The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene

by

Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Book II: Canto VII Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Having lost contact with his guide, the Palmer, Sir Guyon tries to wander on his own and at last comes to a dismal glade. There he comes across an uncouth-looking man covered in soot whose iron coat is covered in rust. The man is surrounded by so much gold he could never spend it all. Sir Guyon asks who the man is (and if he’s a man at all), and the man replies that he is Mammon.
Although Sir Guyon has overcome his first challenge of temperance on Phaedria’s island, he is still missing his spiritual guide the Palmer, and this means he is still vulnerable to being tempted in various ways.
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Mammon says that he is willing to give some of his enormous wealth to Sir Guyon so that he can afford whatever he wants. He boasts that he is wealthy enough to make men kings. Guyon turns him down, however, saying that riches lead to strife and that in rich kingdoms, Mammon is the one who is truly king.
Mammon is the embodiment of greed, not just in this poem but in the New Testament of the Bible as well. Here, Spenser fleshes out the Biblical figure of Mammon, adding more details and a personality.
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Mammon admits that frail men are often undone by riches, but he suggests that nobler men like Sir Guyon could use riches for good. Mammon repeats that if Guyon would like some of his grace, he is free to take as much wealth from Mammon’s hoard as he likes. Guyon replies, however, that even if he took some wealth and tried to hide it, he could never hide it from God.
Unlike Pyrochles, who makes no effort to explain his motives to Sir Guyon, Mammon is a conniving figure who tries to convince Sir Guyon through clever arguments. In some ways, this conversation recalls the conversation between the Redcross Knight and Despair in the first book.
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Mammon and Sir Guyon walk along a plain where there’s a road that continues all the way down to Pluto’s kingdom in the underworld. They arrive at the door to Hell, and Mammon goes inside. Guyon follows him, and suddenly the door shuts behind him.
The door slamming shut behind Sir Guyon emphasizes how, despite Mammon’s friendly tone, the ultimate goal is to trap Guyon.
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Mammon shows Sir Guyon unimaginable wealth, with buildings where the walls, floor, and roof are all gold. They go through an iron door and Mammon shows Guyon a pile of riches that is equal to all the wealth in the world above. But after Mammon offers some wealth to Guyon again, Guyon repeats that he has his eyes on a greater heavenly prize. This causes Mammon to gnash his teeth in frustration.
Mammon’s grand displays to Sir Guyon are meant to astonish him, but the temperate knight remains unmoved. Guyon believes that heaven is worth more than literally all the wealth on earth, and the rich imagery of this passage helps make that idea concrete.
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Mammon tries to think up other schemes to catch Sir Guyon unaware. So instead of riches, he shows Guyon a fountain that Mammon claims is where all the world’s good is created. Again, however, Guyon refuses, saying he already has all he needs.
Mammon is persistent and tries a different approach that he hopes will flatter his guest’s taste. But Guyon remains steadfast, showing how temperance can lead to a deeper feeling of satisfaction.
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Mammon doesn’t give up. He takes Sir Guyon through a golden gate to a room where Disdain waits for them. He’s like a king, surrounded by people from all nations. A woman in a gold chain called Ambition used to be fair but fell from grace and now tries to hide her evil ways.
This passage demonstrates how even people who might seem powerful on earth are ultimately little more than servants to Mammon and the riches that he possesses.
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Mammon explains that Ambition is his daughter. She used to be called Philotime, and she was the fairest person in the world. Mammon offers Ambition to Sir Guyon as a spouse, but Guyon says he has already pledged himself to another lady.
Fittingly, Ambition was not always in the lowly state she currently occupies and seems to have been undone by her own ambition.
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Mammon leads Sir Guyon now to the Garden of Proserpina, where golden apples grow. Sir Guyon is amazed at the golden apple tree. But as he climbs up a bank and looks down, he sees many damned souls below him. As Guyon looks around, he sees other figures from mythology and history like Tantalus (who was cursed to always be thirsty) and Pontius Pilate (who condemned Jesus to death).
As with previous passages, this section depicts a moment of Sir Guyon being genuinely amazed by what he sees, only to comprehend the horrors soon afterwards. This whole interlude with Mammon emphasizes that as much as wealth seems to give people power, it can also make people prisoners of Mammon in ways they don’t realize.
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Mammon offers Sir Guyon one of the amazing-looking golden apples. But Guyon finally decides that he’s seen enough, and so he asks Mammon to lead him back into the world above. Though Mammon doesn’t want to do this, he has no choice, since no living man is allowed to stay in Hell longer than Guyon has. He leads Guyon back up.
There are a couple famous golden apples in Greek and Roman mythology, and perhaps the most famous “apple” of all is the fruit in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve that the serpent uses to tempt Eve. Sir Guyon’s refusal to even see the apple represents a definitive rejection of Mammon and the greed he represents.
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