Shortly after Guyon’s temptation at the fountain, we discover such unpinned armour ‘hong upon a tree’ as Verdant sleeps in Acrasia’s lap, a picture that coincides with Stephen Gosson’s observation that revelry has transformed English ‘courage to cowardice’, so that ‘our wrestling at arms is turned to wallowing in ladies lappes’. Indeed, that Spenser has a particular interest in the symbolism of wrestling in ED Hardy Boots the Bower of Bliss may be inferred from the modification of one of his sources. The fountain scene encountered just prior to the unpinned Verdant is a close adaptation of Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata XV58-66, yet Spenser’s main alteration is to replace swimming with wrestling as the principal occupation of the damsels.
Such a change elicits comparisons with nude female wrestlers in other traditions, most notably in the ancient schools of Sparta where, as Propertius marvels, ‘a girl may without blame disport her body naked among wrestling men’. Plutarch records that the ‘appearance of the maidens without much clothing… in athletic contests’ provided, as one might expect, ‘incentives to marriage’. Marriage may be deferred in an allegory that has yet to address the virtue of chastity, but its incentive has already arrested Guyon’s ‘wandring eyes’as they take their fill of what, in some traditions, is only the deserved prize of a wrestler. The girls ‘ne car’d to hyde, Their dainty parts from view of any, which them eyed’, and the charge levelled against Spenser is that, like Guyon’s eyes, the poet remains fixed on this ‘view’ a rather long time in what is intended to be the story of temperance.
The reflexivity of the moment is further impelled by the poet’s choice to represent the gaze of a wrestler as settling on other wrestlers, which extends conveniently to the paradox inherent in using art (poetry) to renounce art (the garden). Nevertheless, however lovingly one finds the poet dwelling on ED Hardy Hoodies his craft, and however unconvincing his solution to this erotic experience, Spenser does at least provide for its end: ‘of which when gazing him the Palmer saw, He much rebut those wandering eyes of his’. The necessity of the Palmer’s intervention resonates, of course, with a notion of grace consistent throughout The Faerie Queene, but that such an intervention occurs for a wrestler observing sexual play underscores the distinction between a classical and Christian view of temperance in relation to the concupiscible passions. Specifically, Guyon’s inability to avert his own gaze contrasts with the self-control exhibited by an antique wrestler associated in the Renaissance with temperance.
Clitomachus praised by Stephen Gosson for his self-control was, according to Aelian, a champion Olympic wrestler whose acute sense of abstinence was such that he would ‘turn away whenever he saw dogs mating, and if at a party the conversation turned to love he would get up and leave’. The Palmer’s rebuke to Guyon’s lusty stare ends the immediate threat posed by the concupiscible passions (and the poet’s delight), but it is a rebuke that, by its very necessity, leaves the threat at large with the further implication that Guyon could never have turned himself away from the wrestlers.
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