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Circumventing Petrarch: subreading Ovid's Tristia in Spenser's Amoretti.

By writing the Amoretti as a Petrarchan sonnet sequence that leads to the marriage celebrated in the Epithalamion, Spenser faced a structural problem: not only does Petrarch's Rime sparse not contain imagery of the kind of mutual love that Spenser wanted to portray, but also the Rime was not formulated to end in a marriage. Yet a model for Spenser's revision does exist in one of Petrarch's own precursors: Ovid. Although the name "Ovid" may call to mind the amorous poet of the Amores and Ars amatoria, Ovid presented himself as an older, devoted husband in the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto. It is this Ovid whom I shall argue most informs Spenser's Amoretti.

Brooks Otis identifies a marital Ovid emerging in the Metamorphoses, when the Roman poet takes his place "as the West's first champion of true, normal, even conjugal love." (1) In the exile poetry, Ovid defends his past life, reminding those who know him that his moral character has no connection to his art in the Ars amatoria (Tristia 1.9, especially lines 59-62) and specifically rejecting any identification with the scandalous lover in his amorous poetry (Tristia 2.349-56). As L. P. Wilkinson points out, "when in the later poems he emerges in his own person, we find him a loved and loving husband and father. We are often warned, and as often forget, that Roman erotic poets did not expect their characters to be judged from their poetry." (2) Spenser, we shall see, did not fail to recognize that Ovid's Tristia contains a model of mutuality in marriage (and, as well, of the tension between an "exile" poet and his ruler) that the New Poet could adapt to his purposes in the Amoretti. A preliminary comparison of these two works with Petrarch's Rime sparse, which critics generally regard as the mediating work between Spenser and the Ovid of the Metamorphoses, will demonstrate that Spenser, in effect, circumvents the Rime by drawing on the Tristia directly for certain marital and political examples.

The first piece of evidence that we have for Spenser's knowledge and conscious use of the Tristia is sonnet 18 of the Amoretti. Spenser editors generally neglect the Tristia in the Spenser canon as a whole; in this particular instance, editors either downplay the importance of the Tristia in this sonnet or ignore it completely. (3) An examination of the relevant passages, however, reveals a closer link than has previously been seen. In his edition of Spenser's shorter poetry, Douglas Brooks-Davies notes only one textual parallel between the Amoretti and the Tristia (the aforementioned sonnet 18) in a list that includes three other possible parallels for the sonnet in question. That Tristia "parallel," however, clearly demonstrates a link between the sorrows of exile and the sorrows of love, since the hardness of the lady's heart in Spenser comes very close to Ovid's description of the hardness of exile. Spenser's sonnet 18 reads:
   The rolling wheel that runneth often round,
   The hardest steel in tract of time doth teare:
   and drizzling drops that often doe redound,
   the firmest flint doth in continuance weare.

   Yet cannot I with many a dropping teare,
   and long intreaty soften her hard hart:
   that she will once vouchsafe my plaint to heare,
   or looke with pitty on my payneful smart.

   But when I pleade, she bids me play my part,
   and when I weep, she sayes teares are but water:
   and when I sigh, she sayes I know the art,
   and when I wail she turnes hir selfe to laughter.
   So doe I weepe, and wayle, and pleade in vaine,
   whiles she as steele and flint doth still remayne. (4)

The similar Tristia passage comes in Book 4, as Ovid laments the loss of his homeland:
   hoc dentem tenuat terram renouantis aratri,
   hoc rigidos silices, hoc adamanta terit;
   hoc etiam saeuas paulatim mitigat iras,
   hoc minuit luctus maestaque corda leuat.
   cuncta potest igitur tacito pede lapsa uetustas
   praeterquam curas attenuare meas.

   (4.6.13-18) (5)

[Time thins the ploughshare's edge as it renews good farmland, wears down the hardest flint or adamant, little by little lessens even the fiercest anger, reduces grief, relieves the sorrowing heart. So the silent passage of time can diminish by its onset everything save my cares.] (6)

Both poets use a combination of flint and the hardest substance (for Ovid, adamant; for Spenser, steel) as a comparison to the one item that will not be worn down (for Ovid, his exile; for Spenser, his lady's heart). The other parallels that Brooks-Davies lists for this sonnet are not as close to sonnet 18 as the Tristia quotation. Looking at the lines Brooks-Davies notes from the Ars amatoria (1.471-77), one notices that here the poet uses the wearing away of an iron ring and a stone to describe a lady's eventual capitulation, while Rime 265 uses marble and stone for the same positive thought that the lady could eventually be won. The final parallel listed, sonnet 51 of Philippe Desportes's Les Amours D'Hippolyte, describes the lady's resistance as increased by the lover's tears, blood, sighs, and flame; instead of a picture of tears wearing holes in stone, the image is almost of sediment building up. (7) A closer parallel with Desportes's poem is Amoretti 32, in which Spenser equates the lady with iron that "harder growes the harder she is smit" (11). The similarities between sonnet 18 and the Tristia lines, then, appear to be more than just a parallel; rather, they are a borrowing by Spenser both of Ovid's words and his attitude.

