A City of their Own
One woman who created a place for herself was Christine de Pizan. For much of her life, she made her living as a writer in the French court. Christine was a marginal figure in several ways: an Italian in France, a middle-class person amid nobles, a woman working in a male profession. Born in Venice in 1365, she spent most of her life in France, where her father moved to be a municipal counselor. His connections to the French court enabled her to receive a good education despite contemporary class and gender restrictions (Richards xix). Ironically, it was Christine's father who encouraged her to get an education; her mother's feminine opinion (l'oppinion femenine) was that the young Christine should engage in practices common to women (l'usaige commun des femmes; 2. 36. 4). Sometime after the death of Charles V in 1380, Christine's father lost favor at court; he died when she was about twenty. When she was about fifteen, Christine married Estienne de Castel, a twenty-five year old court notary. He too encouraged her scholarly pursuits. Estienne died in 1389, leaving her a widow with three children at the age of twenty-five (Richards xix-xx). Thereafter Christine supported herself and her children by writing for patronage.
Much of Christine's writing was programmatic in character as
she "quited," or answered, the misogynistic tradition in
literature and society. Early in her writing career (1401-1403),
she was involved in the sometimes acrimonious "querelle de la
Rose" ("debate about the Rose"). She attacked the
Romance of the Rose on the grounds that it encouraged
immorality and denigrated women (Richards xxiv, Quilligan, Allegory
20). Quilligan argues that she was also trying to establish a
place for herself in the world of letters. The debate of the
misogyny in the Rose morphed into a general debate about
the status of women, the "querelle des femmes."
Christine's interlocutors rounded up the usual epithets in
their responses to her. Jean de Montreuil compared her to
Leontium, the Greek whore who criticized Theophrastus. Others
accused her of reading like a woman, to which she responded that
Jean de Meun wrote like a man (Schibanoff 94-95).
Christine wrote the Livre de la Cité des Dames in 1404-1407 (Curnow 1. iii). It continues her attempt to establish a place for herself among the 'auctores', authors. The work achieves this by providing Christine a matrilineal genealogy filled with women of honor and accomplishment (Delany 86). In this and other works, she uses the Amazon myth to provide a positive role model for women.
The Cité des Dames follows the form of the Boethian vision. The Cité des Dames begins as does the Consolation of Philosophy, with a lament over the speaker's fate. While Boethius laments his misfortunes in imperial politics (Prose 4), Christine laments her misfortune in sexual politics, her misfortune in being born a woman. Seeking diversion from her studies, she turns to a borrowed book composed by Mathéolus that she has heard discusses respect for women (reverence des femmes; I. 1. 1). She was referring to an actual book by Mathéolus, the Lamentations, which was a thirteenth-century satiric attack on women wherein the speaker bemoaned the fact that he was an older man who could not keep his younger wife sexually satisfied (Schibanoff 86, Quilligan, Allegory 149). While she can dismiss this self-proclaimed straw man as lacking, among other things, authority (auttorité), she finds the weight of misogynistic tradition so overwhelming and uniform that she concludes it must be right. God must have created an abominable work (abominable ouvrage) when he made woman (I. 1. 1). You are most likely to be familiar with these sources from Chaucer's "Wife of Bath" prologue, where her young husband reads actual misogynistic books to her until she grabs one and tears it, resulting in his hitting her so hard that she goes deaf in one ear. The querelle was raging in Chaucer's England, in the same era that Christine wrote Cité. Debates in the Middle Ages took longer - instead of the internet, messages were written out by hand and sent by way of a drunk monk riding a donkey. Of course, in broader terms, these debates extend from our earliest documents (Adam and Eve, Pandora and Epimetheus) right down to the current War on Women. The querelle was a discreet part of the overall discourse because is was a group of people arguing with each other using a common framework.
Christine (the narrator and character in the story) at first
believes these learnéd attacks on her gender, and she falls into
Adonc moy estant en ceste penssee, me sourdi une grant desplaisance et tristesce de couraige en desprisant moy meismes et tout le sexe feminin, si comme ce ce [sic] fust monstre en nature. (I. 1. 1)
As I was pondering these things, great grief and sorrow sprang up in my soul, for I despised myself and the whole female sex, as if we were some monstrosity of nature.
