The first thing a person will find when he looks up a definition on the word temperance on Google is the “abstinence from alcoholic drink” or “moderation or self-restraint, esp. in eating or drinking.” Thus, the first thing a good Southern Baptist will think of when he opens up the second book of the Faerie Queene is that the good knight Sir Guyon is on a crusade to remain sober and completely abstinent from any hard drink. The modern day hippy (I suppose, not knowing too much of the hippy religion) would believe Guyon to be on a “mission for moderation.” But after reading of Guyon’s quest, the consensus we come to is that Guyon’s quest is one involving self-restraint concerning a whole host of possible evils: anger, fickleness, sex, wealth, and laziness to name a few. Guyon, if I remember correctly, is only tempted once concerning strong drink, and this is merely a step to the far more dangerous temptation he experiences with the “two naked damsels.” Furthermore, temperance as mere moderation in the Christian religion is non-existent. Our Founder told us to consider sin so serious that we would rather cut off our hands and pluck out our eyes than give in. There is nothing moderate about the Sermon on the Mount. So far as our definition of temperance goes, it may be safe to say that Guyon’s battle is one for self-restraint regarding any sin. Much like Redcrosse experienced temptations that seemed good, so too is Guyon’s journey filled with offers of pleasure. His battle is to deny them for a much higher pleasure.
The second book of The Faerie Queene is, in my opinion, far less structured than the first book, and this may be because Guyon’s quest is not so easily defined as Redcrosse’s. As was earlier noted, one can be temperate concerning virtually any sin, and Guyon experiences many. Guyon, who is accompanied with a Palmer, first experiences a dying lady and her boy. This lady’s death is due to the deceptions of a wicked witch named Acrasia (Greek: “lacking control”). Guyon hearing her story, begins his journey to defeat the witch and destroy the Bowre of Blisse, Acrasia’s dwelling place. Her land is one that “is all pleasure and delight, / Wherewith she makes her louers drunken mad, / And then with words & weedes of wonderous might, / On them she works her will to vses bad.” It is in this land that Guyon’s quest culminates and the temptations he faces reach their own climax.
Guyon’s path leads him to a castle, inhabited by three sisters: Elissa (too little, or defect), Medina (mean), and Perissa (too much, or excess). Elissa is found to be with Sansloy (lechery), who we met in book 1, and Perissa with Huddibras (rashness). The scene in this castle is not so much one of temptation, though Guyon does fight briefly with Sansloy and Huddibras, displaying his middle ground. Instead, Guyon is introduced to the concept of temperance in the sense of “middle ground.” The sister Elissa represents having too little or a defect while Perissa represents the opposite. Furthermore, Sansloy is representative of having too little restraint in sexual desires (often associated with idleness or lack of discernment), thus he loved the defected sister. For “ne ought he car’d, whom he endamaged / By tortious wrong, or whom he bereau’d of right.” Huddibras, meanwhile, chooses to be with excess as rashness is associated with little restraint in “saying no.” Sansloy’s defect is more of a lack of direction. Idleness leads to sin, specifically sexual sins. Huddibras’s rashness led to excess. But Guyon chooses Medina, displaying that he is the knight of self-control in both what is lacking and what is excessive.
The next scene is where, in my opinion, the second book begins to lose some of its structure. Guyon is left for the moment as we hear his horse is stolen by Braggadocchio (vanity) who is joined by Trompart (loud boaster and deceiver). The two meet with Archimago and decide to do great evil to Guyon, however, the narrative never brings this to fruition, and the two proud boasters instead leave the book in shame as Belphoebe, a beautiful huntress, rejects their advances.
Guyon, now without a horse, is met with a squire who is being tortured by Occassion and Furor. Immediately, the good knight attempts to defeat Furor, but his Palmer, always there for advice, warns him that he must first destroy Occassion.
Neuer think that so / That Monster can be maistred or destroyed: / He is not, ah, he is not such a foe, / As steele can wound, or strength can ouerthroe. / That same is Furor, cursed cruell wight, / That vnto knighthood workes much shame and woe; / And that same Hag, his aged mother, hight / Occasion, the root of all wrath and despight.
With her, who so will raging Furor tame, / Must first begin, and well her amenage: / First her restraine from her reprochfull blame, / And euill meanes, with which she does enrage / Her franticke sonne, and kindles his courage, / Then when she is withdrawen, or strong withstood, / It’s eath his idle furie to asswage, / And calme the tempest of his passion wood; / The bankes are ouerflowen, when stopped is the flood.”
Taking his Palmer’s advice, Guyon defeats Furor by first defeating Occassion. The squire he saves gives his story of how he gave in to Occassion, and this led to Furor having his way with him. The instance with Occassion and Furor lead to the introduction of two important characters in this book: Pyrochles (fiery disposition) and Cymochles (one who constantly fluctuates). Pyrochles is naturally looking for Occassion, as he has sent his servant Atin to find her. Guyon meets with Pyrochles and easily defeats him, yet oddly grants his wish to have Occassion and Furor freed. Doing so, the two vices attack and control Pyrochles, and Cymochles, his brother who lives in the Bowre of Blisse, is summoned to help. Guyon’s earlier victory over Occassion sets the stage for his easy victory over Pyrochles. His temperate, or self-restraining, disposition allows him to not give in to unchecked anger.
