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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 | Quotes


All seem to speak with one voice ... that the female nature is wholly given up to vice.

Christine, Part 1, Sections 1–11

This statement by Christine is general and broad by way of expressing the enormity of the task ahead—to refute the statement. It isn't just a matter of so many misogynistic critics assuming that everyone agrees with them, but that they reinforce each other by repeating the same arguments based on selective or misunderstood readings of the classics and the Bible. Starting with the biblical original sin as the fault of the first woman, the attempt is not to blame individual women so much as to embed fault into the very essence of the female sex. This is to render women "inferior" to men because that's the way they are made to be. It will be Christine's task to construct the city on reasoning out the origins of these attacks, rectifying them through ample examples of good women, and to bring forward justice to inspire and uplift women of all ages.


It is time for them to be delivered out the hands of Pharaoh.

Lady Reason, Part 1, Sections 1–11

This quote is another biblical reference linked to the deliverance of virtuous women above and beyond the slanders unjustly heaped upon them by misogynists. These women, like the Israelites of the Old Testament who were delivered from slavery in Egypt by Moses, have for too long remained mute before this oppression. The battlefield is the written word, and the "sword" is the pen with which the words are written.


I will obey your every command, so be it unto me according to your word.

Christine, Part 1, Sections 1–11

This announcement Christine makes to the order of the task set before her by Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, and Lady Justice parallels the words of the Virgin Mary upon being told by the angel of God that she will be Christ's mother in Luke 1:38. In so doing, de Pizan/Christine emphasizes the sacredness and magnitude of building this city of virtuous ladies, not only for herself, but for all women of all time. The authority to do so is supported by God's irrefutable word in the Bible for all Christians.


This force resides in the mind and the heart.

Lady Reason, Part 1, Sections 14–26

The force to which Lady Reason here refers is a "gift from God" and a "natural, vital force" that has less to do with the physical strength of a person (with which nature has endowed men more liberally than women) and more to do with the "rational mind" possessed by some and not others regardless of gender. By logic, then, as some men who are large and strong are cowardly and weak while others who are not as strong have abundant courage and endurance, the same applies to women. The biblical example of David and Goliath comes to mind in this context.


So tell me ... if you have ... known any prince ... more perfectly endowed than she was?

Lady Reason, Part 1, Sections 14–26

Having described an Amazon queen in terms not only of valor and skill in battle but also of accomplishments in ruling an organized and prosperous kingdom, Lady Reason praises another legendary lady, Zenobia, Queen of Palmyria, as fully capable in the arts, languages, and all branches of education, with the intent of securing a good education for her children as well. These are all attributes of the ideal prince de Pizan had detailed in previous writings. The point Lady Reason makes is that if these accomplishments are what define the ideal "prince," then what happens to gender when it is a woman who displays them?


Boys tend to go out and about in the world.

Lady Rectitude, Part 2, Sections 7–12

At issue is the observation that girls tend to provide long-term and loving care to aging parents, while boys do not. Lady Rectitude does not use this opportunity to criticize the lack of parental care by boys, but instead puts it to the different inclinations of boys to be publicly active, while girls are more home-oriented. There is no judgement of this difference in terms of moral value, but it is used to explain why more girls than boys do care for aging parents.


She shall be the first to take her place in the magnificent palace.

Lady Rectitude, Part 2, Sections 13–29

It is significant that the first lady invited to take up residence in the city of ladies is the ancient Queen Hypsicratea, who followed her husband everywhere and suffered with him in every hardship and trial of life such that her husband came before any luxury she might have enjoyed by staying home. This example is a prime display of virtue, love, and fidelity that refutes the across-the-board-condemnation of wives by misogynists. This pre-Christian example lays the groundwork by which the highest of the Christian ladies that follow are to be understood, just as the Old Testament lays the groundwork for the events of the New Testament in the Bible.


This should prove to you that not all men's arguments are based on reason.

