"Thy temperance invincible": Humanism in Book II of The Faerie Queene and Paradise Regained
Sung-Kyun Yim
Sookmyung Women's University

Yim, Sung-Kyun. "Thy temperance invincible": Humanism in Book II of The Faerie Queene and Paradise Regained." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 7.1-29 <URL:

  1. When John Dryden declares Milton "the Poetical Son of Spenser" and explains,

    We have our Lineal Descents and Clans, as well as other Families: Spencer more than once insinuates, that the Soul of Chaucer was transfus'd into his Body; and that he was begotten by him Two hundred years after his Decease. Milton has acknowledg'd to me, that Spencer was his Original (1445)

    he probably refers to the use of language and poetical craftsmanship. However, when Milton in Areopagitica calls Spenser "our sage and serious poet," who is "a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas" (728), [1] what he sees in his predecessor is a Christian morality far superior to that of Medieval Scholasticism. Spenser and Milton share the same humanist educational backgrounds and the same Protestant ethical codes. Indeed, it is the humanist tradition and the Protestant morality that most significantly binds them together.

  2. How successfully, then, do they reconcile the two seemingly opposite values between humanism and Protestantism? How does the militant Protestantism affect the ways they present their works as ethically and aesthetically sound entities? This paper is an attempt to discuss the difficulties the two poets have to face and their struggles in harmonizing humanist assumptions and Protestant doctrines in Book II of The Faerie Queene and Paradise Regained. By examining, in particular, the temptations that Guyon and Jesus confront and how they react against them, we will get to an understanding that the two poets share the same conviction to educate the reader, either to "fashion a gentleman" or to present as an example "one man's firm obedience."

  3. Spenser's Knight of Temperance appears to reflect the poet's difficulty in striking a harmonious balance between the Protestant ideal and what is obviously classical. Perhaps, the difficulty lies in his attempt to present Protestant ethics and aesthetics in the pagan frame. The genre of the poem is not compatible with Protestantism; "the twelue priuate morall vertues, as Aristotle hath deuised" are conspicuously humanistic; and the poet's free use of Ovid and Virgil in different episodes of the work arguably often gets in the way of imparting his Christian message. [2] Spenser also has to find a way to manifest his Protestant moral vision through the hero whose ideal virtue is pagan. Maintaining the impossibility of obtaining ultimate virtue through the classical temperance in The Faerie Queene, Madelon S. Gohlke contends that Book II deals with the "conflict between fallen reality and a morality based on a conception of unfallen nature" rather than the virtue of temperance itself (124). Gohlke further argues that whereas Redcross in Book I enjoys the fruit of his accomplishment at the end, the knight of temperance has no relaxation or fulfillment in the end because he must keep struggling between love and war without any hope of reaching the resolution (133). If, however, temperance is indeed a limited virtue that is unable to lead its possessor to a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction, let alone salvation, what is the point of promoting the virtue within the Christian moral sphere? Furthermore, when we consider that all the virtues in The Faerie Queene, except for holiness in Book I, are presumably derived from Aristotle's Nichomachian Ethics, can we safely conclude that the poem intends to show the superiority of Christianity over the pagan virtues?

  4. Carol V. Kaske suggests what seems to be a reasonable answer to the question: "Book II affirms in a typical Christian-humanist fashion what Book I denies--how close the best of pagan culture came to Christianity. In so doing it accords with the syncretic nature of the virtue of Temperance" (143). Although the virtue of temperance is obviously humanistic, Spenser incorporates it into Calvinist morality, [3] so as to dramatize the relationship between humanist ideals and Protestantism, between nature and Grace, and perhaps between poetic aesthetics and religious truth. From the outset of Book II, Spenser makes it clear in the voice of Reason that it is God's Providence who will guide Guyon "well to end thy warke, / And to the wished hauen bring thy weary barke" (i 32). And Redcross, who has already won his seat of "a Saint with Saints," confesses that it is God who is responsible for his success (i 33). All Guyon has to do is "Must now anew begin, like race to runne" (i 32). He does not have to prove that he is worthy of Grace; his humanist virtue is irrelevant to the accomplishment of his own salvation after all.

  5. For Spenser, as well as for other Renaissance humanists, temperance is apparently an admirable virtue, one of the best that human beings may achieve, and Guyon's task is to maintain it to the end of his journey. Milton also sees the virtue of temperance as a crucial guide for life. In Paradise Lost, upon Adam's question of how to live in the fallen world, Michael's first answer is that temperance should be the guiding principle: [4]

    . . . well observe
    The rule of not too much, by temperance taught,
    In what thou eat'st and drink'st, seeking from thence
    Due nourishment, not gluttonous delight,
    Till many years over they head return. (XI 530-34)

    It is, therefore, difficult to view the virtue in Book II in dichotomy between the classical and the Christian. At least, the text never implies that the virtue of temperance is pagan and so must be replaced or superimposed by Christianity. This does not mean, of course, that the virtue Guyon represents is not classical. Rather, it means that in The Faerie Queene the humanist virtue of temperance, as well as other secular virtues, is an important educational discipline to fashion a true Christian gentleman. Any attempt to explain Guyon's adventures, including Mammon's cave and the knight's final destruction of Bower of Bliss, in terms of the opposition between the humanist virtue and that of Christian, or the inferiority of one to the other, is not satisfactory. [5] Guyon's task in the text is not to achieve ultimate salvation, but to subdue Acrasia, so as to destroy the embodiment of worldly temptations. As a Christian everyman, who has to live through the life of fallen man in this world, he has to practice his own virtue of temperance, within the control of Reason, in order to fight against different forms of temptation until he ends his life in this world. And then, whether he is ultimately saved or not is up to God's Providence.

