M. L. Stapleton, Spenser’s Ovidian Poetics



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The concluding sections of my book concern the effects of the Ars amatoria and the Amores on The Faerie Queene and the ways in which Spenser informs his own erotic poetry with the lessons of the magister Amoris: Amoretti and Epithalamion and Fowre Hymnes. He appears to interrogate and demonize the Ars by analogy in the episodes of his epic featuring Paridell and Hellenore, Malecasta, Acrasia, or Phaedria, or in the description of such abstractions as Lechery and Lust. Yet his constant allusion to this satirical treatise and guidebook may constitute a tribute to his predecessor, one effected with great subtlety and humor, as if Spenser were attempting to reconcile the erotic with the sacred in his poetry yet aware that he was bound to fail. To this end, he happily and sometimes subversively deploys the Amores and Ars as an intertext to inform his poetry throughout his career, from the Calender to the Hymnes. Even his paragon of chastity, Britomart, indirectly partakes of the precepts of the magister. Such a paradoxical association suggests that Spenser does not always see Ovid’s “teachings” as lessons in depravity. Instead he demonstrates the same type of capacious tolerance toward them that the contemporaneous English translations, Christopher Marlowe’s All Ouids Elegies (c. 1595-99) and Thomas Heywood’s Loues Schoole (c. 1600-13) exhibit in their worldly bonhomie, and suggests how receptive late sixteenth-century readership may have been to Ovidian ars.

As another way of exploring such multiplex receptions, and as a segue into my first chapter on Spenser and the Tristia, I conclude with a brief examination of the prefatory epigrams that Thomas Vautrollier appends to his edition of the Fasti and the exile poetry (1583), Angelo Poliziano’s elegiacs on the death of Ovid and Julius Caesar Scaliger’s considerably sharper statement on the same subject. Since Wye Saltonstall renders this material into Caroline English and includes it with his Tristia, coupling it with the early modern humanists’ Latin seems appropriate, given my emphasis on translation in the present volume.73 Poliziano and Scaliger envision the auctor as the ludic love poet who suffered an exile’s fate, the twofold identity he was understood to possess in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, not dissimilar to some twenty-first-century portrayals of Spenser among the Gaelic Scythians: the exploiter and champion of this foreign people in whose country he found himself part of a privileged minority, the stooge and apologist for a disastrous policy there, simultaneously its victim and beneficiary.

Just as Spenser gathers divergent yet complementary voices in the same poem, Vautrollier may well have presented the humanists’ Ovidian epigrams together for a similar reason, considerably divergent in tone and subject. Both rely heavily on his autobiographical apologia, the second book of the Tristia. Poliziano idealizes his subject as a paragon of modesty, whereas Scaliger compels this same poet to speak somewhat boastfully for himself and to reject idealism of any kind. Poliziano’s composition, written in the third person, portrays Ovid as the benevolent victim of politics, ironically valued more by the barbarians he dwelt among than his cultured audience back in the City: “Nec te Roma pudet: quæ tanto immitis alumno. / Pectora habes ipsis barbarioria Getis?” [And wert not asham’d to be (O Rome) / More cruell than the Getes to such a sonne?]. The harsh Pontic landscape itself reacts to his death as the underworld does to the grieving Orpheus: “Extinctum & montes flebant, & sylua, feræque, / Et flesse in mediis dicitur Ister aquis” [Woods, mountaines, beasts, a mourning day did keepe, / And Isters pearly streame they say did weepe]. “Vos quoque Pierides vati libastis adempto / Carmina, sed nostro non referenda sono” [The Muses brought their Poet many a verse, / Which I am farre unworthy to rehearse]. Scaliger is unsentimental and uses the first person so that his ventriloquized Ovid may accuse his emperor of hypocrisy with the requisite bitterness: “exsul abi, / Impia flagitus squalent penetralia dires” [condemne thy selfe to banishment, / For such foule deedes thy private roomes doe staine]. In a type of iamque opus exegi utterance, this Naso knows his worth and ends by trumpeting his achievements: “Lactea molliuit veteres mea vena poetas; / Et rerum docuit pondera certa nouos” [My straine hath made the ancient Poets soft, / And to the new the waight of things hath rought].