Just as Spenser editors generally neglect the Tristia, so do his critics. Instead, criticism has focused on Ovid's better-known Metamorphoses as one of Spenser's major models for The Faerie Queene. Michael Holahan compares the Metamorphoses to the Mutabilitie Cantos, finding that Spenser replaces Ovid's conception of a poetic view of eternity with a spiritual one. (8) Similarly, Angus Fletcher relies on the Metamorphoses to identify an "Ovidian matrix" in The Faerie Queene that consists of Ovidian typology, metamorphosis, and parody. (9) Douglas Bush, who also draws mainly on the Metamorphoses, outlines an Ovidian pattern to Spenser's invented myths, certain rhetorical patterns, and imagery. (10) William Nelson examines how Spenser used the Metamorphoses and, to a lesser extent, the Ars amatoria as models for his work, while Donald Cheney looks at the dramatic irony that Spenser adapts from the Metamorphoses and the Heroides. (11) Paul J. Alpers sees Spenser both deriving authority from Ovid's myths and rivaling him. (12) More recently, Theresa M. Krier details extensively how Spenser adapted certain Ovidian models of virginity, vulnerability, and violation from the Metamorphoses. (13)

The above criticism focuses on such ideas as Ovidian eroticism, metamorphosis, and rape, but not on the ideas of Ovidian marriage and mutuality that occur in the exile poetry. The theme of exile, furthermore, appears in Colin Clouts Come Home Again (published 1595 but written earlier) directly linked to Ovid's Tristia. W. L. Renwick notes that Colin's description of the ocean strongly echoes Ovid's voyage from Rome: (14)
   A world of waters heaped up on hie,
   Rolling like mountaines in wide wildernesse,
   Horrible, hideous, roaring with hoarse crie,
   And nought but sea and heaven to us appeare.
   (197-99; 227) (15)

   me miserum, quanti montes uoluuntur aquarum!
   iam iam tacturos sidera summa putes ...
   quodcumque aspicio, nihil est, nisi pontus et aer.
   (1.2.19-20; 23)

[Ah misery! what great mountains of heaving water--up, up, about (you'd think) to touch the summit stars.... Look where I may, there's only sky and water.]

Sam Meyer suggests that "the knowing sixteenth-century reader, bred on the classics," would have recognized this evocation of Ovid, and Richard A. McCabe carries this argument a step further by highlighting how evoking the Tristia in this context allows Spenser to hint at his ambivalent emotions. (16) To use the Tristia again in the Amoretti, therefore, is not only timely in an historical sense, but also permits Spenser to comment further on how his writing and his position (or lack of position) at court affect his life. Spenser's ultimate goal in using Ovidian exile imagery and attitudes towards marriage is to surpass the achievements of all previous poets--especially Petrarch and Ovid--by depicting both a successful courtship and the hope of a successful courtiership. (17)

Since Petrarch uses Ovidian imagery in his Rime sparse, it would be tempting to attribute the parallels between the Amoretti and the Tristia simply to Spenser's reading of Petrarch. One problem with such a conclusion is that, although Petrarch uses both the Metamorphoses and the Tristia as source material, the Amoretti contains images from the Tristia that Petrarch did not use in the Rime sparse, as I will demonstrate later. (18) Another serious problem with limiting Spenser's source to Petrarch arises from the fact that Petrarch's poems do not contain positive images of a mutual love between the poet-lover and his lady: while Petrarch's deer goes to heaven untouched (Rime 190), Spenser's deer yields to him willingly (Amoretti 67). With the reversal of the deer scene in the Amoretti, Spenser makes official the break with Petrarch that he has been building up to throughout the sequence. Petrarch's love and suffering lead him to a higher spiritual love (Rime 364, 365, 366); Spenser's love and suffering lead him to an earthly form of spiritual love (Amoretti 68). After her capitulation, Spenser's praise poetry to his lady resembles the poetry of mutual love between Ovid and his wife in the Tristia.

Both Spenser's Amoretti and Ovid's Tristia refocus poetic attention onto the wife, or betrothed, which deserves notice for being an uncommon event in Western poetry. Certain general themes in the Tristia would have appealed to Spenser, especially Ovid's depiction of what he calls "married love" [socialis amor] (5.14.28). In the Tristia, written as a response to his exile by the Emperor Augustus, Ovid mixes complaints about the reason for his exile with praise of Augustus. One of the poem's most striking elements, however, is Ovid's insertion of elegiac praise of his present wife into the poetic matrix. He mentions her for the first time early in Book 1, during his description of a horrible storm that his ship encounters when it leaves Rome; after telling us he is happy that his loyal wife does not know about the present danger he is in, he says:
   o bene, quod non sum mecum conscendere passus,
   nunc mihi mors misero bis patienda foret!
   at nunc, ut peream, quoniam caret ilia periclo,
   dimidia certe parte superstes ero.

[What good luck that I didn't allow her to board ship with me--that would have meant (poor me!) enduring a double death. As it is, though I perish, her freedom from danger guarantees my demi-survival.]

This is not the tone of the Amores, and Ovid's praises of his wife throughout the Tristia are as much a glorification of the married state as they are of her. As Betty Rose Nagle observes, this elder Ovid accommodates many of the characteristics of an elegiac mistress to his wife, referring to her "as domina [lady], the elegiac term of address derived originally from the concept of servitium amoris [servant of love]." (19) Furthermore, Nagle notes that writing to or about one's own wife is an elegiac novelty, and that Ovid's goal in these poems is to compare "the dolores exilii [sorrows of exile], for his wife as well as for himself, to the dolores amoris [sorrows of love], with the anguish of separation as the common denominator" (43-44). This "elegiac novelty" deserves attention because it anticipates that novelty of Spenser's sonnet sequence, the Amoretti.

The historical similarities between the elder Ovid and the aging Spenser deserve closer attention, as well. While composing the Amoretti, Spenser was living in Ireland, considered by many of the English as a type of exile. (20) In sonnet 52, the poet-lover describes the pain of even temporary separation from his beloved in terms of the pain of exile:
   So doe I now my selfe a prisoner yeeld,
   to sorrow and to solitary paine:
   from presence of my dearest deare exylde,
   longwhile alone in languor to remaine.
   (52.5-8; emphasis added)

The idea of exile is not the same for both authors, of course, but both do establish a link between the sorrows of love and the sorrows of exile. From a historical standpoint, Spenser and Ovid also share an intense desire to gain the favor of their respective rulers, from whom they are not only geographically but also politically distanced: Ovid by his earlier anti-Augustan poetry and Spenser by his support of Lord Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh. (21) Both Spenser and Ovid, furthermore, were well-known poets who married significantly younger women. Of course, Spenser accomplished what Ovid ultimately could not--a (re)union with his lady--but the Tristia was not written by a man who had no hope of seeing his wife again. Ovid points out many times that he was "relegated" by Augustus (for example: 1.7.8; 2.137; 5.11.21), which was a less severe punishment than exile, although he often uses the more poetic term "exile" (for example: 1.2.74; 1.5.66; 4.1.3). In a similar way, Ireland is not Tomis, but the poetic nature of the comparison functions for Spenser as well.

