Meanwhile, the real Florimell has been in Proteus’s dungeon this whole time. She spent seven months in a dungeon so dark that she couldn’t tell night from day, all because she loved Marinell (the knight by the shore), who doesn’t love any woman (because he was told a woman would be his downfall).
Florimell’s story is meant to inspire pity. She is among the most innocent characters in the story, and yet her situation keeps going from bad to worse as she finds herself at the mercy of people who want to do her harm.
Marinell is still suffering from a wound that Britomart gave him during their battle. His mother the nymph has tried many herbs and other methods to cure him, with no luck. Eventually Tryphon, the surgeon of the sea gods, gives her a whistle made from a shell, which she uses to call a leech that heals Marinell’s pain.
The Faerie Queene was written well before the birth of modern medicine, and so using leeches to draw blood out of sick people was still the height of medical technology not just in medieval times, when the poem is set, but also in Elizabethan times, when it was written.
A great feast is held with all the sea gods to celebrate the marriage of Medway and Thames. (They both have the same names as rivers in England, with the Thames being the river that runs through London.) The feast takes place at Proteus’s house.
Despite kidnapping Florimell, Proteus is also a gracious host. Like many Greek and Roman gods, his ways of working could be mysterious, and he often placed his own priorities over the welfare of mortals.
The guest list at the feast is so long and illustrious that the narrator calls on Clio, a Muse who was nursed by Memory, in order to remember everyone. Starting with the great sea god Neptune and his wife Amphitrite, the guests include many other notable figures from the sea. Some are sons of Neptune, like Albion, while others are the namesakes of rivers, like Nile, Ganges, and Euphrates.
This long section has little to do with the plot of the poem but provides a chance for Spenser to set a scene and show off poetic technique.
The list of guests continues with many of the guests bearing the names of rivers in England, as well as Irish rivers like the Liffey. Following the rivers are many, many sea nymphs. After listing off so many guests, the narrator says he has tired himself out and must switch over to the next Canto.
In the poem, not only are vices and virtues personified as people, but even rivers get a similar treatment. Even the narrator seems to recognize what a tangent this whole canto is, as he comments on how tired he’s gotten from listing so many guests.