Spenser, as we will see, identified with some aspects of these Ovidian selves in his attempts to develop a feasible erotic poetics during his career in Ireland, by creating an identity that partakes of an idealism analogous to Poliziano’s and an assertiveness similar to Scaliger’s. Three examples of this phenomenon come immediately to mind. He channels the spirit of both epigrams in the poem named after his surrogate Colin Clout (1596), who portrays himself as a true love poet come home only to be repelled by a decadent court rife with fornication and false amor, a man misunderstood by his monarch and her minions, yet careful not to criticize her too directly or to castigate any of these courtiers by name. Also, Spenser’s Nature is just as phenomenological, animistic, and anthropomorphic as the environment that Poliziano imagines for his Naso-as-Orpheus, a landscape that constantly advertises his own brilliance as New Poet in the Calender and elsewhere, in a fashion similar to Scaliger’s terse, cynical figure. In other instances, the threefold poet of epic, romance, and allegory imagines himself as the Ovidian vates who, with modest pride and humble arrogance, asserts the transcendence of his work in The Faerie Queene, just as he does in The Shepheardes Calender and Epithalamion. Both epigrams define Ovid primarily as a love poet in exile, Poliziano explicitly: “Qui iacet, hic teneri doctor amoris erat” [He that did teach the Art of love lyes here]; Scaliger implicitly: “mea te mouit tetricum lasciua iuuentus” [my wanton youth did move thy discontent]. This resemblance to the early modern English writer creates a spatial and temporal conundrum. Across a millennium and a half, the end of one career appears to inform the beginning of another. As Holahan says, “Spenser knew Ovid so intimately that to write poetry was to use him.”74



1 Respectively: Butler, Rhetoricae libri duo Quorum prior de tropis & figuris, posterior de voce & gestu praecipit. In vsum scholarum accuratis editi (Oxoniae: Excludebat Iosephus Barnesius, 1598), sig. C4r; translation by R. M. Cummings, ed., Spenser: The Critical Heritage (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971), 287.

2 “Actaeon at the Hinder Gate: The Stag Party in Spenser’s Gardens of Adonis,” in Desire in the Renaissance: Psychoanalysis and Literature, ed. Valeria Finucci and Regina Schwartz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 93. Nevertheless, the Variorum serves as the text of Spenser’s poetry for this study.

3 See especially Frederick M. Ahl, Metaformations: Soundplay and Wordplay in Ovid and Other Classical Poets (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985); Leonard Barkan, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis & the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986); Stephen E. Hinds, The Metamorphosis of Persephone: Ovid and the Self-Conscious Muse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), and Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Charles Martindale, ed., Ovid Renewed: Ovidian Influences on Literature and Arts from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), and Redeeming the Text: Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Duncan F. Kennedy, The Arts of Love: Five Studies in the Discourse of Roman Love Elegy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

4 Respectively: P. Ouidii Nasonis Metamorphoseon libri xv ab A. Naugerio castigati (London: R. Field, 1589); The XV. bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis, Translated into English meeter by A. Golding (London: R. Seres, 1567). Field, Shakespeare’s Stratford schoolmate and printer of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, most likely reproduced the Latin edition of his employer Thomas Vautrollier, whose edition of the rest of Ovid’s works had appeared in 1583, who may have printed a Metamorphoses circa 1582, and whose widow, Jacqueline, Field married. The great edition by Aldus Manutius is a substantial revision of the incunabula, e.g., Franciscus Puteolanus’s editio princeps (Bologna, 1471). This Aldine Ovid consists of three separate volumes published in Venice during the first four years of the sixteenth century, although libraries such as the Bodleian generally group these together as a set. For the long titles of each, see the Bibliography. Subsequent Venetian reprints occurred in 1515, 1516, 1533-34, and 1588.

5 See Allusion and Intertext, xii. In his quasi reader-response approach, Hinds “addresses an interest in texts and traditions in which this inevitability of intertextual relation is complicated by a high level of linguistic and literary self-awareness on the part of the individual language-user—in texts and traditions in which authors and readers, not content to be acted upon passively by tradition, seek to shape and define it to their own specifications” (xi).