Just as Boethius receives consolation from Lady Philosophia, so Christine receives encouragement from three figures who appear to her in a waking (Quilligan, Allegory 55) vision: Lady Reason (dame Raison), Lady Rectitude (dame Droitture), and Lady Justice (dame Justice; I. 4. 3-I. 6. 1). These personified virtues dismiss the learnéd scholars as vigorously as Philosophia had dismissed the Muses in Boethius. Allegorical personifications were usually female, primarily for linguistic reasons (Quilligan, "Comedy" 161). In Latin and other languages where nouns and pronouns are gendered, abstract nouns were frequently feminine to distinguish them from the masculine nouns that denoted the people who engaged in activities involving those abstractions. Thus the philosopher was a philosophus, while his discipline was philosophia. "Because of the generic linguistic interests of allegory, with its parades of personifications and its need to animate nouns, we are given landscapes filled with important female speakers" (Quilligan, "Comedy" 161). Even when writers wanted to make their personifications masculine, they met with difficulty. Jean Gerson, in joining with Christine in the Querelle de la Rose, created a male personification, Theological Eloquence, for which he used masculine pronouns. However, Christine and others who responded to him applied feminine pronouns to his figure because eloquentia was a feminine noun (Quilligan, "Comedy" 161).
While the personification of virtue traditionally took female form, Christine is unusual in making her personifications identify with their gender. (The Boethian tradition was a time bomb waiting for someone to set it off.) Since supposedly chivalrous men have done little to defend women, the three figures enlist Christine's help in building a city for ladies where they can be safe from the attacks of men. No one may dwell in the city except renowned ladies and worthy women (dames de renommee et femmes dignes; I. 3. 7). Men, and those women who lack virtue, need not apply (I. 3. 7).
The Cité des Dames has a tripartite structure. In Book One, Reason supervises the laying of the city's foundation by telling stories about "warriors, queens and inventors" (Delany 83). In Book Two, Rectitude builds the walls of the city with stories of "chaste, loving and prudent women" (Delany 83). In Book Three, Justice completes the city's roofs with stories "of holy women" (Delany 83).
Christine used Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus (1360) as one of her main sources. Like Boccaccio, Christine euhemerized pagan deities and was skeptical of tradition, preferring to rely on nature and experience (Delany 88). "Boccaccio too undertook to rewrite woman better, if not entirely good, and to redress the imbalance produced by misogynistic literature" (Delany 88). As Delany notes, Boccaccio was not entirely positive in his treatment of women, and Christine differed from him significantly. For example, she differed in her assessment of the nature of women.
For Boccaccio, womanly fame is to be construed as a function of the individual woman's overcoming her "nature." He compliments these women who "surpass the endowments of womankind" (33): he attributes their accomplishments to "manly courage" (virilem animum, 37). (Stecopoulos 49)
Christine did not challenge the essentialism underlying Boccaccio's approach. Rather than deny that there is a female nature, she re-evaluated it, arguing that the accomplishments of women arose from their nature (Quilligan, Allegory 45).
Exceptionality for Christine thus resides not in a woman's denial of her nature, but rather ── despite the obstacles placed in her path ── in the intensity and purity of her fidelity to it. (Stecopoulos 50)
This difference from Boccaccio implies a second difference, one involving the scope of their projects. De Claris Mulieribus covers only women from the pre-Christian era, with the implication that those women were not viable models for women of Boccaccio's time. Indeed, the Latin language of the work largely limited the audience to men. Christine's use of the vernacular French extended her audience to women. The third book of Cité des Dames focuses on Christian martyrs, and all three books juxtapose historic and contemporary figures. "She places all her characters within a continuum that, quite purposefully, does not distinguish between ancient and contemporary, 'real' and fictitious" (Stecopoulos 48). The effect of this structure was to present models to women who were Christine's contemporaries. Christine even levels the social chain of being and achieves universality by allowing all virtuous women to be ladies (dames), in contrast to the women (mulieres) who populate De Claris Mulieribus.
