Monday, December 1, 2014

Mad Money — Faerie Queene, Book 2, Canto 7

I could take it that way, but
couldn't you just write me a check?
It’s been a while since I last dipped into The Faerie Queene. Initially, I figured I’d treat it like a class assignment and rip through it, but it didn’t work that way. I am still intent to get to the end of this work. Equally, though, I am insisting that this should be a pleasure, not a burden. After a month’s delay (not a single post on this subject in November), I return to the poem.

I’ve been doing some other stuff with some tight deadlines, and let me be blunt (as I frequently am about this): these pages don’t get a lot of traffic. In the last ten days, five Faerie Queene posts have been read, one each, from a four locations. You people might want to get together. Since I was in the midst of something with fixed deadlines, I cut back on the posting, and let my copy of The Faerie Queene gather (metaphoric) dust.

Lately, there have been a number of incidents in which owners of various businesses (florists, bakeries, photographers) have decided that it would be injurious to their precious moral scruples to vend their services to same-sex couples (most of the cases have involved commitment ceremonies in states that at the time did not allow same-sex couples to marry, so despite the attempts of opponents of same-sex marriage to describe it as an opposition to same-sex marriage, it really is an opposition to gay people). In their states, discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal. When you’re in business, you’ve cast your lot in with the worship of Mammon, and Mammon is a jealous god.

What does that have to do with The Faerie Queene? In this canto, we get Mammon himself, the personification of monetary gain and avarice, and he tries to tempt Sir Guyon, although given that Guyon is the personification of Temperance, it doesn’t seem all that likely. Spencer shows how easily we can be tempted, though Mammon himself isn’t all that attractive. He’s
an uncouth, salvage, and uncivile wight
Of griesly hew and fowle ill favour’d sight;
But he’s got cash on hand, “a masse of coyne“ is in his lap,
And round about him lay on every side
Great heapes of gold that never could be spent;
I am assuming that “never could be spent” means that there is more of it than anyone could manage to spend, although when Mammon attempts to entice Guyon, the knight is the prize, and he probably wouldn’t get any of the cash. Mammon has lots of that (no surprise), which he keeps in “Plutoes griesly rayne.” If you’re going to stash stuff away, the place of torment in the afterlife is probably a good place.

The treasure is protected by a fair array of allegorical figures, starting with Payne and Strife, but also including Revenge, Despight, Treason, Hate, Gealosy (Jealosy), Fear, and Sorrow (I think that’s all). Sir Guyon follows Mammon into the storehouse (I guess it can’t hurt to look), and a door shuts behind them, with the whole matter under the gaze of Arachne, as a giant spider. She’s
Enwrapped in fowle smoke and clouds more black than Jett
which makes me think of the two giant spiders in Tolkien’s work: Shelob (in The Lord of the Rings) and Ungoliant (in The Simarillion), particularly the second, as she she wove webs that blotted out the light, helping Melkor escape under their cover. Tolkien said “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations,” and it’s tempting to think that he’s specifically referring to Spenser (it was easy to find an assertion that Tolkien detested Spenser), but it’s also tempting to find an origin of Tolkien’s Great Spiders in this passage.

The storeroom is a bit of a horror, littered with “dead mens bones,” which really should warn off our hero. This is not a safe place, and there’s probably room for another “scul,” yet Mammon describes it as “the worldes blis.” But Guyon isn’t buying it, saying that by spending his hours “in armes, and in achievements brave,” he is actually Lord of those with mere wealth, and if he were wealthy, he would “be their servile sclave.”

You’re not going to make Mammon happy by spouting stuff like, “we mustn’t let our possessions possess us.” Next, you’ll be talking about living a simple life and giving charity to those who have not. Mammon isn’t happy, but he has another idea, and brings Guyon to see his daughter, Ambition, who is
a woman, gorgeous gay
And richly cladd in robes of royaltye,
That never earthly Prince in such array
He glory did enhaunce, and pompous pride display.
Not really Sir Guyon’s type of woman, and he describes himself as “unworthy match for such immortal mate.” So, it’s still not working. Isn’t there any way to tempt to this guy?

The canto ends with something out of the Inferno, as we see both Tantalus and Pilate, both under torture by Mammon for all eternity. Tantalus makes some sort of sense, but Pilate? How does this deal with greed? In any case, it’s clear to Guyon, finally, that the sensible thing to do is to get the hell out of Hell. Luckily for Guyon, Mammon was “constrayned t’ obay,” since there probably was something else to show.

The whole canto is a bit of a digression. Shouldn’t we be getting off to Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss?
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