Famous Women (I Tatti Renaissance Library)

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Overview

The more than 100 women whose life stories make up this volume range from the exemplary to the notorious, from historical and mythological figures to Renaissance contemporaries of its author, the master storyteller Giovanni Boccaccio. The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Famous Women affords a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential. Virginia Brown's acclaimed translation, commissioned for The I Tatti Renaissance Library, is the first English edition based on the autograph manuscript of the Latin.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

In a pungent new translation by Virginia Brown, [Boccaccio's] famous women hold up very well indeed...The success of Famous Women suggests that [Renaissance] ladies read their Boccaccio as we are invited to read him: with forbearance for his foibles and delight in the tales he tells with such gusto and skill.
— Ingrid D. Rowland

New York Review of Books

For good or evil, as wife, mother, or whore, these women have the splendor of clarity; their individual destinies are sharply defined.
— Tim Parks

The New Republic

Whatever his intentions—and it may be that feminism was a long-term outgrowth of the humanism that he pioneered—Boccaccio launched a lasting genre that urged women, as well as men, to reach for glory, and gave them examples to live by.
— David Quint

New York Review of Books - Tim Parks
For good or evil, as wife, mother, or whore, these women have the splendor of clarity; their individual destinies are sharply defined.
The New Republic
Whatever his intentions--and it may be that feminism was a long-term outgrowth of the humanism that he pioneered--Boccaccio launched a lasting genre that urged women, as well as men, to reach for glory, and gave them examples to live by.
— David Quint
New York Review of Books
For good or evil, as wife, mother, or whore, these women have the splendor of clarity; their individual destinies are sharply defined.
— Tim Parks
Library Journal
While largely known for the Decameron (c.1351), Boccaccio exercised a profound influence on British and European literature with his Latin De mulieribus claris. Geoffrey Chaucer inserted a translation of the "Zenobia" chapter into his "Monk's Tale," and Christine de Pizan took Famous Women as a starting point for her City of Women. Inspired by Petrarch's Lives of Famous Men, it represents the first biographical compendium of women's lives. Boccaccio prepared 106 brief lives of women ranging from Eve to Joanna, Queen of Jerusalem. Covering both the virtuous and the infamous, his figures are drawn mostly from Greco-Latin Antiquity, though he does offer an account of Pope Joan. While Boccaccio reflects the biases of the Late Middle Ages, he aims to be balanced and sympathetc in his accounts. This edition provides the original Latin with a graceful and accurate translation by medievalist Brown on facing pages, the first translation in almost 40 years. Her efforts are a profound contribution to literature. Highly recommended. T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Il Sole 24 Ore

An aristocratic devotion to our culture continues to manifest itself even today in the most prestigious centers of study and thought. One has merely to look at the very recent (begun in 2001), rigorous and elegant humanistic series of Harvard University, with the original Latin text, English translation, introduction and notes.
— Vittore Branca

Window on Italy
Harvard University Press' The I Tatti Renaissance Library is the only library offering to scholars, students and citizens the sublime works of the Italian Renaissance written in Latin and translated into lucid English. Its first work is Giovanni Boccaccio's Famous Women.
Boccaccio is the author of the first novel,
Decameron influenced by
Petrarch, the creator of the modern world, to bring a new literary form into the world...Boccaccio wrote this work for our enjoyment. Famous Women is a wonderfully enjoyable book to read in its style of fine clearness. The stories are tales of virtue. Courageous women defend honor and truth and in their defense they give us magnificent models to follow in this life of adversity.
New Republic

A monument of classical scholarship for its time, [Famous Women] contains the biographies of women renowned for valor in warfare and fearlessness in the face of death, for writing and the arts, for political rulership, and for the particularly womanly virtues of marital chastity and devotion to husbands living and dead...The book became immensely popular in the late Middle Ages, and it was quickly translated into the major languages of Western Europe. It has now been given an expert and readable English translation...Famous Women is an appropriate book with which to inaugurate this series, since it stands at a cusp in cultural history between medieval attitudes and the new mental universe of the Renaissance.
— David Quint

