Christine de Pizan
The protagonist. Christine is a successful writer and scholar who is visited by three women representing Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. They help her to counter the sexist claims popularly made by male writers of the day. They also debate and discuss the merits and accomplishments of notable women, thereby constructing the titular City of Ladies.
The narrator of most of Part One. Reason helps Christine de Pizan lay the foundation for the City of Ladies and constructs the exterior walls for the city’s buildings. She discusses women who have distinguished themselves intellectually, politically, and militarily. She also provides numerous examples of the prudence that women display.
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The narrator of most of Part Two. Rectitude celebrates women as prophets, wives, and daughters, defends women against the horrors of rape, and pleads the case for the constancy of her sex. She completes the various structures that make up the City of Ladies and populates it with noble and upstanding women.
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The narrator of most of Part Three. Justice finishes the construction of the city—roofing the structures, adding the doorways and gates, and then ushering in Mary, the Queen, and other holy women. She discusses the lives of women who have martyred themselves for their faith.
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The Queen of Caria. Artemisia was praised for her moral insight and wisdom and known for her strength as a leader both in the palace and on the battlefield. She conquered the Rhodians and then defeated Xerxes and the Persians to help defend Sparta. In honor of her husband, King Mausolus, she built the first mausoleum.
The Queen of France and mother of Saint Louis. After the death of her husband, Blanche kept the realm unified and ruled France until her son could come of age. Known for her goodness, wisdom, and integrity, her son’s enemy became enamored of her and composed many love poems in her honor.
The daughter of Urban. Christine’s patron and namesake, Saint Christine refused to worship her father’s gold and silver idols, which she smashed and gave to the poor. Imprisoned, beaten, burned, covered in boiling oil, crushed on a torture wheel, thrown into the sea with a stone tied to her, beset with snakes, her tongue and breasts cut out, and shot with arrows, she was martyred to her faith and responsible for thousands of conversions by the example she set with her unshakeable love of God.
The Queen of Carthage. Also called Elissa, Dido fled her cruel brother, Pygmalion, and founded a great city in North Africa. Known for her cunning, physical prowess, and nobility, she welcomed the warrior Aeneas and fell deeply in love with him. When he left her secretly in the night, she committed suicide.
The Queen of France. Cruel and severe, Fredegund ruled France until her son was old enough to assume the throne. A brilliant military strategist, she brought her infant son into battle to urge the men to secure victory for their future king at all costs. She had her men camouflage their horses with branches. Then she instructed them to tie bells to their mounts, which the enemy mistook for grazing animals, allowing Fredegund’s forces to penetrate the enemy camp.
A Roman noblewoman. Lucretia was propositioned by Tarquin the Proud, son of the king. When he threatened to ruin her reputation with false accusations, she submitted to his demands, later confessing the violation to her husband, father, and family before taking out a dagger and plunging it into her breast.
The daughter of the king of Colchis. Beautiful and noble, Medea had extensive knowledge of herbs and botanicals and, through her enchantments, could control the elements and provoke spontaneous combustion. She fell in love with Jason and through her spells helped him secure the Golden Fleece. Soon after, he left her for another woman.
A scholar also known as Carmentis. Nicostrata named the Palentine hill and in a vision predicted it would be the future site of the Roman Empire. She laid the city’s first stone, instituted a system of laws for the surrounding region, and invented the Latin alphabet and language.
A Greek poet and scholar. Beautiful, intelligent, and articulate, Sappho won the praise of Greece’s leading literary lights for her talents as a writer. She invented new poetic forms and was honored as one of the leading figures of her times with a bronze statue erected in the city in which she lived.
The daughter of a nobleman. When Thisbe fell in love with Pyramus, her mother grew alarmed and locked her in her bedroom, the wall of which adjoined Pyramus’s chambers. Finding a crack in the wall, Thisbe made a hole and was able to arrange to meet her lover. When Pyramus arrived, he found her handkerchief soiled with a lion’s vomit. Thinking she had been mauled and eaten, he took his life. Thisbe emerged from her hiding spot, found her lover dead, and then committed suicide as well.