FAMOUS WOMEN

By GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO
Translated by VIRGINIA BROWN
Edited by VIRGINIA BROWN

THE I TATTI RENAISSANCE LIBRARY
HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2001 President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-674-00347-0



Chapter One


De Eva parente prima


Scripturus igitur quibus fulgoribus mulieres claruerint insignes, amatre omnium sumpsisse exordium non apparebit indignum: eaquippe vetustissima patens, uti prima, sic magnificis fuit insignissplendoribus. Nam, non in hac erumnosa miseriarum valle, in quaad laborem ceteri mortales nascimur, producta est, nec eodemmalleo aut incude etiam fabrefacta, seu eiulans nascendi crimendeflens, aut invalida, ceterorum ritu, venit in vitam; quin imo—quodnemini unquam alteri contigisse auditum est—cum iamex limo terre rerum omnium Faber optimus Adam manu compegissetpropria, et ex agro, cui postea Damascenus nomen inditumest, in orto delitiarum transtulisset eumque in soporem solvissetplacidum, artificio sibi tantum cognito ex dormientis latere eduxiteandem, sui compotem et maturam viro et loci amenitate atquesui Factoris letabundam intuitu, immortalem et rerum dominamatque vigilantis iam viri sociam, et ab eodem Evam etiam nominatam.

    Quid maius, quid splendidius potuit unquam contigisse nascenti?Preterea hanc arbitrari possumus corporea formositate mirabilem.Quid enim Del digito factum est quod cetera non excedatpulchritudine? Et quamvis formositas hec annositate peritura sitaut, medio in etatis flore, parvo egritudinis inpulsu, lapsura, tamen,quia inter precipuas dotes suas mulieres numerant, et plurimumex ea glorie, mortalium indiscreto iudicio, iam consecutesunt, non superflue inter claritates earum, tanquam fulgor precipuus,et apposita est et in sequentibus apponenda veniet.

    Hec insuper, tam iure originis quam incolatus, paradisi civisfacta et amicta splendore nobis incognito, dum una cum viro locidelitiis frueretur avide, invidus sue felicitatis hostis nepharia illisuasione ingessit animo, si adversus unicam sibi legem a Deo impositamiret, in ampliorem gloriam iri posse. Cui dum levitate feminea,magis quam illi nobisque oportuerit, crederet seque stolidead altiora conscensuram arbitraretur, ante alia, blanda quadamsuggestione, virum flexibilem in sententiam suam traxit; et in legemagentes, arboris boni et mali poma dum gustassent, temerarioausu seque genusque suum omne futurum ex quiete et eternitatein labores anxios et miseram mortem et ex delectabili patriainter vepres glebas et scopulos deduxere.

    Nam, cum lux corusca, qua incedebant amicti, abiisset, a turbatoCreatore suo obiurgati, perizomatibus cincti, ex delitiarumloco in agros Hebron pulsi exulesque venere. Ibi egregia mulier,his facinoribus clara, cum prima—ut a nonnullis creditum est—vertenteterram ligonibus viro, colo nere adinvenisset, sepius dolorespartus experta est; et, quibus ob mortem filiorum atque nepotumangustiis angeretur animus, eque misere passa; et, ut algoresestusque sinam et incomoda cetera, fessa laboribus moritura devenitin senium.


Eve, Our First Mother


As I am going to write about the glories for which women havebecome famous, it will not seem inappropriate to begin with themother of us all. She is the most ancient of mothers and, as thefirst, she was singled out for special honors. She was not broughtforth in this wretched vale of misery in which the rest of us areborn to labor; she was not wrought with the same hammer or anvil;nor did she come into life like others, either weak or tearfullybewailing original sin. Instead (and this never happened to anyoneelse, so far as I know), after the most excellent Creator of allthings had formed Adam from earthly clay with his own hand andhad taken him from the field later called Damascene to the gardenof delights, he made Adam fall into peaceful slumber. With a skillknown only to himself, God brought forth a woman from Adam'sside as he lay sleeping. Adult, ripe for marriage, joyful at thebeauty of the place and at the sight of her Maker, she was also theimmortal mistress of nature and the companion of the man who,now awake, named her Eve.

    Could anything greater and more glorious ever happen tosomeone at birth? We can imagine, besides, how marvelouslybeautiful her body was, for whatever God creates with his ownhand will certainly surpass everything else in beauty. Beauty, to besure, perishes with old age, and even in the flower of youth it mayvanish from a slight attack of illness. Yet, since women countbeauty among their foremost endowments and have achieved, owingto the superficial judgment of mortals, much glory on that account,it will not seem excessive to place beauty here and in thefollowing pages as the most dazzling aspect of their fame.

    Eve, furthermore, became a citizen of Paradise as much by rightof origin as of residence, and she was cloaked in a radiance unknownto us. While she and her husband were eagerly enjoyingthe garden's pleasures, the Enemy, envious of her happiness, impressedupon her with perverted eloquence the belief that shecould attain greater glory if she disobeyed the one law that Godhad laid upon her. With a woman's fickleness, Eve believed himmore than was good for her or for us; foolishly, she thought thatshe was about to rise to greater heights. Her first step was toflatter her pliant husband into her way of thinking. Then theybroke the law and tasted the apple of the Tree of Good and Evil.By this rash, foolhardy act they brought themselves and all theirfuture descendants from peace and immortality to anxious laborand wretched death, and from a delightful country to thorns,clods, and rocks.

    The gleaming light which clothed them disappeared. Rebukedby their angry Creator and covered by a girdle of leaves, they weredriven out of Eden and came as exiles to the fields of Hebron.There, while her husband tilled the soil with the hoe, this distinguishedwoman, famous for her above-mentioned deeds, discovered(so some believe) the art of spinning with the distaff. She experiencedthe pains of frequent childbirth and also suffered thegrief which tortures the mind at the death of children and grandchildren.I shall pass over the cold and heat and her other sufferings.Finally she reached old age, tired out by her labors, waitingfor death.