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The Immaculate Conception by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, painted between 1767 and 1768 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Epic Poem

  • an allegory
  • the fantastical (faeries)
  • chilvalry

The Faerie Queene is an incomplete epic poem written by Edmund Spenser (1552/1553 – 13 January 1599), and first published in 1590. Spencer was born in London, but he was acquainted with Irish Faerie mythology. Faeries are legendary and mostly composite figures. In Beast Literature, these figures are referred to as les hybrides or zoomorphic. The image above, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (5 March 1696 – 27 March  1770), features a zoomorphic serpent and putti (little angels), composite figures.

Due to its length, The Faerie Queene is an epic poem, but it is not a mock epic. Reynard the Fox is a mock epic as well as anthropomorphic. Its dramatis personae consists of talking animals. As for the The Faerie Queene, it is allegorical. Its Knights each represent a virtue, virtues taught in the Trivium and the QuadriviumThe Faerie Queene is also fantastical (le fantastique). Here the French may use the word “le merveilleux”, and, in the case of the Faerie Queene, “le merveilleux chrétien.” We may also refer to chivalry. The Faerie Queene features Knights who are allegorical figures. Beneath are illustrations by Walter Crane.


The Middle Ages: Allegories, Hagiographies, Education

  • the importance of miracles: faith and hope
  • the seven virtues and education
  • the Liberal Arts (the Trivium and the Quadrivium)

During the Middle Ages, readers loved books about the lives of saints and particularly martyrs: hagiographies and martyrologies. The early and Orthodox Church had catalogues instead of hagiographies. These were: the menaion, the synaxarion and paterikon. As for the Western Church, its most successful hagiography was Jacques de Voragine’s Golden Legend. The faithful enjoyed stories of miracles just as children love fairy tales. A belief in magic and miracles can save one from despair. The same is true of Faith and Hope, two of the theological virtues.

The theological virtues are: Faith, Hope, and Charity. As of the Carolingian Middle Ages, the three theological virtues were associated with the Trivium, the years when students learned grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The four Cardinal virtuesprudence, justice, temperance, and courage, were associated with the Quadrivium when arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy were taught. The subjects taught in the Trivium and the Quadrivium are the original Liberal Arts. Three (Trivium) and four (Quadrivium) are seven (7). There were/are seven virtues and seven deadly sins.

Virtue: Antiquity and the Church or Great Fathers

The currently neglected notion of virtue is a product of Greco-Roman antiquity Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius and the Bible, but it was adopted by the Church Fathers of the Western Church and the Great Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (See Church Fathers, Wikipedia, scroll down to Great Fathers.)

The Faerie Queene (see Wikipedia) consists of six (6) Books:

  • Book One: the virtue of Holiness as embodied with Red Cross knight;
  • Book Two: on the virtue of Temperance as embodied in Sir Guyon;
  • Book Three: the virtue of Chastity as embodied in Britomart, a lady knight;
  • Book Four: a continuation of book four. A three-day tournament is held. When Britomart lifts her mask, Artegal falls in love with her;
  • Book Five: the virtue of Justice, as embodied in Sir Artegal;
  • Book Six: the virtue of Courtesy as embodied in Sir Calidore.


Would that current world leaders were familiar with the virtues, temperance, in particular. The Faerie Queene is about the virtues. Each Knight represents a virtue. Under a current leader, we need Faith, Hope, and Charity because he does not exercise the Cardinal virtues. To a certain extent, The Faerie Queene is rooted in Cortegiano’s The Book of the Courtier (1508-1528).

Love to everyone

Alfred Deller sings Purcell‘s Plaint from The Faerie Queene


Tiepolo (Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
10 May 2017