Since Christine presents the ladies in her work as exemplars, her use of the Amazon myth radically departs from everything that precedes her. Amazons were previously challenges to men, not challenges for women. Only Quintus represents ordinary women as responding positively to the example of the Amazons, making the Trojan women arm themselves to join their men in the fight. However, he has the Trojan women return to their sewing as soon as they realize that they are not the exceptions that the Amazons are (Quintus I. 403-476). Long training had accustomed the Amazons to "tend work as men" (ὃσ̓ ἀνέρες ἔργα μέλονται; Quintus I. 457). Christine includes no such caveats in her work. On the contrary, for the first time the textually authorized interpretation of the myth makes Amazons positive role models for women readers. Christine must contradict her sources, which uniformly portray Amazons as negative examples to avoid or as exceptions who cannot be copied. Christine was possibly not the first woman to find the Amazons an attractive model, but she was the first woman we know about to make that re-evaluation public.
While Christine does not call upon women to emulate the combativeness of the Amazons, she embraces the Amazons as heroic ancestors who enhance the status of later women. Traditionally, men had enhanced their status by laying claim to the exploits of their illustrious ancestors who fought the Amazons (see discussion above, p. 48). By constructing the Amazons as the heroes of their own history instead of the enemy in somebody else's history, Christine establishes the potential for women to be heroes and actors on the stage of history. Christine's is an ethical construct in both the Foucaultian and the Aristotelian senses. In the Foucaultian sense, she is engaged in the process of defining herself and making a place for herself and other women that is safe from misogyny. In the Aristotelian sense, this identity she has established for herself gives her the ηθος (ēthos), the moral character, to speak (Aristotle, Rhetoric I. 2. 4). If the Amazons could successfully participate in history, then Christine could write that history. While the soldier's work seems the antithesis of the clerk's, both were thought to be men's work. If women could succeed in one field, then why not in the other?
While Christine discusses the accomplishments of individual Amazons in several places, the most important function of the Amazons may be in providing a model for the city of ladies itself. Indeed, the idea for the city seems to be an amalgamation of the Amazons and Augustine's City of God. Early in Book One, Reason develops a typological comparison between the Amazons and the city Christine is to help build.
Established by ladies who despised servitude (to men, apparently), the Amazonian nation spread far enough and lasted long enough to demonstrate the viability of an all-woman society. The term "ladies" (dames) implies a degree of civilization far removed from the wild barbarians of the original Greek myths. Nevertheless, the Amazons declined, as do all earthly principalities (mondaines seigneuries).
Christine's city would belong to a different realm that would not decay (I. 4. 1-3), the realm of the Augustinian City of God (civitas Dei; Christine III. 18. 9). In Book Two, Rectitude reiterates the typological connection.
Et ores est un nouvel royaume de Femenie encommencié; mais trop plus est digne que celluy de jadis. (II. 12. 1)
And from now on a new realm of Femenie has commenced, which is worthier by far to the old realm.
"Femenie" is an alternate term for Amazonia. Christine thus differs from Augustine in the secular model for her version of the civitas Dei. Whereas Augustine relied on Rome as the model for his city, Christine turned to Femenie as the model for hers. The result for the new Femenie is that it, like the old, is composed solely of women. By contrast, Augustine, responding to a contemporary belief that women will be resurrected as men, assures his readers that the City of God will include women who are both "conformed to the image of the Son of God" (conformes imaginis filii Dei) and yet still "in the female sex" (in sexu femineo; Civ. D. 22. 17). The new Femenie will have a new Queen (II. 12. 2), a Queen who turns out to be none other than Mary, mother of Jesus (III. 1. 1). Thus Christine turns Mary into the last Queen of the Amazons. Against the Amazon Mary, not only would Theseus be completely outclassed, but so would Heracles, Bellerophon, and indeed the whole pagan pantheon. Christine also makes Mary the head of a female chain of being, the empress of all the female sex (empereris de tout leur sexe; II. 12. 2). In Christine's chain of being, Amazonia is not a breach of the proper hierarchy, but an image of that hierarchy. Christine's independent hierarchy does in fact subvert her era's chain of being, which was unilineal and in which women were inferior to men. Christine preserves the need for women to submit to their husbands (III. 19. 2), but she provides women with a chain of being of their own wherein they can relate to one another independently of men. Christine has played her trump card, and it is the Queen.
Christine does not neglect the original Amazons. Her extended treatment of the Amazons' history is in Book One, associating them with Wisdom and the foundation of the city. They logically belong among the queens and warriors who form the foundation (Delany 83). Christine places them immediately after Semiramis, who was the first stone of the city of ladies. Semiramis had ruled Nineveh and re-established the city of Babylon (I. 15. 1-2).
