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The City of Ladies: Background Stories

Page history last edited by Lindsey Bell 11 years, 11 months ago
Chrsitine de Pizan rewrote many well-known myths and classical stories in her construction of the novel 
The Book of The City of Ladies. Bellow we will be looking at the stories of Sappho and Griselda. 


The narrative by Giovanni Boccaccio portrays Sappho as a woman who studies and wrote poetry on the island of Lesbos. At a festival she welcomed the Muses and excelled in her poetry becoming well known in her own time. Sappho experienced unrequited love and then created the “Sapphic meter.” To understand Sappho a bit more it is important to know a bit more about what I known about her life. She is assumed to have been born 615C.E. to a wealthy family of the island of Lesbos. It is suggested that Sappho married and had a son though more is known about her school for unmarried women. This school was dedicated to the cult of Aphrodity and portrayed Sappho as a dedicated teacher and poet. A Tale by Ovid depicts Saphho’s heartbreak as causing her to commit suicide by throwing herself off of a cliff. Long after her death Sappho is considered to have been a lesbian( a term which has derived from the name of the island), though it cannot be determined due to the difference in terminology from the times of ancient Greece and today.

Christine de Pizan would have had access to the narrative by Boccaccio and Ovid when she constructed The Book of The City of Ladies, along with the perceiving Sappho as a lesbian. Pizan takes much of Boccaccio though focusing longer on the intelligence and accomplishments of Sappho rather than on the stories of her promiscuity and heartbreak. By doing this Pizan portrays Sappho as from a highly intellectual standpoint rather than the well-known portrayal of a heartbroken woman at the whims of her emotions.



Giovanni Boccaccio’s story of Griselda demonstrates the faithfulness of a woman in marriage. Within this narrative a wealthy ruler named Gualtieri marries a beautiful young poor maiden at the pressure of his critics. When she gives birth to their first child he decides to test his wife and has the child taken away telling his wife that his people were dissatisfied and that the child had to be put to death. Gruselda gave up her first born, a daughter, to her husband thinking he was going to kill her. In truth he had her raised in secret. He did this to her again with their second child. He then claimed that the people were still unsatisfied and that he had the right to a divorce. He then announced that he was engaged to a young girl , about the age of 12, and asked Griselda to return to the castle to prepare for the wedding. When she did he takes Griselda back as his wife and tells her about the tests he had posed to her.


Once again this is a tale from Boccaccio and since Christine de Pizan references him often I believe that she had this narrative. It is also a well-known myth used to justify a woman’s faithfulness. Pizan alters this myth by adding strong emphasizes on Griselda’s loyalty. Though she does not change the stories premise itself. By not changing the story Pizan uses a well-known myth to fight the misogynistic views of Medieval Europe.










"Boccaccio: Griselda." University of Pittsburgh. 25 Apr. 2009 http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/griselda.html.

Giovanni, Boccaccio,. "Sappho, Girl of Lesbos and Poetess." Famous women. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 2003. 95-96.

Pizan, Christine De. "About Griselda, the marchioness of Saluzzo, a woman of unfailing virtue." Book of the city of ladies. London: Penguin Books, 1999. 156-161.

Pizan, Christine De. "About Sappho, who was an extremely fine poet and philosopher." Book of the city of ladies. London: Penguin Books, 1999. 60-62.

"Sappho -." Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. 25 Apr. 2009 http://poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/318.












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