The Cave of Mammon
THE object of this chapter is to expound the seventh Canto of the Second Book of The Faerie Queene. There is little agreement as to its interpretation, so the topic has its own interest. But it cannot be treated in isolation from the Second Book as a whole; and since the relation between this mysterious episode and the remainder of the Legend of Temperance seems to be characteristic of Spenser's method throughout The Faerie Queene, what I have to say, in so far as it is correct, has a bearing upon the conduct of the entire poem, and in the long run upon certain obscure aspects of Renaissance poetry in general. So I begin with some remarks on that larger topic.
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Any reader who has even a slight familiarity with Renaissance allegorical habits will see at a glance that Spenser epyllion Muiopotmos is concerned with the descent of the soul into the captivity of matter as a result of sensuality. He may see other related meanings, some of them debatable; but I think he will not have any doubt about this one. On the other hand, a reader who has no such familiarity will be quite in the dark. He will see, of course, that the story must be allegorical, but at best will invent some sort of historical key for it; as a matter of fact, commentary on Muiopotmos was, until quite recently, of this kind. With The Faerie Queene the position is incalculably more difficult; there is historical allegory; there is very simple allegory as in the House of Alma and the Castle of Medina passages in this Second Book; but there is also allegory of the kind represented by the Temple of Isis in Book V, the Garden of Adonis in Book III, and the Cave of Mammon. These are not 'face-value' allegories, and the confusion of commentary is adequate testimony to the fact. Spenser seems to be assuming a special kind of reader, or rather a special kind of information, and he may also be held to believe that even this community of information will not, however complete and subtle,