  6. Interestingly enough, in the text, the knight of temperance takes on the task voluntarily. Spenser explains in his letter to Raleigh in 1589 that Guyon is given the assignment by the Faerie Queene:

    The second day ther came in a Palmer bearing an Infant with bloody hands, whose Parents he complianed to haue bene slayn by an Enchaunteresse called Acrasia: and therefore craued of the Faery Queene, to appoint him some knight, to performe that aduenture, which being assigned to Sir Guyon, he presently went forth with that same Palmer. (738)

    In the text published seven years later, however, Guyon and Palmer find the infant's parents "as chaunst," and after acknowledging the ultimate human weaknesses against the tyrannical passions, the knight "Bynempt a sacred vow, which none should aye releace" (i 60). Why does the episode of the actual text contradict the poet's initial plan? Comparing Guyon's condition to that of Redcross may yield an explanation. Redcross's mission is assigned to him by the Faerie Queene and confirmed by the armour Una brought. So when he destroys the dragon, we may safely conclude that he accomplishes the assignment and now will eventually become a Saint. However, the task of temperance cannot be given by external authorities, nor is it in any way conclusive. For Guyon there is no ultimate assignment that he should carry out and then receive the reward.

  7. Guyon's visit to the cave of Mammon and the collapse afterwards have drawn much attention and debate from critics. [6] The position of the episode in Canto vii, equivalent to Redcross's downfall in Book I, makes it apprehensive that Guyon may indeed fall into the temptation here. Structurally, it seems to make sense that the knight, after the fall in the middle of the book, learns how to govern himself with temperance in the House of Alma so that he can finally defeat the Bower of Bliss, the source of all bodily temptations. Redcross goes through exactly the same pattern in Book I. Finding Guyon's fault in his stern rejection of both Phaedria and Mammon, Judith H. Anderson contends that Guyon, without the help of Reason, goes through the extreme denial of sensuality and comfort without obtaining his mean: "Mere rejection eventually destroys, for it creates nothing but a vacuum" (175). [7] But the text clearly shows that the narrator praises Guyon for his rejection of Phaedria. After explaining that it is more difficult to maintain temperance in "joyous pleasure" than in "grieuous paine," the narrator states in the first stanza of Canto vi that "vertue vauntes in both their victories, / And Guyon in them all shewes goodly maisteries" (vi 1). Against Phaedria, the knight of temperance "fairely tempring fond desire subdewd" (vi 26) and successfully leaves the island. It is apparently difficult to find Guyon at fault here or to accuse him of, as Anderson puts it, "a denial of his own nature" (175). However, the same may not be easily said about his experience in the cave of Mammon, for the knight's action results in his collapse afterwards.

  8. Guyon's three days experience in Mammon's cave "That deepe descended through the hollow ground" (vii 20) suggests an analogy to Christ's defeat of Hell and death in three days or, perhaps more importantly, to the triple temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the subject matter of Milton's brief epic. The knight rejects all the temptation "to doe him deadly fall / In frayle intemperance through sinfull bayt" because "he was warie wise in all his way, / And well perceiued his deceiptfull sleight, / Ne suffred lust his safetie to betray" (vii 64). But he faints as soon as he successfully escapes from the devil's entrapment, so as to endanger both his life and subsequently his ultimate task to destroy Acrasia. How do we interpret this seeming contradiction? What is Guyon's shortcoming?

  9. The knight's collapse is certainly caused by the lack of food and rest, which have been offered by the devil at the height of his temptation in the shape of "fruit of gold" and "siluer stoole" (vii 63). Thus, paradoxically, Guyon's faint is the result of his success in rejecting the necessities of his body. [8] Critics variously explain this as the limitations of classical, natural, or secular virtue, which necessitates God's grace. Patrick Cullen argues that "even should natural man be capable of resisting the great triad of vices that his father Adam succumbed to, natural man cannot himself, unassisted by the deus homo, overcome the weakness of the flesh he inherited from Adam" (168). Perhaps the knight who represents humanist virtue of temperance may only be able to conquer worldly temptations with a certain risk to his own physical safety, and that may clearly constitute his limitations.

