Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 2, Canto 9

By Edmund Spenser

Book 2, Canto 9

  • Our narrator observes that while the human body is one of the greatest gifts of God, it can become monstrous when it falls into corruption.
  • After Pyrocles and Cymochles were defeated, and all armor had been returned to its rightful owner, Arthur asked Guyon why he has the picture of a lady on his shield.
  • Guyon responds that if Arthur is taken with that image, wait until he sees her in person—she's just that glorious, wise, and virtuous.
  • He explains that it is the image of the Faerie Queene, his lady and the most renowned queen in the world.
  • Arthur responds that it must be wonderful to be a knight for such an incredible queen.
  • Guyon assures Arthur that if he wanted to be a knight for the queen, he would most certainly be welcome.
  • Arthur then reveals that it's in order to serve her that he's been wandering for seven years, but that he still hasn't been able to find her.
  • Guyon says that it never does seem to be easy to find what you're looking for and says he wishes he could take Arthur there himself, but he has another task to see to.
  • Arthur asks what task that is and Guyon tells him all about Acrasia and her evil deeds.
  • By that time, it is already night, and so when they catch sight of a castle, they head toward it hoping to be able to rest.
  • However, the gates are locked, seemingly to prevent them from entering, so Arthur's squire blows his magic horn (that same one used at Orgoglio's castle) and finally a watchman tells them to leave as quickly as possible because the castle has been under attack for seven years.
  • Suddenly, out of the rocks and caves a huge number of dangerous-looking people emerge armed with knifes and clubs.
  • But even though they are out-numbered, after a few surges Arthur and Guyon defeat the attackers and return to the gate of the castle.
  • When the lady of the castle hears of their brave deeds, she welcomes them in and entertains them lavishly.
  • The lady's name is Alma, and she is beautiful, just, and pleasant and has yet never married even though many men have sought her hand.
  • After they have relaxed and rested, the knights want a tour of the castle.
  • Alma agrees and shows them what a marvelous place it is: completely proportional, composed of the absolute best materials, built by the most skilled craftsmen, and with an excellent porter who lets nothing poorly thought-out leave the castle.
  • Inside the castle is a great hall run by a steward named Diet and a marshal named Appetite.
  • Excuse us, but hahahahaha. Those are some spit-take worthy names.
  • There is a very well-designed kitchen, with a huge furnace and bellows, run by a cook named Concoction (snort!) and an assistant named Digestion (wahahahaha!), and, of course, a place in which the kitchen waste is dumped.
  • The two knights are amazed at this incredible castle and then follow Alma to a parlor room where many various ladies with a whole variety of personalities are sitting, and where little Cupid is playing.
  • As soon as Alma and the knights enter, the ladies all stop what they're doing and greet them.
  • Soon, Arthur ends up talking with one of the ladies, who is very pretty but rather sad and solemn, and wearing a purple dress.
  • Arthur asks her why she's so sad and she replies that Arthur is sad too, and that even though she is pensive, she also desires glory and fame, which she suspects Arthur does as well.
  • Arthur is deeply affected by what she says and asks her name, which she says is Praysdesire.
  • This book does not have subtle names.
  • Meanwhile, Guyon ends up talking with another lady, also very pretty, but quite modest and shy and she often blushes quite obviously.
  • Guyon therefore asks her what was wrong and if he is making her uncomfortable.
  • But she doesn't answer him. She only blushes more, and Alma has to come over and explain to Guyon that she is Shamefastnesse (a fear of shame), which is a quality that Guyon also has.
  • Guyon, obligingly, blushes at this and in this way both knights spend an enjoyable time with their mutual ladies.
  • Soon, however, Alma takes them to another part of the castle, at the top of a tall tower, where two bright beacons light the sky.
  • The tower is filled with many rooms, but there are three that are most important, and in each of them lives a wise sage: one who can tell the future, one who knows about the present, and one who knows about the past.
  • The first, called Phantastes, lived in a colorful, though disorganized room, in which there are all kinds of shapes and forms of things, including fantastical beings like witches, centaurs as well as normal things likes lions and children.
  • The room is also filled with flies that contain all kinds of random dreams, thoughts, and opinions. These flies buzz around the man as he sits, looking almost mad.
  • Alma takes them to the next room, which is painted with pictures of states, laws, judgments, the arts, and philosophy.
  • An old man sits there who contemplates all these aspects of life and has grown very wise.
  • The third room is rather decrepit, and the old man, mostly blind, sits there holding all the memories of ages past in his mind.
  • Around him are scrolls and books full of ancient history, but they're all tattered by the ravages of time. He has a little boy who helps him retrieve all these various documents whenever he wants to look at them. The boy's name is Anamnestes and the old man's name is Eumnestes.
  • As they look around at the books, Arthur happens to find a book on the history of Britain, and Guyon find one on the history of Faerie Land. They are both so excited to read their books that they beg Alma to let them stay and read, which she happily allows them to do.