Fore Word Magazine

Whispered in the language of the dead, tales of one hundred and six famous and infamous women of ancient times breathe new life in this inaugural edition of the Harvard I Tatti Renaissance Library's Famous Women...Giovanni Boccaccio's book emerges as the earliest amalgam of biographies celebrating and describing the deeds of women exclusively, flushed with the timeless air of antiquity...[I]n its first English translation, [Famous Women] bridges the boundaries of language and fosters the perpetual rediscovery of Renaissance intellectualism.
— Karen Wyckoff

Times Literary Supplement

The Loeb Classical Library...has been of incalculable benefit to generations of scholars...It seems certain that the I Tatti Renaissance Library will serve a similar purpose for Renaissance Latin texts, and that, in addition to its obvious academic value, it will facilitate a broadening base of participation in Renaissance Studies...These books are to be lauded not only for their principles of inclusivity and accessibility, and for their rigorous scholarship, but also for their look and feel. Everything about them is attractive: the blue of their dust jackets and cloth covers, the restrained and elegant design, the clarity of the typesetting, the quality of the paper, and not least the sensible price. This is a new set of texts well worth collecting.
— Kate Lowe

New Republic - David Quint
A monument of classical scholarship for its time, [Famous Women] contains the biographies of women renowned for valor in warfare and fearlessness in the face of death, for writing and the arts, for political rulership, and for the particularly womanly virtues of marital chastity and devotion to husbands living and dead...The book became immensely popular in the late Middle Ages, and it was quickly translated into the major languages of Western Europe. It has now been given an expert and readable English translation...Famous Women is an appropriate book with which to inaugurate this series, since it stands at a cusp in cultural history between medieval attitudes and the new mental universe of the Renaissance.
New York Times Book Review - Ingrid D. Rowland
In 1362, Boccaccio...wrote specifically "for the ladies," this time in Latin...[on] a subject as stately as the city's soaring ruins and luminous marble statues: "Famous Women"...(biographies of 106 women, beginning with "Eve Our First Mother" and ending with the monarch to whose lady-in-waiting he dedicated the book, Queen Joanna "of Sicily and Jerusalem")...In a pungent new translation by Virginia Brown, [Boccaccio's] famous women hold up very well indeed. This beautiful little book...spearheads a new publication program designed to make accessible important works of Renaissance Latin to modern readers...the success of Famous Women suggests that the ladies read their Boccaccio as we are invited to read him: with forbearance for his foibles and delight in the tales he tells with such gusto and skill.
Il Sole 24 Ore - Vittore Branca
An aristocratic devotion to our culture continues to manifest itself even today in the most prestigious centers of study and thought. One has merely to look at the very recent (begun in 2001), rigorous and elegant humanistic series of Harvard University, with the original Latin text, English translation, introduction and notes.
Fore Word Magazine - Karen Wyckoff
Whispered in the language of the dead, tales of one hundred and six famous and infamous women of ancient times breathe new life in this inaugural edition of the Harvard I Tatti Renaissance Library's Famous Women...Giovanni Boccaccio's book emerges as the earliest amalgam of biographies celebrating and describing the deeds of women exclusively, flushed with the timeless air of antiquity...[I]n its first English translation, [Famous Women] bridges the boundaries of language and fosters the perpetual rediscovery of Renaissance intellectualism.
Times Literary Supplement - Kate Lowe
The Loeb Classical Library...has been of incalculable benefit to generations of scholars...It seems certain that the I Tatti Renaissance Library will serve a similar purpose for Renaissance Latin texts, and that, in addition to its obvious academic value, it will facilitate a broadening base of participation in Renaissance Studies...These books are to be lauded not only for their principles of inclusivity and accessibility, and for their rigorous scholarship, but also for their look and feel. Everything about them is attractive: the blue of their dust jackets and cloth covers, the restrained and elegant design, the clarity of the typesetting, the quality of the paper, and not least the sensible price. This is a new set of texts well worth collecting.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674011304
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2003
  • Series: I Tatti Renaissance Library Series , #1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 997,646
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Brown is Senior Fellow, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto.
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


