English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-17-1972


In spite of much critical opinion to the contrary, the major female warriors in the renaissance epics are not reincarnations of the classical Amazons: minor similarities between the Amazons and the renaissance maiden-knights do exist. On the whole, however, the Amazoniar1 theory is inadequate because it unites the unique charm and individual­ity of the female knights with sterile Amazonian ferocity, a combination which their warm nobility transcends and denies. Instead, the female warriors in the renaissance epics owe their complex mystique to the literary and intellectual traditions surrounding the union of Mars and Venus.

Often interpreted as comic and lasc1vious, the Mars­-Venus relationship also figures forth a union of contraries, a discordia concors. in which sweetness is united with strength. Furthermore, the relationship is harmonious: according to classical thinking, the offspring of the· match is Harmonia(concord). Originating in Greek myth and literature, this concept also enjoyed Roman support, but fol­lowing the advent of Christianity, the view of the Mars-Venus union as concordant suffered a temporary setback. The Middle Ages tended to interpret the relationship as libidi­nous except in the field of astrology where the planetary aspects of Venus were thought to neutralize the influence of Mars. During the Renaissance, the Italian Neoplatonists revived the harmonious perspective on the union, and from them the concept spread to art and letters, particularly painting and poetry. In the pictorial arts, particularly, the harmonious nature of the Mars-Venus relationship is depicted with superb clarity.

Conceptually, each of the major female warriors in the renaissance epics bodies forth her own unique union of sweetness and strength thereby reflecting a particular type or types of the discordia concors which is inherent in the harmonious union of Mars and Venus. In Orlando Furioso, Bradament reflects the best possibilities of feminine har­mony in her combined approach to love, marriage, and reality while Marphisa figures forth the image of the Venus armata, and Harmonia, the uniter, until finally, she becomes a type for spiritual concord. Spenser's Britomart, the most com- plex of the maiden knights, functions through roles which are both social 2nd personal. Throughout The Faerie Queene, Britomart's social roles mirror the combined functions of Harmonia, the uniter, and the Venus armata; privately, she is in the process of becoming the embodiment of chaste per­sonal concord, of virtuous personal harmony, as she works her way toward ultimate harmony, Christian marriage with Artegall.

In the final analysis, each of the maiden-knights is an individual, yet each share a common spiritual heritage with her sister knights. Privately each is a lone woman afoot in a world of adventure and difficulty, but mythically, artistically, and conceptually, each is guided by a harmonious nature which reflects in some ways the discordia concors inherent in the Mars-Venus relationship.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Edith Buchanan

Second Committee Member

Katherine Gauss Simons

Third Committee Member

Mary Bess Whidden

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