Beyond all of these comparisons, the Tristia resonates in the Amoretti in two very important ways--both of which I will demonstrate with examples from the texts. On the one hand, Spenser's depiction of his lady after her capitulation takes its cue from Ovid's poems about his virtuous wife, rather than Petrarch's depiction of Laura. On the other hand, the entire sequence should be "subread" as Spenser's clever imitation of Ovid's Tristia as a whole. Ironically, it is from the writings of Petrarch that Spenser would have discovered the idea of subreading in the first place. Thomas M. Greene, in The Light in Troy, identifies Petrarch as the first to write verse that is meant to be subread: "verse bearing within it the latent presence of an ancient author." The source of this idea is a letter by Petrarch to Boccaccio on the use of Virgilian verse, in which Petrarch states:

Curandum imitatori, ut quod scribit simile non idem sit, eamque similitudinem talem esse oportere ... et idipsum simile lateat, nec deprehendi possit, nisi tacita mentis indagine, ut intelligi simile queat potius quam dici. Utendum igitur ingenio alieno, utendumque coloribus, abstinendum verbis. Illa enim similitudo latet, haec eminet. Illa poetas facit, haec simias. (Fam. 23.19)

[A proper imitator should take care that what he writes resemble the original without reproducing it ... and the similarity should be planted so deep that it can only be extricated by quiet meditation. The quality is to be felt rather than defined. Thus we may use another man's conceptions and the color of his style, but not his words. In the first case the resemblance is hidden deep; in the second it is glaring. The first procedure makes poets, the second makes apes.] (22)

There are so many echoes of the Tristia in the Amoretti that, as I will demonstrate, Ovid's work serves as a subtext for Spenser's sonnet sequence. In effect, by following the advice of Petrarch on how to imitate correctly, Spenser surpasses Petrarch at his own game by writing a Petrarchan sonnet sequence (a glaring imitation) that is actually a deep imitation of another work entirely.

The first group of textual examples demonstrate that Ovid's poems to his wife are much more appropriate to Spenser's end than Petrarch's poems. Although Spenser clearly used the Petrarchan-style of sonnets as his starting point, many critics, including Klein, Joseph Loewenstein, and Reed Way Dasenbrock, have recorded Spenser's revision of Petrarchism. (23)

In a plot element not found in the Rime sparse, Spenser shares with Ovid a description of the damaging effects of gossip on the lady's feelings, and in both cases the gossip takes place during a separation from the lady. In sonnet 86, Spenser rails at the "venemous toung" that told "false forged lyes" (1; 7) that upset his lady, while Ovid laments that "by way of insult" (per iurgia) someone used a "lying name" (nomine mendaci) to upset his wife (5.11.1; 30). First of all, a relationship exists to gossip about, unlike in the Rime. Even more importantly, the same dynamic of love/exile discussed earlier governs this borrowing: Spenser takes Ovid's complaint about a situation caused by his relegation (an unnamed person called her "the wife of an exile" [exulis uxorem] 5.11.2) and adapts it into a complaint about false rumors about his relationship with his lady.

The virtue of the respective ladies plays a role in the poetry, as well, since a husband values virtue more than a would-be lover. Spenser's earlier sonnets lament the lady's refusals, as Petrarch's poems do, but Spenser eventually expresses his pleasure at the lady's proper behavior. In Rime 262, which begins with a dialogue between a woman (probably Laura) and her mother, the daughter announces that "there never were, mother, things lovely or dear without virtue" (3-4). (24) Petrarch leaves this comment to the daughter and returns to his praise of Laura's beauty. Conversely, Spenser tells his lady in sonnet 79 that, while others praise her beauty, "the trew fayre, that is the gentle wit / and vertuous mind, is much more praysed of me" (3-4). When Ovid praises his wife, he speaks of her virtue as her most important trait, asking her to "let thy virtue build a structure clear to see" [conspicuum uirtus hic tua ponat opus] (5.14.24). Obviously, the husband has a greater personal stake in the lady's virtue.

The future enjoyment of physical love also influences their depictions of the role of chastity. Chastity can mean abstention from either unlawful sexual intercourse or all sexual activity. Spenser, of course, was interested in the poetic depiction of chastity. (25) The Amoretti can be seen as a detailed development of some of the ideas in the Book of Chastity, rather than as a complete digression from Spenser's work on his epic (as sonnets 33 and 80 claim). Spenser formulates the idea of chaste married love as a combination of a physical relationship and proper behavior: they will love "lyke as we ought" (sonnet 68) within the sanctity of marriage, and the sonnets near the end of the sequence look forward to that union.

Petrarch gives an example of chastity in the sense of lawful sexual behavior in his reference to Lucretia, "the lovely Roman who with steel opened her chaste and angry breast" (Rime 260): raped by Tarquinius, Lucretia nonetheless remains "chaste" in Petrarch's eyes. With Laura, however, Petrarch complicates his depiction of chastity, since no reference exists of her historical marriage within the fiction of the Rime sparse. The repeated descriptions of her chastity seem to refer to a lack of sexual activity, which culminate in Rime 190 with the image of the untouchable doe. In Rime 263, Petrarch tells us that the lady is only concerned about her honor, and she does not fear "the snares or nets of Love" (263.7), which again leaves us with the idea that her kind of chastity is complete sexual abstinence.

The same dynamic of lawful sexual activity found in the Amoretti also exists in the Tristia. In Book 5, Ovid celebrates his wife's birthday feast:
   edidit haec mores illis heroibus aequos,
   quis erat Eurition Icariusque pater.
   nata pudicitia est secum probitasque, fidesque.

