The Function of Talus in the Allegory of Justice
I. Past Favorable Opinions of the Character of Talus
General opinion at present is completely unfavorable to the character of Talus; even before a reader reaches the fifth book he has already heard of the mechanical and crude man of iron who renders negative Spenser's conception of justice in Book V. Among multitudinous critics – Cheney, Fowler, Parker, Bradner, Hough, Nelson, Bennett, Hamilton, and Lewis -- Talus is either chiefly ignored or singled out for negative comment. Only Hough suggests that the conception of a creature such as Talus is not entirely faulty (he blames Book V's failures on Artegall instead), and Nelson is able to treat the specific actions of Talus with any sympathetic seriousness. B. E. C. Davis states the prevalent, view emphatically, "Neither authority [past uses of a similar figure] nor the demands of allegory can palliate the offence of admitting this grotesque automaton…Talus is a very affront to the hero's dignity, a lapse on the part of Spenser that can only be attributed to waning power.” (Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study, 1933, in Variorum, V, 298) Thus it is a great surprise to learn that Talus has not always been universally considered an unsuitable portrayal of a minion of justice.
John Upton (edited an edition of the Fairie Queene pub. 1758) discusses with great fervour the pairing of Artegall and Talus. He describes Talus as "the properest person - able to put in act the righteous decrees of Arthegal …"
Coleridge singles out Talus as a striking example of a successful character in Spenser. Coleridge does not think a great deal of Spenser's mental powers: “He has an imaginative fancy, but he has not imagination, in kind or degree, as Shakespeare or Marlowe have; the boldest effort of his powers in this way is the character of Talus." (!)
De Vere and De Selincourt also praised Talus. De Vere (1814-1902), a friend of Browning and Tennyson, wrote a book on the British rule in Ireland which showed Irish sympathies, so he would seem an unusual exponent of the conception of Talus. De Selincourt, who wrote the introduction to the one volume Oxford edition of 1912, describes Talus as, of all things justice in the abstract. "By his [Artegall's] side he sets Talus, the iron man, the most powerful embodiment of Justice in the abstract. In Sir Artegall and his remorseless squire the different types of allegory are seen at once in their best contrast and in perfect harmony."
F. M. Padelford agrees: (“Talus: The Law", 1918) “Talus is undoubtedly one of the most satisfactory inventions in the whole allegory, He is more convincing and significan than any of the other companions of the knights except Una…He answered also to a sense of fitness which we still feel in these matters….”
So Talus must have seemed to some extent unique and intelligently contrived, What were some of the conceptions which Spenser kept in mind when contriving Talus?
II. The Concept of the Character of Talus
Astrological Background of Book V:
Talus is only one small particle in the complex astrological and mythological associations which mirror the concept of justice in Book V, Jupiter is the unseen titular god of this book; he is the fifth god of the planetary week (Thursday), the successor of Saturn, whom Spenser claims in the Proem is no longer reigning. Jupiter's number, five, evenly divides the digits, even as he is considered the god of even balance and order. By association he is the god of judgment and of natural philosophy (which includes the theoretical aspect of law), and he also executes decrees with the thunderbolt of vengeance. Thus the two principal concepts associated with Jupiter -- balance in judgment and punishment of evil -- are the forms of justice which are dealt with in Book V.
Since Jupiter is the executor of justice, it is natural that his daughter, Astraea, or Virgo the Virgin, should rule the actions of Book V from her station in the Zodiac. Of course Astraea is also a celestial compliment to Queen Elizabeth (a common one; there was even a cult of Astraea at the time devoted to Elizabeth-Astraea’s veneration). Astraea’s terrestrial counterpart in the book’s allegorical centerpiece is Mercilla, also the Virgin Queen. (Indeed three of the book's principal women-- Astraea, Britomart, and Mercilla -- are images of Elizabeth, and the fourth, Radigund, is also a sovereign. ) Even as Astraea, in the sixth sign of the Zodiac, resides next to Libra, the scales or balance, in the seventh sign of the Zodiac, so Astraea-Mercilla-Elizabeth is noted for balancing justice with mercy, Thus although the heavens are revolving farther and farther away from the Golden Age of Saturn, a temporary return of equity and the perfect standards of past time is provided under the sign of the Virgin.