6 Hinds summarizes the traditional classicist’s point of view succinctly: to “literary Romanists,” it has “often seemed the only kind of intertext worth studying . . . is the deliberate allusion by one author to the words of a previous author. Isolating and identifying such ‘allusions’ has for at least the past century been the most characteristic project of Latin philology; . . . we Romanists typically argue with a degree of focus and precision which critics in other fields should envy. However, we have tended to be more diffident in situation this tidy and circumscribed study within the more spacious inquiries into intertextuality dominant in much later twentieth-century work—inquiries which find all discourse to be constituted by negotiations between texts, or between other cultural expressions analysable as ‘texts.’ We are by now no strangers to such modes of inquiry; but, whether attracted or repelled by them, most of us have not yet quite decided how (or if) to reconcile them with our old institutional ways” (Allusion and Intertext, xi).

7 Enterline analyzes the formative influence of the Metamorphoses on Petrarch’s poetics, her theory of how the “rhetoric of Ovidian eroticism affects Petrarch’s portrait of himself in love,” as well as the “mutually constituting, and mutually interfering, relationship between rhetoric and sexuality.” See “Embodied Voices: Petrarch Reading (Himself Reading) Ovid,” in Desire in the Renaissance, ed. Finucci and Schwartz, 120.

8 Pierre de Ronsard: Les Amours, ed. Françoise Joukovsky (Paris: Gallimard, 1974), 270.

9 See E. K.’s note to line 1 of “Ianuarye” to explain the moniker Colin: “Vnder which name this Poete secretly shadoweth himself, as sometime did Virgil vnder the name of Tityrus”; his note to 60: “Ouide shadoweth hys loue vnder the name of Corynna, which of some is supposed to be Iulia, themperor Augustus his daughter, and wyfe to Agrippa.” (V 7:18). And while it is true that Vergil receives the first citation in E. K.’s notes, Ovid is the last classical poet mentioned in the Calender, albeit Metamorphoses 15.871-72 is misquoted (V 7:120).

10 See Discoveries in The Workes of Benjamin Jonson (London: n.p., 1641), 116-17. Each text within is individually paginated.

11 See Spenser: The Critical Heritage, 10-21. Douglas Bush suggests that Ariosto “might be called the Ovid of the Renaissance,” and adds that his work is marked by “the predominant lack of seriousness of a pure Ovidian artist.” See “The Renaissance: The Literary Climate,” in The Renaissance Image of Man and the World, ed. Bernard O’Kelly (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1966), 67.

12 See Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 2nd ed., 2 vols., ed. George Sewell (London, A. Bettesworth, 1724), 1:3.

13 The Works of Mr. Edmund Spenser, In Six Volumes, With a Glossary Explaining the Old and Obscure Words (London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1715). Hughes was a celebrated poet as well as editor. He wrote a history of England as well as a tragedy, The Siege of Damascus (1720), translated Fontenelle, and composed the libretto for the English opera Calypso and Telemachus (1712). Frequently ill, he died of tuberculosis, and was commended by Swift, Pope, Addison, and Dr. Johnson, who included him in his Lives (DNB 10.178-80).

14 Remarks on Spenser’s Poems (London: Printed for J. Whiston, 1734), 170.

15 For the Ovidian references, see Observations on the Faerie Queene of Spenser (London: Printed for R. and J. Dodsley; Oxford: Printed for J. Fletcher, 1754), 47 and 72. The discussion of “inaccuracies” actually occupies an entire chapter (159-79), as does the “use and abuse of antient history and mythology” (44-80).

16 The parenthetical references in the paragraph note the volume and page numbers of Upton’s edition, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, A New Edition with a Glossary, and Notes Explanatory and Critical by John Upton, Prebendary of Rochester and Rector of Great Rissington in Glocestershire (London: Printed for Jacob and Richard Tonson, 1758). His biography is sketched out in DNB 20:38. Warton devotes a brief chapter to attacking his editorial work (Observations, 205-16).

