Christine de Pizan, a voice for all women

Preface, extracts

“Me, Cristina”

Flower of Italy flourished in France, steeped in science, politics, art and history, scholar, poet, Christine de Pizan (1365-1430) was one of the first European feminists. She was born in Venice, but from a family of Pizzano near Bologna, she is the daughter of a well-known doctor and astrologer. Still a child, she followed her father to the court of Charles V, where she benefited from a careful education. At the age of 15 she will marry the king’s secretary. Three successive disappearances put her youth under the seal of mourning: her father, the king, as well as her husband, who died in 1390. She will take on by herself, not only the burden of her family, including three children, but also the debts of his husband. She has chosen not to remarry, to remain faithful to her deceased husband, to devote herself entirely to studying and living from her writing about her. This is how she takes on responsibilities and practices that at this moment are exclusively devolved to men.

The triple mourning that strikes Christine de Pizan – her father, lover and patron king – will surely have a destiny value in her work and in her life. These disappearances affect the three areas to which you will focus primarily: science, poetry and “public affairs”, which we call politics. Christine de Pizan deployed in the first decade of the 15thAnd century a remarkable writing activity that led her to publish about twenty works relating to all fields: history, politics, philosophy, morality, law, education, religion and even war. Write The book of the deeds of arms and chivalry it is not a provocation, but the affirmation of skills that cannot be reserved for men. Furthermore he explicitly states in 1403 the transformation of him into man in The book of the change of fortune. In another important work, The book of the city of ladiesa great work in which she demonstrates the exceptional place of women in all fields, Christine de Pizan vigorously supports the principle of equality in the education of girls and boys.

Translation as I listen

Listen to a poem from the 15th centuryAnd century, we should, ideally, in the original text, which we can do in this bilingual edition. But to readers unfamiliar with average French, a translator is donating his creation here. Translating is a challenge. Retranslating is bold. So why restart a work very well translated into modern French by Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet? Perhaps first of all because every great job deserves translators to start over. But also because every great work deserves several translations as it awaits various readings and interpretations. Finally, because every authentic translation is a recreation and in turn attempts to create a work. That of Bertrand Rouziès-Léonardi is certainly a beautiful reconstruction of the voice of Christine de Pizan.

In addition to the mastery of the restitution of rhymes and their schemes, in addition to the remarkable sense of prosody and attention to waste, the metric choices of our poet-translator are unprecedented, courageous and particularly rigorous. What a challenge translating the heptasyllable into enneasyllables and the decasyllables into bimetric Alexandrians! It is not just a metric enterprise and a poetic laboratory, like the challenges that Christine de Pizan set herself by writing, for example, Strange paths, but here it is the search for a rhythmic equivalent that marries one of the meanings that the odd and the even could have in the Middle Ages: the perfect and the imperfect, man and woman. Furthermore, the Alexandrian seems perfectly suited to restoring the breadth of the Pizanian decasyllable, which often surpasses itself. In heterometric poems the trisyllable becomes pentasyllable when the tetrasyllable rises to the rank of hexasyllable. A principle of translation is then transformed into a principle of poetics: are not the two excess syllables perhaps an allegory of the couple, of their duality and their unity, of their perfect imperfection?

The subject Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan lives in a patriarchal and misogynistic society. You have certainly not made a revolution, but you have stubbornly and firmly carried out a great work to defend the equality of the sexes and to illustrate the contribution of women to art, science and the life of society. The discovery of this “feminist” dimension of Christine de Pizan’s work is generally traced back to the 1980s. This is to forget the pages that Simone de Beauvoir dedicated to The second sex the condition of women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was 1949. The philosopher rightly pointed out that if polite poetry enhances femininity, it does not lead to gender equality, of which the poet was fully aware. He evokes “the success of a Christine de Pisan” as “a surprising opportunity”. An example that, among many other women of the late Middle Ages, shows “that a woman can rise to the height of a man when by a surprising chance she is given the possibilities of a man”. However, it must be recognized that Christine de Pizan will have forced her luck and upset the representations of her time, with her work, with her will and with the courage of her struggles. You are becoming a man who becomes a woman and thus shakes the sex and gender identities that structure society and culture at the end of the Middle Ages and which continue to this day. Hence the extraordinary modernity of Christine de Pizan.

Write “Je, Christine” as Christine de Pizan did in her last work in 1429, the Divinity of Jeanne D’Arc, is an act of individuation. It is not only signifying the position of a woman in the male world of letters and the arts, it is not just a gesture of affirmation of herself as an author, it is also saying that she intends to access the status of a free subject who assumes herself as an object of thought, in an act of self-reflection that participates in the birth of our modernity. The first person enunciation is fundamental, not only for lyric poetry, but also for the birth of the modern individual. In chapter VII of his Philosophical anthropology entitled “The foundations of modern anthropology”, the philosopher Bernard Groethuysen, analyzing with great accuracy the birth of lyricism through the work of Petrarch, sees appear in the Italian poet and his contemporaries of the fourteenthAnd century, a new value. It is simply that of the “lived thing”. This value “consists entirely of the feeling that the poet feels in contact with a fact in his life. It is the poet and not the philosopher who can make him known. The poet says: “I suffer, I love, I die, I have lived”. We are in the Ballads by Christine de Pizan a way of “anthropological meditation on oneself”, on love and on life, which speaks to each of us, even today.

