The Book of the City of Ladies

Summary

Part I

Part I opens with Christine reading from Matheolus’s Lamentations, a work from the thirteenth century that addresses marriage wherein the author writes that women make men’s lives miserable.[5] Upon reading these words, Christine becomes upset and feels ashamed to be a woman: “This thought inspired such a great sense of disgust and sadness in me that I began to despise myself and the whole of my sex as an aberration in nature”.[6] The three Virtues then appear to Christine, and each lady tells Christine what her role will be in helping her build the City of Ladies. Lady Reason, a virtue developed by Christine for the purpose of her book, is the first to join Christine and helps her build the external walls of the city. She answers Christine's questions about why some men slander women, helping Christine to prepare the ground on which the city will be built. She tells Christine to “take the spade of [her] intelligence and dig deep to make a trench all around [the city] … [and Reason will] help to carry away the hods of earth on [her] shoulders.” These “hods of earth” are the past beliefs Christine has held. Christine, in the beginning of the text, believed that women must truly be bad because she “could scarcely find a moral work by any author which didn't devote some chapter or paragraph to attacking the female sex. [Therefore she] had to accept [these authors] unfavourable opinion[s] of women since it was unlikely that so many learned men, who seemed to be endowed with such great intelligence and insight into all things, could possibly have lied on so many different occasions.” Christine is not using reason to discover the merits of women. She believes all that she reads instead of putting her mind to listing all the great deeds women have accomplished. To help Christine see reason, Lady Reason comes and teaches Christine. She helps Christine dispel her own self-consciousness and the negative thoughts of past writers. By creating Lady Reason, Christine not only teaches her own allegorical self, but also her readers. She gives not only herself reason, but also gives readers, and women, reason to believe that women are not evil or useless creatures but instead have a significant place within society.

Women discussed

These women are discussed in Part I of the Book of the City of Ladies.[7]

  • Queen of Sheba
  • Fredegund
  • Semiramis
  • Amazons: Thamiris, Menalippe, Hippolyta, Penthesilea
  • Zenobia
  • Artemisia I of Caria
  • Lilia, mother of Theodoric
  • Camilla (mythology)
  • Laodice of Cappadocia
  • Cloelia
  • Cornificia
  • Faltonia Betitia Proba
  • Sappho
  • Manto (mythology)#Daughter of Tiresias
  • Medea
  • Circe
  • Carmenta
  • Minerva
  • Ceres
  • Isis
  • Arachne
  • Pamphile
  • Thamaris
  • Irene
  • Iaia
  • Sempronia#Sempronia.2C wife of Decimus Junius Brutus
  • Woman of Valor
  • Gaia Cirilla
  • Dido
  • Ops
  • Lavinia

Part II

In Part II, Lady Rectitude says she will help Christine “construct the houses and buildings inside the walls of the City of Ladies” and fill it with inhabitants who are “valiant ladies of great renown”.[6] As they build, Lady Rectitude informs Christine with examples and “stories of pagan, Hebrew, and Christian ladies” [5] who possessed the gift of prophecy, chastity, or devotion to their families and others. Christine and Lady Rectitude also discuss the institution of marriage, addressing Christine’s questions regarding men’s claims about the ill qualities women bring to marriage. Lady Rectitude corrects these misconceptions with examples of women who loved their husbands and acted virtuously, noting that those women who are evil toward their husbands are “like creatures who go totally against their nature”.[6] Lady Rectitude also refutes allegations that women are unchaste, inconstant, unfaithful, and mean by nature through her stories. This part closes with Christine addressing women and asking them to pray for her as she continues her work with Lady Justice to complete the city.

Women discussed

These women are discussed in Part II of the Book of the City of Ladies.[7]

  • Sibyls: Erythraean Sibyl, Cumaean Sibyl
  • Deborah
  • Elizabeth (biblical figure)
  • Anna the Prophetess
  • Queen of Sheba
  • Cassandra
  • Basina of Thuringia
  • Carmenta
  • Theodora (wife of Justinian I)
  • Dripetrua
  • Hypsipyle
  • the virgin Claudine
  • Roman Charity
  • Hypsicratea
  • Triaria
  • Artemisia I of Caria
  • Argea
  • Agrippina the Elder
  • Julia (daughter of Julius Caesar)
  • Aemilia Tertia
  • Xanthippe
  • Pompeia Paulina
  • Sulpicia (wife of Lentulus Cruscellio)
  • Lacedaemonian women who saved their husbands from execution
  • Porcia Catonis
  • Curia (wife of Quintus Lucretius)

Part III

In Part III, Lady Justice joins with Christine to “add the finishing touches” to the city, including bringing a queen to rule the city. Lady Justice tells Christine of female saints who were praised for their martyrdom. At the close of this part, Christine makes another address to all women announcing the completion of the City of Ladies. She beseeches them to defend and protect the city and to follow their queen (the virgin Mary). She also warns the women against the lies of slanderers, saying, “Drive back these treacherous liars who use nothing but tricks and honeyed words to steal from you that which you should keep safe above all else: your chastity and your glorious good name”.[6]

Women discussed

These women are discussed in Part III of the Book of the City of Ladies.[7]

  • The Virgin Mary
  • The Virgin Mary's sisters and Mary Magdalene.
  • Saint Catherine.
  • Saint Margaret.
  • Saint Lucy.
  • Blessed Martina.
  • Saint Lucy (different than the Saint Lucy above)
  • Saint Justine
  • Theodosina, Saint Barbara, and Saint Dorothy
  • Saint Christine the virgin
  • Several female saints who were forced to watch their children being martyred
  • Saint Marina the virgin
  • Blessed Euphrosyna
  • Blessed Anastasia
  • Blessed Theodota
  • Saint Nathalia
  • Saint Afra
  • Several ladies who served the Apostles

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