When Astraea the Virgin was on earth, before she assumed celestial dominance, she had chosen the boy Artegall for her foster son. She trained him in discerning and measuring the recompense of right and wrong, and "when so it needs with rigour to dispense" ( Canto I, stanza vii ). In this way he is trained in the nature of justice as it is exemplified in Jupiter -- balancing judgement and exercising vengeance. She also gives her foster son the sword Chrysaor, a sword which she stole from the house of Jupiter himself and which he had used in a fight against the rebellious Titans, or giants. The sword is a common attribute of the righteous virgin in Spenser –not only does Astraea have one, but also Britomart and Mercilla. Also Chrysaor has been used to crush the Titans' primal rebellion against the rule of Jupiter -- and analogously in Book V Artegall will use it to crush further giants who are rebelling against justice and therefore indirectly against Jupiter. No other book of The Fairie Queene has so many giants -- the Giant Democracy with the misused scales, Geryoneo, and Grandtorto; we are witnessing a second rising of the giants and a second cosmic war. Jupiter's allies in the first war with the giants included Minerva, Bacchus, and Hercules, his son – Britomart is a Minerva figure and Artegall is compared with Hercules and Bacchus at the beginning of Canto I. (Artegall's subjection to Radigund is also parallel to Hercules’ subjection to Omphale. )
Spenser employs eighteen lines in describing the history of Chrysaor and Artegall's skill in using it.
Ne any liv’d on ground, that durst withstand
His dreadfull beast, much lease him match in fight,
Or bide the horror of his wreakfull hand,
When so he list in wrath lift up his steely brand. ( I: viii )
This sword is described in an entire stanza as an object of great beauty and virtue:
For of most perfect metall it was made,
Tempred with adamant amongst the same,
And garnisht all with gold upon the blade
In goodly wise, whereof it tooke his name,
And was of no less vertue then of fame:
For there no substance was so firme and hard,
Ne any armour could his dint out ward;
But wheresoever it did light, it throughly shard. ( I: ix )
By contrast only nine lines are devoted to Astraea's second gift to Artagall, Talus and his iron flail, which she gives to him directly before she ascends to heaven in disgust at the increasing evil of earth. Since Astraea, or Virgo, is the divinity of the sixth sign of the Zodiac, which occurs in August, the flail is associated with the seasonal task of her month. Also the flail was commonly associated with Jupiter himself. Macrobius describes an image of Jupiter having the right hand raised with a whip (dextera elevate cum flagro). Later the type was well-established in astrological illustrations. It is interesting that Jupiter's other weapon of vengeance, the thunderbolt, is used by Arthur against the Souldan in Canto VIII.
The name Talus seems to have been used before Spenser, The pseudo-Platonic Minos mentions a Talus who travelled twice a year throughout Crete bearing the brazen tables of the law, and who was surnamed “The Brazen”. Apollonius Rhodius speaks of the same Talus as “made of brass and invulnerable”. The Tower of Danother in Huon of Bordeaux is guarded by two men of brass, each holding an iron flail. The Latin word talus refers to an ankle, heel, or anklebone, hence the word for a bird's grasping claw, a talon. It is thus not unnatural that Spenser should choose the name Talus for the carrier of Jupiter's iron flail.
If Artegall' s two gifts from Astraea had been exploited to somewhat the same relative degree as they are described in the first portion of Canto I, the celestial Chrysaor of "brute beauty and valour and act" would have shone forth in a magnificence worthy of Artegall (Art-egal = equal to Arthur). Artegall uses his sword in few places, however, and even permits Talus to push an actual giant down a cliff, whom presumably he should have killed with his sword. Also it is notable that the sword Chrysaor comes from heaven, while Talus is Astraea's groom on earth, left behind by her when she leaves the gross world of men. Thus the character of Talus is only a small part of Spenser's use of the associations of the Zodiac with Jupiter and justice. It is a pity he could not have emphasized the celestial portion of his astrological scheme more in contrast to his allegorization of Jupiter's flail. For Talus, only a small page given by Astraea to Artegall to do his will, becomes one of the principal actors and an all pervasive influence in Book V.
(Astrological note: It is interesting that Jupiter is associated with the sun – “the sun of righteousness”. Since Arthur-Artegall is associated with the sun and Gloriana-Astraea-Beiphoebe with the moon, the conception of justice in the Proem and Canto I is linked not only with the Court of Mercilla ( a type of Astraea, she has five Litae, or avenging spirits as attendants, also five witnesses which testify against Duessa ) but with the Temple of Justice in which Osiris is associated with the sun and Isis the moon. The Isis-Osiris cult was a cult of the equinoxes, which form an equal division of the year, thus associated with balance and order. Britomart learns from a dream that she and Artegall are associated with the figures of Isis and Osiris -- she as an Elizabeth figure is associated with the moon, and Artegall as a foster grandson of Jupiter and an Arthur-associate is related to the sun. )
Why all this astrology to underline the concept of justice? Spenser has just dealt with the generative cycles of earth in the Garden of Adonis and the love romances of Books Ill and IV. Parallel to the swift cycles of earth was the longest cycle then known to man, the procession of the equinoxes (variously estimated at from 23,900-49,000 yrs. ) Like the earth the heavens are mutable, and turn from perfection to decay and 'back again. But the constellations are not only mutable but heavenly, and their slow change was to Spenser a nearer approximation to eternal constancy than the rapid heats of men. In some imperfect way they seemed to reflect the divine pattern, and were therefore stellar pictures of perfect and supreme justice. (Chief source of astrological information concerning Spenser is in Alastair Fowler, Spenser and the Numbers of Time. Spenser incorporated very complex astrology into Book V, which I have only been able to simplify greatly.)