The scope and organization of Cité des Dames is closer to Boccaccio's De Mulieribus Claris than to any other source. Nevertheless, Christine does not follow Boccaccio's arrangement of the material on Amazons; instead, she follows the order of the Histoire ancienne (Curnow 1062). Boccaccio deals with Marteia and Lampedo in chapter eleven, Orithyia and Antiope in chapter eighteen, Penthesilea in chapter thirty, and Thamyris in chapter forty-seven. Christine mostly follows this order in her account of the Amazons (I. 16. 1 - I. 19. 3), but she treats the stories together in one narrative and positions the story of Thamyris and Cyrus after the story of Marpasia and Lampheto. The story of Thamyris was one of Christine's favorites; she had previously included it in the Mutacion de Fortune (ll. 9535-9602) and the Epistre Othea (LVII). Thamyris was the queen of Scythia in Boccaccio's writings (47). In the ultimate source of the story, Herodotus, she was the queen of the Massagetae, a Scythian tribe (Herodotus I. 201). Thamyris' shift from Massagetean queen to Scythian queen to Amazon queen is understandable given the shifts in geographical understanding that occurred over time. Herodotus viewed the Scythians as a distinct set of tribes, but most later sources "grouped many of the northern tribes under this designation" (DiMarco 76). Thus Thamyris shifted from Massagetean to Scythian, and the close association between Scythians and Amazons provided Christine the opportunity to complete the metamorphosis.
Several of Christine's divergences from Boccaccio fit into her broader pattern of affirming the worth and potential of women. Boccaccio states that the Amazons were able to fight despite the fact that they were "only women" or "women alone" (feminas solas; 11/12. 4). Christine has no such reference, since for her the Amazons were examples of what women could do given the chance, not exceptions to female nature. Furthermore, the Amazons of both Boccaccio (11) and the Histoire ancienne (Curnow 1062) kill their male babies, while Christine's return their male babies to the fathering tribes (I. 16. 1). This change humanizes Christine's Amazons.
Christine's arrangement of the Amazon material enables her to present a unified history of the country, while simultaneously preserving Boccaccio's focus on a few outstanding queens. She uses her auctoritates freely, reconstructing them into the image she desired even as they had tried to construct her as they wished (I. 1. 1). Knowledge from these sources was not fixed; ironic statements and disagreements among the scholars gave Christine room to construct her city of good knowledge about women (I. 2. 2). Christine gives much of the usual
information about the Amazons: they were based in Scythia; they arose when most of their men died in war; they expelled the remaining men; and they mated annually with men in surrounding areas, keeping their daughters and sending the sons to the men (I. 16. 1). She gives the standard popular etymology for 'Amazons' as breastless ones (desmamellees), but she has a new, class-based twist. She states that daughters of nobles had the left breast seared so they could carry shields, while commoners had the right breast seared so they could draw the bow more effectively. Christine thus allows the noble Amazons to fight in the nobler hand-to-hand combat. Fairly early in accounts of the myth, the way Amazons fought was distinguished from the way men fought as part of the emphasis on Amazon as other. Here Christine makes the Amazons fight like the men they face (I. 16. 1).
The nascent Amazon nation crowned Lampheto and Marpasia as joint queens. They led a series of campaigns that extended their realm into Europe and Asia. Christine includes the ancient belief that the Amazons founded Ephesus. This tradition provides Christine with a model for her own city-building. Boccaccio has Marpasia die as a victim of her overconfidence (Marpesia nimium sui fidens), ending his chapter with a defeat for the Amazons (11/12. 10). In fact, since his Thamyris is a Scythian rather than an Amazon, Boccaccio is able to end all his Amazon stories with a defeat for the Amazons. Like most of the writers who had previously dealt with the myth, Boccaccio seeks a happy ending to the Amazon story: happy for the men, that is. Seeking happy endings for women in general, Christine supplies such endings to the Amazons where she can. Following the death of Marpasia, Marpasia's daughter Synoppe arose and killed the inhabitants of the country that had defeated her mother. Christine ends the section with the Amazons spreading triumphantly (I. 16. 1).
