On Famous Women
In 1362, Renaissance scholar Giovanni Boccaccio wrote Famous Women, in which he analyzed female characters from Classical texts. Other Italian scholars at the time devoted their efforts to studying male heroes and gods, but Boccaccio brought attention to these women who oftentimes existed solely to benefit the hero as romantic interests or appear as goddesses bestowing wisdom for a few lines before departing. Most notably is his analysis of Dido, the queen of Carthage from The Aeneid. His celebration of the queen, however, becomes instead a rigidly Christian perspective of her behavior in the text as Boccaccio views her through a Christian lens, and his portrayal of a mythological character from Roman loses its accuracy in favor of glorification. Boccaccio’s tone in his interpretation of Dido contradicts The Aeneid through his decision to disregard many of Dido’s actions in order to depict an idealized Christian image of the queen as a martyr of chastity.
In many Classical texts, women are almost never in positions of power, expected to be dutiful and submissive to men. At the beginning of his analysis, it seems as if Boccaccio deviates from that stereotype, beginning with praise of the queen: “O Dido, venerable and eternal...
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