The Description of Talus:
When Talus is first introduced he is described briefly within a stanza, and since he is not a creature of complex psychology, the description contains almost everything needed to a full understanding of him:
His name was Talus, made of yron mould,
Immoveable, resistless, without end;
Who in his hand an yron flale did hould,
With which he thresht out falsehood, and did truth unfold.... (I: xii)
Hough suggests that the iron flail may be an instrument of torture to "unfold truth" by extracting confessions. At any rate, Talus is an allegorization of a force of punishment, criminal law, that part of justice which follows criminals to the fate prescribed for them by law. Since Talus is clearly a form of "weapon" for Artegall, Talus' flail becomes an allegorization of the weapon of a weapon. Unfortunately this surcharged double emphasis on methods of punishment weighs the conception of justice heavily on the side of practical vengeance.
In Canto IV Spenser begins a proem on the need of justice for power in order to punish criminals. As usual he omits to mention the ability of power to aid the good, or any positive quality of justice in relieving the oppressed.
Who so upon him selfe will take the skill
True justice unto people to divide,
Had neede have mightie hands, for to fulfill
That which he doth with righteous doome decide,
And for to maister wrong and puissant pride.
For vaine it is to deeme of things aright,
And makes wrong doers justice to deride,
Unlesse it be perform'd with dreadlesse might:
For powre is the right hand of Justice truly hight. (IV: i)
As Artegall goes forth further on his adventures described as having with him “that great yron gard and government.” ( IV: iii ) Here Spenser may be using alliteration loosely, for although Talus consistently acts as Artegall's guard, Artegall remains Talus’ government and not the opposite way around. Still, to some gall as a dispenser of justice is bound by the law, because, as we shall see, his judgements tend to be legalistic.
Spenser indicates the full extent of Talus' robot-likeness in Canto VI, where in passing he mentions that the
"yron man, albe he wanted sence
And sorrowes feeling…" (VI: ix)
Significantly even Spenser cannot quite abide this characterization, and has Talus show other equally fervent signs of distress:
of his ill news, did inly chill and quake
And stood still mute, as one in great suspence,
As if that by his silence he would make
Her rather read his meaning, then him self it spake.(VI: ix)
Although incapable of sorrow Talus is able to feel a good counterfeit. It is evident that no conception of an unfeeling, invulnerable man of iron violently and crudely administering justice can be pleasant without some modification. If Talus is incapable of feeling, he cannot know the nature of good and evil, and therefore no idealism but only a stupid animal persistence and loyalty to Artegall makes him clobber his victims. An insensate vengeance can feel no mercy for those he kills, nor even any sadness that these "criminals" have exercised so poorly their powers as human beings. Likewise one who feels and understands nothing can make no discriminations between cases; and law approaches “justice” only in proportion to the delicacy and care of its operations, not in proportion to its ruthless thickheadedness.
Talus' weapon is further described as being not of the sort used in war, “never wont in war" (IV: xliv). Of course this is dramatically necessary, as unless Talus’ superabundantly powerful activities are restrained, Artegall will have no function. Also Talus' unwarlike weapon is correct allegorically on one level: it is true that criminal courts mete out a different form of punishment than that delivered on the battlefield -- although watching Talus' mindless slaughters, we wonder. Yet criminal justice ought not to be more powerful than justice in the abstract, and it is clear that, whereas Artegall is capable of wielding his sword in knightly fashion when proper, in sheer kill- power he is a mere squire to Talus. We sense that, if it came to a fight, even Artegall' s Chrysaor could not slice the invulnerable Talus, whereas Talus could beat Artegall to pieces quite nicely.
