The Sibylline voices of Christine de Pizan

The Sibylline voices of Christine de Pizan

By Jessica R. Weinstein

PhD Dissertation, Rice University, 2007

Abstract: The Sibyl’s importance as an authorizing figure in Christine de Pizan’s oeuvre is widely acknowledged but universally under-estimated. Scholars have focused almost exclusively on Christine’s use of the detached and serenely wise Cumaean Sibyl, notably in the Chemin de lonc estude and the Epistre Othea, and on close allegorized equivalents. This is to overlook the protean, cross-pollinating diversity of Christine’s sibylline sources, and the variety and scope of their influence upon her writings. Here Christine’s use of sibylline characters, themes, and authority will be scrutinized in texts that exemplify radical departures from the tropes generally recognized by scholars. They show selective reshapings of polymorphous classical and medieval tradition to meet the shifting contingencies of Christine’s career as a writer. Explicitly, Sibyls are invoked as authorizing precedents for her self-fashioning as a woman of wisdom and foresight in political, social, moral, and theological matters; but implicitly, sibylline attributes are also incorporated in other characters and authorial voices.

Furthermore, Christine draws from the full panorama of source traditions, embodying not only wisdom and foresight but also recklessness and regret; not only serenity but also frenzy and tears; not only detachment but also polemical engagement in national destiny. In her attack on courtly love, the Livre du duc des vrais amans , sibylline typologies underlie not only the unimpeachable Dame Sebille but also the transgressive Lady, whose fate evokes that of entrapped, shamed, or regretful Sibyls seen in Ovidian and later traditions.

In the Epistre a la reine and the Lamentation sur les maux de la France, Christine evokes classical sibylline frenzy; calls upon the example of famous prophets who were ignored but ultimately vindicated; and she links foresight and maternal tears in an appeal to the queen, Isabel of Bavaria, to intercede as France’s mother. In the Queen’s Manuscript Epistre Othea, Christine pursues similar goals as sibylline tutor to Isabel and the dauphin. In the Ditie de Jehanne d’Arc, Christine addresses national crisis by inscribing Charles VII, Jehanne, and herself in a millennial prophecy of the End of Days, assuming the voice of an Apocalyptic Sibyl of judgment and divine revelation.

Click here to read this thesis from Rice University

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