Abstract

Epics modeled on the Odyssey typically include a version of Homer’s Circe episode. Edmund Spenser’s variant, the Bower of Bliss, is unusual for ending in physical violence so pronounced that many readers have taken against its putative hero, Sir Guyon. This essay reviews the role of magic in similar episodes to show the enormity of Spenser’s seemingly conservative storytelling. It also defends Spenser’s hero from charges of intemperance and immaturity. The question of intemperance stems from misunderstanding Aristotle. That of immaturity is more complicated. In the economy of justice, youth counteracts complacency. One of Guyon’s prototypes, the biblical king Josiah, is an example. Spenser pictures all his heroes as young, and growing up is part of his design for the epic as a whole. His attitude, though, is not condescending. The danger of sexual indulgence, which Guyon’s critics sometimes dismiss, is one that the epic tradition took seriously and that Spenser himself connected with the recent downfall of public figures.

You do not currently have access to this content.