Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit Summary

John Lyly


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Euphues, a young gentleman of Athens, is graced by nature with great personal beauty and by fortune with a large patrimony, but he uses his brilliant wit to enjoy the pleasures of wickedness rather than the honors of virtue. In his search for new experiences, the young man goes to Naples, a city famed for loose living. There he finds many people eager to encourage a waste of time and talent, but he is cautious, trusting no one and taking none for a friend. Thus, he escapes real harm from the company of idle youths with whom he associates.

One day, Eubulus, an elderly gentleman of Naples, approaches Euphues and admonishes the young man for his easy ways, warning him of the evil results that are sure to follow and urging him to be merry with modesty and reserve. In a witty reply, Euphues rebuffs the old man’s counsel and tells him that his pious urgings only result from his withered old age. In spite of the sage warning, Euphues remains in Naples, and after two months there he meets a pleasing young man named Philautus, whom he determines to make his only and eternal friend. Impressed by the charm of Euphues, Philautus readily agrees to be his firm friend forever. Their friendship grows, and the two young men soon become inseparable.

Philautus long before earned the affection and trust of Don Ferardo, a prominent official of Naples, and he fell in love with his beautiful daughter Lucilla. While Don Ferardo is on a trip to Naples, Philautus takes his friend with him to visit Lucilla and a group of her friends. After dinner, Euphues is given the task of entertaining the company with an extemporaneous discourse on love. He declares that one should love another for his mind, not for his appearance. When the conversation turns to a discussion of constancy, Lucilla asserts that her sex is wholly fickle. Euphues begins to dispute her, but, suddenly struck by Lucilla’s beauty and confused by his feelings, he breaks off his speech and quickly leaves.

Lucilla discovers that she is attracted to the young Athenian. After weighing the respective claims of Euphues and Philautus on her affections, she convinces herself that it will not be wrong to abandon Philautus for Euphues; however, she decides to pretend to each that he is her only love. Euphues, meanwhile, persuades himself that Lucilla must be his in spite of Philautus: Friendship must give way before love. In order to deceive his friend, Euphues pretends to be in love with...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)