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Christine de Pizan, a prominent moralist and political thinker, defends the excellence and good virtue of women in her book City of Ladies. It is through this book that she wants to underline the critical roles women play within society which are commonly forgotten or not acknowledged with the help of the three virtues: Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. Christine tackles the central problem stating that women are often misrepresented by men and assessed by the body rather than the soul. She conveys the common struggles of women amongst populaces by using personal feelings and experiences, as well as, using historical women to further project her message. Sophocles’s tragedy, Antigone, is a worthy parallel to Christine’s central theme in regards to women not receiving merit as Antigone, the protagonist of the tragedy, has done acts of bravery, and within these brave acts, she contradicts the misconceptions assessed by men that surround women. This paper will justify how Antigone’s behavior and actions in Sophocles’s tragedy make her a good candidate for the City of Ladies by evaluating how Antigone’s demeanor can be approved by the three virtues, Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, and Lady of Justice. Antigone’s actions will also be conceptualized in the same manner as the exemplars the virtues use to counteract the assumptions men have regarding women.

Christine de Pizan is saddened while she is sitting in her study, reading a slim book written by a noble male writer which describes women in the utmost harsh and horrific portrayal, until suddenly a flash of light occurs and the presence of three virtuous women appear (Christine de Pizan 2018, 23). Lady Reason is the first of the three allegorical figures that approach Christine de Pizan; she aims to dispel the insecurities Christine holds regarding her intellect due to her sex (Christine de Pizan 2018, 25). Lady Reason clarifies why the three virtues have appeared and that they have arrived with a proposal, they would like Christine to construct a city filled with righteous women which will be known as the City of Ladies (Christine de Pizan 2018, 26). Lady Reason presents herself as an administrator who will oversee the construction of the city and will aid with forming the foundation of the establishments (Christine de Pizan 2018, 31). Christine de Pizan is honored to hold such a task, to construct a city with honorable women, but she in turn asks Lady Reason why from her previous reading certain great male figures like to unjustly criticize and slander women, especially women who have achieved merit and glory (Christine de Pizan 2018, 31). Lady Reason responds by stating that “if anyone claims that women are not intelligent enough to learn the laws, experience proves that the opposite is true” and gives reasons as to why men greatly discredit the intellect of women, she then further paints her argument with past and present women who have notably affected the history of societies with their knowledge and virtue (Christine de Pizan 2018, 43).

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One of these remarkable women she mentions is Leontium, a women from Greece, who was a very distinguishable philosopher and had a desire to seek the truth, so much that she even dared to criticize and oppose the philosopher Theophrastus, who was very famous for his time (Christine de Pizan 2018, 72). Antigone herself is not a philosopher but she too will question individuals to seek the truth, in her case, she questions King Creon, the ruler of Thebes, for his immorality and lack of reason. Creon refuses to give Polynices, Antigone’s brother, a proper burial because he broke the law and thus shall reap being humiliated and unburied (Sophocles, 180). Creon places the law above morality and reason, and so he thus believes that giving a traitor such as Polynices a proper burial would defy the law (Sophocles, 180). Creon also wants to demonstrate to the civilians of Thebes that Polynices’ unholy burial is a lesson that everyone should follow, that is, if any individual were to go against the law, the consequences that would follow such rule-breaking would be humiliating and unpleasant (Sophocles, 210). Antigone believes otherwise, she questions the morality and reasoning behind Creon’s actions and states that it is not morally righteous to give a man an improper burial as it does not only go against Polynices’ ghostly soul but also defies God’s principles of ethics (Sophocles, 70). It is not only Antigone who understands the wrongdoing of King Creon, in fact, many Thebes citizens, including Antigone’s sister, Ismene, and King Creon’s nephew, Haemon, feel that going against God’s intentions is shameful (Sophocles, 750). Because of Antigone’s good virtue, she decided that if Creon himself did not want to follow the advice of Antigone and the people, she should then take the matter into her own hands. Despite fully comprehending that the repercussions of burying Polynices will result in a tragic death, Antigone still pursues to take action and goes out during the night when the guards are not paying attention and have buried her brother properly (Sophocles, 250). As an intelligent female who uses reasoning, she apprehended that it would be best to do such an act during the night when the guards were vulnerably sleeping, it would then mean she could bury him without any interruptions and perhaps if she is lucky, no one would suspect her of doing the burial (Sophocles, 250). When she is inevitably caught in Sophocles’s tragedy as she assumed would be a likely probability, she then accepts her faith and does not have any regrets, for she knows that God himself would forgive her, she proceeds with killing herself before Creon is capable of doing so, for Antigone she would rather die in her own hands, than in the hands of the King (Sophocles, 1240). Antigone has her own set of virtues that align with her family, as well as, with God’s moral standards, and as demonstrated within Sophocles’s tragedy, her actions of going against Creon’s commands and giving her brother a proper burial truly show how committed she is to her beliefs. Antigone’s audacity to question Creon’s reasoning reflects Greek philosopher Leontium who also questioned the very famous philosopher Theophrastus. Lady Reason would recognize both these women as being phenomenal candidates for the City of Ladies, as they are both intelligent women who do not condone reasoning that opposes their beliefs and they will question the root of these sources, even if these sources come from men with power. Lady Reason finalizes her stay with Christine de Pizan by explaining how “God has never condemned, nor does He now condemn, either the female or the male sex,” and that both have the capacity for intellect and can apply their practical common sense within society (Christine de Pizan 2018, 96).

