Sloca somebodies: christine de pizan - SLO Classical Academy
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Sloca somebodies: christine de pizan

For our final Somebody of the year (yes, it’s already that time!), we’re featuring a person who sits right on the cusp of Medieval and Renaissance times. In keeping with many of the Somebodies this year, we present to you another influential female writer, CHRISTINE DE PIZAN.

Christine de Pizan lecturing to a group of men standing. Source: 440px-Christine_de_Pisan_-_cathedra.jpg

So far, when it comes to interesting women in the Middle Ages, we’ve featured many greats and firsts…

Christine’s claim to fame, however, is being the first known woman to make a living for herself based solely on her writing. In other words, she became the first female professional writer.

Our female Somebodies have come from all over the world: Germany, France, Japan, etc. Today, we add another nationality to the list: although she is best known as a prolific French poet and author, Christine was actually born in Italy. However, her father was an astrologer to King Charles V in France, so Christine moved there sometime during her childhood and grew up largely at the French court.

Married at 15, she was widowed at 25. Left to support her 3 children and her mother, she took up writing and eventually garnered wealthy patrons like brothers of kings, sons of kings, regents, dukes, queens, and earls. Her first works were ballads of lost love, written in memory of her husband. When these met with success, she branched out to many different poetic forms, but continued to write with grace and feeling. She wrote, in all, 10 volumes of verse, but also eventually began writing prose—it is indeed her prose works that have proved to be the most influential.

Christine de Pizan in her study depicted in a manuscript written for Queen Isabeau de Bavière, c. 1410–1414, f. 4r (Harley MS 4431, British Library). Source:
Illumination from The Book of the City of Ladies. Christine is shown before the personifications of Rectitude, Reason, and Justice in her study, and working alongside Justice to build the ‘Cité des dames’. Source: 600px-Meister_der_’Cité_des_Dames’_002.jpg

Perhaps her best known work is The Book of the City of Ladies, in which she wrote of heroic and virtuous women. The sequel, The Treasure of the City of Ladies, is also beloved and has provided historians with a classification of women and their roles in medieval society. This second work also gave advice to women in various social spheres, including duchesses and princesses. In addition to all this, she wrote about King Charles V, Joan of Arc (the only French-language work written in Joan’s lifetime), and her own life story.

Christine’s views and ideas, in many ways, were in line with what would become the norm in the Renaissance—humanism and classical philosophy (stay tuned for more on this next year!). However, her outspoken defense of women, often given in direct argumentation against popular male-centric texts, is unique for its time. Her writings are now known as some of the earliest feminist texts. She writes in defense of woman’s intelligence, right to education, and ability to cultivate strong and virtuous character.

As with most Medieval women of note, Christine must have needed resilience in droves. Although in many ways privileged by her courtly upbringing and wealthy family, she still had to figure out a way to support herself and her family in a world that didn’t always believe women could or should do such a thing. She also proved herself to be an intellectual in a time when women were thought to be less than. It is no wonder, then, that she penned the quote we’re featuring today:

“Only the steadfast soul survives.”

Christine de Pizan

As we end this year (oh so soon), many if not most of us are also in need of resilience and steadfastness. Let us give grace to ourselves when we might not be thriving, knowing that at least we are surviving. Let us strive to be resilient in the face of burnout and weariness, and steadfast in the face of struggles and growth.

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