Christine next shows the Amazons at their zenith during the war between Thamyris and Cyrus. Had she followed the normal chronology, Christine would have placed her account of Penthesilea at this point, since the Persian wars followed the Trojan War. Apparently Christine wanted to present the rise and decline of the Amazons as a smooth curve. The Greeks had emphasized parallels between the Amazons and the Persians, orientalizing the Amazons. Christine picks a story where the Amazons fight and even defeat the Persians, with the effect of "de-orientalizing" the Amazons and of making Amazons and the Greeks share a common enemy.
Despite Christine's changing of Thamyris from a Scythian to an Amazon, she preserves Thamyris' motive for seeking revenge against Cyrus: Cyrus' army has killed her son when he attacked the Persians (I. 17. 2). Since Amazons were not supposed to keep sons, much less let men bear arms, Christine's version lacks some consistency. She has an overriding need to provide Thamyris with a motive strong enough to explain her actions, which otherwise would seem excessive. Thamyris acts not only as a ruler defending her territory but also as a mother avenging her son (Quilligan, Allegory 88). Some versions of the myth had the Amazons destroying their sons, and, as noted, even Christine has the Amazons sending their sons to live with the fathers (I. 16. 1). Here, however, Christine has the Amazon keep her son and deploy her violence, not against him, but in his behalf (Quilligan, Allegory 88). Christine's account both explains Thamyris' vengeance and transforms the Amazon into a good mother, where before Amazons had been "notorious for killing off all their male children in order to maintain their single-sex kingdom" (Quilligan, Allegory 87).
While Cyrus advances through her territory, Thamyris launches an ambush that destroys his army and results in his capture. Christine has Cyrus brought to her and pronounces the following judgment on him.
"Cirus, qui par cruauté oncques ne fus saoulé de sanc d'ommes, or en puez boire a ta voulenté." (I. 17. 2)
"Cyrus, due to your cruelty, you were never able to drink your fill of the blood of men. Now then, drink as much as you want."
Here the tradition Christine uses is remarkably close to the ultimate source, Herodotus.
"σὲ δ̓ ἐγώ, κατά περ ἠπείλησα, αἵματος κορέσω." (I. 214)
"Just as I boasted, I shall glut you on blood."
Christine then has Cyrus decapitated and his head thrown into a tub (tine) filled with the blood of his barons. This scene was compelling enough to warrant illustrating. Despite the somewhat incongruous male executioner, it casts women as heroic enough to defeat even the most powerful of men, subverting the standard versions of the myth that showed men heroic enough to overcome even the most powerful of women.
The rest of the stories that Christine tells about the Amazons do not show the same amount of success as Thamyris' defeat of Cyrus, but Christine does manage to mitigate the defeats the Amazons do suffer. She next tells about the expedition of Hercules and Theseus against the Amazons. Christine does not deny the success of the men in their enterprise, for the tradition of their success is too integral to the story. She does, however, reduce their triumph. The heading of the section even seems to give the Amazons the victory, proclaiming that Menalippe and Hippolyta knock Hercules and Theseus, horses and all, into a pile (les abatirent, chevaulx et tout, en un mont; I. 18. 1). Only later does the reader learn that this was but a temporary setback for the men and that they were able to capture their female opponents (I. 18. 4).
In the story itself, Christine calls the Greeks' heroism into question in her portrayal of their motives. In Boccaccio, Theseus had the usual heroic motives for fighting the Amazons: the desire for glory, anger at the arrogance of the Amazons, and the desire to restore order. The Greeks in Christine's works fight from a pure motive: pure fear. Christine refers to the Greeks' fear of the Amazons five times in this short tale. The Greeks are so afraid that they send their champion Hercules against them in a pre-emptive strike. Christine drops any reference to Hercules being there to perform the labor of obtaining the girdle of Hippolyta. Even Hercules is afraid of the Amazons' great power and daring, and he accordingly attacks by surprise and at night. It enhances the heroic stature of the Amazons in particular and women in general that Hercules, who could defeat any creature, fears the might of women (redoubtast force de femmes; I. 18. 2).