Also the fact that Talus wields a weapon "never in warre" may be not only a badge of distinction indication that he is too clumsy to control conventional weapons. It is distasteful to see a being with power over innumerable lives himself incapable of the discipline of sword-play. The Red Cross Knight, Britomart, Arthur, all are superior in the scale of being to Talus, yet they must jeopardize their lives in the cause of truth, something Talus is never asked to do. Furthermore the sword is associated with the knightly quest for justice; it is a badge of religious and social distinction, and it implies certain standards of knightly moral conduct. By contrast the flail is an instrument not associated with restraint or moral aim. Of Talus it cannot be said,
His strength was as the strength of ten
Because his heart was pure,
but simply that his strength was as the strength of ten. We feel for Talus some of the strange distaste we would feel when looking at the equally insensate, obedient, invulnerable, and powerful electric chair in Sing-Sing – however much we may believe most of its victims to be unworthy members of society.
We have seen then that Talus is in person graceless and stupid, although capable of an occasional rattling of his iron plates in sympathy for his masters. He is ominously invulnerable, more powerful than any knight although he uses meaner weapons, and incapable of feelings of good or evil. These qualities explain why it never occurs to the mind to expect that he fulfill any kindly role as aider of the oppressed. Yet had he been a bit less crudely armoured, although still perhaps somewhat rough and shaggy,, perhaps a wild hirsute shepherd covered with skins, he might have carried a staff to aid the oppressed as well as a flail to exterminate evildoers. Artegall's guide might have been some rude Satyrane, natural law, meaning well but occasionally erring, yet with an eye for distressed maidens or the victims of too much tax. The fact that the iron man is completely disinterested in whatever good effects may accrue from his atrocities determines the narrowness of his endeavor.
Also the effect of Talus upon the book can seen by imagining the changes which would occur in Book V were Artegall’s companion, say, a merciful or even an avenging angel. No complex of astrological associations can conceal the fact that Talus is anything but heavenly -- far from being suprahuman, he is sub-human. A more rarified figure could personify the idea of celestial justice, so involvedly invoked in the proem but speedily dropped thereafter, throughout the entire book. Also such a figure could be as swift and absolute as Talus yet combine the qualities which Mercilla and Artegall as correct representatives of justice supposedly possess -- judgment and mercy. Talus with his entire non-soul is devoted to punishment, and since there is no .~ equivalent all-merciful figure, the book descends swiftly in subject matter from the lower regions of earth.
Not only do Talus' actions overrun the book, seems to have a detrimental psychological effect upon Artegall. Unlike Una and the Palmer, who were Red Cross’ and Guyon's better selves, Talus must be continually controlled by Artegall, and Artegall occasionally reacts to situations in a strangely Talus-like manner. For example, when Sir Turpine approaches Radigund's city Radegone, Spenser writes:
And now the knights, being arrived neare,
Did beat uppon the gates to enter in,
And at the porter, scorning them so few,
Threw many threats, if they the towne did win,
To teare his flesh in peeces for his sin… (IV: xxxvii)
Surely Artegall as a restrained knight should not have snarled such currish threats. By following through the various episodes, we will see not only the function of Talus, but also the effect which this function has upon our conception of the character of Artegall.
III. Actions of Artegall and Talus
The first judgment of Artegall concerns domestic murder. A squire and Sir Sanglier each claim that the other has stolen his lady and murdered his own. Naturally both parties want the living lady. Artegall exercises a diluted version of Solomon's trick, supposedly very clever-- whichever one the two parties will consent to chopping the second lady in half probably behaved similarly by the first lady. The decision succeeds chiefly because Sir Sanglier, on top of his other deficiencies, is clearly not very intelligent; any accused hoping to be acquitted should know better than to express murderous sentiments. Also he does not insist on his legal right to trial by combat, although he is by far the stronger party. Artegall’s action in this episode is solely that of rendering this judgment. He sends Talus to track down Sir Sanglier, whom Talus flattens although Artegall has not yet pronounced judgment, and therefore he cannot be presumed to be a criminal. The two representatives of justice force Sir Sanglier to carry the dead lady's head. This is no doubt just, but what about the respect for the corpse made such a point over in Book II? Artegall's decision is fine abstract justice but not suitable for an allegory in which the characters are also conceived of as persons. Artegall' s role has been remote, Talus’ sordid. Also it becomes apparent that a change has occurred since Bks. I and II, when the knights’ companions were spiritual advisors while the knights themselves performed the action. Here Artegall permits Talus to do footwork of which he himself is capable -- he does not seem an humble knight but a lofty one, commanding his minion hither and thither. This episode might have been different had Artegall actually battled with Sir Sanglier himself. Also Talus is not seen as protecting the squire or the lady but only as attacking and restraining Sanglier.
It is also significant that Artegall reproves Sir Sanglier not for murder but for esteeming love so lightly. Sir Sanglier has violated a contract by forsaking his own love. This is but the first of several examples that indicate of Artegall's chief judicial concerns is upholding contracts.
