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Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex
Henricus Cornelius Agrippa
edited and translated Albert Rabil, Jr.,
reprinted University of Chicago Press, 1996

    Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex, Henricus Cornelius Agrippa (1529) which has been newly edited and translated by Albert Rabil, Jr. and printed by the University of Chicago Press, 1996 is part of the approximately 30 volume series of early modern European Continental male and female writers in opposition to the patriarchal tradition, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe, series editors Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 - 200?) --the whole series if fantastic. Rabil also writes an informative introduction and includes copious footnotes to many of Agrippa's references to now obscure individuals and esoteric philosophy. The extensive bibliography enables the reader to find additional information on Agrippa, his life and times, as well as information on other voices raised in opposition to the misogyny of the time.

    You might want to compare Rabil's translation with the translation by Henry Care, a translation in which Care admits he "added" to (and, as the careful reader will note, subtracted from) the work of Agrippa.

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  1. Discussing of consequences of de Pizan's publication of Book of the City of Ladies:

          "The result was a literary explosion of works by both men and women, in Latin and in vernacular languages: works enumerating the achievements of notable women; works rebutting the main accusations made against women; works arguing for the equal education of men and women; works defining and redefining women's proper role in the family, at court, and in public; and describing women's lives and experiences." pp. xviii-xix

  2.       "The debate resurfaced repeatedly over the next two hundred years. The Triumph of Women (1438) by Juan Rodriguez de la Camara (or Juan Rodriguez del Padron) struck a new note by presenting arguments for the superiority of women to men. The Champion of Women (1440-42) by Martin Le Franc addresses once again the misogynist claims of The Romance of the Rose, and offers counterevidence of female virtue and achievement." p. xx

  3.       In the introduction Rabil mentions Rodriguez del Padron's Triunfo de las donas (Triumph of Women). (before 1450)

          "Rodriguez's treatise was quickly recognized as the most compelling of the innumerable defenses of women (most, it seems, in poems) to appear in Spain during the fifteenth century." page 21

    Agrippa also noted the following works:

    Martin Le Franc's Le Champion des dames (The Champion of Women 1440-1442) (p. 21)

    Castiglione, Baldassare (1478-1546), The Book of the Courtier

    Jacopo Filippo Foresti, De plurimis claris selectique mulierebus (Concerning Many Famous and Select Women, 1497) (p. 23)

    Bartolomeo Goggio's De laudibus mulierum (In Praise of Women, c. 1487) (p. 23)

    Galeasso Flavio Capra's (latinized from Capella) Della eccellenza e dignita delle donne (On the Excellence and Dignity of Women, 1525) (p. 25)

    Symphorien Champier's La nef des dames vertueuses (The Ship of Virtuous Women, 1503) (p. 25)

    Sir Thomas Elyot's Defense of Good Women (1540), one of the earliest texts in the English querrelle (p. 29)

    Vives, Juan Luis (1492-1540) The Instruction of Christian Woman trans. Rycharde Hyrde. London, 1524, 1557 (p. 35)

    and the modern work: Klein, Joan Larsen, ed. Daughters, Wives, and Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640, Urbana, Il: University of Illinois Press, 1992

  4.       "It is not an exaggeration to say that Agrippa's declamation exercised an influence in the continuing querrelle des femmes similar to that exercised by Erasmus on humanism and Luther on the Reformation. During the following century and more, texts on this subject proliferated, and many if not most of them counted Agrippa as an immediate source." page 28

  5.       "Agrippa is thus central to the English debate and the only writer (apart from Castiglione, whose Courtier was translated into English in 1561) to recognize that the real issue was not the literary game of illustrious women and virtues and vices but rather the social problem of the treatment of women." p. 29

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  6.       "So let me begin my subject at the beginning. Woman was created as much superior to man as the name she has received is superior to his. For Adam means earth, but Eve is translated as life. And as far as life is to be ranked above earth, so far is woman to be ranked above man." p. 44

  7.       "Cyrpian also argued against the Jews that the first man received his name from the four cardinal directions - Anatolie, Dysis, Arctos, Mesemfrios - which signify East, West, North, and South. And in the same work, Cyprian interprets the name of Adam to mean "because the earth was made flesh," although such an interpretation is in disagreement with the tradition of Moses, since, in Hebrew, the name is written, not in four letters, but in three. However, let us not criticize the exposition of so holy a man, who did not understand Hebrew. Many hallowed interpreters of Holy Scripture have been ignorant of this language without their having come to grief over it. But even if one cannot agree to give me a similar license and permit me to derive the etymology of the name of Eve in honor of women according to my judgment, one should at least grant my right to say that, according to the mystical symbols of the kabbalists, the name Eve itself has more affinity with the ineffable name of the all-powerful divine tetragammaton than the name Adam, which accords with the name of God neither in letters nor in form nor in number.