Lady Rectitude, Part 2, Sections 30–36

One of the chief arguments of the critics of the female sex is that women are incapable of reason, and they are governed only by selfish emotion and irrational outbursts, making it so they can't be educated. But here, Lady Rectitude reminds Christine that both men and women are capable of acting on good reason every bit as much as being capable of lacking it. The remedy for both sexes is a good education by which an individual person can maintain good morals.


They all decided to kill themselves rather than be raped.

Lady Rectitude, Part 2, Sections 37–69

Lady Rectitude is refuting in no uncertain terms the persistent notion that "no really means yes" in the case of rape. She relates the example of a group of Roman women who, when their men had all been killed by the enemy, took up arms to defend themselves but were taken captive instead. Faced with the certainty of being raped, they chose instead to sacrifice their lives rather than bear such a horrific dishonor.


It's like being in the midst of flames without getting burnt.

Lady Rectitude, Part 2, Sections 37–69

The context for this quote is in regard to the difficulty a beautiful woman has in defending herself from the unwanted attentions of men eager to start an illicit affair. Although the quote is in reference to a pagan lady as an example, Lady Rectitude explains the moral challenge in terms recalling the martyrdom of Saint Irene, who, along with her sisters, was thrown into flames that did not touch them.


She will reside in the highest palace of all ... entirely made up of glory and praise.

Lady Justice, Part 3, Sections 1–19

The most stern and serious of the three ladies sent to help Christine, Lady Justice refers here to the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, thereby establishing irrefutable Christian perfection in a female form as the ruler of the city of ladies. It is appropriate for Lady Justice to usher in Christ's mother, as it is to Mary that Christians of de Pizan's time appealed to intercede on their behalf for divine justice. The very attributes of compassion and humility in Mary are thus hailed as the best features of virtuous women.


He was so blinded by the lustful thoughts ... that he hugged and kissed each pot.

Lady Justice, Part 3, Sections 1–19

The extent to which the lust of the Roman prefect Dulcitius for three virgin sisters (one of whom was Irene) was such that he is deluded into thinking the pots and pans of the kitchen are these women. No threat or torture could make the women worship idols, and although they were set on fire, the fire didn't burn them. Instead, they died of their own will to join God. The story of the pots and pans was a familiar one throughout the Middle Ages.


They also prove what we've been saying about the constancy of women.

Lady Justice, Part 3, Sections 1–19

The stories of the virgin saints are examples of women constant and true to their beliefs even in death. Such abundant examples brought forward refute the charge against women that they are inconstant and as changeable as the phases of the moon. Such women are faithful to their religion, while the men who oppress them wonder why it's such a big deal. For them, it is just as easy to make a public display of worship to this or that deity as long as it means they can stay in power. These women, on the other hand, have no avocation but to follow Christ.


Such acts are the rungs on the ladders that lead to heaven.

Lady Justice, Part 3, Sections 1–19

The "ladder to heaven" may refer to the vision of Jacob's ladder in the biblical Book of Genesis, but it also brings to mind the original Indian game "Snakes and Ladders," by which players learn moral lessons of vices (sliding down a snake) and virtues (climbing up a ladder). In this case, the good works of women (whether acknowledged or not) allow them to ascend to heaven. The fact that the Queen of Heaven arrives to take up residence on the highest throne of the city validates her position as nearest to heaven.


This city has been founded and built to accommodate all deserving women.

Christine, Part 3, Sections 1–19

Christine's speech reiterates that the residency of the ladies in the city is based entirely on merit, not on station in life or wealth. The humble origins of the Virgin Mary are invoked to emphasize that devotion and faith expressed in acts of virtue are the measures of Lady Rectitude's ruler, the truthful reflection of Lady Reason's mirror, and the cup of the waters overflowing from Lady Justice. God may call upon any woman found worthy of it as signified by these three of his "daughters" sent to guide Christine.

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