That Occassion gives way to Furor seems logical and naturally leads in to the next big temptation Guyon has to face: Idleness. But before Guyon meets Phoedria (the shining one) who lives in the Idle Lake, Cymochles runs into her. The effects of the two characters are heavily contrasted. Cymochles immediately gives in to the charms of Phoedria who brings him to an island. He quickly forgets all his cares and his brother’s troubles. And as Spenser brilliantly does, a tempting setting is created for both the characters and the reader, for “it was a chosen plot of fertile land… no daintie flowre or herbe that growes on ground, / No arboret with painted blossomes drest, / And smelling sweet, but there it might be found / To bud out faire, and her sweet smels throw all around.”
Guyon himself comes across this same setting, leaving his Palmer behind. However, he sees Cymochles and the two begin to fight only to have it broken up by Phoedria, who takes Guyon to the other side. Guyon has passed the test of Idleness, and as he exits the scene, Pyrochles is noted to have broken free of Occassion and Furor only to jump into the Idle Lake. Luckily for him, Archimago shows up and heals him of his earlier wounds.
That Guyon has been split from his Palmer (Phoedria would not allow him to cross the lake) is significant in that the Palmer is generally the lone means Guyon has in combating many of his temptations. Much like Una constantly saves Redcrosse, so the Palmer is Guyon’s “guardian angel.” But Guyon passes the test of Idleness with some ease — displaying self-control in his desires to give in to laziness, a temptation modern man is very familiar with. His next stage is not so easy as he must now confront Mammon. The temptation of having an excess of wealth is common to every man, and Guyon confronts the issue by claiming that riches are “the roote of all disquietnesse; / First got with guile, and then preseru’d with dread, / And after spent with pride and lauishnesse, / Leauing behind them griefe and heauinesse.” Guyon understands the capabilities wealth has to destroy his soul, and he is not buying Mammon’s pleas even when he is offered his daughter, Philotine. The knight undergoes three specific temptations regarding the sins of vainglory, avarice, and gluttony, giving in only to gluttony when he refuses to give his body proper sustenance, and he faints after tasting fresh air.
The narrative shifts to the Palmer who was left by Guyon. After finding his knight in a swoon, the Palmer becomes worried and the wicked brothers, Pyrochles and Cymocles, begin to disarm the sleeping man. Once again, King Arthur shows up and saves the day, killing the brothers and freeing Guyon from the possible entrapment of Archimago. Guyon on his own was unable to defeat those vices that Pyrochles and Cymocles represented, but Arthur himself must also go through the same temptations, and he is victorious.
Arthur’s functions, up to this point, is two-fold in my opinion. He serves both as a great knight who must help the other knights out of their great difficulties, but he also is tempted and tried by the same evil they are. He must defeat Duessa’s giant Orgoglio who may better represent presumption, the opposite of despair. While Redcrosse battles despair, Arthur defeats presumption. In book 2 Arthur is responsible for defeating the fiery disposition in Pyrochles and the flighty moods of Cymocles. As the story progresses, the two knights are invited into the Castle of Temperance which is allegorized by Spenser as a human body: that susceptible flesh to the temptations the knights have already experienced. And it is Arthur who must fight off the invasion on the castle from Maleger (who represents the effects of sin) and his twelve troops along with the two witches Impatience and Impotence. However, Arthur’s sword fails him, and much like Beowulf, he abandons his weapons and “with his naked hands him forcibly assayld.” Again, he fails to destroy the monster by throwing him to the ground as he is revived by contact with his mother (earth). Thus, Arthur defeats the sick man by throwing him in a lake in which the two hags also thrust themselves in, and the Castle of Temperance, as well as Arthur’s own temperance, is successfully saved.
Unlike book 1, the climax of book 2 occurs in the final canto as Guyon and the Palmer make their way to the Bowre of Blisse. A three day voyage by sea is taken to Acrasia’s land, and they must pass through various obstacles such as the Rock of Reproach and the Wandering Islands, Phoedria’s call (again), quicksand, the Whirlpool of Decay and sundry sea monsters. They experience evil mermaids whom the Palmer warns against as we know they “allure weake trauellers, whom gotten they did kill.” As the travelers enter the Bowre of Blisse the reader himself becomes susceptible to the alluring settings Spenser describes, yet Guyon our hero “suffred no delight / To sinke into his sence, nor mind effect, / But passed forth, and lookt still forward right, / Bridling his will, and maistering his might.” Upon meeting a lady with a cup of gold, he passes the test only to have the temptations increase in their depth as he meets the two naked Damsels bathing in a fountain. But the Palmer once again protects our knight, and they finally meet the witch Acrasia who has entrapped a knight in her own web. With the temptation now at its height, the two throw a net over the witch and the Bowre of Blisse is subsequently destroyed.
With the defeat of Acrasia, Guyon has overcome temptation both on the literal level and allegorical. As Acrasia literally lays herself out for Guyon to have, he has to battle the physical temptation of fornication. But “nakedness” is also symbolic as is Acrasia, whose name means “lacking control.” In that moment that she gives herself up to Guyon she offers him a life of no control: the abandonment of a rigid morality that declares we must not give in to our desires. But Guyon overcomes the toughest of the temptations, knowing full well there is a higher happiness. Whether the call be to give in to Occassion’s opportunity, breeding wrath; whether it be that never ending battle for excessive wealth or idleness; whether it be the broader call of a life of no restraints, the call for the modern day knight is not so much one of moderation or total abstinence but one that declares he believes in a joy beyond the petty joys the world has to offer. The desires of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride in life are all adorned in gold, jasper, and ivory. But saying no to those worldly goods is saying yes to something else: “Another blis before mine eyes I place, / Another happinesse, another end.”