          We shall abstain from these mysteries for now; they have been read by few, understood by even fewer, and require a much more extended discussion than it is convenient to include here. For the moment we shall search out the excellence of woman, not only according to her name, but according to the facts themselves, her duties, and her merits. For this, let us (as they say) search the Scripture, and, starting with the beginning of creation itself, let us show what dignity superior to that of man woman has obtained from her place in the order of creation.

          We know that, among all that was created by the best and greatest God, the essential difference consists in the fact that certain things live forever, while others are subject to corruption and change, and that, in the course of this creation, God advanced following an order that consisted in beginning with the more noble of the first group and ending with the most noble of the second. Thus, he created first the incorruptible angels, then the souls (for Augustine affirms that the soul of our first parents was created at the same time as the angles, before the body was fashioned). Then he created the incorruptible bodies, such as the heavens and the stars, and elements that, although incorruptible, are nonetheless subject to various changes. And from them he formed all other things that are subject to corruption, proceeding again by ascent, from the more insignificant through all degrees of humor to the perfection of the universe. Thus were created first minerals, then vegetables, plants and trees, followed by animated beings, and finally brute beasts, in order: reptiles, fish, birds, quadrupeds.

          Again after all this he created two human beings n his image, man first, then woman, in whom the heavens and the earth, and every embellishment of both, are brought to perfection, For when the Creator came to the creation of woman, he rested himself in this creation, thinking that he had nothing more honorable to create; in her were completed and consummated all the wisdom and power of the Creator; after her no creation could be found or imagined. Since, therefore, woman is the ultimate end of creation, the most perfect accomplishment of all the works of God and the perfection of the universe itself, who will deny that she possesses honor surpassing every other creature? Without her the world itself, already perfect to a fault and complete at every elevel, would have been imperfect; it could only be perfected in the creature of all others by far the most perfect. For it is unreasonable and absurd to think that God would have finished so great a work with something imperfect.

          Since the world itself has been created by God as a circle of absolute perfection, it is fitting that the circle be perfected by this particle capable of being the link that unites perfectly the beginning of the circle with its end. That is how, at the time of creation, woman was the last in time of all things created; in the conception of the divine mind, however, she was first of all, as much in prestige as in honor, as was written about her by the prophet: "Before the heavens were created, God chose her and chose her first." Indeed, it is a commonplace among philosophers to say (I cite their own words): "The end is always the first in intention and the last in execution." For a woman was the last work of God, who introduced her into our world as the queen of a kingdom already prepared for her, adorned and prefect in everything. It is therefore right that every creature love, honor, and respect her; right also that every creature submit to and obey her, for she is the queen of all creatures and their end, perfection, and glory, absolute perfection. This is why Wisdom says of her: "She glorifies her noble birth by living with God, for even the Lord of all has loved her."

          How far woman surpassed man in nobility of race by reason of the order in which she was created the sacred word bears witness most abundantly to us. Woman in fact was fashioned with the angels in Paradise, a place absolutely full of nobility and delight, while man was made outside of Paradise in the countryside among brute beasts and then transported to Paradise for the creation of woman. It is for this reason that woman, thanks to a particular gift of nature -as if the particularly eminent place of her creation had accustomed her to it - is not subject to vertigo, nor are her eyes troubled when she looks down from however great a height, although these troubles are frequent among men." page 46-49

  8.       "Woman is superior to man by reason of the material of her creation, because she was made not from something inanimate, not from vile clay as man was, but from a purified material, endowed with life and soul, I mean a reasonable soul, sharing the divine intelligence. In addition, man has been made by God from the earth, which, according to its own nature, so to speak, produces animals of every kind when the celestial influences cooperates with it. But woman has been created by God alone, outside of every celestial influence and of every spontaneous action of nature, without the contribution of any force, and she is found with an absolute cohesion, complete and perfect. Man lost one rib from which woman, that is, Eve, was formed during the sleep of Adam, a sleep so profound that he did not even feel that the rib God took from him and gave to the woman had ever been removed. Thus, man is the work of nature, woman the creation of God. Therefore, woman is generally more capable than man of receiving the divine light with which she is often filled, something one can see even today in her refinement and extraordinary beauty." page 50