Antigone had a reason as to why she wanted to go against Creon’s orders, to her, being morally righteous has more of a hierarchy than orders condemned by authority, although, due to her actions she has gone against the law. Antigone’s actions can also counter argue as to why she is not a good candidate for the City of Ladies, due to her lack of good political judgment and insufficiency of following the pre-existing law. Lady Reason states that only women who respect the law have a place within the city and she gives fair examples of law-obeying women who have done justice to their society. She also provides examples of women who have used their intelligence in a societal context and have contributed greatly to the overall good of their communities (Christine de Pizan 2018, 44). One of these extraordinary women Lady Reason encounters is Fredegund, the French queen, who governed France after her husband tragically passed away (Christine de Pizan 2018, 44). Regardless, of not having previous experience of ruling a country, she used political reasoning, as well as, her knowledge of being a ruler’s wife, to then govern the country of France (Christine de Pizan 2018, 44). At the time she gained the regime, the kingdom was very unstable and in great peril, because her husband’s son Chilperic was their sole heir (Christine de Pizan 2018, 45). Lady Reason then states that with wisdom and skill, she raised her son to be the next King and has kept him away from enemies (Christine de Pizan 2018, 45). Had Queen Fredegund not used political reasoning, her son, as well as, all of France would have collapsed (Christine de Pizan 2018, 45).

This may seem far-fetched from Antigone’s situation, but it can be conceptualized in the same matter, unlike Fredegund who used political reasoning to govern her country and raise her son to be king, Antigone broke the law on behalf of her emotions and not think of the consequences that may arise with doing her rather quite egocentric act. Within Sophocles’s tragedy, it is understood that Antigone acts as a catalyst that leads to the suicide of Haemon and Queen Eurydice (Sophocles, 1170). Antigone fully comprehended that the ramifications of her actions would result in her execution, still, she proceeded to continue with her illegal deed and disregarded the impact her death would have on surrounding societal members. Antigone’s death has had a grave impact on Haemon as he is betrothed to Antigone, being the son of King Creon has been difficult, as he had to choose between his father and his lover. Haemon resorts to picking Antigone, but because he cannot separate himself from either the strong ties of his family or his love, he is thus left in a helpless situation that leads him to suicide (Sophocles, 1170). Following such misfortune, Queen Eurydice is overwhelmed by the death of her two sons, Haemon and Megareus, that she thrusts a sword into her own heart, leaving Creon having to rule the throne alone miserably, which in turn could greatly affect society as his political decision-making may be altered (Sophocles, 1300). Antigone’s actions may seem self-serving, due to her not acknowledging the events that may proceed, but in retrospect, she has her own set of morals and thus by pursuing her ethics that puts God and her brother ahead of authority, her actions are closer to that of selflessness.

