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Venus and Anchises: Brittain’s Ida

21 pages21 minutes


Phineas Fletcher was a prolific English poet who was born on 8th April, 1582, the eldest son to Dr Giles Fletcher in Cranbrook, Kent who also sired another poet, his namesake, Giles. Phineas was educated at Eton and from there went to University at King’s College, Cambridge from where he graduated with a B.A. in 1604, and M.A. in 1608. After his ordination as a priest he became chaplain to Sir Henry Willoughby who was instrumental in securing him the rectory in Hilgay, Norfolk in 1621. He retained this position and together with his wife, Elizabeth Vincent, remained there until his death. Fletcher wrote an immense amount of poetry across a wide range of subjects. The two for which he garnered most admiration were Locustae, vel Pietas Jesuitica (The Locusts or Apollyonists) published in 1627 and Purple Island, also called the Isle of Man, in 1633. The Locusts is essentially a furious poetical attack on the Jesuits. A brief epic, the English version was originally written around 1612 and was finally published with its Latin sibling in 1627. It was dedicated to Prince Henry, the great hope of the militant Protestant faction. The Purple Island or, the Isle of Man, is an allegory in twelve cantos that describe the human body in terms of it being an island. The bones are the foundation or mountains; the veins and arteries, rivers; the heart, liver, stomach, etc., goodly cities; the mouth, a cave; the teeth are “twice sixteen porters, receivers of the customary rent”; the tongue, “a groom who delivers all unto neare officers.” The liver is the arch-city, where two purple streams (two great rivers of blood) “raise their boil-heads.” The eyes are watch-towers; the sight, the warder. Taste and the tongue are man and wife. The island’s prince is the intellect; the five senses are his counselors. Disease and vice are his mortal foes, with whom he wages war. The virtues are his allies. Fletcher undoubtedly had a great understanding of anatomy and shares much of it in the minutest poetical detail. Many have noted that its flowing style alludes to Edmund Spenser and it is suggested to have been an influence on John Milton. Phineas Fletcher died at his rectory in Hilgay on the 13th December, 1650 at the age of 68.

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