[(This is) a day that brought forth a character to match such heroines as Penelope or Andromache, a day on which uprightness, chastity, faithfulness were engendered.]

Ovid's Latin word for "chastity" is pudicitia, which also encompasses the idea of modest and virtuous behavior and of avoiding shame. This is chastity not simply in the sense of virginity, but rather of the kind of proper behavior exemplified by virtuous wives such as Andromache, Penelope, and Ovid's own wife.

During their various separations from their respective ladies, all three poets try to recapture the image of the beloved. In sonnet 78, Spenser visits places that might remind him of "her face / whose ymage yet I carry fresh in mynd" (3-4), but, not finding her likeness in these places, he concludes, "cease then myne eyes, to seeke her selfe to see / and let my thoughts behold her selfe in mee" (13-14). Ovid expresses the same ideas in Book 3, letter 4, when he says that his country and his "beloved wife" [carissima coniunx] are far away, so that he "can't make physical contact with them, must imagine their presence, see them all in my mind's eye" [sic tamen haec absunt, ut, quae contingere non est / corpore, sunt animo cuncta uidenda meo] (53; 55-56); he goes on to say that "my wife's image [is] visible, real, as though she were present" [coniugis ante oculos, sicut praesentis, imago] (59). In both of the above instances, the present locations of the poets are not sufficient for their longing, and they must look inside of themselves for the image of their lady.

In Petrarch's poems, however, the poet sees Laura wherever he looks--even in places that she has never been--and he finds a measure of happiness in being alone and thinking about her, since she continues to reject him in person:
   Di pensier in pensier, di monte in monte
   mi guida Amor, ch'ogni segnato calle
   provo contrario a la tranquilla vita.

   Se `n solitaria piaggia rivo o fonte,
   se `nfra duo poggi siede ombrosa valle,
   ivi s'acqueta l'alma sbigottita....

   Ove porge ombra un pino alto od un colle
   talor m'arresto, et pur nel primo sasso
   disegno co la mente il suo bel viso.
   (Rime 129.1-6, 27-29)

[From thought to thought, from mountain to mountain Love guides me; for I find every trodden path to be contrary to a tranquil life. If there is on some solitary slope a river or spring, or between two peaks a shady valley, there my frightened soul is quieted.... Where a tall pine or a hillside extends shade, there I sometimes stop, and in the first stone I see I portray her lovely face with my mind. (264)]

One finds the same contentment with solitude in Rime 176 and 177; solitude, however, is clearly unacceptable to Spenser and Ovid. Even Ovid's and Spenser's unhappiness seems to imply a close connection to the lady: a connection that simply does not exist in Petrarch's poetry.

Unlike Petrarch, Spenser's spiritual union with his lady does not require her death; just as Spenser finds a subject for praise in a living woman, so does Ovid in the person of his wife. After praising Laodamia, a woman who is famous for following her husband to death, Ovid is quick to clarify how his wife should behave in order to be immortalized by him:
   nil opus est morte pro me, sed amore fideque:
   non ex difficili lama petenda tibi est.

[I don't need your death, only your devotion, your love; you aren't required to seek renown the hard way.]

Conversely, Petrarch's union with Laura could only come about through his thoughts, her death, and his final renunciation of worldly love.

Finally, Spenser and Ovid express a greater certainty about their relationships, in similar ways, than Petrarch does. For instance, in sonnet 69, Spenser writes:
   The famous warriors of the anticke world,
   Used Trophees to erect in stately wize:
   in which they would the records have enrold,
   of theyr great deeds and valarous emprize.

   What trophee than shall I most fit devize,
   in which I may record the memory
   of my loves conquest, peerelesse beauties prise,
   adorn'd with honour, love, and chastity?

   Even this verse vowd to eternity,
   shall be thereof immortall moniment:
   and tell her prayse to all posterity,
   that may admire such worlds rare wonderment,

   The happy purchase of my glorious spoile,
   gotten at last with labour and long toyle.

Compare these lines to Ovid's in Book 5 of the Tristia:
   Quanta tibi dederim nostris monumenta libellis,
   omihi me coniunx carior, ipsa uides.
   detrahat auctori multum fortuna licebit,
   tu tamen ingenio clara ferere meo.

[How great a monument I've built you in my writings, wife dearer to me than myself, you yourself can see. Though Fortune strip much from their author, yet my talent shall make you illustrious.]

Both poets use their writings as monuments/memorials for the lady, while mentioning their own hard work. (26) Ovid never suffers from undue modesty where his talent is concerned, but Spenser portrays himself as equally sure of his ability to preserve his lady's memory in verse. Even when he is struck dumb by his lady's beauty in sonnet 3, Spenser claims that "in my hart I then both speake and write / the wonder that my wit cannot endite" (13-14).

Petrarch goes in the opposite direction by repeatedly claiming that his poems fall short. In Rime 247, he says that: "I am afraid that she is offended by my too humble words, since she is worthy of much higher and finer ones" (5-7). Similarly, in Rime 354, Petrarch expresses the impossibility of describing Laura. His hesitancy about his own abilities may be a poetic convention, but it equals his uncertainty about the possibility of Laura ever loving him, whereas Spenser and Ovid's fewer doubts about the lady's affections lead to an equally certain poetic style.

The histories of Spenser, Petrarch, and Ovid highlight key points about the way in which each poet describes the physical reality of the lady. Although we think that the historical Laura was married and had many children, Petrarch never mentions this in his poems. (27) That is not to say that the historical facts do not play a role in Spenser's understanding of Petrarch's poems, in the same way that these facts influence contemporary criticism of Petrarch. Petrarch, however, chooses to focus on Laura's denial of him without mentioning the most probable reasons for her rejection. Laura's death, furthermore, does not lessen Petrarch's obsession any more than her rejection of him did; the lady's consent is not required for the purposes of worshipping from afar. Spenser, on the contrary, seeks and receives the lady's consent both in literature and in life. When Spenser's poet-lover finds himself temporarily separated from his lady near the end of the sequence, he knows that his lady is still alive and will return to marry him. The physical separation is temporary, and the comfort of a future physical reunion remains.

