The metaphysics of moral being
Time, change, and flourishing in the Gardens of Adonis
in Spenser’s ethics
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Chapter 4’s analysis pivots towards the metaphysical questions such an account of virtue entails. It argues that Spenser’s central image of worldly flourishing, the Gardens of Adonis, describes the metaphysical crux of moral life as Spenser understands it – rendering the good within the material facts of time, death, and decay. The Garden’s iconic exemplar of virtue is Adonis, who represents the instrumentalization of the organic body’s substance by embodying death’s conversion into the infinite potentiality of a form-making life. The image of Adonis in the Garden describes how deathly and temporal bodies become procreant, generative, and expansive forms of life. I argue that such a body stands as the ethical core of this poem and its account of human flourishing. To extend the image beyond the poetic bounds of the Gardens of Adonis and into the critical agendas of the poem writ large, the scene’s images of mortality offer a crucial metaphor for understanding the ways we productively inhabit the mutable world by figuring the point where our poetic, moral, and political lives shape and sustain one another in the task of carving out niches of civilization against the incursions of time and loss.

Spenser’s ethics

Empire, mutability, and moral philosophy in early modernity

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