Canto II: Extortion
Here Artegall performs his first brave action and kills Pollente. However, fearing the stones which rain down on from the castle, he sends Talus to force an entrance. Talus behaves true to form:
Yet still he bet and bounst uppon the dore,
And thundred strokes thereon so hideouslie,
That all the peece he shaked from the flore,
And filled all the house with feare and great (II: xxi)
Talus seeks Munera out “like a limehound” (II: XXV), and as she holds up her hands suppliantly and kneels submissively at his feet he cuts off her praying hands and kneeling feet, nailing them on high. He then grabs her by her slender waist and throws her into the dirty mud of the moat to drown. Here the demands of human feeling and of abstract allegory conflict.
Of course no one should have mercy on bribery in the abstract, but Munera in the flesh should have been given a chance to repent of her evil ways. Spenser might have muted this dissonance by not describing her tortured death in such detail. It is interesting that Artegall pities Munera’s plight but knows he should not stay Talus' hand. The knights of Book V are universally endowed with pity, to indicate their worthiness, but except in exceptional cases this sentiment does not influence their actions.
In this episode, Artegall and Talus have shared the action, with Talus being a bit more methodically macabre in his punishments.
In this episode Talus performs the only chief action, a dastardly one at that. He comes up of his own accord to the giant of Democracy and shoves him off a hill, an efficacious victory but a bit ignoble. Since the giant is one of the race who have rebelled against Jupiter himself, perhaps Artegall should have fought him with the sword Chrysaor designed for the purpose. Also such a hasty decision and death seems anti-climatic. It is impossible not to notice furthermore that the giant would not have been so easily killed were he not conveniently standing at the edge of a cliff -- he like Sir Sanglier is rather unintelligent, and thus outwitting him reflects less credit on his avengers. At this point Artegall delegates Talus to disperse and punish the “foolesh women, and boys” (II: :xxx) who had followed the giant. His motivation is given, one which becomes familiar as one follows Artegall through Book V:
He much was troubled, ne wist what to doo.
For loth he was his noble hands t’embrew
In the base blood of such a rascall crew… (II:lii)
Talus beats and disperses the mob who are "like a swarme of flyes" ( II: liii ). Granted that this mob is very unpleasant, as it attacks Talus. Yet there is no thought on Artegall's part of a chivalrous mercy to women and children; he merely feels his hands would be ignobly stained by their blood. In his concern not to kill base persons himself, he reflects a common prescription of his day for a nobleman:
North in Diall of Princes-- "We ordaine and command, that the prince do not onely not kill with his hands, but also that he do not see them do justice with his eyes …so sclaunderous a thing…is it that any in his presence should loose their lyves."
Thus Artegall's continual delegation of punishment is the proper behavior for one of royal blood. Still we remember that no knight up to now has stood so much on his own dignity. Also it seems incongruous, if the slaughter of persons of the baser sort is such a contemptible sight to the eye, that we the reader have been asked to view it so often. Artegall's arguments with the giant form his chief activity in this episode. He argues that, since all things have been ordained by God, all deviation from this original is decay.
Such heavenly justice doth among them raine,
That every one doe know their certaine bound,
In which they doe these many yeares remaine,
And mongst them al no change hath yet beene found.
But if thou now shouldst weigh them new in pound,
We are not sure they would so long remaine:
All change is perilous, and all chaunce unsound. (II: xxxvi)
Artegall has good reason to assume that all change is decay, since he is the foster son of the Astraea who has slowly watched the constellations alter from their original perfection. Yet the giant's answer not only appeals to our modern sense of equity, but should also have been recognized by Artegall as an expression of the millenial sentiments of the prophet Isaiah:
Therefore I will throw downe these mountaines hie,
And make them levell with the lowly plaine:
These towring rocks, which reach unto the skie,
I will thrust downe into the deepest maine,
And as they were, them equalize againe. (II: xxxviii )
For every valley shall be exalted, and every and hill shall be made low: and the crooked made straight, and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40: 4)
Artegall justly makes the point that certain things cannot be measured or comprehended.
For take thy ballaunce, if thou be so wise,
And weigh the winde that under heaven doth blow;
Or weigh the light that in the East doth rise;
Or weigh the thought that from mans mind doth flow. (II: xliii)
Yet probably Artegall is speaking of the mysteries of God, whereas the giant is seeking merely to distribute wealth. With money, there is no “right” or “wrong” but only a mean, so that within his narrow sphere of thought the giant is as correct as Artegall, and the two seem to speak at purposes. The giant has no conception of the value of excellence in a larger realm, however, or of the different orders in which, to the Elizabethan, man was ranked and arranged. Yet Artegall as a Christian knight striving to enforce a difficult justice on earth might have recognized that the giant, although deluded, had ideals similar to his own.
