Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Term Paper on Faerie Queene

Faerie Queene Research Paper

Originally, the traditions deriving from the Hermetica, mystical writing of the Hellenistic period attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the mythical archpriest and descendant of the Egyptian god Thoth.

The Hermetic teachings show a blend of Neoplatonism early Christian influences complemented by elements of non-classical and non-Christian tenets. Babylonian and Egyptian philosophy and Jewish Gnosticism contributed the belief that chaos can be a source of life, that creation is a recurrent process, and that man is divinely creative and can be axalted to the level of God. Since in the Corpus hermeticum the creation-myth of the first man (Anthropos) bears some resemblance to the story of Adam in Genesis, these texts gave rise to a Christian interpretation as early as the time of the Church Fathers, but it was the Renaissance Neoplatonists who drew special attention to Hermeticism.

Ficino's translation of the Hermetic texts in 1471 gave rise to a theological-philosophical trend which offered a synthesis of "high magic" (consisting of Neoplatonism, alchemy, astrology, and the Cabala) and the new, man-centered doctrine of the Renaissance. Perhaps because of this syncretism, Hermeticism now is commonly treated as synonymous with the "occult", that is, with a wide range of topics from astro-alchemy, magical medicine, primitive rituals, to "angel spiritism" and some other parapsychological activities. There are common elements in the two systems, but without a clear distinction between them, the term Hermeticism becomes meaningless. Occult elements occur in virtually all philosophy before the seventeenth century, and the Renaissance was still far from systematically separating the ideas we consider rational and irrational.


Renaissance Hermeticism emerged in the context of an animistic concept of the universe and became a distinct trend with the following main tenets, as deduced from the writings of Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Trithemius, Reuchlin, Agrippa, Guillaume Postel, Dee, and Bruno: a special reverence for the writings of Hermes Trismegistus, a firm belief in the harmony of the world, the ambition to learn about this harmony through a reformed theology and philosophy base on ancient Hermetic teachings as well as the current findings of the natural sciences (often called magia naturalis), and the ultimate goal of recovering man's primordial unity with himself and with the supernatural.

The second tenet in particular has led to the notions that Hermeticism was largely responsible for the emergence of modern science бV natural philosophy - in the seventeenth century. Hermeticism as a self-contained system of thought and a mentality was responsible at least in part for the Renaissance exaltation of man. Instead of associating it with natural science, one may explain it as a way of thinking alternative to rationalism, and heavily dependent on metaphoric expression and analogies, which has coexisted with discursive logic up to the present.

This explanation calls attention to poetry, a way of thinking also often understood an alternative to "scientific" reasoning. Accordingly, most recent studies of Hermeticism have tried to detect the relationship among esoteric, white magic, alchemy, and Renaissance poetry.

Traces of these Hermetic ideas are apparent in Spenser's intellectual milieu as well as in his poetry. In England, the most outspoken exponent of Renaissance Hermeticism was Dee, who explored secret correspondences between the macrocosm and the microcosm. Spenser had access to his ideology since both belonged to Leicester's circle, though the Hermetic ideas in his poetry may well have come from other sources. For example, the Astraea myth and British imperialism are topics common in the work of many Elizabethans, including Spenser's patron Raleigh. The harmony of the spheres, another idea which had been incorporated into Hermeticism, informs some of the numerological patterns in The Faerie Queene and astral of planetary patterns in its themes, as well as his description of the human body in the second book. The vision of the hermaphroditic Venus (IV x 41) may be associated with Hermetic teachings about the dual nature of God the Creator. Spenser's most complex esoteric metaphor is undoubtedly the Garden of Adonis (III iv), the conception of which is by no means wholly classical: it includes father, mother, and time deities; and correspondences between God, Venus, Adonis, chaos, and flowers relate to the deities of the Chaldean Oracles. The cycle of generation with the references to chaos as the major supplier of "substance" for nature's progenies points beyond orthodox Platonism to an Hermetic syncretism.

In the seventeenth century, Hermetic books became lavishly illustrated with diagrams and depictions of the occult universe, some of which help to clarify Spenser's "darke conceit[s]". For example, an engraving from Tobias Schutz's Harmonia macrocosmi cum microcosmi (1954) shows a human figure standing in a circle with arms and legs outstretched. This symbol refers to the correspondences between the celestial world and the human microcosm through astrological connections. On either side, diagrams show the four elements (square) and the three principles (triangle), as in Spenser's description of the house of Temperance.

Spenser was a poet, however, not a philosopher: his imagination was largely syncretic, inspired by many ideas that include but are not limited to Hermeticism. Though biblical, Virgilian, or Ovidian traditions of prophecy provides a measure of his style and visionary intensity.

The work is a great allegory, for a lay reader it seems not to be easily understandable. Let me choose two major allegories the Faerie Queene.

Book I: The Legend of Holiness
The seven deadly sins (SDS) are: pride (superbia), envy (invidia), wrath (ira), avarice (avaritia), sloth (acedia), gluttony (gula), lechery (luxuria).

At the house of Pride (who is a daughter of Lucifer) in FQ I iv the RedCross Knight sees the sins at six counselors riding animals also representing the sins who in pairs behind each other pull the chariot of Lucifera-Pride. As in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the sins provide entertainment which distracts the hero from his real sin Г{ spiritual and physical sloth - which in its extreme form leads to despair and suicide. Spenser's own deepest concerns are represented in these. We also see the SDS in the seven troops deployed against the gate of Alma's Castle.

Book II: The Legend of Temperance
House of Alma

The frame thereof seemd partly circulare,
And part triangulaire, O worke divine;
The two the first and last proportions are,
The one imperfect, mortall, foeminine;
Th' other immortall, perfect, masculine,
And twixt them both a quadrat was the base
Proportioned equally by seven and nine;
Nine was the circle set in heavens place,
All which compacted made a goodly diapase. (FQ II.ix.22)

This stanza can have two different interpretations. These are the following: a simpler explanation, which William Austin (1587-1634) gave us is literal; according to it the stanza is only a description of the proportions and dimensions of the human body. The more complex explanation given by Sir Kenelm Digby is a mystical, neoplatonic one, tells that the stanza is about the mystical relations of soul and body, form and matter, male and female. Digby speaks about the four elements, the three Paracelsian qualities, the nine angelic hierarchies, the seven planets; and says, that of all God's works Man is the noblest and the most perfect, he is a little world, and of God himself. This statement is very neoPlatonic, because it includes the idea of macrocosm, which was created by God and includes the microcosm, Man, who is a perfect "copy" of the world. Thinking of the two interpretations we can see that they are not contradictory, rather complementary. Both of them acknowledge correspondences between the human body and the universe, the first on the more concrete level in the domain of numbers and proportions, the other referring to less obvious correspondences, hidden relations of the created world which can be perceived by the mystic eye. There's a common feature between the two concepts: both of them recognize certain dialectical opposites in this created wold (man/cosmos; mutability/eternity) but they claim the unity of the whole.

We can see that the placing of the stanza bears importance; it is in the second book, second canto, twenty second stanza, all twos, again symbolizing the duality which is represented in the description. Also we can note, that this stanza is a "science poem" which is a style, Spenser had known well, but rarely used. He was deeply interested in science, astrology and astronomy at first place, but he didn't care of the newest discoveries, he gained knowledge only from encyclopedias and similar older works.

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