Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 1, Canto 5

By Edmund Spenser

Book 1, Canto 5

  • Meanwhile, Redcrosse is psyching himself up for his battle with Sansjoy and as soon as it's morning, he gets ready and heads into the main hall, where everyone, including musicians and poets, is eagerly awaiting the battle.
  • Then Sansjoy comes in, looking fierce, and the two drink and eat, taking an oath to observe the rules of fighting.
  • Lucifera comes out and takes her seat, as does Duessa, and the fight begins.
  • The two men are both very strong, and each causes significant damage to the other, but as soon as Sansjoy catches sight of his brother's shield, he is filled with rage, taunts Redcrosse and then overpowers him.
  • It looks as if the fight is over when suddenly Duessa calls out encouragement to Redcrosse, who regains his strength, overpowers Sansjoy, and is about to kill him when, out of nowhere, he is enveloped in a dark cloud.
  • Duessa runs to Redcrosse and tells him this means he's won, but Redcrosse is skeptical and continues to look for Sansjoy (who is actually just hidden) but gives up once the trumpet sounds signal his victory.
  • Redcrosse then presents himself to the Queen, who commends his victory, and he is taken back to palace where his wounds are tended to and he is able to rest.
  • Meanwhile, Duessa, who is very upset, leaves the palace during the night, and leaving Sansjoy trapped in the black mist, goes to visit Night herself.
  • Duessa tells her that her nephews—the Sans-foy/loy/joy brothers are in peril—some dead, some almost dead, and that Night needs to intervene and save them
  • Night agrees, but asks why Duessa cares about them.
  • Duessa, in response, reveals who she really is and the two have a kind of touching reunion.
  • The two head off into the night in a dark wagon and collect Sansjoy and bring him to the Underworld of all places so that he can recover from his injuries in safety.
  • On the way they see the river Acheron, the river leading into the Underworld, the guardian dog Cerberus, and many of the dead being punished. When the dead see living people entering their realm they're pretty amazed.
  • The two take Sansjoy to a deep, dark cave where Aesculapius, god of medicine, sits atoning for his crimes against Hippolytus.
  • (And in case you aren't familiar with Hippolytus, Spenser offers us this handy recap:)
  • Hippolytus was a young, handsome hunter who, despite having a lot of women adore him, refuses to marry.
  • Awkwardly enough, one of those adoring women is his own stepmother, who, unsurprisingly, he refuses to sleep with.
  • She's none too happy about this, and in revenge, invents lies about him that she tells his father.
  • His father, furious at what he thinks his son did, has two sea-monsters instantly kill him.
  • The stepmother, full of guilt at orchestrating Hippolytus' death, kills herself and admits her guilt.
  • The poor father, who now feels pretty awful about having his son eaten by sea monsters, collects all the pieces of his son's body and takes them to one Aesculapius, who brings him back to life.
  • Jupiter, however, is not happy about this, since he doesn't want people going around never dying; as punishment, he sends Aesculapius immediately down to the underworld.
  • So, this is the guy that Duessa and Night bring Sansjoy to, but, understandably, he is a bit hesitant to use his medical arts considering his whole thrown-into-the-underworld situation.
  • But Duessa suggests that Jupiter can't really punish him anymore than he already has, which convinces Aesculapius to help them out. Satisfied, Night heads home.
  • Duessa returns to the palace of Lucifera, also called Pride, and finds that, even though his wounds are not yet healed, Redcrosse has left after hearing about captives that the dwarf had found.
  • These prisoners were all people who had foolishly pledged themselves to Avarice, and were now held captive. All of them are famous and powerful rulers, men and women, from antiquity to the present.
  • Redcrosse vowed to save them and left the palace of Pride early in order to avoid being seen.
  • Leaving was a grim task, since the palace is surrounded by piles of dead bodies. Ick.