Christine of Pizan was born in 1363 in Venice, Italy. She was the daughter of
Thomas Pezano, a man well-known as a scholar and astrologer. When Christine was about five years
old, Thomas Pezano was appointed as court astrologer to King Charles V of France and the family
consequently moved from Italy to France. Like most families from wealthier backgrounds, Christine
was given an education that went beyond the usual domestic arts for girls. Thomas himself played a
major role in supervising Christine's education: her later writings reveal that she had clearly
received the sort of education generally reserved for men of her class. She was given instruction
in Latin, philosophy, literature and the sciences known to the Medieval world.
Christine's arguments, particularly regarding the question of the equality of the sexes, also reveal
that she was well-read in the contemporary disputations of clerics and scholars of her own time.
Similarly, she was well versed in the literatures of not only the ancient world, but of the writers
of her own native Italy. Christine, for instance, is credited with introducing the writings of Dante
to the French, and her work The Fayttes of Armes is based on her reading of Vegetius a writer
of ancient Rome. Throughout her canon of works, the range of her own scholarship is evident in her
citation of the auctores or authoritative texts.
Marriage and Widowhood
As a young woman Christine was married to Ettiene du Castel a member of the French court. It was
evidently a good marriage and Ettiene's death in 1389 clearly left her devastated. Her poem I
am a Widow Dressed in Black,is poignant in its simple expression of her grief and sense of loss.
From the practical standpoint, Ettiene's death left Christine with the necessity of finding means of
supporting herself and her three children. Four years before, her father, Thomas Pezano had also
died after falling out of favor at the French court. At this point Christine turned to writing and
thus became perhaps one of history's earliest example of the working single mother.
Christine enjoyed an enormous success as a writer during her lifetime. Her poems and prose works
were dedicated to many of the nobility including Queen Isabeau of Baviere, Prince Philip the bold,
the Duke of Burgundy and the the Duke de Berry who in turn were obviously sponsors of the widowed
writer. She was in such demand that it appears that there were never any difficulties for her in
terms of supporting herself or her family. At a time in history when books were extremely expensive
to produce, the manuscripts of her works with their beautiful hand inscribed texts, expensive vellum,
and gorgeously illustrated illuminations were another indication that she was an author of some
Christine's prose works include The City of Women,The Faytte of
Armes, or The Deeds of War and Chivalry, The Book of Peace, The Book of the Changes of Fortune,
and a collection of over one hundred ballads dedicated to Queen Isabeau.
In 1418 at the age of fifty-five Christine retired to a convent in Poissy. The only work that she
appeared to write between her retirment and death at an unknown date was a poem dedicated to Joan of
Arc in which she praises the brave Maid of Orleans.
Christine and the City of Women
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