengeful Vow she did profess,
Yet when she saw the Heaps which he did make
Of slaughtred Carcasses, her Heart did quake
For very Ruth, which did it almost rive,
That she his Fury willed him to slake:
For, else he sure had left not one alive,
But all, in his Revenge, of Spirit would deprive.

Tho, when she had his Execution staid,
She for that iron Prison did enquire,
In which her wretched Love was Captive laid:
Which breaking open with indignant Ire,
She enter'd into all the Parts entire.
Where when she saw that loathly uncouth Sight,
Of Men disguiz'd in womanish Attire,
Her Heart 'gan grudge, for very deep Despight
Of so unmanly Mask, in Misery misdight.

At last, whenas to her own Love she came,
Whom like Disguize no less deformed had,
At sight thereof abash'd with secret Shame,
She turn'd her Head aside, as nothing glad,
To have beheld a Spectacle so sad:
And then too well believ'd, that which to-fore
Jealous Suspect as true untruly drad.
Which vain Conceit now nourishing no more,
She sought with Ruth to salve his sad Misfortunes ore.

Not so great Wonder and Astonishment,
Did the most chaste Penelope possess,
To see her Lord, that was reported drent,
And dead long since in dolorous Distress,
Come home to her in piteous Wretchedness,
After long Travel of full twenty Years,
That she knew not his Favour's Likeliness,
For many Scars, and many hoary Hairs:
But stood long staring on him, 'mongst uncertain Fears.

Ah! my dear Lord, what Sight is this, quoth she,
What May-game hath Misfortune made of you?
Where is that dreadful manly Look? where be
Those mighty Palms, the which ye wont t' embrue
In Blood of Kings, and great Hosts to subdue?
Could ought on Earth so wondrous Change have wrought,
As to have robb'd you of that manly Hue?
Could so great Courage stooped have to ought?
Then farewell fleshly Force; I see thy Pride is nought.

Thence forth she strait into a Bow'r him brought,
And caus'd him those uncomely Weeds undight;
And in their stead for other Rayment sought,
Whereof there was great store, and Armours bright,
Which had been reft from many a noble Knight;
Whom that proud Amazon subdued had,
Whilst Fortune favour'd her Success in Fight:
In which when-as she him anew had clad,
She was reviv'd, and joy'd much in his Semblance glad.

So, there awhile they afterwards remain'd
Him to refresh, and her late Wounds to heal:
During which space she there as Princess reign'd,
And changing all that Form of Commonweal,
The Liberty of Women did repeal,
Which they had long usurp'd; and them restoring
To Mens Subjection, did true Justice deal:
That all they, as a Goddess her adoring,
Her Wisdom did admire, and harkned to her Loring.

For, all those Knights, which long in captive Shade
Had shrouded been, she did from Thraldom free;
And Magistrates of all that City made,
And gave to them great Living and large Fee:
And that they should for ever faithful be,
Made them swear Fealty to Arthegal;
Who when himself now well recur'd did see
He purpos'd to proceed, what-so befal,
Upon his first Adventure, which him forth did call.

Full sad and sorrowful was Britomart
For his Departure, her new Cause of Grief;
Yet wisely moderated her own Smart,
Seeing his Honour, which she tendred chief,
Consisted much in that Adventure's Prief.
The Care whereof, and Hope of his Success
Gave unto her great Comfort and Relief,
That womanish Complaints she did repress,
And tempred for the time her present Heaviness.

There she continu'd for a certain space,
Till through his want her Woe did more increase:
Then hoping that the Change of Air and Place
Would change her Pain, and Sorrow some-what ease,
She parted thence, her Anguish to appease.
Mean while, her noble Lord Sir Arthegal
Went on his way, ne ever hour did cease,
Till he redeemed had that Lady thrall:
That for another Canto will more fitly fall.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 3:779-90]