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Pagan names in The Faerie Queene, I.

Sansfoy, Sansloy, and Sansjoy are three 'Sarazin' or 'Paynim' brothers who assault Una and the Redcrosse Knight in Book I of The Faerie Queene. As their characters are in keeping with their names, little attempt has been made to explain the nomenclature or its possible antecedents in the representation of non-Christians. However, there is evidence to suggest that the pagan trio of Sansfoy, Sansfoy, and Sansjoy is a recognizable variant of a distinctive topos in contemporary French travel writing.

Although strings of nouns preceded by sans were common enough in French Renaissance literature, the foy-loy-joy sequence has no obvious precedent. But there was one context in which a foy-loy sequence was almost invariably used, and in which a third rhyming word was sometimes added. When describing pagans, especially the Brazilian Indians, French writers never tired of pointing out that they were sans foy, sans joy, and sans much else besides. In 1556, Jean Leon described the indigenous Brazilians as living 'sans loy, sans foy, et sans raison'.(1) A year later, Andre Thevet noted that the country was inhabited by 'gens merveilleusement estranges et sauvages: sans foy, sans loy, sans religion, sans civilite aucune'.(2) In the Apology for Raymond Sebond, Montaigne put it slightly differently: the Indians were a people 'sans lettres, sans loy, sans roy, sans relligion quelconque'.(3) The temptation to link roy with foy and loy in this context proved irresistible, and in Les Trois mondes Louis du Voisin wrote of the Brazilian Indians that 'ils n'ont aucune forme d'etat, ni roi, ni loi, aussi n'ont ils aucune foi'.(4) This sequence seems to have taken on a proverbial character, for some even supposed the lack of these three divine institutions to be reflected in the absence of the relevant letters from the Indians' language. According to G. P. Maffei's Historiarum Indicarum, 'Trium ex alphabeto elementorum F.L.R. nullus apud cam gentem est usus: minime absurda quorundam animadversione factum id esse divinitus; eo quod Fide, Lege, Rege, sicuti dictum est, careant'.(5) The theory is recorded in Latin, but was surely more often expressed in Spanish or French, where the words in question (fe, ley, rey, or foy, loy, roy) trip off the tongue more easily.(6)

Read in this context, the names of Spenser's trio certainly appear to reflect the contemporary definition of what was lacking in the primitive non-Christian world. In French sources, however, Islam could be excluded from such generalizations. Referring to West Africa, Leon noted 'les habitants n'ont aucune connaissance de quelque foi que ce soit, chretienne, judaique, ou mahometane; mais menent une vie brutale sans aucune loi'.(7) But to Spenser, South America and the Islamic regions of Africa seem to have appeared equally distant from civilization, and in Book III, he paired the two locations to indicate that Artegall might be found at the furthest reaches of the known world:

For though beyond the A frick Ismaell Or th'Indian Peru he were, she thought Him forth through infinite endeavour to have sought.(8)

Spenser's adoption of the French usage suggests that he applied it to the three 'Paynims' in order to emphasize their remoteness from Christian values rather than identify them specifically as 'Sarazins', but the substitution of joy for the more usual roy reveals that he had not altogether forgotten the brothers' racial origins. Joy was not merely the only possible alternative rhyme; there was also a particular reason why the name Sansjoy would have been thought uniquely applicable to a Saracen. From at least the seventh century, Christians had consistently maintained that the Saracens were descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham's concubine Hagar, and that the Ishmaelites had appropriated the name Saracen in an attempt to pass themselves off as descendants of Abraham and his wife Sarah and so avoid the stigma of illegitimacy.(9) According to Genesis, when Isaac, the legitimate son of Abraham and Sarah, was born, Sarah was overcome with what some translations termed laughter and others joy, and said (in the words of the Geneva Bible): 'God hath made me to rejoyce: all that heare wil rejoyce with me'.(10) Sarah later saw Ishmael mocking Isaac and persuaded Abraham to disinherit Ishmael and send the boy and his mother Hagar away into the desert.(11) The division between Isaac (whose name means 'he laughed') and Ishmael could therefore be viewed in terms of the distinction between the joy shared by the legitimate family and the joyless mockery of the illegitimate son. In the sixteenth-century English translation of Calvin's commentary on Genesis, the contrast was described as follows:

Isaac was an occasion of holie and lawfull laughter to his father and to others: whereupon the Lord gave unto him his name. Ismael turneth the blessing of God, wherof so great joy came, to a scorne. Therefore, as a wicked scoffer he is compared with his brother Isaac. They both (if I may so speake) are the sonnes of laughter, but in a far contrarie sense. Isaac brought laughter with him from his mothers wombe. . . . But Ismael with his wicked and grinning laughter, goeth about to abolishe that holie joy of faith.(12)

Since the Christian portrayal of Saracens involved denying their supposed descent from Sarah, naming a Saracen Sansjoy would have served to emphasize the idea that he, as a descendant of Ishmael, was one of those who failed to share in Sarah's joy.

MALCOLM BULL Wolfson College, Oxford

1 Jean Leon, Historiale description de l'Afrique (Lyon, 1556), I, 471, quoted in G. Atkinson, Les Nouveaux horizons de la Renaissance francaise (Paris, 1935), 144.

2 Andre Thevet, Les Singularites de la france antarctique (Paris, 1558; repr. Pans, 1982), fo. [51.sup.v].

3 Michel de Montaigne, Essais, ed. A. Thibaudet (Paris, 1950), 545.

4 Louis du Voisin de la Popeliniere, Les Trois mondes (Paris, 1582), III, 11, quoted in Atkinson, Nouveaux horizons, 98.

5 G. P. Maffei, Historiarum Indicarum (Florence, 1588), 34.

6 Maffei's observation soon found its way back into vernacular texts, e.g. Claude Duret, Thresor de l'histoire des langues de cest univers (Coligny, 1613), 945.

7 Leon, Historiale description, I, 330, quoted in Atkinson, Nouveaux horizons, 96.

8 Faerie Queene, III.iii.6. On the use of 'Ismaell' to denote the Saracens, see below.

9 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum sire originum, IX.ii.6 and 57. This became the standard Christian view subsequently repeated in biblical commentaries (e.g. Martin Luther, In primum librum Mose enarrationes, I, fo. [166.sup.r] (Wittenberg, 1554)) and encyclopaedic works alike (e.g. Duret, Thresor, 440.) Spenser's reference to 'Africk Ismaell' shows that he too took the Ishmaelite origin of the Saracens for granted.

10 Genesis 21:6.

11 Genesis 21:9 10.

12 A Commentarie of John Calvine, upon the first booke of Moses called Genesis, tr. Thomas Tymme (London, 1578), 455-6. The translation of the biblical text follows the Geneva Bible.
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Title Annotation:Sansfoy, Sansloy and Sansjoy
Author:Bull, Malcolm
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:1149
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