  9.       "So then the blessing has been given because of woman, but the law because of man, and this was a law of wrath and curse; for it was to the man that the fruit of the tree had been prohibited, and not to the woman who had not yet been created. God wished her to be free from the beginning, it was therefore the man who committed the sin in eating, not the woman, the man who brought death, not the woman. And all of us have sinned in Adam, not in Eve, and we are infected with original sin not from our mother, who is a woman, but from our father, a man. Moreover, the ancient law ordained the circumcision of all males but left women uncircumcised, deciding without doubt to punish original sin in the sex that had sinned. And besides, God did not punish woman for having eaten, but for having given to the man the occasion of evil, which she did through ignorance, tempted as she was by the devil. The man sinned in all knowledge, the woman fell into error through ignorance and because she was deceived. For she was also the first whom the devil tempted, knowing that she was the most excellent of creatures, and, as Bernard says: "The devil, seeing her admirable beauty and knowing that this beauty was the same that he had known in the divine light when he possessed it, that he enjoyed beyond all the other angels in conversation with God, directed his envy against the woman alone, by reason of her excellence."

          Christ, born into our world in the greatest humility, took the more humble male sex and not the more elevated and noble female sex, in order to expiate by this humility the arrogant sin of the first father. In addition, because we have been condemned on account of the sin of the man and not of the woman, God wished that this sin be expiated by the sex that had sinned and that atonement come through the same sex that had been deceived in ignorance. This is why God said to the serpent that the woman, or rather, according to a better reading, the seed of the woman, would crush his head, and not the man or the seed of the man. Perhaps also this explains why the priesthood was conferred by the church on man rather than on woman, because every priest represents Christ, and Christ represents the first person who sinned, that is, Adam himself. One can thus understand the canon that begins with the words "this image" to assert that the woman has not been made in the image of God, that is to say, in corporeal resemblance to Christ.

          Moreover, God - I speak of Christ - has not chosen to be the son of a man, but of a woman, whom he has honored to the point that he became incarnate from a woman alone. For Christ is called son of man because of a woman, not because of a husband. This is an extraordinary miracle, which causes the prophet to be astounded, that a woman has encircled a man as a protection, since the male sex has been engulfed by a virgin who carried Christ in her body.

          Moreover, when Christ rose from the dead, he appeared first to women, not to men. And it is well known that after the death of Christ some men abjured their faith, although no text attests that women abandoned the faith and the Christian religion. Still further, no persecution, no heresy, no aberration in faith ever occurred because of the deeds of women; one knows that it was otherwise with men. Christ was betrayed, sold, bought, accused, condemned, suffered the passion, was put on a cross, and finally delivered to death only by men. Even more, he was denied by Peter who loved him and abandoned by all the other disciples; only some women accompanied him to the cross and the tomb. Even a pagan, the wife of Pilate, made greater efforts to save Jesus than any of the men who had believed in him. Add to this the fact that theologians almost unanimously agree that the church at that time dwelled only in a single woman, the Virgin Mary, which makes it fitting to call the female sex religious and holy." pages 62-65

  10.       "The excellence, goodness, and innocence of women can be amply enough proved by the fact that men, not women, are the origin of all evils. In fact, the first human creature, Adam, because he dared to transgress the law of the Lord, closed the doors of heaven and made us all subject to sin and death. For we have all sinned and we die in Adam, not in Eve. Moreover, his eldest son [Cain] opened the doors of Hell: he was the first envious person, the first homicide, the first fratricide, the first who despaired of the mercy of God. The first bigamist was Lamech. The first to get drunk was Noah; the first to bare the shamefulness of his father was Ham, the son of Noah. The first to be at once tyrant and idolater was Nimrod. The first adulterer was a man; the first incestuous person was a man." page 70

  11.       "Even in the time of Joshua and of King David men engaged in plunder, operating in gangs so numerous that they set up "princes" of their bands; even today there is an infinite number of them. Hence, all the prisons are filled with men and all gallows everywhere are laden with corpses of men.

          Women, to the contrary, have invented all the liberal arts, every virtue and benefit, which the very names of the arts and virtues - being feminine in gender- show better than anything." page 76

  12.       "But since the excessive tyranny of men prevails over divine right and natural law, the freedom that was once accorded to women is in our day obstructed by unjust laws, suppressed by custom and usage, reduced to nothing by education. For as soon as she is born a woman is confined in idleness at home from her earliest years, and, as if incapable of functions more important, she has no other prospect than needle and thread. Further, when she has reached the age of puberty, she is delivered over to the jealous power of a husband, or she is enclosed forever in a workhouse for religious. She is forbidden by law to hold public office; even the most shrewd among them are not permitted to bring a suit in court." pages 94-95

  13.       "However, God has a preference for no one, for in Christ there is neither male nor female, but a new creation." page 96

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