Domenico Cochet, Associate of Letters, teacher in preparatory classes

Pasquale Maillard, associate professor of literature at the University of Strasbourg

To order the book:

A first reading of some Ballads by Christine de Pizan in the translation by Bertrand Rouziès-Léonardi will take place on 7 May, at 7 pm, in the very young EXC bookshop, in Paris, Molière passage (3rd arrondissement). The reader is Milène Tournier, a poet published by Lurlure. Bertrand Rouzies-Leonardi, is a doctor of medieval literature and reenactor. To him we owe in particular the translations of Trubert, Douin de Lavesne (Lurlure, 2019) and Ditié of Jehanne d’Arc, by Christine de Pizan (Christophe Chomant, 2020).

Tracks: Ballads from 90 to 92

“Wearing all in blue is not really loving”

The lady (XC)

I will never believe that you love perfectly
His lady, such a lover let a month go by
Without seeing her again, when nothing at that moment
He didn’t stop it. Death was a better choice.
Who does, in addition to the price of two walnuts,
It doesn’t matter if they like it or not. Somehow,
They go praying everywhere, one, then two, then three,
But that basically matters to them for less than one point.

Man, I say it for you, honestly,
Because I don’t even see you once
In more than a month. And think enough
Blind me with your beautiful words, your sweet voice,
Why do I believe you? Now, clearly, I perceive
If you love me or not. I support it with all my heart:
The traitors do it, who are without faith or laws,
But that basically matters to them for less than one point.

Ah! God knows how you behave
Oppress my weary heart, overwhelmed with embarrassment!
Because in fact, more than words we see how
You love me, and such a burden builds up on me
That I’m dying of pain, worth no more than a pea.
I did not know that a lover with such wood cuts himself.
You look like the ones who cry sometimes,
But that basically matters to them for less than one point.

Ah! Delicate friend, are these your exploits?
Men love with love for the flash in the pan,
Pretend to be a prisoner in the vice of emotions,
But that basically matters to them for less than one point.

The Lover (XCI)

Why do you harbor all these suspicions, mistress?
Can’t you see that my love doesn’t aim
That you alone, for whom I wear this braid,
I look loyal and carry a motto
Finally, blue embroidered on my garment?
I don’t behave differently
What I did, is verifiable by you.
That I love you seems undeniable.

Hurting yourself like this is foolish anguish,
As you say, but when I change my mind,
You blame me, I think, that it hurts you:
That is to say falsehood, because elsewhere it is promised
Your loving faith, unless someone is lying to me.
I was told in detail how
You love another, and if that fact overwhelms me,
That I love you seems undeniable.

Be careful to vary if you are interested,
Because, for my part, my desire has no other basis
What in you, you to whom I made a certain promise.
If I see you surrender your love to me,
I shouldn’t behave the same way,
While I stood so firmly
Taken with passion for you, something undeniable?
That I love you seems undeniable.

What is the use of speaking when it is indisputable?
That I love you seems undeniable.

The lady (XCII)

Wearing blue suits and mottos, like him,
It is not to mark the love one has for his lady.
We love him by serving him with a loyal and perfect heart,
Only her, which prevents her from blaming.
That the lover does not reveal himself to anyone, man or woman,
Otherwise very nice. He must adore her
Above all, in addition to fearing it,
Having done this, turning away, his eyes let themselves be distracted.
Wearing all in blue is not exactly loving.

But perhaps many think this wrongdoing
Of falsehood fades covered in texture
Of a blue coat that you wear. They really want
Make them believe that there is no such infamous trait
Having more than one attachment. They don’t have that flame
Of love that nevertheless dictates the way for lovers
Be polite, do it, cry, complain
Secretly and happiness increases the offer.
Wearing all in blue is not exactly loving.

Who gets fooled – this is the feeling I get –
Blue clothes, for someone to proclaim
Loyal lover, in his heart he loses:
It doesn’t have an ounce or even an ounce
In him of loyalty, nothing at all, on my soul!
He spreads everything out, raising his banner aloft.
Otherwise, strictly speaking,
Among those where loyalty resides entirely.
Wearing all in blue is not exactly loving.

Prince, I tell you, even if a lover asks
Of various garments to enlighten his heart,
If he is not loyal, his faith in love is very light.
Dressing all in blue is not really a pleasure.

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