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156 Reviews Chance, Jane, ed., Christine de Pizan, Letter of Othea to Hector, with Introduction, Notes and Interpretative Essay (Focus Library of Medieval W o m e n ) , Newburyport, Focus Information Group, 1990; paper; pp. xii, 164; R.R.P. US$14.95. (Distributed by Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies) Composed about 1400, and therefore at the same time as Christine was taking part in the celebrated 'Querelle du Roman de la Rose', L'Epistre d'Othea la deesse, que elie envoya a Hector quant il estoit en I'age de quinze ans was much appreciated book in the Middle Ages, as is attested by the fact that at least forty-three manuscripts are extant. Christine composed three different dedications as well, but the editor of this English translation has based her work on Harley M S 4431, 'because there is no critical edition on which to base a modern English translation'. English translations of the text were done in both the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and scholarly editions of these have been made this century. However, M s Chance is the first to offer modern readers of English a full translation of the Epistre. The exact nature of the Epistre has long been the subject of debate. Was it merely composed as a sort of handbook of mythography, or is it more in the tradition of the mirrors for princes, offering instruction for the upbringing of young noblemen? The fact that her own son was fifteen years of age at the time of its publication has led to speculation that Othea is to be identified with Christine, and Hector with Jean du Castel. The usual structure of each of the one hundred sections making up the Letter of Othea involves a short verse text followed by, in prose, a 'Gloss' and an Allegory'. It thus presents as a collection of one hundred historical tales framed as exempla. The prose parts tease out all the possible didactic connotations of the verses, but M s Chance has wisely not attempted to translate the metrical portions into verse, rendering the three sections of each of the one hundred divisions into English prose. What is certain is that the Epistre Othea has attracted the attention of important scholars of both literature and art. Rosemund Tuve, for example, examined the work in its allegorical aspects whilst Millard Meiss devoted many pages to several of the best manuscripts from the point of view of the illuminations. It seems indeed that Christine may have been experimenting with a new sort of book in which historical tales framed as exempla combined with allegorical mode and visual representation to form a complex whole. It is a pity that the m o d e m reader of Chance's translation is not given Reviews 157 the opportunity to receive the Epistre as it was intended to be read, as a verbal-visual presentation, but of course this would have greatly increased the expense of its production. As it is, the only illumination offered is on the paper cover of the book. M s Chance's feminist proclivities, indicated by a special sub-section of her bibliography ('Feminist Studies and Feminist Theory') are given full range in the Preface, Introduction and Interpretative Essay, the lastmentioned being placed after her translation. The importance and significance of Pallas Athena for Christine's Epistre form the main focus of her comments in this respect. Useful summaries of Christine's other works are offered showing how the Epistre Othea fits into the general schema of these. Three appendixes list A Medieval Genealogy of the Gods', 'A Chronological List of Major Medieval Mythographers 4th-7th centuries' and a 'Table of Sources' for the mythological figures Christine employs in her Epistre. All these are well-conceived and most handy in reading and attempting to understand the text. Proper names encountered both in the text of the translation and in comments made by the editor/translator are neatly indexed at the end of the volume. There are some unfortunate misprints, Isabeau of Bavaria appearing as 'Isabeau of Baveria' (p. vii) and, in her French guise, as 'Isabeau de Baviere' (p. 7). 'Gantier' Col (p. 11) should...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 156-158
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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