De Eva parente prima


Scripturus igitur quibus fulgoribus mulieres claruerint insignes, a matre omnium sumpsisse exordium non apparebit indignum: ea quippe vetustissima patens, uti prima, sic magnificis fuit insignis splendoribus. Nam, non in hac erumnosa miseriarum valle, in qua ad laborem ceteri mortales nascimur, producta est, nec eodem malleo aut incude etiam fabrefacta, seu eiulans nascendi crimen deflens, aut invalida, ceterorum ritu, venit in vitam; quin imo—quod nemini unquam alteri contigisse auditum est—cum iam ex limo terre rerum omnium Faber optimus Adam manu compegisset propria, et ex agro, cui postea Damascenus nomen inditum est, in orto delitiarum transtulisset eumque in soporem solvisset placidum, artificio sibi tantum cognito ex dormientis latere eduxit eandem, sui compotem et maturam viro et loci amenitate atque sui Factoris letabundam intuitu, immortalem et rerum dominam atque vigilantis iam viri sociam, et ab eodem Evam etiam nominatam.

    Quid maius, quid splendidius potuit unquam contigisse nascenti? Preterea hanc arbitrari possumus corporea formositate mirabilem. Quid enim Del digito factum est quod cetera non excedat pulchritudine? Et quamvis formositas hec annositate peritura sit aut, medio in etatis flore, parvo egritudinis inpulsu, lapsura, tamen, quia inter precipuas dotes suas mulieres numerant, et plurimum ex ea glorie, mortalium indiscreto iudicio, iam consecute sunt, non superflue inter claritates earum, tanquam fulgor precipuus, et apposita est et in sequentibus apponenda veniet.

    Hec insuper,tamiure originis quam incolatus, paradisi civis facta et amicta splendore nobis incognito, dum una cum viro loci delitiis frueretur avide, invidus sue felicitatis hostis nepharia illi suasione ingessit animo, si adversus unicam sibi legem a Deo impositam iret, in ampliorem gloriam iri posse. Cui dum levitate feminea, magis quam illi nobisque oportuerit, crederet seque stolide ad altiora conscensuram arbitraretur, ante alia, blanda quadam suggestione, virum flexibilem in sententiam suam traxit; et in legem agentes, arboris boni et mali poma dum gustassent, temerario ausu seque genusque suum omne futurum ex quiete et eternitate in labores anxios et miseram mortem et ex delectabili patria inter vepres glebas et scopulos deduxere.

    Nam, cum lux corusca, qua incedebant amicti, abiisset, a turbato Creatore suo obiurgati, perizomatibus cincti, ex delitiarum loco in agros Hebron pulsi exulesque venere. Ibi egregia mulier, his facinoribus clara, cum prima—ut a nonnullis creditum est—vertente terram ligonibus viro, colo nere adinvenisset, sepius dolores partus experta est; et, quibus ob mortem filiorum atque nepotum angustiis angeretur animus, eque misere passa; et, ut algores estusque sinam et incomoda cetera, fessa laboribus moritura devenit in senium.


Eve, Our First Mother


As I am going to write about the glories for which women have become famous, it will not seem inappropriate to begin with the mother of us all. She is the most ancient of mothers and, as the first, she was singled out for special honors. She was not brought forth in this wretched vale of misery in which the rest of us are born to labor; she was not wrought with the same hammer or anvil; nor did she come into life like others, either weak or tearfully bewailing original sin. Instead (and this never happened to anyone else, so far as I know), after the most excellent Creator of all things had formed Adam from earthly clay with his own hand and had taken him from the field later called Damascene to the garden of delights, he made Adam fall into peaceful slumber. With a skill known only to himself, God brought forth a woman from Adam's side as he lay sleeping. Adult, ripe for marriage, joyful at the beauty of the place and at the sight of her Maker, she was also the immortal mistress of nature and the companion of the man who, now awake, named her Eve.

    Could anything greater and more glorious ever happen to someone at birth? We can imagine, besides, how marvelously beautiful her body was, for whatever God creates with his own hand will certainly surpass everything else in beauty. Beauty, to be sure, perishes with old age, and even in the flower of youth it may vanish from a slight attack of illness. Yet, since women count beauty among their foremost endowments and have achieved, owing to the superficial judgment of mortals, much glory on that account, it will not seem excessive to place beauty here and in the following pages as the most dazzling aspect of their fame.