Ovid's poetry differs from both of the previous examples for the obvious reason that he has already enjoyed the intimacy that Spenser and Petrarch want with their ladies. Ovid's enforced separation, however, leaves him in a position similar to Spenser's: waiting for a reunion with his lady. Ovid remains less likely to have that reunion than Spenser, but one would not know that from Ovid's optimism or, conversely, from the tone of the last three poems of the Amoretti. Spenser clearly wants the same kind of marital bliss that Ovid would have if he saw his wife again, and both poets have more reason to believe that they will enjoy that bliss than Petrarch ever had.

The certainty of a real relationship, therefore, plays a role in Spenser's sonnet sequence that cannot be found in Petrarch's Rime, but that could be adapted easily from Ovid's Tristia. These "parallels" between the Amoretti and the Tristia, which reflect the novelty of praising one's own lady/wife, are closer than has previously been seen.

In the second group of textual examples, the Tristia serves as the subtext for Spenser's relationship with his monarch and his general situation. Ovid announces both to his wife and to Augustus that his verses will make each of them immortal (for Augustus, 2.555-62), and Spenser does not neglect to mention in sonnet 74 that there are three Elizabeths in his life: his mother, his "wife," and his sovereign. The idea that Spenser is addressing these poems in part to his Queen has been suggested by Catherine Bates. (28) It seems possible, therefore, that Spenser's courtship poems bear some trace of Ovid's supplication to his emperor, which would strengthen Bates' claim by providing a source that addresses the poet's ruler. Furthermore, since Spenser's ruler is female, he can easily adapt these "echoes" from Ovid into the sonnets, while avoiding the danger inherent in the overt criticism of the ruler that many of his sonnets imply.

If we see some of the sonnets of the Amoretti as addressing Elizabeth the Queen, as well as Elizabeth Boyle, then the politics implied by Spenser's borrowings again follow the love/exile pattern already established: an exile situation in Ovid becomes an amorous one in Spenser. Ovid asks Caesar to end his exile, while Spenser asks "Elizabeth" to end her abstention from love. For Spenser, marriage takes center stage as the desirable goal in such works as the Amoretti and The Faerie Queene, so his demonstration of mutuality in love, starting in sonnet 67, could be seen as a way to instruct his monarch by providing a positive example.

Before examining specific instances of the Tristia functioning as a subtext, it is worth noting that the general contexts of the Tristia and the Amoretti establish a link between the two works, as well. Both sonnet 1 and Book 1 begin with their respective poets in pain and sorrow, looking for relief from their suffering by writing persuasive poetry: Spenser's verses are "written with teares" (9), while Ovid tells his book, "don't be embarassed by blots. Let anyone who sees them sense they were due to my tears" [neue liturarum pudeat; qui uiderit illas, / de lacrimis factas sentiet esse meis] (13-14). Both works engage the reader in a kind of literary autobiography that supposedly depicts the poet as himself (regardless of the actual situations), and elements of erotic love are mixed with views on marriage and on service to the ruler. On a strictly historical note, both poets were living in lands that they considered to be barbarous. In Colin Clouts Come Home Again (1595), the description of Ireland is of a "barrein soyle / Where cold and penury do dwell" (656-57); Ovid devotes whole letters to complaints about the people and landscape of Tomis, calling it (among other things) a "land seared by crimping frost" [astricto terra perusta gelu] (3.4.48). Although the Amoretti itself does not address Spenser's view of the Irish, Shohachi Fukuda nonetheless pinpoints the subject of the Amoretti to be "the joy of getting a young wife to live with him in a remote countryside home in savage Ireland." (29) Additionally, the pain of separation ends both the Tristia and the Amoretti. Ovid must wait for Augustus's permission to return to home and wife; Spenser must wait for the return of his betrothed and for recognition from his ruler.

Spenser's "cruel fayre" poems echo Ovid's depictions of Augustus. Throughout the Tristia, Ovid fluctuates between asking Augustus to be less harsh to him (3.1.75) and praising Augustus as gentle (5.2.36). Ovid's prayers that Augustus will relent in his treatment of the poet are mixed with complaints about the lifestyle that his exile has forced him to lead--the same attitude of praise and censure that Spenser displays towards his lady throughout the sonnets. Ovid says that he has been exiled for his love poetry (2.207) and claims that Augustus may not have read the banned poetry:
   miror in hoc igitur tantarum pondere rerum
   umquam te nostros euoluisse iocos?
   at si (quod mallem) uacuus fortasse fuisses,
   nullum legisses crimen in Arte mea.

[No wonder if amid such weighty matters you never found time to read my frivolous works! Yet if (as I would wish) you'd chanced to find the leisure, your perusal of my Art would have revealed no indictable matter.]

In his sorrow at his banishment, Ovid admits to burning a copy of the Metamorphoses, but asks his readers not to make the same mistake:
   quae quoniam non sunt penitus sublata, sed extant--
   pluribus exemplis scripta fuisse reor--
   nunc precor ut uiuant et non ignaua legentem
   otia delectent admoneantque mei.

[Several copies, I think, were made: the poem was not destroyed outright, remains extant. And now it's my wish to preserve it, let it enhance my readers' far-from-idle leisure, remind them of me.]

This theme of the mistaken burning of poems is reiterated by Ovid in Book 4; in exile, his sorrow again drives his "maddened hand" [manus demens] to throw verses on the fire, but he begs the reader to view his poems with indulgence (4.1.101-104).

The mistaken burning of poems appears in sonnet 48, as Spenser laments that the lady has burned his love poems unread:
   Innocent paper whom too cruell hand
   Did make the matter to avenge her yre:
   and ere she could thy cause wel understand,
   did sacrifize unto the greedy fyre.

