« Moëttes » is translated, in part, from the Middle French of Christine de Pizan, who was born in 1365 and is known for being the first woman in medieval Europe to have supported herself and her family through writing. Widowed at 25, Christine secured royal patrons for her work, initiated a female point of view in a critical debate on the status of women, and composed the first known history of women by a woman. She even oversaw the production of her manuscripts, some of which undertook to advise kings. In 1418, the violent events of the Armagnac-Burgundian civil war caused Christine to flee Paris and her public writing life for monastic sanctuary, where she remained in seclusion. Shortly before her death (c.1430), Christine wrote the first non-anonymous poem to relay the triumph of Joan of Arc at Orléans. With the exception of one other manuscript, no writing from these last twelve years of Christine's life are known to exist. I began to wonder what Christine might have written during this time, and this wondering engendered the creation of Sylvie, a young woman who serves as a scribe for Christine, each woman helping the other to lift untold stories out of silence.
Christine was not native to the French in which she wrote. Born in Venice, she was brought to France as a young child after her father entered the court of Charles V as royal astrologer. During his reign (1364-1380), Charles V built a vast library of some 1,200 volumes, the basis of today's Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. The shift from Latin to the vernacular was a part of a larger humanist movement that played out across Europe during this historical period, and Charles––called le Sage––commissioned many translations to reflect his royal prestige and political power, among them the first translations into French of Aristotle's Ethics and St. Augustine's City of God. As the daughter and wife of court advisors, Christine gained access to the Wise King's collection, and––with the help of well-placed friends––continued to make use of it long after the king, her father, and husband were dead. In the years between 1394 and 1402, as the new king, Charles VI, began his descent into mental illness and the Hundred Years War quieted, Christine emerged as a poet, attracting notice and patronage in both France and England.
« Moëttes » descends from Christine's Prouverbes mouraulx, which dates from 1405 and appears in volume three of Œuvres Poétiques de Chrsitne de Pisan, edited by Maurice Roy and published in Paris by Librairie de Firmin Didot et Cie, 1884-96. A translation into English was printed by William Caxton in 1478, one of which is currently housed at the Henry E. Huntington Library, across town from where I live in Los Angeles. The translator for that volume was Anthony Woodville, the 2nd Earl of Rivers, who was executed by another troubled leader, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later, Richard III).
Christine's Prouverbes number one hundred and one, and « Moettes » makes use of the first ten, with my translations appearing on the left-hand side, and Sylvie's interpolations on the right. Christine's section was translated with assistance from Randle Cotgrave's Dictionairie of the French and English Tongues, printed in 1611 by Adam Islop of London and made available online from "two scans assembled in the French National Library" by Greg Lindahl. Whether these scans were made with permission, I cannot say; nor do I speculate on what Christine (or others) might say about the use of her work here. Only that something compels this collaboration over time, place, culture and politics––may it resonate for all languages, voiced and silent.