During the sneak attack, the Greeks attack and kill the unarmed women they meet, greatly reducing their chivalrous stature and making them like the other men depicted in the Cité des Dames who attack women unprovoked. In contrast to the fearful Greek attitude, Orithyia, the queen of the Amazons, does not fear the Greeks at all (qui de riens elle ne craint; I. 18. 2). She immediately begins to gather her forces. The Greeks are fortunate that Menalippe and Hippolyta attack by themselves before Orithyia can marshal her forces. Learning that the Greeks have her champions, Orithyia agrees to a parley. Such is the Greek fear of the Amazons that they only request the armor of Menalippe and Hippolyta and that the Amazons agree not to attack Greece but to be their good friends (bonnes amies). When the expedition returns to Greece with the news that the Amazons have agreed not to attack, the Greeks rejoice as they never have before, "for there was nothing which they feared as much" (car riens n'estoit que tant redeubtassent) as the Amazons (I. 18. 6).
Theseus was the central figure of the Teseida; in Christine's version, he is only the second to "Hercules" (her spelling). Furthermore, the story is told from the perspective of the Amazons. He may no longer represent reason and order, but Theseus is still valiant and courageous (le vaillant et le preux), and his motives are noble. He joins Hercules so that Hercules will not have to go without him (I. 18. 2); at no point in the story does Theseus fear. Furthermore, his relationship to Hippolyta is honorable. He does not forcibly take her back to Greece and make her his concubine, as in the original myth. Instead, Theseus has Hercules ask the queen for Hippolyta's hand. When the Amazons did marry, they apparently did so conventionally. In the patriarchal model, the father arranges for the daughter's marriage. In most Amazon stories, women arranged their own liaisons. Christine has Orithyia marry off Hippolyta in the patriarchal manner, making the Amazons more like Christine's audience and thus less exotic. Theseus and Hippolyta marry in a "majestic wedding ceremony" (grandes . . . faittes les noces) and return to Greece (I. 18. 6). Their son Hippolytus would later be very renowned (moult renommé); Christine does not refer to his tragic fate, nor does she limit him to the full but anonymous life that Virgil gave him (Aeneid 7. 761-782). Not only does her Amazon enter normal society in a standard way, but she is integrated into that society smoothly.
The last extended story Christine tells about the Amazons is that of Penthesilea. Penthesilea went to Troy toward the close of the Trojan War to try to lift the siege and to see Hector, whom she loved "honorably" (honourablement). Christine is perhaps responding to Boccaccio's account in De Mulieribus Claris, where Penthesilea arrives with the hope of becoming pregnant by Hector (xxx). Christine's Penthesilea is so high-minded (hault courage) that she remains a virgin all her life (et vierge fu toute sa vie; I. 19. 1). If women were to break social standards by assuming leadership roles, they had to be all the more careful to meet social norms in other areas. Boccaccio has Penthesilea arriving in time to meet Hector. Christine has her arrive after the deaths of both Hector and (apparently) Achilles. Her main Greek opponent is Pyrrhus, Achilles' son. In their first skirmish, Penthesilea gives Pyrrhus an almost mortal wound; the Greeks must quickly save him lest he die (I. 19. 2). After this Pyrrhic defeat, Penthesilea then leads her forces against the beleaguered Greeks while Pyrrhus slowly recovers. Christine thus grants Penthesilea a degree of success that she had not usually had in the accounts of her exploits. Nevertheless, Penthesilea's fate was firmly fixed in tradition. Upon his recovery, Pyrrhus returns to do battle with Penthesilea. He waits until several of his men separate her from her forces, wear her down with fighting, smash her armor, and knock off one quarter of her helmet. Pyrrhus, no model of chivalry, steps in to split her head and kill her (I. 19. 2). Penthesilea dies as she must, but Christine does not allow the Greeks much glory from their victory. Furthermore, Christine emphasizes that Penthesilea's defeat was not the end of Amazonia. This contrasts with earlier treatments that killed off the Amazons after their defeats. Diodorus went so far as to have Heracles exterminate the Amazons entirely (4. 16. 4) only to revive them shortly thereafter so Theseus could also defeat them (4. 28. 2). Diodorus' approach emphasizes the success of the Greek men in defeating the Amazons; Christine emphasizes the Amazons' perseverance in the face of male opposition, using them as precursors of her own perseverance.
