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The Book of the City of Ladies | Study Guide

Christine de Pizan

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The Book of the City of Ladies | Part 2, Sections 1–6 | Summary



In this section grouping, the foundation of the city has been completed, and Christine turns to the guidance of Lady Rectitude to erect the buildings that will house the virtuous ladies. Lady Rectitude immediately sets Christine to work on the buildings of the city by telling her, "Take your tools and come with me. Don't hesitate to mix the mortar well in your inkpot and set to on the masonry work with great strokes of your pen." Lady Rectitude then gives Christine "gleaming stones" to place in the buildings in the form of 10 pagan sibyls, or women prophets upon whom God placed divine revelations. She states that the word sibyl means "one who is privy to the thoughts of God" and explains how each one of the 10 sibyls foretold future events, such as the fall of Troy and the false accounting of it, and the coming of Christ. Others from the Jewish tradition include the prophesy of the Queen of Sheba, who found a plank in the Israelite temple and decreed: "On the wood of this tree will die the man by whose hand the Jewish faith will be destroyed." The plank was, according to Lady Rectitude, hidden away until it was made into the cross on which Jesus was crucified.


Lady Rectitude (meaning "correct in judgment," "righteousness" and "the quality or state of being straight," as in a straight line drawn with the aid of a ruler) is, like Lady Reason and Lady Justice, neither a virtue (such as hope or charity) nor a vice (such as gluttony or pride), but rather a "daughter of God" sent to Christine to aid in the discernment of virtuous or evil actions in people. As a result, the city of the virtuous ladies can be built and its inhabitants clearly identified as worthy of taking up residence. In this device, de Pizan is thought to have consulted the writings of Boethius, among others. In his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius states "there appeared standing over my head a woman's form, whose countenance was full of majesty." This personage turns out to be Lady Philosophy, who commands him to summon up his courage and describes to him how "our leader, Reason, gathers her forces into her citadel." De Pizan makes good use of this tradition of representing God-given attributes such as Justice or Reason as women. Another possible origin of this tradition may be found in the Greek Muses, who presided over the arts and sciences and were invoked in epic Greek and Roman poems.

De Pizan also melds Christian, Jewish, and pagan classical references in the same manner as her predecessors in the genre, but in The Book of the City of Ladies she does so to present the contributions of women rather than men. The presentation of the sibyls in a continuity of pagan women whose prophesies concerning world events came true in the same context as the Queen of Sheba, in the Old Testament, making a prophesy over a wooden beam in the temple of Solomon is deliberate. In both ancient times and in de Pizan's time, the gift of divination and prophesy was valued as a science up until the Age of Enlightenment (17th through 18th centuries). De Pizan's father was engaged at the French court as an astrologer capable of reading the stars in order to foretell future events.

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