  10. It is noteworthy that the cave of Mammon is depicted mostly in classical terms: "the gates of Pluto," "Stygian lawes," "Arachne," "Titans race," "a great gold chain" of "Ambition," "Philotime," death of Socrates, "Hercules," "Idaean Ladies," "Cocytus," and "Tantalus." And Guyon defeats the devil's temptations by adopting Christian attitudes towards the world. He refutes the devil's first offer of wealth by pointing out that he deems the riches "roote of all disquietnesse" (vii 12). The knight continues: "Ne thine be kingdomes, ne the scepters thine . . . . The sacred Diademe in peeces rent, / And purple robe gored with many a wound" (vii 13). His interpretation of the history of human corruption alludes more to Eden and man's fall than to the classical golden age:

    The antique world, in his first flowring youth,
    Found no defect in his Creatour grace,
    But with glad thankes, and vnreproued truth,
    The gifts of soueraigne bountie did embrace:
    Like Angels life was then mens happy cace;
    But later ages pride, like corn-fed steed,
    Abusd her plenty, and fat swolne encreace
    To all licentious lust, and gan exceed
    The measure of her meane, and naturall first need. (vii 16)

    Although he is undeniably a humanist hero, his defence is successfully made in Christian viewpoint. Guyon seems to understand his own limitations. Upon Mammon's offer of his daughter Philotime, Guyon declares that he is "fraile flesh and earthly wight" (vii 50). Spenser is showing an example of Christian way of life through the knight of classical temperance.

  11. From a Protestant point of view, Guyon's mere rejection may not be good enough to defeat the evil. Mammon is rejected, but not destroyed. The primary cause of the knight's faint can also be understood in this respect. His action in the cave is indeed recommendable to all Christians. The fault, if there is one, should be found in his initial decision to accept Mammon's invitation to visit his place. The argument of Canto vii declares that Guyon is "tempted" by Mammon and "led downe, / To see his secret store." Guyon's attempt to satisfy his curiosity is an error that true Christians should avoid, yet his action reflects a kind of limitation that all human beings can hardly overcome. As the narrator states at the beginning of Canto viii, human beings are intrinsically "wicked" and always need "succour" from God. [9] Spenser's attitudes towards the humanist virtue are manifested when an angel calls the Palmer to pass the responsibility for the safety of the knight on to him:

    The charge, which God doth vnto me arret,
    Of his deare safetie, I to thee commend;
    Yet will I not forgoe, ne yet forget
    The care thereof my selfe vnto the end,
    But euermore him succour, and defend
    Against his foe and mine. (viii 8)

    The virtue of temperance is not opposed to that of Christians but protected by God. The point lies not, as some argue, in revealing the shortcomings of classical virtue, but in the encouragement of it within the Christian view point. It is difficult to see that, as Cullen proposes, Guyon would become a saint or a "microchristus" (174). Guyon's place is here on earth and his fights are within the level of natural life that all Christians must go through.

  12. Guyon's education in the House of Alma is not a redemptive process. He is with Reason and his learning is humanistic: ethics, biology, faculty psychology, history, and arts. Reason, embodied in the person of the Palmer, may not save Guyon from his enduring fight against appetites and emotions (Anderson 172). It is the Reason, however, that prevents the knight from falling into the possible dangers. As they travel towards the Bower of Bliss, whenever Guyon is tempted by "the wandring Islands"(11), "fraile infirmity" (28), "vanity" (34), and "wandring eyes" (69), the Palmer steps in and governs the knight's passions. What the Palmer does is to save Guyon from confronting the temptations before they occur. At the same time, however, he inadvertently deprives the knight of chances to confront the evil, so as to keep Guyon remaining in what Milton would call "a fugitive and cloistered virtue" (Areopagitica 728).

  13. Guyon's final destruction of the Bower of Bliss invites many different interpretations. The place is described in such a classical beauty, occupying so many stanzas, only to be destroyed mercilessly by the knight in a single stanza. Why waste so much energy if the place is the symbol of intemperance? A critic explains this as an example of the "internal pressure of resistance" that bursts out into "the state of perverted sexual energy which destroys the object of his desire" (Gohlke 137). Another sees in the scene an example of Spenser's "crisis of a cultural dislocation" between the genre of romance and Protestant eagerness (Sinfield 37). The scene may be viewed as an allegory of the Reformation attack on idolatry images in the church during the Elizabethan regime (Greenblatt 192). Finding a conflict between classical virtue and Protestant zeal in Guyon's action, Susanne L. Wofford states: "Spenser is not simply commenting on the dangers and violence of the literary tradition he has inherited; he is also celebrating the possibility that, imaginatively, we might find our freedom from that tradition" (122-3). Indeed, the text displays the poet's conviction to the Christianity that denies classical values of aesthetics no matter how attractive they are. Arts that imitates nature for its own sake and not to glorify God must be overcome and put down whenever it collides with the principle that Christians must abide by. Guyon achieves what he has sworn at the outset of the poem, but his victory is not conclusive. In fact, no human victories are. The knight may "depart" the island with a sense of accomplishment. But the virtue of temperance must be practiced continuously, for he cannot escape completely from the temptation of "life intemperate" and "joyes delicious" (xii 85).