    Eve, furthermore, became a citizen of Paradise as much by right of origin as of residence, and she was cloaked in a radiance unknown to us. While she and her husband were eagerly enjoying the garden's pleasures, the Enemy, envious of her happiness, impressed upon her with perverted eloquence the belief that she could attain greater glory if she disobeyed the one law that God had laid upon her. With a woman's fickleness, Eve believed him more than was good for her or for us; foolishly, she thought that she was about to rise to greater heights. Her first step was to flatter her pliant husband into her way of thinking. Then they broke the law and tasted the apple of the Tree of Good and Evil. By this rash, foolhardy act they brought themselves and all their future descendants from peace and immortality to anxious labor and wretched death, and from a delightful country to thorns, clods, and rocks.

    The gleaming light which clothed them disappeared. Rebuked by their angry Creator and covered by a girdle of leaves, they were driven out of Eden and came as exiles to the fields of Hebron. There, while her husband tilled the soil with the hoe, this distinguished woman, famous for her above-mentioned deeds, discovered (so some believe) the art of spinning with the distaff. She experienced the pains of frequent childbirth and also suffered the grief which tortures the mind at the death of children and grandchildren. I shall pass over the cold and heat and her other sufferings. Finally she reached old age, tired out by her labors, waiting for death.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

FAMOUS WOMEN

Dedication

Preface

I. Eve, Our First Mother

II. Semiramis, Queen of the Assyrians

III. Opis, Wife of Saturn

IV. Juno, Goddess of Kingdoms

V. Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest and Queen of Sicily

VI. Minerva

VII. Venus, Queen of Cyprus

VIII. Isis, Queen and Goddess of Egypt

IX. Europa, Queen of Crete

X. Libya, Queen of Libya

XI-XII. Marpesia and Lampedo, Queens of the Amazons

XIII. Thisbe, a Babylonian Maiden

XIV. Hypermnestra, Queen of the Argives and Priestess of Juno

XV. Niche, Queen of Thebes

XVI. Hypsipyle, Queen of Lemnos

XVII. Medea, Queen of Colchis Arachne of Colophon

XIX-XX. Orithya and Antiope, Queens of the Amazons

XXI. Erythraea or Herophile, a Sibyl Medusa, Daughter of Phorcus Jole, Daughter of the King of the Aetolians

XXIV. Deianira, Wife of Hercules

XXV. Jocasta, Queen of Thebes

XXVI. Almarhea or Deiphebe, a Sibyl

XXVII. Nicostrata or Carmenta, Daughter of King lonius

XXVIII. Pocris, Wife of Cephalus

XXIX. Argia, Wife of Polynices and Daughter of King Adrastus

XXX. Manto, Daughter of Tiresias

XXXI. The Wives of the Minyans

XXXII Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons

XXXIII. Polyxena, Daughter of King Priam

XXXIV. Hecuba, Queen of the Trojans

XXXV. Cassandra, Daughter of King Priam of Troy

XXXVI. Clyremnesrra, Queen of Mycenae

XXXVII. Helen, Wife of King Menelaus

XXXVIII. Circe, Daughter of the Sun

XXXIX. Camilla, Queen of the Volscians

XL. Penelope, Wife of Ulysses

XLI. Lavinia, Queen of Laurentum

XLII. Dido or Elissa, Queen of Carthage

XLIII. Nicaula, Queen of Ethiopia

XLIV. Pamphile, Daughter of Platea

XLV. Rhea lila, a Vestal Virgin

XLVI. Gaia Cyrilla, Wife of King Tarquinius Priscus

XLVII. Sappho, Girl of Lesbos and Poetess of Collatinus

XLIX. Tamyris, Queen of Scyrhia

L. Leaena, a Prostitute

LI. Athaliah, Queen of Jerusalem

LII. Cloelia, a Roman Maiden

LIII. Hippo, a Greek Woman

LIV. Megullia Dotata

LV. Veturia, a Roman Matron

LVI. Tamaris, Daughter of Micon

LVII. Artemisia, Queen of Caria

LVIII. Virginia, Virgin and Daughter of Virginius

LIX. Irene, Daughter of Cratinus

LX. Leontium

LXI. Oiympias, Queen of Macedonia

LXII. Claudia, a Vestal Virgin

LXIII. Virginia, Wife of Lucius Volunmius

LXIV.

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