17 Upton’s championing of Spenser in this fashion is anticipated by similar defenses of Ariosto and Ovid by Renaissance theorists. In his treatise Dei romanzi (1554), Giambattista Cinzio Giraldi argues that it is illogical to criticize the romance form and Ovid’s anamorphic poetics of the marvelous merely because they violate rigid Aristotelian and neoclassical dicta about linearity and unity. In some ways, Ariosto and Boiardo are just as heroic as Vergil and the Iliad. See Giraldi Cinthio on Romances, trans. Henry L. Suggs (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1968), 40-41. Warton makes the same effort to historicize Spenser in defense against Enlightenment misconceptions: “too many readers view the knights and damsels, the turnaments and enchantments of Spenser with modern eyes” (217).

18 See Cumming, “Ovid as a Source for Spenser’s Monster-Spawning Mud Passage,” Modern Language Notes 45 (1930): 166-68, and “The Influence of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on Spenser’s ‘Mutabilitie’ Cantos,” Studies in Philology 28 (1931): 241-56; Bennett, “Spenser’s Garden of Adonis,” PMLA 47 (1932): 46-78; and Stirling, “The Concluding Stanzas of Mutabilitie,” Studies in Philology 30 (1933): 193-204, “The Philosophy of Spenser’s Garden of Adonis,” PMLA 49 (1934): 501-38, and “Two Notes on the Philosophy of Mutabilitie,” Modern Language Notes 50 (1935): 154-55.

19 See, respectively, Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1932), 108-09; and Lotspeich, Classical Mythology in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1932).

20 By Ovidian poem, the Variorum tally runs: Metamorphoses, 356; Fasti, 62; Amores, 25; Ars, 24; Heroides, 20; Tristia, 16; Ex Ponto, 8; Remedia, 6 (V 9:82-84).

21 See “Spenser and Arthur Golding,” Notes & Queries n.s. 32 (1985): 18-21; “Spenser and Golding: Further Debts in The Faerie Queene,” Notes & Queries n.s. 33 (1986): 342-44; “Debts to Golding in Spenser’s Minor Poems,” Notes & Queries n.s. 33 (1986): 345-47; “The Faerie Queene Book I and Golding’s Translation of Metamorphoses.” Notes & Queries n.s. 34 (1987): 197-99; “When Did Spenser Read Golding?” Notes & Queries n.s. 35 (1988): 52.

22 See Wellek, Concepts of Criticism, ed. Stephen G. Nichols (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 289. See also Heninger, “The Orgoglio Episode in The Faerie Queene,” English Literary History 26 (1959): 171-87; Cheney, Spenser’s Image of Nature: Wild Man and Shepherd in “The Faerie Queene” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966); and Alpers, The Poetry of “The Faerie Queene” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

23 See The Prophetic Moment: An Essay on Spenser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 90-91. For a more extended discussion of Ovid, see 90-110.

24 Berger notes that Spenser revises Ovid by “converting the literal description of bodies to a figurative interpretation of psyches” in “Busirane and the War between the Sexes: An Interpretation of the Faerie Queene III.xi-xii,” English Literary Renaissance 1 (1971): 120; 99-121. His work on Spenser’s Ovidianism is extensive, such as the previously mentioned “Actaeon at the Hinder Gate” and Revisionary Play: Studies in Spenserian Dynamics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). Holahan remarks that Spenser offers “a serious parody . . . which places the Metamorphoses on significant trial” in “Iamque opus exegi: Ovid’s Changes and Spenser’s Brief Epic of Mutability,” English Literary Renaissance 6 (1976): 244; 244-70. For Gross, see Spenserian Poetics: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and Magic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 118. Krier suggests that Spenser’s use of Ovid’s epic includes “imitative expansion of episodes, character types, and ethical norms—which lead to his proliferating watchers of the female body” in Gazing on Secret Sights: Spenser, Classical Imitation, and the Decorums of Vision (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 136. For Burrow, see “Spenser and Classical Traditions,” in The Cambridge Companion to Spenser, ed. Andrew Hadfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 236; 217-36. Antony E. Friedmann predates these articles in his analysis of the effect of Ovid on Spenser’s imagination, suggesting that the Diana-Actaeon episode (Met. 3.131f.) informs the conception of the Bower of Bliss, Belphoebe’s Bower, the Garden of Adonis, Diana’s Fountain, Una and the Lion, Arthur’s description of Gloriana, and the tapestry in the House of Busirane. See “The Diana-Actaeon Episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and The Faerie Queene,” Comparative Literature 18 (1966): 289-99.