   Well worthy thou to have found better hyre,
   then so bad end for hereticks ordayned:
   yet heresy nor treason didst conspire,
   but plead thy maisters cause unjustly payned.

Spenser takes Ovid's various complaints and unites them in a single sonnet: the poetry is innocent, which she would have discovered if she had read the verses; the poetry does not derserve to be burned; and the poet has committed no crime--no "heresy nor treason"--by writing these verses. Significantly, this plot element does not appear in Petrarch's Rime sparse.

The power of the "cruel fayre" resembles that of the Emperor Augustus. Spenser uses words such as "Tyrannesse," "massacres," "captives," "mightie vengeance" (10.5-8), "cruell warriour," "battell" (11.3-4), "awfull majesty" (13.5), and "the Lyon that is Lord of power" (20.5) to describe the terrifying aspect of royal power. In Book 4, Ovid imagines how Rome might celebrate a victory over Germania; he describes battles, the killing of sacrificial victims, the slaughter of the opposing army, and the display of captives. When Spenser says "chose rather to be praysed for dooing good / then to be blam'd for spilling guiltlesse blood" (38.13-14), he recalls Ovid's many pleas for clemency, including the reminder to Augustus that often "you've granted a beaten foe ... clemency" [tu veniam parto superato saepe dedisti], whereas Ovid's "cause is better: no one can claim that I ever took up arms against you" [causa mea est melior, quia non contraria dicor / arma nec hostiles esse secutus opes] (2.43; 51-52). In fact, Ovid insists that "my books--even those that form the charge against me" [libros, illos quoque, crimina nostra] (2.61), are actually full of the Emperor's praises, if he would examine them, and ends his letter by pointing out that "no Roman, I'd guess, rejoices at my misfortunes: many, indeed, have grieved" [non igitur nostris ullum gaudere Quiritem / auguror, at multos indoluisse malis] (2.569-70).

There are elements of courtship / courtiership in Ovid's claims that his grief comes partly from being separated from Augustus, since "your deeds should have attracted my talents as the sun's radiance attracts the eye" [utque trahunt oculos radiantia lumina solis, / traxissent animum sic tua facta meum] (2.325-26); similarly, in sonnet 34, Spenser says that "I whose star, that wont with her bright ray / me to direct, with cloudes is overcast / doe wander now in darknesse and dismay" (5-7). The combination of sonnets 33 and 34, furthermore, invoke the presence of Queen Elizabeth and the Tristia at the same time. In sonnet 33, Spenser admits that he has done "great wrong" to the "Empresse" by writing love poetry rather than finishing his epic, The Faerie Queene, while Ovid admits in the Tristia that he has wronged the Emperor by writing the Ars amatoria and apologizes for not being able to put the finishing touches on his epic, the Metamorphoses. In sonnet 34, the first image is of a ship on "the Ocean wyde" (1) that has lost its way, and Spenser hopes that "when this storme is past / My Helice the lodestar of my lyfe / Will shine again, and looke on me at last" (9-11). Not only is the name Helice / Helicon tied to Queen Elizabeth (see, for instance, Colin's song to Eliza in The Shepheardes Calender, April, line 42), but also the setting of Book 1 of the Tristia is the storm-tossed ship carrying Ovid away from Rome.

Sonnet 46 contains even more specific examples of storm imagery that link it with Book 1 of the Tristia:
   When my abodes prefixed time is spent,
   My cruell fayre streight bids me wend my way:
   but then from Heaven most hideous stormes are sent
   as willing me against her will to stay.

   Whom then shall I or heaven or her obay?
   the heavens know best what is the best for me:
   but as she will, whose will my life doth sway,
   my lower heaven, so it perforce must bee.

   But ye high hevens, that all this sorowe see,
   sith all your tempests cannot hold me backe:
   aswage your stormes, or else both you and she,
   will both together me too sorely wrack.

   Enough it is for one man to sustaine
   the stormes, which she alone on me doth raine.

During the storm at sea, Ovid shouts at the winds that are blowing the ship back toward Rome:
   ferte--quid hic facio?--rapidi mea corpora uenti!
   Ausonios fines cur mea uela uident?
   noluit hoc Caesar. quid, quem fugat ille, tenetis?

[Blow, winds! Belly my canvas! Here I have no business--why do my sails strive back towards Italy's shore? Such was not Caesar's purpose: why hold back one who's banished?]

Like the poet-lover of the Amoretti, Ovid notes that the wrath of Augustus is more than enough to destroy him without the help of the storm:
   mittere me Stygias si iam uoluisset ad undas
   Caesar, in hoc uestra non eguisset ope.

[If Caesar had wished me across the Stygian lake, he could have dispatched me without your aid.]

Ovid then states that he has not actually committed any crime, and asks the gods to spare him because of his innocence--noting that the waters become calmer (107-10). The implication is, of course, that Augustus's will and the will of the gods above are at odds. Augustus, however, is Ovid's `lower heaven" in this case, and therefore must be obeyed.

A final comparison (for the purposes of this study, at least) brings us full circle to the poetic evaluation of love and exile: this time equating the poet's fear of the lady with fear of Augustus. In sonnet 2, Spenser tells his "unquiet thought" to
   Breake forth at length out of the inner part,
   in which thou lurkest lyke to vipers brood:
   and seeke some succour both to ease my smart
   and also to sustayne thy selfe with food.

   But if in presence of that fayrest proud
   thou chance to come, fall lowly at her feet:
   and with meeke humblesse and afflicted mood,
   pardon for thee, and grace for me intreat.

   Which if she graunt, then live and my love cherish,
   if not, die soone, and I with thee will perish.

These lines echo yet again Book 1 of the Tristia. In the very first letter, the poet addresses his own book, which he sends to Rome to see the things that he cannot:
   ade, liber, uerbisque meis loca grata saluta:
   contingam certe quo libet ilia pede.

