The Story and Relevance of Christine de Pizan (1364 – 1430)

By Monika Erzsebet Berenyi

The narratives, movements, texts and happening of the past draw us inextricably into the present, and it would be careless and limiting to conceptualize the parameters and content of the women, peace, and security agenda, so expressed by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, without revisiting the lengthy history of its progenitors. The efforts, achievements and struggles of those who fought for and forged the very ideas upon which the contemporary policy stands, continue to provide us with guidance, inspiration, and reference points – which mirror the path of our past whilst reflecting the present.

In this context, I return to the medieval era – France to be precise, and draw from the story of Christine de Pizan – a writer, historiographer, and activist, whose cunning wisdom, words and legacy – cumulatively, a representative of a watershed moment in women’s history. For those unfamiliar with de Pizan, her writings were instrumental for enabling the concept of equality for women in medieval France, and her works are considered to be among the earliest feminist writings, inclusive of novels, biography, autobiography, along with political, literary and social commentary. Here it is also important to highlight that the work of de Pizan should also be appreciated within a spectrum of other great medieval women writers, activists, warriors, and leaders – whose courage and work continues to anchor many a discussion regarding women’s rights and equality. I recount the words and actions of Christine de Pizan, thus, in company with the likes of Marie de France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Margery Kemp, Trota of Salerno, Hildegarde of Bingen, the women troubadours, and many others. The imperative importance of and appreciation for the stories, actions and creativity of medieval women are a source of truth and inspiration to me, – which have also come to illuminate my “contemporary” workspace at Our Secure Future (One Earth Future Foundation). Encouraged to transcend space and time, from the happenings and context of medieval France to the present foothills of Boulder County, I count myself fortunate to be surrounded by individuals, who bear a consciousness and appreciation for the past. For, as history continues to show, it is our predecessors who set the tone for bringing life, energy and movement into the formation and dissemination of new policies. Thus, at Our Secure Future, we remember the story of Christine de Pizan while we face and grapple with the continued challenges of achieving equality and peacebuilding for a better future.

Christine de Pizan was born in Venice and was raised at court in Paris. In 1380, the young Christine de Pizan married Etienne du Castel – a nobleman from Picardy, who supported her passion for education, writing and advocacy. Widowed during her early 20s, she chose to continue her passion and talent for writing, supporting herself and three children, on the fruits of her labour. In sum, she may be understood, or viewed, as one of the first women in history to have lived solely from creative endeavour.

I cite here two works, which allow me to transcend the past with the present. In The Book of the City of Ladies (Le Livre de la Cité des Dames), completed in 1405, the social importance and imperative of women’s equality in the context of relationships and partnerships is exemplified both anecdotally and metaphorically. A deeper reading of this work, or perhaps, reading between the lines, brings the notion of human security to mind, such that only through equality, can networks of sustainable and lasting peace, for society, be achieved and fortified. In this respect, I am encouraged to consider the relatively of the roots of de Pizan’s arguments, which highlight women’s independence while advocating for uniform opportunities and equal rights through a subtle and powerful approach.

With clarity of vision for a better present and future, de Pizan showed how equal treatment and fairness, in everyday contexts, can improve the ebb and flow of life of equality of all. In this respect, de Pizan used the power of the written word at the intersection of the quotidian and Christian morality, coupled with a stylized ability to deploy rhetorical strategy, to illuminate and challenge societal behaviour and sources of women’s oppression. In sum, her ability to deliver a message based in gender equality, so many centuries ago, was both insightful and intuitive – and is one which echoes her visionary ability to delineate the critical role women play in the greater process of conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

I also cite the work The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry (Le Livre des faits d’armes et de chevalerie), completed by 1410. This book may be conceptualized as a strategic resource for its time, as it provided a vernacular study of military strategy and warfare, coupled with a discussion on the meaning of “just” war. The work is particularly important for the perspective it provides, suggesting arguments for why and how women could be equally knowledgeable and capable as men, to the discussion of war and conflict prevention, and to the facilitation of counsel for that matter.

To conclude, Christine de Pizan conveyed her opinions with subtlety, through the medium of the written word, supported by the framework of the illuminated manuscript. In the twenty-first century, deconstructing the lessons de Pizan chose to express, the issues she addressed, and the mechanism within which she deployed her message, affirm the breadth and depth of the peace, which informed her approach to penetrating the constraints and rigidity of patriarchal society. When considering the power of documentary media, her work and integrity of character, were groundbreaking for their time, as they sounded the alarm – by way of text, image, and action with respect to the hazards, which inequality poses to society.

I am humbled by having been able to learn about the story of Christine de Pizan, by reconnecting the meaning, integrity, and relativity of her story to the work, which informs my days at Our Secure Future – affirming that justice remains a continuous work in progress.

