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19.11.12 Zago (trans.), Christine de Pizan, Le chemin de lonc estudes

19.11.12 Zago (trans.), Christine de Pizan, Le chemin de lonc estudes

Ester Zago's translation--the first in Italian--of Christine de Pizan's allegorical poem is a welcome addition to the corpus in modern languages of this extraordinary writer. Le Chemin de lonc estudes is a dream-vision poem dated c. 1402–1403, and very overtly erudite. In it Christine invokes and joins the most authoritative spiritual and secular intellectuals, from Scripture and the Church Fathers to the Greco-Roman poets and the intellectuals of the High Middle Ages. A list of the sources, citations, and interlocutors Christine names (and/or deploys) in this poem would be too long for a book review. Still, some representative sources include, beside Scripture, Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose; Ovid, Cicero, and Seneca; Aulus Gellius, Solinus, and Fulgentius; Saint Bernard, Alain de Lille, and John of Salisbury; the Roman d'Alexandre, the Ovide Moralisé, and Mandeville's Travels; and, most prominently and substantively, Virgil, Boethius, and Dante. For a woman writer to claim close acquaintance with the oeuvre of all these writers--to import and deploy and animate them to articulate and support her claim to be their fellow-traveler on the "path of long study"--is a striking enough call on our attention. For Christine to choose as her guide not one of these magisterial male authors but a prophetic female character, the Cumaean Sibyl, is nothing short of a manifesto for the value of women's intellectual work. Finally, for Christine to launch her dream-vision with a re-reading of the Consolation of Philosophy, and then to explicitly map her pilgrimage of learning (and the poem which narrates it) over Dante's Divine Comedy, is a confident, but nowhere arrogant, claim to supersede these authoritative works by adapting them to the urgent vicissitudes of her own time.

The value of this particular poem then is clear even in a corpus such as Christine de Pizan's, so rich in stand-out texts. ARLIMA notes nine extant manuscript copies of the Chemin (Zago lists the five presentation copies, four of which are illustrated; p. 5). [1] The poet's modest descriptor "petit dit" (ll. 12, 56, and passim; poemetto) is a provocation: this "little poem" comprises 6398 lines; it surveys the known world and the earthly and celestial paradises; it examines the current disastrously violent and volatile state of the world, engaged in endless war at all levels; and it stages a debate on the virtues necessary for a king to be able to bring peace and reason to a suffering world.

After the Sibyl has shown Christine the earth and the heavens, we see Mother Earth, distraught at the war and destruction among her children, petition Lady Reason to solve it. Reason summons Noblece (pp. 72–84), Chevalerie (84–86), Richece (86–91), andSagece (91–129) to put forth their claims to be the most needed quality in a ruler. Sagece in her long discourse demolishes the claims of the other three, especially Richece. Unable to decide, Reason (now called Princess, now Queen) remands the question for adjudication on earth, in the French court to be precise (131). The messenger is to be Christine herself, after her qualifications are canvassed; the dream ends when her mother calls to wake her (133–36).

Some passages on good and bad governance cut far too close to home at the present moment. Rulers should be "above all others" in wisdom, conduct, and counsel; behave like a loving father to his children or a protective shepherd to his sheep; flee lust and follow chastity (ll. 5514–24). They must be clement, compassionate and merciful (ll. 5631–32; a century later, Machiavelli would strenuously disagree). Sagece declares that great rulers of old were not exempt from or above the law (ll. 5593–5620), and she quotes Seneca at length:

Ou tiers epistre ancor Recorde

Que la cruaulte ou sacorde

Le prince batailles engendre

Mais sa clemence ou que dessendre[2]

Elle viegne transquilite

Engendre par humilite. (sic)

Cest la proece du courage

Noble vaillant honneste & sage

De tous iours estre debonnaires

Et doulx en trestous ses affaires

Ne a un prince naffiert point

Estre fol nireux par nul point...

Nella terza epistola egli riafferma

Che la crudeltà di un principe

È all'origine di ogni lotta,

Mentre la sua clemenza, ovunque

Si diffonda, fa nascere la tranquillità,

Frutto dell'umiltà.

