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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 3, Sections 1–19 | Summary



In this section grouping, the city is complete, and the bodies of many virtuous women of the New Testament are invited to reside under the rule of the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. The final touches of the city near completion, and Lady Justice brings the Queen of Heaven, the Virgin Mary, to dwell on the highest throne above all and rule. Christine writes that the Virgin Mary will not "despise them [the worthy ladies of all classes] for their lowliness in comparison with her own greatness ... in her humility, which surpasses that of all other women." Then follows a description of a number of the sainted virgin Christian martyrs accompanying Mary, among them Saint Irene and her sisters. Others include the repentant prostitute Saint Afra and ladies who served the Apostles. Once all of them are assembled, Christine makes an impassioned speech to them, saying, "In short, all you women, whether of high, middle or low social rank, should be especially alert and on your guard against those who ... assail you on all sides and accuse you of every vice imaginable."


De Pizan drew most of the information she presents in Part 3 from the Miroir historical (1333), a solid reference source in de Pizan's time. The Miroir historical is one part of the Latin Speculum majus (Great Mirror) attributed to the French Dominican scholar Vincent de Beauvais (c. 1190–1264). The Great Mirror was an ambitious catalog of events and notable people from creation to the year 1250, and brought together knowledge from Christian, classical Arabic, and Hebrew texts in four parts, including the Mirror of Nature, the Mirror of Doctrine, the Mirror of History, and the Mirror of Morality, which appeared in later versions.

The humility and compassion of the Queen of Heaven, the Virgin Mary, is not only a virtue amply attributed to the Christian virgin martyrs whose stories are told in Part 3, but they are directly applied to Saint Afra, who was a reformed prostitute instead of a virgin pure by birth. Although the reference may not be direct, a parallel may be drawn between such ladies who are invited to live in the City of Ladies among the virtuous and Saints Paul (a repentant persecutor of early Christians who also became a Christian martyr) and Augustine himself, who authored the City of God well after he had spent his youth indulging in every vice before his virtuous and most Christian mother guided him to his repentance chronicled in his Confessions (c. 400). The example of Saint Afra, then, illustrates intense devotion and faith that can be generated only by someone who has been lifted up from a disgraced state to one of bliss by the grace of God.

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