[Go, book, and bring to the places I loved my greeting--let me reach them with what `feet' I may!]

Although Ovid says that he fears the home of Augustus (69-72), he hopes that his book will approach the place on a good day and lighten the miseries of its master by receiving pardon--as long as the book does not add to the Emperor's anger:
   si poteris tradi uacuo, si cuncta uidebis
   mitia, si uires fregerit ira suas,
   siquis erit, quite dubitantem et adire timentem
   tradat, et ante tamen pauca loquatur, adi.
   luce bona dominoque tuo felicior ipso
   peruenias illuc et mala nostra leues.

[Catch him when he's at leisure, when his mood's all mellow, when his temper has lost its edge; find someone to murmur a few words of introduction and present you (hesitant still, still scared to approach him): then make your bid. On a good morning and with better luck than your master's, you might just get in there and ease my suffering.]

Just as Ovid pleads with his exile poetry to obtain pardon and grace from Augustus, Spenser pleads with his unquiet thought (his passion for Elizabeth) to obtain pardon and grace from his lady.

From the above examples, the influence of the Tristia on the Amoretti clearly shows itself in the equation between lover and ruler, as well as between love and exile. Spenser's use of Ovidian images of exile, marriage, and unappreciated service to the ruler invites far more than a simple recognition of the underlying text by the astute readers of his time. Spenser imitates Ovid not only because the subject matter of the Tristia fits his poetic needs perfectly, but also because the autobiographical elements of the Tristia and the Rime sparse allow Spenser to compete historically, as well as poetically, with Ovid and Petrarch. The disparity among the texts creates a tension that reveals more possible problems than solutions: although Spenser sets himself up for a reunion with his lady, thereby beating both Petrarch and Ovid, the relationship with the ruler remains uncertain. Spenser obviously hopes for equal success in his courtiership, but the echoes of the Tristia weigh heavily here, since, like Ovid, Spenser does not yet know what his ruler's response will be--and Ovid was never recalled home. By using the Tristia as a subtext for the Amoretti, Spenser displays both his hopes and his fears for the future.

Previously, Ovid's influence on Spenser was assumed to have been mostly limited to the Metamorphoses, or to have traveled a circuitous route through such authors as Petrarch, whereas this study seeks to understand how a direct link between Spenser and Ovid changes our perception of the New Poet's work. The Tristia offers us a subtext for the view of marriage and the relationship to the ruler in the Amoretti that goes far beyond simple imitation of words and phrases; instead, the echoes allow Spenser to comment indirectly on his present situation. Spenser's competition with Ovid, furthermore, results in an autobiographical attempt at mastery, while the same competition with Petrarch reveals as many poetic as autobiographical differences between the poets. Rather than seeing an increasingly positive view of women in an unbroken line from Ovid through Petrarch, culminating in Spenser, the textual evidence suggests that Spenser had to step over Petrarch, in effect, to get back to the closest representation in Western literature of his attitudes towards marriage. In addition, the poetic echoes of Ovid's troubled relationship with his ruler indicate that the New Poet--even in his own personal love poetry--never forgets that politics make the world go around, as well.


(1) Brooks Otis, Ovid as an Epic Poet (Cambridge U. Press, 1966), 277.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Patrick Cheney for his advice and editorial assistance on an earlier version of this paper.

(2) L. P. Wilkinson, Ovid Recalled (Cambridge U. Press, 1955), 289.

(3) Editions of Spenser's poetry that have missed the connection between the Tristia and the Amoretti entirely include The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, ed. William A. Oram, et al. (Yale U. Press, 1989); Edmund Spenser's Poetry, ed. Hugh MacLean and Anne Lake Prescott (New York: Norton, 1993); and Daphnaida and Other Poems, ed. W. L. Renwick (London: The Scholartis Press, 1929). The Variorum edition of the Amoretti (ed. C. G. Osgood and H. G. Lotspeich, Book 8, Part 2 [The Johns Hopkins Press, 1947]) lists two parallels with the Tristia: sonnet 18; and a similarity between lines 5-8 of sonnet 20 and Tristia 3.5.33, along with similar lines from Statius and Claudian. In both cases, the notes list Ovid's Tristia as the ultimate source for the lines, but not necessarily the direct source.

(4) All references to the Amoretti are from Oram, et al.

(5) All references to the Tristia have been taken from a copy of a 1499 printed edition, published in Venice and with commentary by Bartholomew Merula. I have used modern spelling, punctuation, and capitalization throughout. Spenser was likely to have used a Latin edition published either in Italy or France, since there was no complete copy of the Tristia in either Latin or English in England before the Amoretti were published in 1595. The editions that would have been available do not vary much (for the list of editions, see John Barrie Hall, ed., P. Ovidi Nasonis: Tristia [Stuttgart: Teubner, 1995], xxiii), and the 1499 text is very similar to the 1995 Teubner edition (for the variations and emmendations, see the relevent passages in the Teubner edition).

(6) All English translations of the Tristia are from The Poems of Exile, trans. Peter Green (New York: Penguin, 1994).

(7) Philippe Desportes, Les Amours D'Hippolyte, ed. Victor E. Graham (Paris: Librairie Minard, 1960). After describing the effect of such things as dripping water on marble and lion blood on diamonds, the lover complains:
   Mais moy, maudit Amour, nuict et jour soupirant,
   Et des mes yeux meutris tant de larmes tirant,
   Tant de sang de ma playe, et de feux de mon ame,

   Je ne puis amollir une dure beaute,
   Qui las! tout au contraire accroist sa cruaute,
   Par mes pleurs, par mon sang, mes soupirs et ma flame.

(8) Michael Holahan, "Iamque opus exegi: Ovid's Changes and Spenser's Brief Epic of Mutability," ELR 6 (1976): 244-70.

(9) Angus Fletcher, The Prophetic Moment (U of Chicago P, 1971), 90-106.

(10) Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (New York: Norton, 1963), esp. 102-5.

