Archimago is a sorcerer in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. In the narrative, he is continually engaged in deceitful magics, as when he makes a false Una to tempt the Red-Cross Knight into lust, and when this fails, conjures another image, of a squire, to deceive the knight into believing that Una was false to him.[1]


His name is an amalgamation of the Latin words arch (first) and imago. While imago is the root word of the modern English "image", it was originally used to describe the final form of an object, such as a ghost, echo, or fully formed idea. Thus the sorcerer's name translates as "the first and final form," a variation of Alpha and Omega, a title used to describe the Judeo-Christian God.

The spelling archimage appears occasionally throughout the poem's text, however as an alternate form of the character's name, rather than a title.[2] Percy Bysshe Shelley would later use archimage as a synonym for wizard in his poem "Letter to Maria Gisborne".[3][4] This in turn led to Ursula K. Le Guin using the variant "archmage" in her novel A Wizard of Earthsea to describe the leader of a group of wizards. The term has since become common place in fantasy literature and media.[5]

Critical interpretationEdit

One of the character's most prominent appearances is when he disguises himself as a reverend hermit, and with the assistance of Duessa (Deceit) seduces the Red-Cross Knight from Una (truth).[6] Archimago has thus been interpreted as a symbol of religious hypocrisy,[2]:88 especially the rampant hypocrisy which Spenser perceived within the leadership of the Catholic church.[7] He has also been cited as emblematic of temptation itself[8] and as a character who presents a mutated worldview which causes the knight to doubt the reality of their faith -- the very source of their strength.[9][10]


  1. ^ Colin Manlove, Christian Fantasy: from 1200 to the Present p 59-60 ISBN 0-268-00790-X
  2. ^ a b E. Cobham Brewer (1894). The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: New and Enlarged Edition. p. 88.
  3. ^ Everest, Michael Rossington (2011). The Poems of Shelley: Volume Three: 1819 - 1820. Pearson Education. p. 445.
  4. ^ "Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Letter to Maria Gisborne". English Poetry 1579-1830: Spenser and the Tradition. Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. ^ Clute, John; Westfahl (1999). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 1027. ISBN 0312198698.
  6. ^ Craik, George L. (1845). Spenser and His Poetry, vol. 1. Charles Griffin & Co. p. 127–132.
  7. ^ Waters, Douglas D. (1970). Critical Essays on Spenser from ELH. p. 158–177.
  8. ^ Beaumont, Joseph (1912). Spenser, the Fletchers, and Milton. University of California Publications. p. 336.
  9. ^ Waters, Douglas D. (1970). Critical Essays on Spenser from ELH. p. 158–177.
  10. ^ Allen, Marillene (1980). Literary and Historical Gardens in Selected Renaissance Poetry. University of Edinburgh. p. 162.