Posted in Essay, Terri Stewart

Christine de Pizan, Part 3 of 3

This series is an academic article that I wrote on the life of Christine de Pizan, an extraordinary woman of the medieval era. This is part 3. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Christine de Pizan lecturing men Image from Wikimedia Commons
Christine de Pizan lecturing men
Image from Wikimedia Commons

In her poems on courtly love, she was able to express her deeply held conviction that “society obliged a woman to pay far too high a price for any momentary pleasure experienced from love outside marriage.”[1] So begins her championship of women aptly captured in “Cupid’s Letter.” During this time of growth for Christine, misogynistic attitudes abounded in the Universities, in court, and in the clergy. Aristotle’s influence held sway over the common understanding of what it was to be female. Every ill of the world was laid at the feet of women. As Christine aptly said in “Cupid’s Letter,”

There are women vilely named,

And often without cause are blamed,

And even those of noble race,

However fair and full of grace.

Lord, what company, what talk—

Women’s honor they freely mock.[2]

“Cupid’s Letter” enjoyed immediate success and was translated into English by Chaucer’s disciple, Thomas Hoccleve.[3] Her work of defending women and removing the tarnish that had been applied to their honor continued in other works including “The Debate of Two Lovers” which showed that true love is joyful, not deceitful or jealous, The Book of the City of Ladies that showed women’s contributions to history through time, The Book of the Three Virtues that sought to inculcate feminine virtues to counteract the misogyny of the time, and concluded with a eulogy poem in honor of Joan of Arc, “Ditie de Jehanne dArc.”

Throughout the time of her writing of poems and books, Christine became embroiled in a literary feud with Jean de Meun who wrote the second half of “The Romance of the Rose.” This became the “first recorded literary quarrel in France.”[4] Christine was inclined to blame the deceit and trickery of the men of her day at the feet of Jean de Meun.[5] “The Romance of the Rose” encouraged men to use whatever means necessary to acquire the woman they wanted in whatever way they wanted.  Jean de Meun belonged to another generation, another social world (not the courtly world of Christine de Pizan), and was primarily a philosopher.[6] He is crude and rude in his references to women and their body parts and advises “opportunism in relations with women, who are seldom virtuous, debauchery being the least of their crimes. The fine clothes of women do not really enhance them, for a dungheap covered with a silken cloth is still a dungheap.”[7] It is with this man and his very popular poem that Christine feels compelled to specifically defend womankind. Interestingly, she counters both in a poetic literary form, written letters, and politically through the official circle of Tignonville and the queen.[8] The chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson eventually entered the fray, siding with Christine de Pizan.[9]  Eventually, he wrote a treatise against “The Romance of the Rose.”[10] Chancellor Gerson and Christine de Pizan as literary allies were unbeatable and the argument ended (although it was not resolved.)[11] Christine was able to, for the first time, remove the discussion of women “from intellectual circles and [make] it possible for a lay-person, and a woman at that, to take part.”[12] From this point on, she leveraged her fantastic intellect, writing skill, and fame to continue writing about her major concern-“the defense of women against…unjust slander and…hypocrisies of contemporary society.”[13]

Christine de Pizan was a child and woman of privilege. She moved in circles that most people could not enter. She was affected by Petrarch, the University of Bologna, the University of Paris, and by the French Court of Charles V. Typically, a woman of her lifestyle would marry a man, have children, and live on. If her husband died, her task would be to re-marry. Christine did not do this. She educated herself, honed her literary skills and became an unlikely champion of women.

© 2013, post, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

Terri StewartTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. You can expect a special post from her each week. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.

[1] Willard, Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works, 61.
[2] Ibid, 62.
[3] Ibid 63-64.
[4] Ibid, 73.
[5] Ibid, 63.
[6] Ibid, 75.
[7] Ibid, 75-76.
[8] Ibid, 77.
[9] Ibid, 80.
[10] Ibid, 84.
[11] Ibid, 86.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.

Author:

I am a monk disguised as a passionate prophet. My true loves are God, family, and the creative arts. And maybe just a little bit of politics too. (PS My photo is by Eric Lyons Photography).

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