The House of Alma appears in Book 2 of Edmund Spenser's epic poem, The Faerie Queene. The central virtue of Book 2 is temperance, and accordingly Alma's house is the House of Temperance, but this does not mean that its inhabitants are mellow, or that Alma is a teetotaller. Spenser expresses the virtue of temperance in the House of Alma by making it an allegory of the human body. As he says in canto ix:
Of all Gods workes, which do this world adorne,
There is no one more faire and excellent,
Then is mans body both for powre and forme,
Whiles it is kept in sober gouernment
Medicine at the time held that good health came from proper balance of the four humours. A healthy body, then, indicated control and equilibrium. Alma's house represents the ultimate in temperance by depicting the human body "in sober government," balanced and working properly. (Aspects of the House in the next few paragraphs are pipelinked to the body parts they represent.)

The beautiful Alma ("as faire mote euer bee, / And in the flowre now of her freshest age") welcomes King Arthur and Guyon, knight of temperance, into her home after they battle a lion, a tiger, and a swarm of gnats. They enter through a gate that opens to friends but remains closed to enemies, guarded by 32 warders, "all armed bright / In glistring steele." Soon they come to the hall, which is presided over by a red-clad steward named Diet and patrolled by a marshall named Appetite.

Alma, determined to give her guests a thorough tour even if it is a slightly distasteful one, next brings them into the kitchen. Here, there is a huge chimney, an enormous cauldron, and various kitchen staff scampering about. Concoction, the master cook, and the kitchen clerk Digestion oversee the proceedings, directing the cooks and dispatching people to carry the fruits of their labor to various parts of the castle. The useless byproducts of the cooking are either sent off through a conduit tube or thrown out the back door. (Spenser, with a pun worthy of Shakespeare, states that the waste products are "thrown out privily.")

In a tapestry-decked chamber Guyon and Arthur meet the maidens Prays-desire and Shamefastnesse. Alma soon leads them up alabaster steps into the house's turret, whose main room is a domed chamber lit by two eternal flames. The turret contains many rooms of various contents, but most important are the three rooms housing three different sages, of whom:

The first of them could things to come foresee:
The next could of things present best aduize;
The third things past could keepe in memoree
These three live in three separate rooms of the turret -- the first brightly painted, with devices of mythological animals, and full of buzzing flies; the second, decorated with pictures representing law, politics, science, and philosophy; the third, dilapidated and hung with parchment scrolls. Alma allows Guyon to look through the third sage's library before they leave.

The House of Alma is an interesting illustration of the science of Spenser's time. Thoughts were known to reside in the head, probably because the senses are located there, but emotions and ambitions lived in the heart. And the stomach/kitchen metaphor is an accurate representation of Elizabethan beliefs; the stomach was in fact thought to cook the food. It's interesting, too, that Spenser deals with excretion in the House of Alma, but leaves out the genitalia altogether. More than anything, though, it is the House's placement in the Book of Temperance that reveals the most about contemporary thought. Temperance was the primary virtue of health in humoral medicine, and Alma's house stands as an injuction: keep the body in balance. -- Faerie Queene Book 2

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