25 I.e., “What Spenser retains from Ovid . . . is his habit of parodying etiological myth” (238); Britomart is Ovidian because “immature passions are as changeable as any in the Masque of Cupid” (239); so are Pythagoras (Met. 15) and Mutabilitie because they represent “the different ways of understanding the power of change in the universe” (241).

26 Silberman’s title, Transforming Desire: Erotic Knowledge in Books III and IV of “The Faerie Queene” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), guarantees a close reading of this myth. She sees Spenser as an ethical corrector of his predecessor: “The indeterminacies Ovid presents for our amusement are transformed into the moral hierarchy Spenser presents for our edification.” (54). See also Donald Cheney, “Spenser’s Hermaphrodite and the 1590 Faerie Queene,” PMLA 87 (1972): 192-200.

27 See his entry “antique world” in The Spenser Encyclopedia, ed. A. C. Hamilton et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 46.

28 For Hulse, see Metamorphic Verse: The Elizabethan Minor Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 242, 253; 242-83. Krier to some extent expands Hulse’s work in Gazing on Secret Sights, 18-64. Yet her extended discussion of the gaze in Vergil and Ovid is not clearly applied to Spenser (41-44), nor does she distinguish between his use of the Latin Ovid and Golding’s translation even though she cites both. She suggests, as others have before her, that Ovid’s ludus opposes Vergil’s gravitas, even though Renaissance readers did not always dichotomize in this fashion; Faerie Queene 2 is “Vergilian,” whereas 3, 4, and 6 are “Ovidian” (64-65). The standard study of Spenser’s debt to Vergil is John Watkins, The Specter of Dido: Spenser and Virgilian Epic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). See also Heather James, Shakespeare’s Troy: Drama, Politics, and the Translation of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

29 Helgerson’s landmark work, Self-Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton and the Literary System (Berkeley: University of Calfornia Press, 1983) anticipates some of Cheney’s theorizing about self-consciously Vergilian and Ovidian career models followed by Elizabethan poets in Spenser’s Famous Flight: A Renaissance Idea of a Literary Career (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993) and “‘Secret Powre Unseene’: Good Magic in Spenser’s Legend of Britomart,” Studies in Philology 85 (1988): 1-28. Helgerson: “No wonder if Spenser saw himself less as a new Vergil and more as the Ovid of the Tristia, abandoned by his friends for his carmen et error” (86). Cheney argues that Spenser integrates the two careers in a productive way: “The Ovidian model . . . moves from youthful love lyrics to a semi-mature epic to aged exile poetry. Like the Vergilian, it is classical, triadic, semicircular, and political. Unlike the Vergilian, it locates love poetry at its centre, albeit in what looks to Ovid, reflecting on his blighted career, as a decidedly disastrous centre” (Spenser’s Famous Flight, 57).

30 Burrow rightly states that the influence of Ovid on Spenser was “incalculable,” and that the miniaturizing that one sees in Spenser of various classical topoi from Ovid is a kind of aemulatio (225-26). Spenser is “not simply rebuking” Ovid in his divergence; “he is benefiting from him, making him live, and forcing him to participate in the reproduction both of new life and of new texts” (231). “Spenser learnt from Ovid how to create a work of art which does not seem explicitly critical of its times or its ruler, but which is founded upon metaphysical principles which are evidently at odds with them” (232).

31 Burrow notes Ovid’s parody of the Aeneas story in Met. 12.728-14.74, and “forcibly imprints his metamorphic concerns on his predecessor’s subject matter, almost to the extent of making Vergil appear to be trying to be an Ovidian poet” (227).

32 Although I agree with Pugh that Spenser’s “analysis and rejection of Vergilian anti-eroticism in favour of Ovidian elegiac values of sympathy, care and loyalty” informs parts of his canon, it is not always easy to see “the care, respect and reciprocity of true love” that she finds in the Ovidian corpus, or how exactly Spenser uses this as “the model for his ideal political system.” See Spenser and Ovid (London: Ashgate, 2005), 6. Burrow anticipates her in suggesting that Spenser uses Ovid to criticize Elizabeth (234).

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