NOTE: An excellent annotated text of Jonathan Swift's The Battel of the Books, edited by Jack Lynch, can be found at and will not be included here.
FURTHER NOTE: This brief essay assumes that the reader has read The Battel of the Books. It is a quick read, and worthwhile, although some of its references are directed at Swift's contemporaries, most of whom are not widely known today. The satire was included as a sort of afterthought to the lengthy A Tale of a Tub, and was followed in turn by A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit. These texts are available at Project Gutenberg in a fairly accurate edition.

Bruce Seaton
Prof. Mell
Response Essay #2

In his satire The Battel of the Books, Jonathan Swift uses the figures of the Spider and the Bee to reveal his true favoritism (despite his claim of impartiality) toward the Ancients. The bloated spider, representing the Moderns, is made to look not only foolish but vile by the wiser Bee. When the bee attempts to rest on the spider’s web, the web is shaken “down to its very Foundation,” and cannot support the weight of the Bee. In this way Swift suggests that modern literature cannot hold up to scrutiny when compared with that of the ancients. For the Spider, his web is the whole world, and being self-important, believes that the shaking of the web means that either the world is ending, or that Beelzebub has come to punish him for killing flies. Swift, twisting words against the critics of the time, says that this shaking puts the spider “at his Wit’s end.” This suggests that no amount of wit on the part of a modern writer will lessen the importance of the ancients. When the Spider sees that it is, in fact, the Bee (whom he knows “by Sight”) who has landed on his web, he begins hurling vulgar insults at his visitor.

After their first exchange, the Spider readies himself for action, getting into the “true Spirit of Controversy,” and Swift points out, he makes a conscious effort to ignore the point of view of his opponent. Before the Spider even begins to speak, he has stubbornly made up his mind. This reflects the Modernist view that newer is better and that all things Ancient are effectively outdated, and therefore false. After the Spider accuses him of being a vagabond whose only gifts are wings and a voice, the Bee retorts blithely that since those gifts are God-given, and since the self-made products of which the Spider is so proud are nothing but shit and poison, he’s happy to have nothing but his gifts, which "would never have bestowed . . . without designing them for the noblest Ends," and leaves the Spider, and therefore the Moderns, looking hateful and foolish.

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