Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Knight in the Hellish Court - Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto 4

The Seven Deadly Sins
The Redcrosse Knight is a bit of a sap. First he gets duped twice by the Enchanter, now in the fourth canto, we learn that he's being lead astray by Duessa. It's a good thing his armor is enchanted to protect him for harm or he'd be in real trouble.

Duessa takes him to the house of Pride. She is chief among the Seven Deadly Sins, the rest of whom are her courtiers. The classic list of the sins from Pope Gregory I runs in this order:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Avarice
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

But Spenser has his own sequence. He starts with Pride, who rides in a carriage drawn by peacocks. Each of the other six rides on a symbolic beast. Spenser puts them in this order:

  • Pride - carriage drawn by peacocks
  • Idleness - rides an ass
  • Gluttony - rides a pig
  • Lechery - rides a goat
  • Avarice - rides a camel
  • Envy - rides a wolf
  • Wrath - rides a lion

At the end of this little parade, comes Satan himself. For that matter, Pride is described as the daughter "of griesly Pluto" and "sad Proserpina, the Queene of hell," and gets the name "Lucifera." But with the exception of Pride, who is described as "wondrous faire, as any living wight," the rest of the court is described as being (not to overuse the word) monstrous.

Idleness gets off fairly light. His lack of exercise leads just to a "shaking fever" in his limbs. (This reminds me, I must get to the gym.) But what of his companions? Gluttony is "loathsome," and a "deformed creature."
In shape and life more like a monster than a man.
Full of diseases was his carcas blew,
And a dry dropsie through his flesh did flow,
Which by misdiet daily greater grew.
Lechery is "rough, and blacke, and filthy," though Spenser notes that he still pleases women. Avarice is skeletal and dressed in rags. Envy has a "leprous mouth." Wrath is bloodstained.

And yet, confronted by the evil troupe, the Redcrosse Knight does keep himself away.
But that good knight would not so night repaire,
Him selfe estraunging from they joyaunce vaine.
But it would seem to be for the wrong reason:
Whose fellowship seemed far unfitt for warlike swain.
These are gentlefolk, not the sort that a warrior would spend time with. The sap seems to fail to realize that they're all personifications of evil. His fear that a knight is too "warlike" for these people seems somewhat misplaced. And it's not like he's the only knight around.

We have the last of the Sans brothers, good ol' Sansjoy. He's quite familiar with this hellish court and challenges the Redcrosse Knight to combat. Happily, Gluttony, not Avarice, was in charge of the feast.

When all are asleep, Duessa comes to Sansjoy and tells him that he is "next dearest to Sansfoy," though you have to wonder what she would be saying in the presence of Sansloy. On the other hand, Sansjoy has promised to share with Duessa the spoils of his Sanfoy's many combats. And he's not worried about the enchanted armor.
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