(11) William Nelson, The Poetry of Edmund Spenser (Columbia U. Press, 1963), esp. 296-302; Donald Cheney, Spenser's Image of Nature: Wild Man and Shepherd in "The Faerie Queene" (Yale u. Press, 1966), esp. 239-47.

(12) Paul J. Alpers, The Poetry of the Faerie Queene (Princeton U. Press, 1967), esp. 329-31.

(13) Theresa M. Krier, Gazing on Secret Sights: Spenser, Classical Imitation, and the Decorum of Vision (Cornell U. Press, 1990), esp. 118-47.

(14) See Renwick, 185.

(15) See Oram, 534-35.

(16) Sam Meyer, An Interpretation of Edmund Spenser's `Colin Clout' (U. of Notre Dame Press, 1969), 65; Richard A. McCabe, "Edmund Spenser, Poet of Exile," Proceedings of the British Academy, 1991 Lectures and Memoirs (Oxford U. Press, 1993), 90.

(17) Critical opinions on Spenser's goal in the Amoretti are diverse. See in particular: Janet H. MacArthur, Critical Contexts of Sidney's "Astrophil and Stella" and Spenser's "Amoretti, "ELS Monograph Series No. 46 (U. of Victoria: English Literary Studies, 1989); Lisa M. Klein, "'Let us love, dear, lyke as we ought': Protestant Marriage and the Revision of Petrarchan Loving in Spenser's Amoretti," Spenser Studies 1 (1980): esp. 128-29; William C. Johnson, Spenser's Amoretti: Analogies of Love (Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1990); Donna Gibbs, Spenser's Amoretti: A Critical Study (Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1990); and the list of previous criticism in Patrick Cheney's Spenser's Famous Flight: A Renaissance Idea of a Literary Career (U. of Toronto Press, 1993), 150.

(18) Research on Petrarch's sources tends also to focus on the Metamorphoses, with little attention paid to the Tristia. See especially Kathleen Anne Perry, Another Reality: Metamorphosis and the Imagination in the Poetry of Ovid, Petrarch, and Ronsard (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), 79-132; and Christopher Martin, Policy in Love: Lyric and Public in Ovid, Petrarch and Shakespeare (Duquesne U. Press, 1994), 70-96.

(19) Betty Rose Nagle, The Poetics of Exile: Program and Polemic in the "Tristia" and "Epistulae ex Ponto" of ovid (Brussels: Revue d'etudes Latines, 1980), 43.

(20) In fact, one biography of Spenser describes the years 1582-90 as "Exile Self-Imposed," with Spenser deciding to remain in Ireland after Lord Grey's departure. See Alexander C. Judson, The Life of Edmund Spenser (The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1945), 110. On the subject of exile and Spenser, Richard A. McCabe says that Spenser, who "enjoys the patronage of no Augustus," is closer to the exiled Ovid than to Virgil (MacCabe 79), while Michael Holahan notes that Spenser's "service in Ireland may have forged a bond of sympathy with the exiled Ovid" (in The Spenser Encyclopedia, ed. A. C. Hamilton, et al. [U. of Toronto Press, 1990], 520), and John Breen sees Spenser's exile in Ireland as "both voluntary and enforced" ("The Faerie Queene, Book I and the Theme of Protestant Exile," Irish University Review 26 [1996]: 236).

(21) Ovid claims that his relegation comes about through carmen et error (his poem and a mistake; 2.207); Spenser published Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (although it was written earlier), which is dedicated to Raleigh, the same year as the Amoretti; Willy Maley argues that Arthur's dream in The Faerie Queene is a criticism of Gloriana/Queen Elizabeth for not supporting Lord Grey and not recognizing the value of colonial activity (Salvaging Spenser: Colonialim, Culture and Identity [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997] 117).

(22) Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy (Yale U. Press, 1982), 95-96.

(23) Klein 109-37;Joseph Loewenstein, "A Note on the Structure of Spenser's Amoretti: Viper Thoughts," Spenser Studies 8 (1987): 311-23; Reed Way Dasenbrock, Imitating the Italians: Wyatt, Spenser, Synge, Pound, Joyce (The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1991), 32-51.

(24) All references to the R/me sparse come from Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime sparse and Other Lyrics, ed. and trans. Robert M. Durling (Cambridge U. Press, 1976).

(25) Loewenstein notes: "The Faerie Queene had been left hanging ... at the end of Book III when, in 1595, Spenser published his wedding volume, the Amoretti and Epithalamion. We can hardly be surprised that the 1595 volume opens with the concerns that conclude the third book of the epic" (311). Loewenstein goes on to compare the eroticism of the first four lines of Am. 1, which express themselves in terms of imprisonment or bondage, with the imprisonment of Amoret.

(26) In The Shepheardes Calender, Spenser already had conected the idea of poetic immortality directly to Ovid in E. K.'s gloss on the December emblem: "The meaning wherof is that all things perish and come to theyr last end, but workes of learned wits and monuments of Poetry abide for ever.... Therefore let not be envied, that this Poete in his Epilogue sayeth he hath made a Calendar, that shall endure as long as time etc., folowing the ensample of Orace and Ovid in the like."

(27) See the introduction by Durling, 4-7.

(28) Catherine Bates, "The Politics of Spenser's Amoretti," Criticism 33 (1991): 74. Bates observes that "Spenser ... makes the single name `Elizabeth' a site for polyvalency, a tangled web of identities, and an icon of the powers to which he was subjected both in the private and in the public spheres of his life." See also her book, The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (Cambridge U. Press, 1992), especially 136-51. For a different view of Spenser's relationship with his monarch, see Louis A. Montrose, "Spenser's domestic domain: poetry, property, and the Early Modern subject," in Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, ed. Margreta de Grazia et al. (Cambridge U. Press, 1996), 83-130.

(29) Shohachi Fukuda, "The Numerological Patterning of Amoretti and Epithalamion," Spenser Studies 9 (1988): 46.
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Author:Getty, Laura J.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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