Nadia Margolis

title.none: Willard, ed., Christine de Pizan: The Book of Deads of Arms and of Chivalry (Margolis)

identifier.other: baj9928.0101.008 01.01.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Nadia Margolis, Independent scholar,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Willard, Sumner, and Charity Cannon Willard. The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Translated by Sumner Willard and edited by Charity Cannon Willard. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Pp. iv, 223. $18.50. ISBN: 0-271-01881-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.01.08

Willard, Sumner, and Charity Cannon Willard. The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Translated by Sumner Willard and edited by Charity Cannon Willard. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Pp. iv, 223. $18.50. ISBN: 0-271-01881-X.

Reviewed by:

Nadia Margolis
Independent scholar

The late Sumner Willard (Brig. Gen., USA) and his wife, Charity Cannon Willard, this country's most esteemed and venerable scholar of Christine de Pizan, have provided us with the first modern translation of the valuable military treatise, Christine de Pizan's Livre des Fais d'armes et de chevalerie of ca. 1410. Like many of Christine's less personal, more official, and--yes--epicene, works seeming at the outset to deal with rather narrow, technical questions, this text rewards closer reading by uniquely documenting broader aspects of late medieval culture. The Fais d'armes accordingly enlightens modern readers not only on military weaponry, armor, strategy, logistics and protocol, it also reveals much about more general concepts of virtue, honor, and heroism as assimilated from classical antiquity. We even discern a subjacent theory of writing about the ancients as exempla, as Christine justifies her "right to write" about such topics despite her gender. The Fais d'armes constitutes one of Christine's most salient works of effective humanism, in that she practices what she preached by playing an active role, as both author and woman, in helping France attain its goals of peace and realize its Golden Age as heir to the glory of Greece and Rome.

Like Earl Jeffrey Richards' 1982 translation of the Cite des dames up until 1997, the Willards' translation must serve as both primary text and English version of this work until a critical edition of the Middle French original appears (Charity Willard, again as Richards did for the Cite , is completing one). As Willard has noted, scholars have hitherto been forced to rely on A.T.P. Byles' 1932 EETS edition-- specifically of Caxton's translation, the Fayttes of Armes , but still useful because of its many parallel citations from the French in the notes. Uncited by Willard is Christine Laennec's edition forming part (strangely unrelated) of her unpublished dissertation. [1] Laennec's edition is based on Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France ms. fr. 603, a copy contemporary to Christine but not as close to the most pertinent events as Brussels Bibliotheque Royale ms. 10476, argues Willard (2), from which the present translation has been done. Another similarity with Richards' exploit that enhances this translation's value as primary text--one in which Willard in some ways rivals him, though in others not (see below)--is in the notes and commentary discussing manuscripts, historical and ideological background and glossing allusions to persons and events.

Although written by a woman, this manual of military strategy and ideal behavior would become extremely popular through early printed editions. Ironically, while making this work known to the public, early disseminators like Caxton (in English), Verard and Le Noir also obscured Christine's authorial identity, as Prof. Willard observes in her preface (1) and as Cynthia Brown has discussed within the larger view of the fate of Christine's total oeuvre in early printed form. [2] In this connection, Willard also reproduces Verard's prologue in the footnote to the beginning of Part 1, to enable the reader to see the printer's emendations firsthand.

At first the Fais d'armes appears to be a mere compendium of various sources, including mainly Vegetius (probably via Jean de Vignai's translation of his De re militari , ca. 1325), Frontinus' Strategemata , Valerius Maximus (via the French translation of the Facta et dicta memorabilia by Simon Hesdin and Nicolas de Gonesse, ca. 1380-1401), John of Legnano's mid-14th century Tractatus de bello, de represaliis et de duello which greatly influenced her final principal source, Honore Bouvet's Arbre des batailles (1386-89). Willard has done a fine job of providing parallel citations of the most influential authors for each section: Vegetius for Part 1 and the latter sections of Part 2, Frontinus and Valerius Maximus for Part 2, and Honore Bouvet for Parts 3-4. But as Willard has demonstrated elsewhere, in an already classic article, Christine has triumphed as the author, both by incorporating, then surpassing, her male sources, and not simply "pilfering" them. [3]

In all, the translation is very faithful--almost to a fault. What readers unaccustomed to Christine's prose style might deem awkward and prolix on the part of the translator is actually his replication of Christine's own tendencies in constantly striving for exactitude and authority, often at the expense of the fluid grace and spontaneous feeling characterizing her lyric poetry. The Willards have thus performed additional service in rendering a text, one challenging even to Middle- French specialists, readable to an anglophone public.

What would have made this book more useful to non-specialist scholars, undergraduate students and the general public lies in the presentation of the background information, with a more consistent eye toward the various audience levels addressed. A bibliography, or bibliographies, of sources cited and for further reading, would help immensely, especially as the notes are uneven in quality. These improvements might allow the reader, regardless of level, more systematic access to the Willards' boundless knowledge on this work and related topics.

