Christine de Pizan

The Treasure of the City of Ladies: or The Book of the Three Vi rtues.

Trans.: Sarah Lawson. N. Y.: Penguin, 1985, pp. 162-164

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How young women ought to conduct themselves towards their elders.

Now we come to the teachings that will not only prevent young people from arguing with older ones and being contemptuous of them, but also can encourage young people to rev ere their elders. This is what we say to them.

O children and you young people who are quick to learn and remember, understand this lesson which can introd uce you profitably to the manners and customs you ought to observe towards the most honorable estate of the elderly. This lesson will introduce you to five principal points, of which the first concerns the reverence that you should bear them. The second concerns obedience; the third, fear; the fourth, aid and comfort. The fifth point encourages you to consider the good that they do you and the benefits that you have because of them

As for the first of these points, which is the reverence that y ou owe them by rights: it is written that there was once a king in Greece called Lycurgus who devised many excellent laws, one of which was that young people should honor and revere the elderly. Now once this king or his successor sent his ambassadors i nto another land and some young nobles of the country went with them to guard and serve and accompany them. When the time came to make their representation, there was a great crowd in the place where they were sitting, for the people had assembled there to hear what the ambassadors had to say. All the places were taken. Then an old man came to hear, like the others, and he went searching all around to find a place to sit. No one of his own nation was courteous enough to give him a seat, but when he ca me to the place where those young foreigners were sitting, they immediately stood up and bowed and according to the laws of their own country gave a seat to the old man. This thing was very widely noted and praised, and everyone esteemed them for it. Th e Romans likewise had these same customs when they were governed by excellent laws. You children and young people should take this example to heart as a sound doctrine, for you should know that Right and Reason want to have honor accorded to them, and e ven Holy Scripture bears witness to this. You may be certain that you will be greatly praised for doing this, for honor does not reside only with the person to whom it is done. And if you owe honor to the elderly, if follows that at all costs you must a void mocking them and doing or saying injurious, derisive or outrageous things, or bad things of whatever kind. Do not displease or find fault with them, as some wicked young people do who are very much to be reproached for it, who call them Ôold boys 46; or Ôold biddies’: This is a clear reproach to one who otherwise conducts herself well.

The second point, which is that you ought to obey them, involves being quite convinced in your own mind that they are wiser than you are. It is to yo ur advantage to abide by the judgment of wise elderly people more than by your own and to make use of their advice and be governed and ruled by them in your most important undertakings. By doing this you will avoid criticism.

The third point is t hat, although they may not all be strong enough physically to beat you and you may not be afraid of them, you still ought to fear them as though they were all your mothers and fathers. The reason for this is that they have with them (in their common sens e and knowledge a rod of correction for you, and therefore it is proper for you to fear their presence. In other words, you should avoid doing wrong in front of them, for they will notice it.

the fourth point is that you must help them compassion ately and comfort them with the strength of your body and with your worldly goods in their illnesses and frailty. In other words, help those who have need of it in humane compassion, remembering that you too will become powerless and weak if you live tha t long, and then you would surely wish to be comforted yourself. You should also do it for God as the greatest charity and almsgiving that there is, for there is no worse disease than old age.

Then the fifth point, which is to do with the good th at you receive through elderly people, which ought to move you all the more to put up with them and have compassion for them, is that they are the ones who established the sciences and even the laws. By them you have been taught and governed by the rule of law, to such a degree that you will never be able to pay them back for these great favors. Every day the elderly also uphold in all lands, countries and kingdoms the fine laws and ordinances of the world. For in spite of the great strength of the you ng, if it were not for the wise elderly people the world would be in chaos. Holy Scripture bears witness to this very thing, saying, ÔWoe betide the land of which the king or lord is a child’, that is, immature. You young people ought to conduct yo urselves towards the elderly according to those rules so that your good and the good of your reputation itself may increase by it, for a good reputation that is passed on by word of mouth from one wise elderly person to another, who adds to it confidently , is a very sound reputation. If the young who desire a good reputation are well advised, they ought to go to great lengths to be in their favor by good manners, so that elderly people may praise them. This advice that we have given in this passage appl ies no less to young men than to young women.

But to get back to our subject, the teaching for women: elderly people possess the above-mentioned good sense and advantages, that is, those men and women who are honorable and wise, for we do not mea n some unfortunate old people hardened in their sins and vices, in whom there is no sense or goodness whatsoever. These people are to be avoided more than any other living thing, but any young woman who desires honor ought to make friends gladly with th e good and respectable ones and happily go to feasts or whatever place in their company, more so than with young women, for she will be more praised for it and she will gain more self-confidence. If something untoward happens at the gathering, then the d ishonor or blame will not fall on the one who is in the honorable company of a well-regarded elderly woman. So the young woman, as we have said, ought to serve, honor and bear great reverence towards the elderly woman and be patient with her. Let us sup pose that it is somewhat disagreeable or difficult for her to receive her correction with a good grace and not to reply ungraciously: the young woman should either keep quiet or else speak courteously and placate her adroitly if she can and avoid doing t he things that she knows can make her angry, and for doing this she will be greatly praised.

If the elderly have this attitude to the young, and the young treat the elderly in this way, the peace can be kept between these two groups who often are in great discord.


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