Artegall's strange insensitivity to the idea of helping the oppressed may result from the fact that he has learned his conception of law and justice from Aristotle. Aristotle divided law into four categories -- distributive justice, corrective justice, retaliation, and equity, none of which included any disbursement of goods except on the basis of partnership in a productive enterprise. (Distributive justice is the division of shares to partners in a joint production according to the contribution of each. Corrective justice is the restoring of a proper division of goods when it has been violated. Retaliation seems clear: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Equity is the provision for cases not anticipated in the construction of the law.) Artegall therefore considers that his function is to give due honor to those who are already contributing to society, chiefly those who have been appointed its rulers.
Canto III: Fraud
Artegall for the first time undertakes an adventure solely to help a needy individual, Marinell, rather than to punish an evildoer, and as a result Canto III is pleasantly reminiscent of Bks. Ill and IV. Talus (of his own accord ) punishes Braggadochio and Trompart ( see chart ). Guyon reveals intemperance in his anger at Braggadochio, but Artegall’s firm fact-finding soon settles the dispute, not Talus. Since Talus is never permitted to deal with the faults of a worthy character, he seems demeaned by being associated only with the ignoble. We think of him as "on their level". Also Talus is not permitted to help Artegall in the tournament; in a courtly and knightly environment he must stand aside.
Canto IV: Property Rights
Talus is not involved in Artegall' s judgments upon the plight of the two squires and their ladies, but Artegall's function seems rather slight also. Amidas and Philtra had been lovers, but when the sea carried part of the soil of Amidas’ island onto Bracidas' island, Philtra, desiring wealth, faithlessly leaves him for Bracidas. Bracidas, desiring Philtra's dowry, which was greater than Lucy's, deserts Lucy. Lucy throws herself despairingly into the sea, but she happens to light upon a coffer containing Philtra's dowry and is washed ashore, where she becomes the betrothed of the similarly deserted Amidas. Artegall notes that nature has already distributed equal wealth to the two couples, and waves his arm approvingly: over nature’s decision. This is Artegall’s second legal decision, parallel to his Solomon-decision in Canto I.
After vouchsafing this sentence, he meets the female torturers of Sir Turpine, but “did shame on womankinde/ mighty hand to shend” ( IV: xxiv ) , so he sends Talus
To wrecke on them their follies hardyment:
Who with a few sowces of his yron flale
Dispersed all their troupe incontinent,
And sent them home to tell a piteous tale
Of their vain prowesse turned to their proper bale.(IV: xxiv)
I think originally the ideal of mercy to womankind prescribed that a knight shouldn't do violence to women at all, not merely that he shouldn't do it with his own hands. Artegall invokes the letter and not the spirit of a chivalrous ideal. True to his stern character, he next reproves Sir Turpine for coming within woman's power, scorning him for what will later be his own fault. Why is it a sin for Sir Turpine to assay the same achievement which Artegall attempts? I have already quoted Artegall's threats at the gate of Radegone as another example of the strange harshness which may have come to Artegall as a result of having Talus as sole inspiration in his quest for justice.
Talus helps Artegall enter the city by overrunning the crowd generally (xliv), and with the canine faithfulness that is his best quality, keeps a watch beside Artegall's pavilion all night. Also he serves as a go-between from Clarinda to inform Artegall of the conditions Radigund imposes.
Canto V: Woman's Rule
Talus has no part in the male-female controversy beyond his self-protection. Of course an allegorical reason for this can be found; since Talus is law-enforcement he must not oppose any legal contract. However, his non-participation is also necessary dramatically, as he could clearly have knocked Radigund out cold. Artegall must be permitted some adventure and centrality in his own book, no matter how ignominiously he fares. Since the function of Talus, punishment, or the killing off of undesirables, has occupied so much of the book thus far, Artegall' s actions and role have been diminished.
Canto VI: Treason
Talus again serves as a messenger, riding to bring Britomart word of Artegall's plight. Here he begins to serve another of his functions, that of binding together the trio of good knights -- Artegall, Britomart, and Arthur -- who serve justice throughout the book. Talus may lack “sence” but he seems to instinctively know which are the knights related to his master, and to serve them with the same fervour with which he serves Artegall. By reacting similarly to all the knights of justice, Talus binds together the center portions of the book, even though we sometimes lose sight of Artegall himself.
