The Book of the City of Ladies | Study Guide

Christine de Pizan

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The Book of the City of Ladies | Motifs


Writing as Architecture

The literary device of representing faith as resident in a community "body" is one familiar to the literate nobility of the Middle Ages of de Pizan's acquaintance. The main source for this idea derives from the early church "father" Augustine's well-known work, The City of God. Just as members of religious orders (monks and nuns) enclosed themselves in self-sustaining communities separate from the earthy realm, the better to concentrate on developing their faith, so too must men divide themselves in opposing cities, one for those of faith in the eternal City of God and the other for those damned to the City of Man. De Pizan creates a single city for virtuous ladies, leaving those who are damned outside its walls. The tools Christine uses to build the city are the examples of virtuous ladies, which Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, and Lady Justice provide her as "tough, indestructible cement which you will need to set the mighty foundations and to support the great walls that you must raise all around."

Roles of Nature and Fortune

Nature is personified in The Book of the City of Ladies as feminine. She is cited in Part 1, Section 8 as the agency of God to establish the fundamental partnership between men and women, as described by Lady Reason, who declares, "there is no stronger or closer bond in the world than that which Nature, in accordance with God's wishes, creates between man and woman." Nature has a hand guided by God also in the physical and mental differences between men and woman as complementary opposites designed to work together. In Part 1, Section 9, Lady Reason cites the creation of the first man and woman as instructions to Nature: "If the Divine Craftsman Himself wasn't ashamed to create the female form, why should Nature be? It really is the height of stupidity to claim otherwise."

Fortune as a dynamic in human life is presented as a feminine personage. Although not as active as Nature, Fortune plays a part as discussed in Part 1, Sections 19, 20, 32, 34, 46, 47, and Part 2, Sections 58 and 59. She either favors individuals of the stories in the Book of the City of Ladies or "enviously" places obstacles in their way. Whatever Fortune brings, people must find the opportunities offered, which highlights either their virtues or vices.

Virtues and Vices

The seven deadly sins identified by Christians of the Medieval Ages were offset by seven mitigating virtues to protect the human soul from being tempted by the Devil. For example, humility corrected pride, while liberality corrected the habit of greed. The idea of virtues to guide right behavior is one inherited from classical Greek philosophers, who listed the "cardinal" or primary virtues as prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. These virtues were taken up by early Christian theologians as applicable to anyone, whether Christian or not. It is this attitude of drawing from the pagan world into the same moral and behavioral frame as Christians that allows de Pizan to include examples of virtuous women from the pagan Greco-Roman tradition (such as Lucretia, whose story is given in Part 2, Sections 44 and 64) and "house" them in her city of ladies supporting the Christian martyrs (such as Saint Irene, described in Part 3, Section 14).

Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, and Lady Justice inThe Book of the City of Ladiesare not listed in this context of virtues and their personifications to progress moral lessons, but are rather more strictly portrayed by de Pizan as guiding qualities and "daughters of God" sent to mentor Christine in the task of building the city. When personified, the Vices (evil sent by the Devil) and Virtues (good sent by God) were more frequently represented as contesting for the human soul as the battleground of good and evil.

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