  14. It is curious that Milton finds a good example of Christian morality in Guyon. Milton calls Guyon an example of "true temperance," who "brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and yet abstain" (Areopagitica 729). Here, however, Milton is mistaken in that Guyon's Palmer is, in fact, not with him when the knight visits the cave of Mammon. Why does a scrupulous writer like Milton make a mistake on the matter so obvious that any general readers may easily discern? Is this indeed a simple error in memory, or is it rather an intentional disregard of the Palmer's absence in the cave? Even if it may be an error, Milton's interpretation points to a significant aspect of his attitudes towards virtue. He strongly advocates tested or uncloistered virtue, and the Palmer's role is, as I said earlier, mainly to prevent Guyon from facing up to the evil. Thus, ironically, because of Palmer's absence in the cave of Mammon, Guyon is able to "see and know, and yet abstain." Whether Guyon is with the Palmer or not cannot be an important factor to Milton, for he would consider the knight's virtue displayed in the cave of Mammon sufficiently reasonable and admirable.

  15. The hero's experience of temptations is what Milton illustrates in Paradise Regained. Here, of course, Milton must depict what is far beyond what the humanist virtue of temperance may reach. If Guyon represents the best virtue in the fallen world, Milton's Jesus embodies the Saviour in human form who is to reverse the Fall. If Spenser finds it comfortable to combine humanist virtue with Christian morality in Guyon, Milton cannot possibly think of Jesus showing any sign of pagan elements. Spenser poses himself in his heroes as a faithful and romantic servant to the Queen Elizabeth, whose readership is clearly in the poet's mind as he declares that she "In this faire mirrhour maist behold thy face, / And thine owne realmes in lond of Faery" (Proem 4). But Milton portrays what he conceives to be the ideal human being in Christianity or Saviour in human shape and ability, so as to present himself as a heroic prophet who reveals in human terms who Christ really is. He is addressing to the public or rather all Christians when he states that he is to "sing / Recover'd Paradise to all mankind" and "tell of deeds / Above Heroic" (I 3 & 14-5).

  16. In what degree and manner is Milton's Jesus a man, and not God? Warner G. Rice contends that from the outset Milton emphasizes Jesus' manhood and humanity (419). Ken Simpson argues that even Jesus' standing on the pinnacle, which appears to be a mystery, is "a simple, natural act since it is possible, though dangerous, for ordinary human beings to stand there"(181). Douglas Bush calls Jesus "the personification of ideal human reason and will" (119). Margaret Kean sees in Jesus "a temperate man who lives in perfect obedience to God's will and the Law" (437). John T. Shawcross states that the poem is "the experiences through which the incarnated Son comes to full self-realization as man/God, thereby individuating himself from the whole which is God by taking on, as example for man, the idealized identity associated with the Father" (91). The concept of kenosis seems an issue here. Milton presents us a "perfect Man," an obvious oxymoron, who shows by example what the ideal Christian behaviour should be and at the same time during the process realizes himself as Messiah. [10] The Protestant doctrines of the time, however, may find it hard to accept the notion that Milton presents Jesus as an example of a perfect human being, so as to educate people to imitate him. Luther insists that through faith only does Grace justify the salvation, while Calvin maintains that it is entirely up to God's Providence. In other words, the fallen man cannot save himself by deeds no matter how hard and successfully he strives to be just. According to Protestant interpretations, Christ's emphasis in the Bible is placed on the fact that man is a sinner and cannot help himself, rather than that one must act upon the moral principles given by God. If Milton indeed intends Jesus as an example of ideal human behaviour, and I think he does, his attempt must collide with the predominant Protestant doctrine of his time. [11]

  17. Nevertheless, what Jesus experiences in the wilderness is a process of education, the kind that we may find most significant in humanist tradition in England. He first appears as the son of Joseph, "obscure, / Unmarkt, unknown" (I 24-5). But God declares His intention to "exercise him in the Wilderness" (I 155) so as to "earn Salvation for the Sons of men" (I 167). Jesus, of course, understands that he is the Messiah prophesized and "no more should live obscure, / But openly begin" (I 287-8). But he has to know "How to begin, how to accomplish best / His end of being on Earth, and mission high" (II 114-5). The "exercise" in the wilderness, then, must constitute the final step of his education. Angelica Duran contends that Jesus' experiences in the desert are equivalent to "a didactic grand tour," proposed in Of Education, where Milton "advocates an educational course that progresses from broad-based book studies to similarly broad experiences in order to perfect individual genius" (103). Indeed, Milton shares with other Renaissance humanists his belief that the ultimate goal of education is to serve for the public good and that the final stage of education is "exercise," often in the form of grand tour. In Of Education the poet contends:

    The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection. (631)

    After the youths "have well laid their grounds," Milton continues, they will set out on travel "not to learn principles but to enlarge experience and make wise observation" (639). What the young Jesus professes about his own education is, not surprisingly, reflects the same humanist educational goal: his "mind was set / Serious to learn and know, and thence to do / What might be public good" (I 203-4). Now, he faces this final "exercise" although he does not yet "learn" its purpose. And Satan plays as a means to provide the necessary learning for Jesus.

