Excerpt 1 from Christine de Pizan [Heckel]

[From Sex, Society and Medieval Women by N. M. Heckel]

 

Excerpt from Christine de Pizan's

The Book of the City of Ladies

 

I.1.1. Following the practice that has become the habit of my life, namely the devoted study of literature, one day as I was sitting in my study, surrounded by books on many different subjects, my mind grew weary from dwelling at length on the weighty opinions of authors whom I had studied for so long. I looked up from my book, deciding then to leave subtle questions in peace and to read some lyric poetry for pleasure. With this intention, I searched for some small book, and by chance a strange volume came into my hands, not one of my own but one which had been given to me for safekeeping along with some others. When I held it open and saw from its title page that it was by Mathéolus, I smiled, for though I had never seen it before, I had often heard that like other books it discussed respect for women. . . . I started to read it and went on for a little while. Because the subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it down in order to turn my attention to more elevated and useful study. But just the sight of this book, even though it was of no authority, made me wonder how it happened that so many different men -- and learned men among them -- have been and are so inclined to express both in speaking and in their treatises and writings so many devilish and wicked thoughts about women and their behavior. Not only one or two and not even just this Mathéolus (for this book had a bad name anyway and was intended as a satire) but, more generally, judging from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators -- it would take too long to mention their names -- it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth. They all concur in one conclusion: that the behavior of women is inclined to and full of every vice. Thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and my conduct as a natural woman, and, similarly, I discussed this with other women whose company I frequently kept, princesses, great ladies, women of the middle and lower classes in great numbers, who graciously told me of their private experiences and intimate thoughts, in order to know in fact -- judging in good conscience and without favor -- whether the testimony of so many famous men could be true. To the best of my knowledge, no matter how long I confronted or dissected the problem, I could not see or realize how their claims could be true when compared to the natural behavior and character of women. (The Book of the City of Ladies, 3-4.)

 

Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies. Trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards. New York: Persea Books, 1998.

 

 

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