The sixteenth century witnessed the publication of landmark texts on anatomy and allegory: De humani corporis fabrica or On the Fabric of the Human Body by Andreas Vesalius in 1543 and The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, published first in 1590. Each of these texts has received considerable attention in regard to the human body. Vesalius’s illustrations provided new information about human anatomy accessible to a much wider audience, and in book II of The Faerie Queene, Spenser allegorizes the body in relation to the question of temperance. The question of temperance is fundamentally a medical one because it interrogates the body’s humoral composition and how that composition is changed — and the body literally remade — as a result of external influences. In spite of these shared thematic and medical aspects, comparative approaches to these masterpieces by the chief anatomist and chief allegorist of the sixteenth century are scarce. Through an examination of these texts, this article argues that both works share an identifiable bodily epistemology that positions knowledge production in the bodies of all, including women and lower-status men. Even as this bodily epistemology offers an idealized representation of the presumably male body, that idealization is also inextricably linked to nonidealized, even abject bodies, so that these early modern notions of bodily knowledge production both undergird and challenge assumptions about gender and class.

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