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Updated Up To 26/06/2018
Volume 16, issue 2 (January 2018) : 1-25
“With the eie of Faith”
Aemilia Lanyer’s Religious and Feminine Sight in Context
Yaakov A. Mascetti
Rubric A: Literature and Science
Rubric B: English Poetry

Against the background of the traditional scholarly portrayals of Aemilia Lanyer’s "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" as the religious gesture of a woman writer in early 17th-century England, whether sincerely spiritual or socially motivated, this essay complicates the understanding of the poet’s range of intentions and stock of concepts for the expression of her ideas. Lanyer’s conceptions of sympathetic sight and communion-based vision are presented as a probable poetic interaction with contemporary male-centered discourses of objectivity. In the context of early 17th-century philosophical disputes over the nature of vision and optics — with the publication of Johannes Kepler’s Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena in 1604 and of Galileo Galilei’s Sidereus Nuncius in 1610 — Lanyer’s poetry presents sight in religious terms as the glorious means through which a woman could aspire to gain an essential understanding of things and acquire a clear perception of Christic truth. While Kepler and Galileo promoted a model of vision which separated the physical perception of things from their subjective understanding, making the act of seeing imprecise at best and deformed at worst, impersonal and absolutely unrelated to the observer’s consciousness, Lanyer’s religious poetry presents sight as the means for the reader to internalize the perceived and attain a state of Eucharistic communion with it. While vision was becoming the passive and impersonal reception of light rays, and the mind’s conceits of things were believed to be the result of a deception of the sense of vision, Lanyer wrote and published her poetry as a moment of Eucharistic perception: the perception of Christ’s “perfect picture,” hidden behind the aenigmata of her poetry, was attainable, for Lanyer, solely through the “eie of Faith.”
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