  18. The battle between Jesus and Satan is not simply the fight between Christian faith and its denial, but also involved with politics, knowledge, wisdom, reason, rhetoric, and morality. Satan sees humanity in Jesus but is puzzled with the hint of divinity in Jesus, "for man he seems / In all his lineaments, though in his face / The glimpses of his Father's glory shine" (I 91-3). As a fallen angel, however, Satan does not fully comprehend the theological meaning of the second Adam. He knows what he experiences, and all he can surmise is that he may be in great danger and therefore must stop Jesus from appearing in the world as "Their King, their Leader, and Supreme on Earth" (I 99). As he did in Paradise Lost, Satan thinks everything in human terms. In many respects, he is a manifestation of the classical, humanist, pagan worldview. Interestingly enough, while Jesus as a man embodies Protestant value in which God occupies the center, the superhuman devil acts on classical assumption where even gods are seen in human terms. Jesus' association of Satan at their first confrontation with "Delphos," a giver of false oracles as opposed to himself, the "living Oracle" of God, makes perfect sense in this regard. After his first failure, Satan's understanding of Jesus is not advanced beyond his own limitations. Even if he admits that Jesus has "Perfections absolute, Graces divine, / And amplitude of mind to greatest Deeds" (II 138-9), he basically sees the Son in terms of a classical hero who "overmatch'd" him. If the poem is the self-learning process for Jesus, Satan never learns.

  19. The ensuing debate between Jesus and Satan may be seen as a conflict between Protestantism and humanism. Jesus emphasizes that the world is "Where glory is false glory, attributed / To things not glorious, men not worthy of fame" (III 68-70), but to Satan "glory" is no more than heroic spirits and praises that even God "seeks" and "requires." Jesus teaches Satan that man has nothing but "condemnation, ignominy, and shame" and therefore the only way for man to achieve glory is to submit himself to God's grace by advancing His glory (III 134-44). But Satan's self-imposed heroism clearly manifests itself in his answer when Jesus implies his "fall" and "destruction":

    Let that come when it comes; all hope is lost
    Of my reception into grace; what worse?
    For where no hope is left, is left no fear;
    If there be worse, the expectation more
    Of worse torments me than the feeling can.
    I would be at the worst; worst is my Port. (III 204-9)

    He does not, and cannot, comprehend Jesus' notion of Christian heroism, which is, as Milton says at the beginning of the poem, "Above Heroic" (I 15). In the temptations of Parthia, Rome, and Athens, we may see that the debate between Jesus and Satan is pointless, for the latter completely misses the points the former is making. Satan is on his own and cannot be taught, whereas Son of God will never succumb to the temptation of the vainglory. Curiously, we may see that the dialogue between the two transforms into a kind of fruitless education attempt on Jesus' part. [12] If, however, Satan indeed embodies the humanist worldview as opposed to Jesus' Protestantism, how can we explain the poet's own humanist background? Does this mean that Milton unconsciously imposes his humanist ideals on the character of Satan? Where does Milton stand? Satan's temptations with Athens and Jesus' responses to it provide both problems and answers to the question.

  20. Athens makes up the climax of the second part of Satan's temptation, and it is Milton's own addition to the biblical episode. The poet puts in the mouth of Satan the beautiful elaboration of Athens and what it manifests and then decisively repudiates it in the voice of Jesus as "false, or little else but dreams, / Conjectures, fancies, built on nothing firm" (IV 291-2). Roy Flannagan's statement may sum up where the problems arise:

    Probably the reason that Milton saves that temptation for last is that it poses the strongest temptation for the author and for the reader. How could Milton the classicist, the tragedian, the epic writer, reject Plato, the Greek tragedians, and Homer himself? It hurts. And it has hurt generations of critics who find it difficult to reject classical culture in the name of Christianity. (107)

    Critics offer various explanations. It is Greek philosophy as part of Satan's kingdom, not necessarily its value, that Jesus rejects (Frye 441); Milton intends to emphasize "the superiority of the Judaeo-Christian moral and religious teaching over that of the Greeks whose tradition is embraced in the Christian logos-Christ" (Henry 130); Jesus repudiates "Satan's use of pagan wisdom as a means of redirecting the God-willed course," not the acquisition of classical learning in itself (Smith 75); Greek culture, offered as a way to obtain power, should be regarded as an attack on Jesus' self-confidence (Melbourne 142); both Jesus and Milton display "a radical form of Protestant poetics that aims to reform the concept of a chosen nation" and thus have to deny Satan's "idolatrous compromise," for it attempts "to validate a fusion of the values of pagan antiquity with those of the Hebraic faith" (Kean 439); Milton believes that paganism should be "replaced and superseded by Christianity" (Flannagan 108).

