Representation of Women in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Texts

Author: Passaro, Maria C. Pastore
Explores the discussion of the idealization of women in Medieval and Renaissance texts. Book's goals are: to show textual connections between literary masterpieces (and thus, delineate a literary history from within the texts) in order to show how authors consciously or unconsciously interact with one another regardless of time and boundaries; to present biographical and autobiographical heroines, their work and legacy; and finally to grasp man's imaginary world of women.


"This book by Professor Maria Pastore Passaro comes forth as a fresh, rich and engaging study of a central motif in Medieval and Renaissance literature: the poetic idealization of women. The text stretches from Rome, the Aeneid, to the poetic vision articulated by a nineteenth Century American poet, Longfellow. From this standpoint, this book describes an intellectual journey across the historical boundaries of space and time, and it is unified by the thematic thread of the role of women. But, this volume is also much more. It can be called, to begin with, a study of women’s charm. The sense of the word is complex. It comes from the Latin carmen. Originally, it meant both song/chant and incantation, and it described the magical power of words, the irresistible quality of fascination and attraction possessed by trinkets, amulets, and persons with the gift of charisma. In Professor Passaro’s original inflection of this special magnetism, charm has little to do with the magic potions of medieval romances. The sheen of this volume, indeed its stark, simple beauty lies in another dimension. Magic is the attribute, the very enchantment of women and of literature, and literature is the special language of women. The consequences of Professor Passaro’s critical insight, however, are far-reaching ... Professor Passaro’s detailed critical readings of Classical, Medieval and Renaissance texts (with a glance cast toward Shakespeare’s Cordelia and Manzoni’s suffering heroine Ermengarda) focuses on a different sort of woman and a nuanced representation of power. Her thesis, expressed in a limpid and (if one may say so) alluring style, distinguishes power from violence: power has ambiguous meanings and it is juxtaposed to the mindless malignancy of violence ... The heroines’ ethical values are not at odds with their beauty and charm. They shape them and are at one with them. It happens, in effect, that poetry, understood as the yoking of the beautiful and the good, is the model women embody. It is at this point that Professor Passaro’s paradigm takes a further, logical and brilliant step. She argues that these women are spiritual models for the poets. As if they themselves were poets, they transform men, not into hideous beasts but into human beings capable of achievements and values. It follows that to be a poet one has to learn to be a woman, and this means that one has to be capable of love in the most ordinary and domesticated sense possible ... The voices of the ancient and modern poets, who in this book have become the oracles of our history, invite us to grasp the power of beauty." - (From the Commendatory Preface) Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta, Yale University

"At once stimulating and thought provoking, Dr. Passaro's book provides a broad historical and theoretical study of the poetic representation of what she terms "women's vision". In selecting and juxtaposing male and female poets from the Classical down through the Medieval, Renaissance and Romantic periods, Dr. Passaro queries the high priority and value assigned to the feminine image in the poetic creation. Far from restricting her topic and her method to a contemporary feminist perspective, Dr. Passaro argues that the predominance and power attributed to women throughout the centuries is due instead to the versatility and complexity that the image has represented to both male and female poets ... In addition to her sound scholarship and clear argumentation, Dr. Passaro's more fertile line of enquiry is, in my mind, her ability and courage to revisit and question the conventional topic concerning the nature of the women, especially the significance of her bodily/physical nature - an entity that can yield ground to both the reality of universals and the concrete sense of the inner self and the richness of human life. In short, Dr. Passaro's book is a gentle reminder and an open invitation to further reflect on how and why the image of women has been indeed "constructed" hence urging her readers and fellow critics to "take seriously the very ideality of women that men have constructed". - Professor Alfonso Procaccini, Smith College

Table of Contents

1. From Beatrice’s Smile to the Prayer to the Virgin
2. Laura’s Image
3. Chaucer’s Restaging of Boccaccio’s Griselda
4. Clorinda, Camilla: Heroines of the Epic Tradition
5. Cordelia, Ermengarda: Heroines of One World’s Drama
6. Vittoria Colonna, Giulia Gonzaga: Renaissance Ladies of an American Drama
7. Eleonora d’Arborea: A Warrior and Judge of the Middle Ages
Works Cited
Select Bibliography