Talus now aids Britomart against Dolon, watching all the night outside her door “in great disease” (xxvi) and flailing the two knights who first attack her. Although Britomart desires to fight her own way out of the castle, the suspense is less because clearly she has a second competent to do the job should she waver. The triumph of good over seems lessened because evil becomes the weaker party and good is automatically so strong.
Canto VII: Woman's Rule, etc.
Britomart enters the temple of justice, but Talus “mote not be admitted" (iii). Talus’ exclusion from both of the allegorical centerpieces, the temple of justice and Mercilla's court, disrupts the book somewhat, as he is present throughout the rest of the action. He exists only for the dirty-work, not for the inspirational and instructional portions, and this creates another disparity between action and instruction.
When Britomart encamps outside Radigund's city, Talus keeps watch over her as he had previously done for Artegall. Radigund would have been eager to welcome Britomart in for a fight, but the sight of Talus, the iron man, restrains her. To a mild degree it detracts from Britomart’s glory that she, fiercely armed, has not been the greater cause of fear. After Britomart decapitates Radigund, Talus hastens to the city to slay the fleeing amazons.
And pressing through the preace unto the gate,
Pelmell with them attonce did enter in.
There then a piteous slaughter did begin:
For all that ever came within his reach
Be with his yron flale did thresh so thin,
That he no worke at all left for the leach:
Like to an hideous stor.me, which nothing may empeach. (VII : XXXV)
Britomart sees the heaps of carcasses, and orders Talus to cease (correction of chart: she does not wait to give the order). Still Spenser has her arrive late enough so that much slaughter has already occurred. Artegall's honor is diminished by the fact that Talus rather than himself has helped Britomart through these perils which he has caused her to undergo.
Canto VIII: Foreign Injustice
Canto IX: Guile
Talus' monotonous beating and smashing produces a sameness of adventures. Also the noble avengers of justice use a trick to draw Malengin forth, even as in the preceding canto Artegall has used a disguise to enter the souldan's castle. The actions here seem offensive as well as defensive, not even corrective justice, as nothing has been stolen, but merely preventative justice.
The knights now travel to Mercilla’s court and Talus waits outside. The Mercilla scenes could have been very powerful, as the Duessa who has plagued the preceding books is now brought to justice. Spenser neglects a chance to unify the Mercilla episode with the rest of Book V and to increase the stature of Artegall by failing to have the knight of justice himself capture Duessa and bring her to Mercilla's court.
Canto X: Foreign Invasion
Talus has no part in this episode because it occurs simultaneously with Canto XI in which he is with Artegall. However Spenser in commenting on Mercilla makes a statement in another context, could explain as well as any other singular unattractiveness of Talus.
As it is greater prayse to save then spill,
And better to reforme then to cut off the ill…(X: ii)
The statement almost as a shock after the punitive of the preceding bulk of the book.
Cantos XI and XII: Foreign Invasion and Subjugation of Ireland
As in Book II, Arthur has an adventure parallel to that of the hero of the book, but unlike the situation in Book II, the two adventures are not merely related in theme but also in plot, being two tediously similar journeys to actual geographic locations.
Aristotle lists the throwing away of one's shield as an example of the broadest form of injustice, general vice, so that Burbon has been selected as a further example of injustice. Here again Talus, more than Burbon and Artegall, fights off Burbon's enemies:
But when as overblowen was that brunt,
Those knights began a fresh them to assayle,
And all about the fields like squirrels hunt;
But chiefly Talus with his yron flayle, _
Gainst which no flight nor rescue mote avayle,
Made cruell havocke of the baser crew,
And chaced them both over hill and dale:
The raskall manie soone they overthrew…. (XI: lix)
However, for propriety's sake, "the two knights themselves their captains did subdue" (lix). Even after Burbon has regained his lady, Talus continues chasing enemies for sport, until Artegall bids him cease. Artegall’s motives for restraining him are left ambiguous; mercy may influence him, but perhaps only haste.
In Canto XII Talus fights his way to land before Artegall embarks, even as he had prepared the way for Artegall into Pollente’s castle. He also fights the first battle on land, so that Artegall is left with only the slaying of Grantorto. On his way home Artegall forbids Talus to attack Envy, Detraction, and the Blatant Beast, since punishing slander is no function of criminal law. Yet a poet is hanging by his tongue in Mercilla’s court for the same offense, so the punishment of slander is uncertain. The book ends with Artegall being called “the mildest man alive” and Talus attending his master into the last stanza.