  21. It is important to note that Jesus' response to Satan's temptation does not preclude the fact that Jesus already possesses the knowledge. Nathaniel H. Henry suggests that the historical Jesus would have made the same rejections because he could not have been taught the classical knowledge (126). But Milton's Jesus displays that he has the humanist knowledge enough to question its ultimate value. Jesus immediately answers to Satan's insinuation that he should acquire the classical knowledge:

    Think not but that I know these things; or think
    I know them not; not therefore am I short
    Of knowing what I ought: he who receives
    Light from above, from the fountain of light,
    No other doctrine needs, though granted true. (IV 286-70)

    In this "most tightly ordered and rigidly patterned segment of the entire poem" (Lewalski 353-4), Jesus points out two things: he knows them, but the knowledge is irrelevant to his work. In his long and detailed repudiation of the value of classical knowledge that follows the passage, he clearly proves that he possesses the knowledge, including Socrates, Plato, sceptics, Epicurus, Stoics, and "all the Oratory of Greece and Rome" (IV 360). The fact that Jesus knows them also accords with Milton's belief that true wisdom and virtue must be tried and tested with the knowledge of evil.

  22. Does Jesus, then, consider the classical knowledge evil? He calls Greek philosophy and ethics as futile pursuit of truth, empty and groundless, as "pebbles on the shore" (IV 330) for children to play with. He also terms the classical music and poetry as "Ill imitated" from the Hebraic and therefore far inferior to the "God inspir'd" (IV 339-52). The point Jesus is making in his rejection is that the humanist philosophy and arts are completely human-centered. They do not know God, Jesus declares, and consequently they are "Ignorant of themselves" and "the world" (IV 310-21). To Milton this is profoundly limiting, for in the presence of the absolute truth manifested in Jesus, all the pagan knowledge and arts cannot possibly stand merit. However, although humanist knowledge may be immature and a waste of time, it does not necessarily constitute vice; its subject matter is adiaphorus, inconsequential to one's salvation. As a poet whose literary background is undeniably Latin, Milton cannot escape from his own humanism in his poetry. Joseph Loewenstein points out this particular problem in Milton's poetry: "Milton's relation to antiquity was notoriously scrupulous and the master-trope of his later career, the negative simile, characteristically invoked the prestige of classicism in order to bridle it" (282-3). There is an element of self-denial in Milton's illustration of the temptation of Athens: Jesus must renounce all classical knowledge while the poet, remaining a sinner, reformed or not, cannot help depicting its humanist beauty.

  23. In Milton, humanist value is in fact always rejected as pagan when confronted with that of Christianity. In "Nativity Ode," pagan oracles "are dumb," and pagan gods run away "With hollow shriek" in the presence of infant Christ. In Paradise Lost Eve is portrayed most beautifully in classical terms when she strolls away from Adam on the day of her fall (IX 386-96). Satan's heroism and humanist arguments in his temptation of Eve are both attractive and convincing as long as we do not take the Christian paradox into account. In both epics, humanist rhetoric is conspicuously voiced through Satan, and they are defeated by Christian logos. Suggesting that Milton from his early works consistently puts the classical as inferior to the Christian, Henry contends that Milton's attitudes agree with the general theological trend of Renaissance humanists. (121-30). The seeming contradiction that Jesus actually compares himself with Socrates as one who is "For truth's sake suffering death unjust" (III 98) and then renounces him when confronted with Satan's temptation of Athens should be understood in this context. No matter how highly portrayed and elaborated, classicism cannot maintain its value against Christian virtue.

  24. Curiously, Satan, in spite of his lengthy praise of classical learning, does not offer it to Jesus in exchange for submission. Before, the devil made his offer to give Parthia and Rome to Jesus on the condition that Jesus acknowledge and worship him as his "superior Lord" (IV 163-9). After Jesus' strident rejection of their value, however, Satan confesses that he will not offer worldly kingdoms any more (IV 195-211). And then the temptation of Athens follows in the form of a mere suggestion: "Be famous then / By wisdom" (IV 221-2). The temptation now becomes subtle. By making a distinction between the physical and the metaphysical, Satan presents the humanist learning as something superior to other forms of worldly power. Satan's strategy here may seem redundant, for he is recommending what Jesus already has. We should remember, however, that the same temptation of knowledge ultimately overthrows Eve in Paradise Lost. It is also the temptation of knowledge that overwhelms Guyon in The Faerie Queene. The knight's curiosity or his aspiration for knowledge leads him to the cave of Mammon, where he "with wonder all the way / Did feed his eyes, and fild his inner thought" (vii 24). What Guyon experiences may be an equivalent to the temptation of knowledge that Jesus faces, and the knight's failure that results in his collapse reflects how subtle the temptation really is and how difficult it is for human heroes to overcome. Jesus, too, "himself descended" into "the Desert wild," the realm of temptation in searching for knowledge of "How to begin" (II 109-13). But unlike the knight in romance, who is essentially curious about evil, the ultimate Christian hero aspires to know his true self.

