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Calumny in The Faerie Queene, II.iv.

Spenser's description of Furor pulling Phedon by the hair

A mad man, or that reigned mad to bee, Drew by the haire along upon the ground, A handsome stripling with great crueltee,


reminds many modern readers of Botticelli's painting of The Calumny of Apelles in which Calumny is shown dragging Apelles by the hair, but the simple fact that Spenser describes a man, Furor, while Botticelli depicts a woman, Calumny, seems to rule out any possibility that these are both representations of the same subject. However, a closer examination of the iconography of Calumny reveals that Spenser's description is a recognizable variant of the same tradition.

Renaissance depictions of Calumny were derived from Lucian's Calumnia which describes Apelles' painting showing Calumny as a beautiful woman holding a torch in one hand and pulling a man by the hair with the other.(1) Most artists represented Calumny in just this way, and a woman dragging a man by the hair became the accepted emblem of calumny even when divorced from the story of Apelles.(2) However, Lucian also described Calumny as exhibiting [Greek Text Omitted] and [Greek Text Omitted], variously translated in the Renaissance as 'ira et rabies', 'ira et furor', or 'furor et rabies'.(3) On occasion, these qualities, rather than being shown in the appearance of Calumny herself, were personified alongside the other personifications in representations of the Calumny of Apelles. Two examples provide illuminating parallels to Spenser. In one, the frontispiece to the first German translation of Lucian's Calumnia, published in 1516, the female figure pulling a man's hair is identified not as Calumny (who appears elsewhere in the woodcut) but as Zornheit.(4) In the other, Federigo Zuccaro's painting of The Calumny of Apelles (London: Hampton Court Palace), Furor is shown some distance from Calumny personified as a strong man bound and blindfolded.(5)

Spenser's account of Furor dragging Phedon by the hair appears to combine the features peculiar to both of the above representations of the Calumny of Apelles. Not only is Calumny's action of dragging someone by the hair transferred to the rage she exhibits (as in the German woodcut) but Furor is presented in very much the same way as he is depicted by Zuccaro. It is not inconceivable that Spenser knew one or another of these images (the Zuccaro through an engraving by Cornelius Cort first published in 1572) but it is highly improbable that he knew them both. As the woodcut and the painting are themselves unrelated, the more obvious conclusion is that Spenser, like the two artists, arrived independently at the representation of Furor as a central protagonist.

The process by which this may have come about is suggested by analogy with the German woodcut. In Rudolf Agricola's Latin translation of Lucian which was the source of Von Plennigen's German version, Calumny is described as 'iram furoremque prae se ferens'.(6) Von Plennigen translated furor as Zorn,(7) and the unknown artist responsible for the woodcut then personified this attribute as Zornheit. However, anyone familiar with the classical tradition would have realized that there was a more appropriate iconography for the personification than the female figure shown in the woodcut. Not only were there emblems, such as Whitney's 'Furor et Rabies' showing a man in classical armour,(8) but there was Virgil's description of Furor as a bloody-mouthed man bound with a hundred chains behind his back,(9) and it was this image that inspired both Zuccaro's and Spenser's representations of the figure. (Although in Spenser's case Furor acquires these attributes only when Guyon overpowers him.)

Further evidence of Spenser's reliance on Lucian is provided by his description of Occasion, the figure who follows Furor and Phedon

And him behind, a wicked Hag did stalke, In ragged robes and filthy disaray


Many commentators have noted that Spenser's depiction of Occasion diverges from that of the emblem books (which show Occasion as a naked young woman) and contains elements more commonly associated with Fortuna and Invidia. However, it is evident that the initial inspiration for the figure was Lucian's description of Penitence, the figure shown immediately behind the man dragged by his hair in the Calumny of Apelles. Indeed, Spenser's lines are in part a direct translation of Melanchthon's Latin version: 'A tergo, lugubri habitu, pullata laceraque Poenitentia subsequitur'.(10)

Although Spenser transforms Lucian's account of Calumny pulling Apelles followed by Penitence into the superficially unrelated group of Furor pulling Phedon followed by Occasion, the theme of Calumny remains significant throughout the fourth canto of Book II. As Phedon tells Guyon and the Palmer, the cause of all his misfortunes was his friend Philemon whose slanders against Claribell aroused his jealous fury. The narrative details of this episode may owe nothing to Lucian, but the plot follows the model of calumny that Lucian outlined. According to Lucian, calumny works through the triangular relationship between the slanderer, the slandered person, and the hearer of the slander.(11) The slanderer is generally motivated by envy and tells the hearer of the slander something calculated to anger the hearer and turn them against the slandered person. In Spenser, Philemon is probably motivated by envy (Phedon describes him as 'envying my toward good'), and, like Lucian's slanderers who relay stories about 'passion and illicit love' to the jealous, he tells Phedon what he least wants to hear about Claribell. The result is exactly that predicted by Lucian, and Phedon becomes another example of a hearer of slander who 'thrown off his balance by sudden anger, will not thereafter be free to get at the truth'.(12)