Image from Le Livre de la Cité des dames (Christine de Pizan reading in her study). Copyright of the Bibliothèque de Genève

Flagstaff Mountain and the Bluebird

By Monika Erzsebet Berenyi

This poem, penned in the moment, chronicles a glimpse into the experiences and perceptions felt, whilst ascending and descending Flagstaff Mountain. It is a panoramic portrait of the wild and alluring world which informs the current place I call home – Boulder County, Colorado. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Nothing is certain, save for eternity.

In Boulder County,
The sun is rising,
With cadence
And with song.
A clock in space and time,
Set to cradle, this world of beauty.
The certainty of light
Stands the hero here,
Or so the Bluebird tells me.
And one, I dare not miss.

What dances along with Nature,
Therein lies –
A truth so bold.
I am humbled by Her –
Subservient to the call of
Morning calm, and daybreak drawing.
Lines of symmetrical light
Envelope this climb –
To a summit so near, yet to an elsewhere land.
Here, I am one.

The air is cold –
Dangerous at times.
Dense with volume, like a hot air balloon,
I rise through space and time.
The blue hour fades.
There are no constraints.
Only the soft sounds of morning.
So this is rocky mountain high?
The Bluebird nods,
And I surrender.

The elevation is grand,
A mile high if not more, so the locals say.
Calling out for consciousness,
I step higher
Into a realm which touches the sky.
A perfect light comes into the fore
And the sun…
On Flagstaff Mountain,
In Boulder County –

I pass Chautauqua Park.

Columbine rules and foothills meander
Below the great Flatirons on Green Mountain.
Steadfast and careworn,
With glowing permanence –
These “Chautauqua Slabs” – known colloquially,
Are readied for the break of day.
I am awestruck by their faces,
Shifting from tones of pink and orange,
Yellow and red,
With hints of Violet and Magenta Blue.

I coast along,
Cascading lightly –
Around jagged edges,
Bends and Turns.
With moon and sun exchanging faint hellos and goodbyes,
There is no end to higher grounds.
The Bluebird flies ahead,
And the wild woods sing softly.
The wind –
A vortex, untouchable.

Ascending higher,
The portal awaits –
To a space which holds
A thousand shades of Colorado blue.
And Viridian reign,
With clouds of powder.

Passing Realization Point,
The compass points toward Tenderfoot Trail.
Beyond a fragrant thicket of Ponderosa Pine –
Blanketing jagged rocks and crags,
The Bluebird –
Perched high,
Calls out from Flagstaff Mountain.
I pause.
I am filled.
I am there – beholden now to the Colorado Continental Divide.

There is no beginning.
There is no end.
Nor will there ever be.

Turning again,
Charged with inspiration,
I take another bend with curve,
Traversing unmarked earth –
No ceilings known.
I reach Chapman Drive –
A remnant project of the Civilian Conservation Corps,
Forged during the New Deal,
At the time of the Great Depression.

I reach Morse Well –
Built in 1929.
I then touch down at Flagstaff Stone Shelter,
Continuing toward Sunrise Amphitheatre –
Storied places which conjure
The determination…
The hardship of America…during the 1930s.
I imagine “the” hopes and dreams,
Once vested in these structures.

At 7400 feet, the air is thin.
I recover my thoughts;
I recover my breath.
Acknowledging the Bluebird –
The guide to my morning path,
I turn again,
And face a landscape, ever enduring –
Dotted by the wildflowers of Boulder County.
Grounded and anchored by Flagstaff Mountain,
I enumerate:

Wild Chokecherry
Boulder Raspberry
Miner’s Candle
Common Mullion
Silvery Lupine
Arkansas Rose
Golden Banner
And the Rocky Mountain Phlox.
Commanding magnificence.

And the trees, known by name
Leaf and ornamental needle
Stand prudently tall,
Interspersed amongst the Ponderosa Pine.
They are tomes of their own.
Rocky Mountain Maple
Blue Spruce
Limber Pine
Rocky Mountain Juniper
And the great White Fur.

And at times, the animals along the way –
Mule Deer
White-tailed Deer
Colorado Chipmunk
Deer Mouse
Pine Squirrel
And the Prairie Dog.

And the butterflies –
Gossamers – the likes of Coppers, Hairstreaks, Elfins and Blues
True Brushfoots
Admirals and Relatives
Satyrs and Wood Nymphs
Spread-wing Skippers
And Grass Skippers.

And to the elements,
Nature’s dear forces –
Which have come to punctuate
These mornings,
So Untamed, so free at will –
Electricity and Lightening.

With gratitude for Nature,
The presence of Flagstaff Mountain,
And Bluebird as guide,
I look out once more – grateful.
This is Boulder County.
I fill my lungs,
With an expanse and vastness,
An endless panorama –
Is it possible to count such beauty?

Today I draw in words,
Though envision the paintings
And hear the symphonies of sound –
Spawned only on such grounds.
And rest – in knowing,
That before I descend,
The sun will rise,
And tomorrow,
Once again –
I will return to all that Nature holds here.


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