  25. The temptation of Athens constitutes a turning point in the self-learning process of Jesus. Jane Melbourne contends that Jesus learns to "to trust himself in a more profound way as a self in relationship to God" through rejecting Satan's temptation as well as self-doubt (139). By repudiating the value of humanist knowledge and by affirming that God-knowledge is the foundation of all wisdom, Jesus crushes Satan's every attempt to identify him as a man ultimately vulnerable to temptations. By making Jesus reject humanist value, a basis of his own literary career, Milton reveals the true nature of his hero who is substantially a man like himself and at the same time overcomes the limitations of human being, the true Redeemer of all mankind. An element of self-denial in Milton's manifestation of the Athens temptation should be understood in this term. Satan confesses that he runs out of means to prove that Jesus is a man, and therefore his last resort is "to know what more thou art than man, / Worth naming Son of God by voice from Heav'n" (IV 538-9). And at the pinnacle, Jesus reveals himself as Saviour both to Satan and the reader.

  26. The pinnacle scene is, from Satan's point of view, a challenge, rather than a temptation. Satan's challenge in this dramatic showdown is to dare Jesus to reveal who he is: "Now show thy Progeny" (IV 555). Desperate Satan tries to put Jesus in dilemma. If Jesus stands there with "skill" (practically he cannot stand there forever), he would show that he is no more than a "mere man both wise and good" (IV 535); if Jesus casts himself down, however, that will clearly prove either that he dies or that he is not human. But Jesus defeats Satain's daring by revealing that he is indeed a man, God incarnated:

    Tempt not the Lord thy God; he said and stood.
    But Satan smitten with amazement fell. (IV 562-3)

    What Jesus says here can be seen in both ways, not to tempt God the Father or not to tempt God the Son. Taking the latter, Melbourne asserts that the final temptation is "no temptation at all but an epiphany" (145). It is for this dramatic overturn or revelation that, I believe, Milton adopts Luke's order of the temptation, instead of Matthew's. The first Adam fell, but the second Adam stands and thus destroys Satan. The final stage of Jesus' education is completed. As Angelic Choirs sing, he comes down and establishes "A fairer Paradise"for "Adam and his chosen Sons" (IV 613-4).

  27. The pinnacle scene or its equivalent does not appear in Spenser. The final confrontation between the hero and Mammon dissolves simply into Guyon's departure. If we consider, however, the whole event related to the underworld as an ultimate challenge for the knight, his faint implies his fall. At the point where Jesus finally defeats Satan, Guyon falls. The knight's destruction of the Bower of Bliss, although it takes three days, can hardly be seen as similar to Jesus' victory because Guyon's is never conclusive. Perhaps, it is too much to impose such task as Jesus faces in the pinnacle upon a knight whose virtue is to maintain a golden mean between extremes. Comparing Jesus' temptation with that of Guyon, James Nohrnberg suggests that the knight's faint reflects "both the limits upon the kind of resistance temperance by itself can offer and the limits upon self-reliance in general" (351). Jesus' final victory, then, shows the opposite of what Guyon's fall signifies. Jesus' acts of temperance and self-reliance are performed in complete submission of self to God's will, even to the point that he identifies himself with God. Thus, what Jesus achieves in wilderness is "one man's firm obedience" after all.

  28. As humanist artists and at the same time devout Protestants, Spenser and Milton struggle to cope with the obvious conflict between what they believe to be an ultimate truth and aesthetically sound way to present it. Their ultimate truth is Christian, yet humanist morality and aesthetics are probably the only way that they can present the truth. Man is at the center of both poets: who he really is and what he can achieve in the world are always the major themes of Spenser and Milton. John Spencer Hill's explanation of Milton's view of man may be also applied to that of Spenser:

    Man is, for Milton, a reconciliation of opposite qualities. On the one hand, he is a fallen creature, guilty of dust and sin, deserving death. On the other hand, he is the image of God, restored and refurbished by grace. This antinomy, perceived by reason and resolved by faith, is the standard paradox of Renaissance humanism, and we have met it in many shapes. What is remarkable about Milton's treatment is his insistence on equilibrium, his insistence that human nature can be understood only as a balancing of opposites. (55)

    But how do they achieve this "equilibrium" in their manifestations of human heroes? Guyon, despite his limitations, maintains the humanist-Christian virtue of temperance and thus shows by example how a Christian should act in this world. To Spenser, humanism is simply an appropriate way to educate the reader to become a good Christian. Milton, however, is keenly aware of the inadequacy of employing humanist ideas and aesthetics in his depiction of the ultimate Christian hero. Humanism must be rejected for Jesus to reveal himself as the victor over satanic power.