As evidence of the Amazons' perseverance, Christine refers to the tradition from Pseudo-Callisthenes that Alexander visited Amazonia and extorted tribute from them without a battle (Curnow 1965, Pseudo-Callisthenes 25. 1-28. 1). In Christine's account, the Amazons receive Alexander, but she does not mention tribute (I. 19. 3). Like all secular kingdoms, the Amazon nation declined (I. 4. 3). However, since the Amazons had existed at the time of the Trojan War, their continued existence in the time of Alexander demonstrates their own longevity and the viability of women's endeavors (I. 19. 3).
Christine's conclusion to Cité des Dames seems surprisingly conventional by modern examples. She calls upon the inhabitants of the city (her female readers) to be virtuous (vertueuses) and humble (humbles). Her married ladies should be subject (subiettes) to their husbands, even if the husbands were abusive (III. 19. 1-2). Yet this advice is part of her strategy: women of integrity will silence their male critics.
Voyez, mes dames, comment ses [sic] hommes vous accusent de tant de vices de toutes pars. Faittes les tous menteurs par monstrer vestre vertu et prouvés mençongeurs ceulx qui vous blasment lar bien faire. (III. 19. 6)
See, my ladies, how these men accuse you of so many vices of so many kinds. Make them liars by demonstrating your virtue and prove those who criticize you perjurers by acting well.
By leading lives of integrity, Christine's readers would
provide an ostensive refutation of the misogynistic tradition to
support Christine's textual refutation. Christine's defense of
women in the opening scene centered on the disparity between the
claims of the misogynists and the conduct of actual women (I. 1.
1). Unvirtuous women would lend credence to those claims, so
Christine exhorts her readers to be virtuous. This virtue would
break the link between women and animality, sensuality, and
vice; women were as capable of spirituality as men.
That is why the third book of Cité des Dames is a martyrology showing the faithfulness and spirituality of women in extremis. Christine does not directly address the question of whether virtue might not itself be a kind of trap that would overly limit a woman's scope of action. From her own career, however, it is clear that Christine did not simply equate virtue with conformity to social mores.
Quilligan notes that virtue could serve a strategic purpose. She considers whether "Christine's rhetoric is a collapse into conventionality, a recourse to Machiavellian modes of deception, or if it contains some savvy Realpolitik hints at how to maximize power when given limited room for maneuver" (Allegory 245). Quilligan's phrasing of the question implies her answer. She notes that Christine dedicated the Cité des Dames to Isabeau of Bavaria, queen of France. The frontispiece to the presentation volume was a picture of Christine presenting the Cité des Dames to Isabeau (Quilligan, Allegory 248-249). Isabeau was married to the insane King Charles VI, and she had been named as the legal ruler of France in 1402. When Christine wrote in 1405, Isabeau's popularity was beginning to decline due to accusations of adultery, to her profligate spending and to her failure to care for her husband, who "wandered castle halls ill-kempt, unwashed, and vermin-infested" (Quilligan, Allegory 247).
Christine was aware of the problems associated with a woman who wielded power: chronic anxieties about gender could quickly become acute. According to Quilligan, Christine in the conclusion to the Cité des Dames was anticipating the argument of the sequel, the Trésor de la cité des dames. In the latter book, "Christine outlines a program of scrupulous and publicly displayed adherence to the strictest rules of moral virtue whereby a woman of authority may establish and maintain an excellent reputation" (Allegory 251). A solid reputation would constitute the ethos Isabeau needed to reign. As a revisionist history of women, the Cité des Dames is not an attempt to develop knowledge of women in a vacuum, separated from knowledge and ethics. Christine was exercising her own power by writing the Cité des Dames, and she was trying to make it easier for other women to exercise power. This attempt applied to the low as well as the great; in the opening scene, the narrator claims that by confronting the misogynistic tradition, she is giving voice to the concerns expressed to her by women of all levels of society: "princesses, great ladies, and women of the middle and lower classes" (princepces, grandes dames, moyennes et petites; I. 1. 1). The behavior Christine enjoins may be what she thought were the best means women could use to establish their own authority.
If Isabeau, Christine, and other women were to be successful in breaching certain traditions to enter the "masculine" sphere, they would have to be all the more conventional in other areas. Furthermore, despite the conventionality of the conclusion, the body of the Cité des Dames greatly expands the range of conduct available to ladies by including many examples that contemporary society would deem unladylike behavior. The Amazons were only one of those examples.