As Lady Reason concludes her final statements, Lady Rectitude approaches Christine de Pizan. Lady Rectitude being the second among the three virtues serves as one of the transitional figures in the work of constructing the City of Ladies (Christine de Pizan 2018, 28). Her role is to assist in strengthening and expanding the three virtue’s arguments and to act as a bridge to tie Reason’s foundation and Justice’s holy realm (Christine de Pizan 2018, 28). Christine de Pizan asks Lady Rectitude why many men of her time misapprehend women and proclaims that they are not loyal in their marriage, so far as to say that women tend to leave their husbands when times are difficult (Christine de Pizan 2018, 106). Christine de Pizan finds this puzzling because from her own experience and witnessing the marriages of various female friends, she sees that many women are loving and devoted to their husbands (Christine de Pizan 2018, 106). Lady Rectitude agrees with Christine de Pizan and explains her argument with examples of women who value loyalty just as much as men and have used their virtues to pave the way to heaven by conducting acts of selflessness. One of these women she encounters is that of Argia, daughter of Adrastus and wife of Polynices (Christine de Pizan 2018, 116). She was an exponential woman who loved her husband passionately and when she heard the tragic news that her husband had passed in a brutal battle between him and his brother, Eteocles, she left her royal residence and brought with her all the women from the city of Argos (Christine de Pizan 2018, 116). Though, as previously explained, King Creon made it clear that due to Polynice’s betrayal of his own country, he shall be denied the right to be buried properly. Argia, being a loving and devoted wife, refuses to follow King Creon’s orders and seeks to find the body of her dead husband, she is driven by her burning grief and examines the bodies, “one by one, searching for the one she loved,”(Christine de Pizan 2018, 118). There were many dead men, toppled over each other from the battle between Polynices and Eteocles; yet, she ravenously looked through the corpses of unburied soldiers, fearing no savage animal nor huge bird attracted to the smell of fresh cadavers (Christine de Pizan 2018, 118). Once she found the body of her deceased husband, she held him tightly in her arms and kissed him, regardless of his face being covered with blood and dirt (Christine de Pizan 2018, 118). Argia was so overwhelmed by her husband’s death that she vowed to risk her life and attack the city of Thebes and kill all remaining citizens (Christine de Pizan 2018, 119). Such an act of bravery as a result of the loyalty and devotion she has for her passed husband Polynices reveals how despite the “malicious tongues, there are so many good and noble women among the countesses, baronesses, ladies, damsels, bourgeoisie, and women of all classes that we should thank God for keeping them,” (Christine de Pizan 2018, 187). Thus, the story encountered by Lady Rectitude of Lady Argia is simply one of many instances where women will go to far lengths to honor the men within their lives that mean greatly to them. Antigone can also resonate with these loyal women especially with Argia, as the act Antigone has committed can be approached in a similar context to that of Argia. Just as Argia has gone against the order of the King, Antigone has also done so and sacrificed herself for Polynices despite him not receiving a proper burial (Sophocles, 70). Just as Polynices has had much importance to Argia, Antigone too has perceived her brother to have an important role within her life while he was alive, thus she justifies her actions of going against the law and properly burying him by admitting that it is the least she could do as a sign of appreciation. By conceptualizing Antigone’s actions as a sign of loyalty and appreciation for her brother, this could then be perceived as an act of selflessness, thus endorsing Lady Rectitude as a rationale to accept Antigone as a principled candidate for the City of Ladies. This approach of selflessness within Antigone’s actions could be further argued as Antigone clearly states that if it were to be the case that she had a husband or a son, she would then have never gone against the city’s will, but because her parents are tragically dead and she does not have a family of her own, she then aligns her morals with one of the sole male family members she had within her lifetime and pays tribute to this male figure with the actions she has conducted (Sophocles, 910). Christine de Pizan firmly believes that women who value the family unit and the church are noble and righteously situated, which further promotes the approval for Antigone to be granted entrance to the City of Ladies, as her actions did not only represent homage to her brother but also towards God by respecting the dead (Christine de Pizan 2018, 70). Thus the claim some men asseverate in regards to women being disloyal is misrepresentative to all those who are loyal, as exemplified by Argia and Antigone.

The final of the three virtues is Justice; she comes in during the building of the city while it is still partially populated (Christine de Pizan 2018, 190). She symbolically links the community of women directly to the kingdom of Heaven (Christine de Pizan 2018, 190). The tales Justice encounters are more of a darker and violent nature representing the woman’s body being that of a target for severe physical abuse and degradation (Christine de Pizan 2018, 190). Although, in the afterlife, the terrible acts of brutality endured by women by men are rewarded by God, because it demonstrates how they have stayed loyal and virtuous towards the men in their lives and to their faith despite the physical abuse (Christine de Pizan 2018, 190). Justice explains that God himself approves of the female sex so much that, “He gave young, delicate women the constancy and strength to tolerate dreadful torment for the sake of His holy faith, just as He gave this to men,” (Christine de Pizan 2018, 191). Lady Justice encounters the tale of the virgin Saint Christine, who despite the horrific torture her father has put her through, stayed loyal to the God she believed in and would not break her faith (Christine de Pizan 2018, 204). Through the various physical tortures the daughter has endured, God would protect her and miraculously stop the torment that her father was trying to implement upon her body (Christine de Pizan 2018, 204). Virgin Saint Christine’s torments could be compared to that of Antigone’s because, within Sophocles’s tragedy, Antigone herself knew she was going to be gravely tormented due to her loyalty to her brother and God, she understood the severity of her actions, which were death, but yet, despite the severe physical abuse and degradation, the passion to give her brother, Polynices, a proper burial pushed her to go against King Creon’s orders. Originally, Antigone was sentenced to be stoned to death, but instead, Creon wanted to avoid such an overt spectacle and ordered her to be buried alive, away from the public’s eyes (Sophocles, 1170). Either form of torment is truly gruesome and excruciatingly painful, but the adherence she has to her Faith and Polynices is outstandingly potent. This is what makes Antigone’s actions have much significance, as the pain she will endure is nothing to her, as long as she stands her ground and persists with her morals.

Christine de Pizan defends women in her book City of Ladies by using noble women as exemplars that the three virtues, Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude and Lady Justice would condom of as they are morally righteous and have counteracted the assumptions men have in regards to the nature of women. Antigone from Sophocles’s tragedy, Antigone, may also parallel the women mentioned by the virtues as the reasoning behind Antigone’s actions can be conceptualized in the same demeanor as to why these noble women within the City of Ladies have done their courses of action.

Sources Used

    1. De Pizan, Christine. 2018. The Book of the City of Ladies. Translated by Ineke Hardy, edited by S. Bourgault and R. Kingston, 21-221. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.
    2. Sophocles. 2009. “Antigone.” In Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Electra, edited by E. Hall, 1-45. Oxford: Oxford World Classics.

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