È il pregio di un cuore

Nobile, valoroso, onesto e saggio

Di essere sempre clemente

E pietoso in ogni sua azione.

È sconveniente per un principe mostrarsi

Irragionevole o collerico... (ll. 5639–50

The translation is published with a diplomatic edition of the text preserved in London, British Library, MS Harley 4431 (ff. 178-219v), in a facing-column format that makes it easy to consult and compare the original and the translation. By definition, the diplomatic edition reflects Harley 4431 as closely as possible, preserving its word separation and orthographic variations (e.g., Richesse / Richece), and indicating with italics where abbreviations are expanded. The diplomatic edition contains no punctuation beyond upper-case letters where they appear in the manuscript; the translation contains modern editorial punctuation, and divides sentences as the transcription does not. The diplomatic edition does silently correct some presumed errors in the original (emending dessendre to rhyme with engendre, l. 5942 above, where the original reads dessende). Indeed, the notes to this text gloss almost exclusively the text's sources and references, rather than questions of philology, paleography, or iconography.

Other reader-friendly layout choices are the type font and size; the placement of the line numbers between the columns rather than in the margins; the rubrics in bold; the placement of color reproductions of the Chemin's eight miniatures at their locations in the text; the preservation of the paragraph markers (only in the French text, alas, not in the Italian); and the marking of folio and column numbers. The short introduction points us to the digitized version of Harley 4431 at

This allows us to compare the diplomatic edition to the original and to study the original script, the mise-en-page, and the context of the images, since the color thumbnails do not for the most part show us any writing.

The translation is lively and readable, and is a brilliant advocate for the timeliness and the ethical importance of Christine's dream-vision. Like every academic translator I know, Zago stresses that her goal is to "offer the possibility of following the original text in the most faithful way possible" (5); and like every translator, she lays out the exceptions and obstacles to her rule of maximum fidelity: the "constraints" of rhyme impose repetitions in the original which the Italian will not preserve; the many equivocal rhymes, only some of which are preserved as examples; and twisted syntax which Zago has silently ironed out. She maintains the vacillating verb tenses familiar to readers of Old and Middle French, however, which makes her a far more faithful translator than the present reviewer.

One area in which I could have wished for even more fidelity is in a consistent translation of some of Christine's fundamental terms. The Italian term saggezza, for example, translates Sagece /Sagesse (4084 and passim); grand sens (4969); sens (4979); savoir(4995); and sapience (5007). The Middle French science is translated, variously, as scienza (5005); conoscenza (5008); sapienza(5059); and sapere (5073). This makes it more difficult for a reader to track the recurrence of etyma rich in ethical and thematic freight; but with the original only inches away, this task certainly remains feasible. Mustn't grumble.

What is missing? This lovely volume could certainly have benefited from a longer and more detailed introduction on the achievement of Christine de Pizan and the place of this work (and this very special manuscript) within it. A summary or synopsis of the Chemin de lonc estudes, a discussion of the reception of the poem, and especially a bibliography would undoubtedly have been advantageous to the reader. Discussion of a few local translation choices and philological issues would have been fascinating, and honestly, one more pass through for typos always pays off. But I'm grateful for this wonderful publication, and particularly for the way Zago and Holloway foreground Christine's intimate knowledge and confident mastery of Dante's Comedy. To close with one central example, Christine quotes Dante-pilgrim's deferential, emotional, relieved, and grateful outburst to Virgil: Vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore / che m'ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume (Inferno I.83–84) as Ce mot Vaille moy lonc estude / Qui ma fait cercher tes volumes (ll. 1136–37).

This moment gives Christine the title and major metaphor of her own poem: The Road of Long Study, in which she sees and reveals earth and heaven through a journey explicitly marked as scholarly. Kudos and thanks to Ester Zago and Julia Bolton Holloway for adding this metaphorical pilgrimage text to the series De Strata Francigena in a format and at a cost accessible to non-specialists.

-------- Notes:


2. The manuscript reads "deffende."