Reading Phedon's story in terms of Lucian's Calumnia reveals the full significance of Spenser's initial description of Furor and Phedon. In Lucian, the crucial connection between anger and slander is not that the slanderer is angry, or that the slandered person is angered, but that the hearer of the slander becomes possessed by anger. So when Spenser substitutes Furor for Calumny, and Phedon, a hearer of slander, for Apelles, a slandered man, he is not just personifying one of Calumny's attributes in place of Calumny herself, but reworking one part of Lucian's text in the light of another. He is using the iconography of the Calumny of Apelles, which shows the effect of slander on a slandered person, to illustrate Lucian's account of the way in which slander affects its hearer.

Although the story of Phedon conforms to Lucian's analysis of calumny, some of the details mentioned by Lucian surface only later in Atin's encounter with Guyon. Lucian claims that slanderers 'say the sort of thing they know to be best adapted to provoke the hearer to anger, and as they know the place where each can be wounded they shoot their arrows and throw their spears at it'.(13) In Spenser's description of Atin, the varlet who provokes conflicts in which Pyrochles can engage, he too is armed with the weapons of the slanderer

And in his hand two darts exceeding flit, And deadly sharpe he held, whose heads were dight In poyson and in bloud, of malice and despight.


The imagery of calumny is continued when Atin mocks Guyon for fighting a weak old woman like Occasion, and then throws one of the darts at him:

With that one of his thrillant darts he threw, Headed with ire and vengeable despight; The quivering steele his aymed end well knew, And to his brest it selfe intended right: But he was wane, and ere it empight In the meant marke, advaunst his shield atweene, On which it seizing, no way enter might, But back rebounding, left the forckhead keene; Eftsoones he fled away, and might no where be seene. (II.iv.46)

Spenser here moves beyond Lucian, who describes slanders as spears and arrows loosed against the hearer, to draw on a contemporary emblem in which Lucian's metaphor is developed into a simile describing the ineffectiveness of slander against a virtuous target. The emblem, Whitney's 'Calumniam contra calumniatorem virtus repellet', shows an arrow broken in two with one part sticking in a wall, and is accompanied by a verse:

Who so with force against the marble wall, Or pillar stronge, doth shoote, to pierce the same: It not prevailes, for downe the arrowes fall, Or backe rebounde, to him from whence they came: So slaunders foule, and wordes like arrowes keene Not vertue hurtes, but turnes her foes to teene.(14)

Spenser's account of Atin's unsuccessful assault on the virtuous Guyon is clearly derived from the idea that calumny does not wound a virtuous person. Like the arrow of slander, Atin's dart breaks in two, one half remaining stuck in Guyon's shield, the other rebounding.

Identifying Spenser's sources not only reveals the freedom with which he reworked both classical and contemporary texts, it also suggests that the idea of calumny is of rather more significance in this canto than is usually acknowledged. Indeed, it may be argued that Spenser's general theme of temperance in the face of provocation is derived from Lucian's narrower concern with the appropriate response to hearing slander.

MALCOLM BULL Wolfson College, Oxford

1 Lucian, Calumnia, 5.

2 See David Cast, The Calumny of Apelles: A Study in the Humanist Tradition (New Haven, 1981), and Jean Michel Massing, Du texte a l'image: La Calomnie d'Apelle et son iconographie (Strasbourg, 1990).

3 Renaissance translations of Lucian's description of Calumny are gathered in an appendix to Cast's The Calumny of Apelles, 197-231. The most commonly reprinted version was Melanchthon's (Lucianus Samosatensis sophistae Oratio in Calumniam (Leipzig, 1518)) in which Calumny is described as 'vultu ipso et gestu corporis efferam rabiem et iram aestuanti conceptam pectore prae se ferens', Cast, 217.

4 Von Klaffern zway Puechlein, das ain Lucianus . . . (Landshut, 1516). See figure 1.

5 The painting is reproduced in Cast (fig. 31) and Massing (cat. no. 26).

6 Cast, 212 (Rodolfi Agricolae . . . Lucubrationes . . . (Cologne, 1539)).

7 Ibid., 214.

8 Geffrey Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (Leyden, 1586), 45.

9 Virgil, Aeneid, 1.294-6.

10 Cast, 217. Spenser appears to have taken pullata to mean that the woman is clad in garments that are dirty rather than black.

11 Lucian, Calumnia, 6.

12 Calumnia, 15. The translation is from the Loeb edition of Lucian, tr. A.M. Harman (London, 1913), v.l, 377.

13 Lucian, Calumnia, 15.

14 Whitney, Emblemes, 138. The emblem previously appeared in Claude Paradin, Devises Heroiques (Lyons, 1557). See figure 2.
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Author:Bull, Malcolm
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Previous Article:Pagan names in The Faerie Queene, I.
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