Edmund Spenser – “The Faerie Queene” (ctd.)

Venus placates angry Diana with sweet words so successfully that Diana agrees to help. She sends off her nymphs in all directions and she herself together with Venus set out in search of Cupid. In the forest they come across Chrysogone who gave birth in her sleep to twin girls (!) Now, there are arguments that Spenser indeed alludes to the Virgin Mary in this story: “She bore withouten pain, that she conceived withouten pleasure”. (The author of the quoted dissertation confuses – as many people do – the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth. The former is the belief that Mary herself was conceived without the stain of the original sin – which many apocrypha seem to conflate with the need for intercourse, but that’s another matter. The latter is the belief that Jesus was conceived miraculously, with Mary remaining a virgin both before and after his birth). Many apocrypha describe the birth of Jesus as painless and so it seems to be in Chrysogone’s case.

Diana and Venus decide that it’s best not to wake Chrysogone up (!) and each of them takes a baby to bring her up. Diana takes the girl she calls Belphoebe and she brings her up in the forest. Venus takes the girl she calls Amoretta, as she is going to be a replacement for Cupid and takes her to the place called the Garden of Adonis, in memory of her dead lover. This is the place where all plants that grow on earth are represented, surrounded by two walls, one of iron, and the other of gold. It is guarded by old Genius and has two gates, the one to let children out, and the other to let old people in. Genius’s job is to clothe the souls of children “with sinfull mire” and send them out in the world. When they return after death, they cast off their mortal coil, recuperate for thousands of years and then return into the world in another body. This is a story Spenser borrowed from Plato and it is decidedly heterodox from Christian point of view. I’ve had my doubts before about how Spenser managed to reconcile his Christianity with all the ancient gods and goddesses prancing about in his fictional world, but I could chalk it up to artistic licence. But this takes my doubts to whole another level.

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