  29. Whereas Spenser as a sixteenth-century Calvinist may comfortably reside in the theological trend of his time, Milton as a seventeenth-century Arminian is quite apprehensive about the way to express his religious conviction. [13] If Spenser upholds the religious doctrine and social hierarchy of his time without particularly being doubtful, Milton often defies the dominant religious and social beliefs whenever he finds fault in them. The difference in attitudes between the two poets may also be found in the reader they had in mind. Spenser wrote his romance for Elizabeth I, who, as Protestant sovereign, embodied the existing political and religious authority as well as the object of admiration and virtue the knights paid homage to. Milton, however, spoke to the people who may or may not have shared his political or theological ideas manifested in his later works. Perhaps, Milton's England makes the author of the brief epic more severe towards the humanist tradition he has inherited than Elizabethan England does for Spenser. Nevertheless, it is clearly the possibility of great human achievement that Milton intends to present in his poem. In his belief that man is capable of imitating Christ so as to be called "Thy temperance invincible" by the temper, we can find the humanist spirit alive in the heart of the poet whose beliefs in human nature may have been shattered by the Restoration.


The work was supported by the Korea Research Foundation Grant (KRF-2001-013-00051)

1. All citations of Milton's works, except for Christian Doctrine, are from Merritt Y. Hughes's edition of John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose and will be notified by the page numbers or, in case of the poem, by lines. The citations from Christian Doctrine and Of True Religion are from Complete Prose Works of John Milton, VI and VIII, edited by Maurice Kelley.

2. For significances of Virgil and Ovid in Spenser's works, including The Faerie Queene, see Colin Burrow 217-36.

3. For Spenser as a Calvinist, see Paul N. Siegel in "Spenser and the Calvinist View of Life."

4. Consider also the archangel's final instruction for Adam to achieve "A paradise within," where temperance appears with the same importance and weight as deeds, faith, virtue, patience, and love (PL XII 581-84).

5. Lewis H. Miller Jr., for example, insists that when Guyon is saved by Grace in Canto vii, a classic cosmology of Book II is shifted to that of a Christian ("Secular" 160). Gohlke suggests that Guyon ultimately fails to resolve the conflict between the classical and the Christian and consequently "After Book I, Spenser never achieves a vision of a permanent moral order in which the anguished divisions of human experience are alleviated and integrated into the perspective of eternity" (140). We have to consider, however, that the poet, who has shown how to achieve salvation in Book I, is to manifest how to lead Christian life in this world through Guyon and the knights following. It is, then, obviously too much to expect "a vision of a permanent moral order," if it means "permanent" in terms of Christianity, for nothing human is permanent or righteous, or even good, in front of the Protestant God.

6. Diverse observations and interpretations, including the limitations of humanist virtue, human nature that requires Grace, experience of spiritual death, or a process of education or Christianization, are summed up in detail in Patrick Cullen's article, "Guyon Microchristus: The Cave of Mammon Re-examined" and there is no point in repeating the same here.

7. Miller, too, maintains the similar view ("Phaedria"42).

8. Kathleen Williams calls it a sign of Guyon's success because he "has conquered at the necessary cost of going without the food and sleep which would have committed him to Mammon" (61). But it is difficult to call the knight's faint a success by any means. Even if we accept the notion that his collapse is due to his restraint from physical necessity, his action that results in the faint cannot be regarded as his moral excellence.

9. When Arthur, too, necessitates Grace in his fight with Maleger, the narrator declares again: "So feeble is mans state, and life vnsound, / That in assurance it may neuer stand, / Till it dissolued be from earthly band" (xi 30).

10. Milton explains "perfect Man" in Christian Doctrine: "those who carry on this struggle with real vigor, and labor earnestly and tirelessly to attain perfection in Christ, are often, through God's mercy, described attributively in the Bible as 'perfect' and 'blameless' and 'sinless.' Of course they are not really perfect, but these titles are given to them because, although sin resides within them, it does not reign over them" (XXI 483).

11. If the ideal human behaviour means faith and faith only, Milton's elaboration of the different temptations, including wealth, power, and wisdom, would not make much sense, for the dialogue between Jesus and Satan displays that the fight involves not only attitudes but also action, not only rhetoric but also moral behaviour. The process of Jesus' self-realization would also be futile if what he shows in the poem is faith only, because his faith in God is taken for granted from the beginning.

12. Does Jesus, then, fails to see that Satan is reprobate and excluded from Grace? Thomas Corns addresses the issue brilliantly in terms of contemporary politics in his forthcoming essay: "So in what terms are the protracted disputations to be justified? Obviously, the Son has no interest in Satan's salvation, since that is no part of the Atonement, nor is it to be achieved by any other means. Moreover, no mortal hears or sees his encounter with Satan. But in its very obscurity rests its potency, for the Son enjoys there the kinds of freedom, from censorship and from prosecution, that godly puritans lost in 1660" ("Unaltered"22).

13. While Keeble argues that Milton should not be seen as Calvinist or Arminan, but as Puritan in a broad sense, Corns calls Milton an Arminian in Regaining Paradise Lost. Dennis Richard Danielson suggests that although Milton never declares himself to be one, the poet's theological ideas are most close to that of Arminianism. In fact, Milton does not seem to consider himself a member of any particular denomination other than the Church of England. However, Milton's sympathetic treatment of Arminianism in his Of True Religion (423-5) in 1673, which is somewhat different from his earlier attacks on the same, may suggest that his attitudes towards different sects of Protestantism have become considerably tolerant.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).