IV. Summary of the Function of Talus and His Effect on Book V:
Talus has served as a personification of Artegall's weapons, giving the impression that Artegall is too delicate to carry them himself. Talus performs a surprising percentage of the actions of the book, and since he is only permitted to kill base persons, the enemies of justice in Book V seem particularly despicable, and indeed are often described as mere insects and animals. We long in reminiscence for Pyrocles and Cymocles, the Sans brothers, Despair, or even Corflambo, all of whom had some personal charm.
Talus serves to unify the action of the book through serving alternately Artegall, Britomart, and Arthur, and through functioning as a messenger or watchdog whenever needed. However so omniactive that Artegall seems staid and relatively useless by contrast, existing chiefly to make a fine appearance in the cause of justice. Also the moral character of Artegall is weakened, because he seems alternately to approve and disapprove of Talus; sometimes he needs him badly, but at other times he expresses almost distaste for Talus' automatic destructiveness. Artegall is weakened by tolerating a henchman he cannot fully respect, and who occasionally performs deeds even Artegall himself would not have commanded. Talus seems almost an incarnation of Spenser's worst wish-fantasies of vengeance, which for the sake of conscience Spenser feels he must restrain. Most of all, the continued use of Talus completely weights the balance in Book V's treatment of justice on the side of physical punishment en masse, and limits Artegall’s proclamations to decisions which can be implemented by a police force. The error is not in the conception of an iron man, but in the power which is granted to this conception within a book of justice.
The presence of Talus seems to stifle Spenser's imaginative fancy -- Book V is more than a hundred stanzas shorter than average for the first three books, and there are no interpolated tales. In addition there is a general absence of color and ornament, there are fewer similes, the plot is far less intricate and varied than in the other books (although this may be due to early composition) , and the general structure of each episode, is: Artegall and Talus encounter enemy, Artegall judges him, Talus kills him. Whatever peaks of allegorical and pictoral concentration occur sporadically developed within the book are weakened by the absence of Talus, the principal performer of action.
Hamilton claims that Artgeall progresses throughout Book V, gaining in mercy, but the idea is sadly false; rather Artegall shows too much mercy to Radigund and must be purged into severity, which he attains, as shown by his unmoved condemnation of the fair Duessa. There is no progression within the book; rather Artegall is the only knight who fails so noticeably in his quest that two knights and a robot are needed to save him from his own folly, and a messenger must come warning him to more quickly fulfill his mission. Also previously in Book III it has been prophesied that Artegall will be basely slain, and this strange, cold, solitary man leaves the book under a shadow. For all of these reasons it almost seems as though Talus can claim equality with Artegall as the protagonist of Book V.
V. Poetry Used Describe Talus
There is no better indication of the effect of Talus on the nature of Book V than the uniformly coarse and unpolished quality of the poetry used to describe him. Spenser makes no attempt to present his character as "poetic" or to describe his actions in mellifluous language. First of all Talus is uniformly referred to as an “iron groome,” an appellation much less pleasant 'than “guide”, “companion”, or even “servant” his violence is described in harsh and even uncouth language. I will give only a few examples, as most of the are similar to each other in diction:
Canto I: xxi, xxii
But to him leaping, lent him such a knocke,
That on the ground he layd him like a senselesse blocke.
But ere he could himself recure againe,
Him in his iron paw he seized had…
That lim he could not wag…
Canto II: liii
But when at them he with his flaile gan lay,
He like a swarm of flyes them overthrew,
Ne any of them durst come in his way,
But here and there before his presence flew,
And hid themselves in holes and bushes from his view.
Canto VI: XXX
But soone as he began to lay about
With his rude yron flaile, they gan to flie,
Both armed knights and eke unarmed rout,
Yet Talus after them apace did plie,
Where ever in the darke he could them spie;
That here and there like scattred sheep they lay…
Canto VII: xxxv
But yet so fast they could not home retrate
But that swift Talus did the formost win;
And pressing through the preace unto the gate,
Pelmell with them attonce did enter in.
There then a piteous slaughter did begin:
For all that ever came within his reach
He with his iron flale did thresh so thin
That he no work at all left for the leach:
Like to an hideous storme, that nothing may empeach.
Canto IX: xix
Gan drive at him, with so huge might and maine,
That all his bones as small as sandy grayle
He broke, and did his bowels disentrayle;
Crying in vaine for helpe….
Canto XII: vii
But Talus sternely did upon them set,
And brushed and battred them without remorse,
That on the ground he left full manie a corse;
Ne any able was him to withstand,
But he them overthrew both man and horse,
That they lay scattered over all the land,
As thicke as doth the seede after the sowers hand.
Even as there has been little poetry in the functions of Talus, so the verse in which Spenser describes him is wooden and businesslike, with a certain hacking simplicity which suggests with appropriateness Talus’ actions and character.