As it is, we find incomplete first references in the notes, some of which the reader might discover later in full or never at all (such as the oft-cited Milner's annotated translation of Vegetius, for which the complete citation is: Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science , trans. N. P. Milner [Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993]). This is important because one of the virtues of the Willards' book is in its careful reproduction of parallel passages from Vegetius, especially in the notes to Part One. Source material is also a bit jumbled and haphazardly presented in the preface, information this review's paragraph 4 above seeks to supplement and clarify, although considerably more revision is required. In some cases the editor herself seems to have lost track, so that, for instance, we discover her fine summary discussion of the concept of just war in the preface (6) repeated almost verbatim, with only a bit more detail, in note 8 (16). Likewise, note 56 (100) repeats the note (mysteriously unnumbered) on p. 81, yet we still are given no edition for the Latin Valerius Maximus, nor does she mention Angus Kennedy's standard edition of the Corps de policie , whose notes painstakingly trace the echoes of Hesdin-Gonesse's "Valere". [4] But most of Willard's notes are deficient rather than redundant. On p. 2, for example, we have no specifics on the "twentieth-century translation of Vegetius," and on p. 8, we wonder who the "modern military historian" alluded to might be, since even the note leaves this unclear. And who edited/translated the passage from the Chemin de long estude otherwise so illuminating in n. 7(15)? More substantively, p. 3's paragraph on John the Fearless as strategist and "determined diplomat" might have included at least brief mention of his ordering the assassination of his rival and cousin--and important patron of Christine--Louis, duke of Orleans, in 1407, in a fateful maneuver for France as well as for the unfortunate Louis. On the military-historical side, by p. 8, near the end of the introduction, we become concerned at the omission of Bert Hall's trenchant article assessing Christine as true strategist and munitions expert in the Deeds of Arms , but this finally emerges on p. 115, in a note. Other notes' erroneous references risk being too arcane for many readers to rectify easily, such as "Jean-Galeas Visconti" for Giangaleazzo Visconti, n. 17 (23). Similarly, "Scipio the African" and "the second Scipio the African", versions of these famous generals' names necessitated by fidelity to Christine's language (34, 47, 82 and 90-91, resp.), should be glossed in the notes by their standard names, Scipio Africanus and Scipio Africanus minor, respectively, instead of no explanation at all. Some elucidation only happens in the first case, quasi-accidentally in n. 1, p. 82 for Scipio Africanus.

Because of the aleatory documentation, the reader is all the more grateful for the index, with its often highly descriptive entries, yet this too has its mysterious moments--the numerous Latin howlers notwithstanding--caused by the same inconsistent presentation. For example, there is no entry for "Gunpowder," a significant development in late-medieval warfare, but rather under the p's: "powder for firing cannons;" "Minerva" is simply listed as the "Italian goddess of handcrafts". Not only is this an unhappy occasion for the editor to fail in maintaining a level of detail consistent with many other, and lesser, entries here, but more crucially, it misrepresents Christine's own portrayal of Minerva as "goddess of arms and chivalry" and even Willard's important, though again, carelessly documented, footnote 2 (what is the "Ancient History up to Caesar ", etc.? Also referred to elsewhere--e.g. n. 79, 85--as the Histoire ancienne , but never properly cited, at least not at the right time).(12-13) Another case is the misdating, in the index, of Pericles' death: in 429, not 419, BC, which Willard correctly gives in her note 5. (84) Farther along, "Scipio the African" just doesn't cut it; "Scipio the second African" even less so, as explained above; they should be indexed according to their best-known forms, Scipio Africanus and Scipio Africanus minor.

The resolution of these and related problems entails not so much a longer preface and more profuse annotations as more logically and consistently structured ones. Concise, balanced- pitch introductions embracing various levels of reader expertise most often defy extremely learned, extensively published authors like the Willards. This is not to aver that their wonderfully informative details--gems only the Willards could impart--should be excised, but instead that a few more preliminary explanations be inserted, in brief, consistent fashion, to allow less specialized readers to appreciate such learned adumbration. A more detailed table of contents, on a par with that found in other translations of Christine's works (including Willard's of the Trois vertus from 1989), instead of the ludicrously exiguous one offered here, is also advisable.

These shortcomings, along with the bizarre and erratic Latin citation style, inconsistent use of translated vs. original language titles, frequently misspelled names and titles, and stylistic infelicities should have been caught by the expert evaluators and/or copy editors in the pre-publication stages. The revised volume should not turn out to be markedly longer, since eradicating the redundancies would leave space for most improvements. The publisher, a supposedly academic press, should have provided what has become that increasingly rara avis these days--a real, old-fashioned editor--for this purpose, given the authors' special circumstances. As the current book stands, one cannot believe that any disinterested yet vaguely knowledgeable person could possibly have read through the manuscript.

This reviewer's comments and suggestions, both niggling and substantial, therefore do not mean to undermine the value of this distinguished contribution, but rather to signal areas needing revision in the event of a second edition. Once these problems have been attended to, this book will better engage and instruct a wider audience on the versatility of one of the medieval world's most accomplished and influential authors, male or female, and better preserve the Willards' enduring legacy to Christine de Pizan studies.


[1] Christine Laennec, "Christine antygrafe : Authorship and the Self in the Prose Works of Christine de Pizan, with an Edition of B.N. Ms. 603 Le Livre des Fais d'Armes et de Chevalerie ," Ph.D. diss. Yale, 1988.

[2] Cynthia J. Brown, "The Reconstruction of an Author in Print: Christine de Pizan in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries," in Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference , ed. Marilynn Desmond, Medieval Cultures, 14 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 215-235.

[3] Charity Cannon Willard, "Pilfering Vegetius? Christine de Pizan's Faits d'armes et de chevalerie ," in Women, the Book and the Worldly: Selected Proceedings of the St. Hilda's Conference, 1993 , ed. Lesley Smith and Jane H. M. Taylor (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1995), 2:31-38.

[4] Fortunately we now have the long-awaited bi-lingual edition of D. R. Shackleton Bailey, 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), based on John Briscoe's 1998 Teubner text of the Latin; Le Livre du corps de policie , ed. Angus J. Kennedy, Etudes christiniennes, 1 (Paris & Geneva: Honore Champion/Slatkine, 1998).