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Famous Women

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The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Famous Women affords a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential. Virginia Brown’s acclaimed translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic work, commissioned for the I Tatti Renaissance Library, is The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Famous Women affords a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential. Virginia Brown’s acclaimed translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic work, commissioned for the I Tatti Renaissance Library, is the first English edition based on the autograph manuscript of the Latin.


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The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Famous Women affords a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential. Virginia Brown’s acclaimed translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic work, commissioned for the I Tatti Renaissance Library, is The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Famous Women affords a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential. Virginia Brown’s acclaimed translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic work, commissioned for the I Tatti Renaissance Library, is the first English edition based on the autograph manuscript of the Latin.

30 review for Famous Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jared Geraghty

    To begin, I got a headache reading this which I believe sums up my experience with this book perfectly. It’s just, not a fun read. I winced at the sexism that just saturated the book, and I know that it’s to be expected from the time it was written, but I just couldn’t believe the things Boccaccio said. Honestly, to be famous in his eyes you must either be a virgin, devoted to god, “manly” so you can rise above the “inferior” sex (at which I cringed so hard) or give in to the “womanly” sins To begin, I got a headache reading this which I believe sums up my experience with this book perfectly. It’s just, not a fun read. I winced at the sexism that just saturated the book, and I know that it’s to be expected from the time it was written, but I just couldn’t believe the things Boccaccio said. Honestly, to be famous in his eyes you must either be a virgin, devoted to god, “manly” so you can rise above the “inferior” sex (at which I cringed so hard) or give in to the “womanly” sins of lust and greed. Needless to say, I did not like this book at all, but I did learn some new names that I may like to research from other, not sexist, sources, like Circe and Arsïnoe. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but it felt great to finish it after the great torture I put myself through in reading it!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nenče

    This book is marvelous fun. Look at the terrible things Circe (the temptress) made her captives do: "With her wiles and charming words not only did she entice many who reached her shore to join in her wantonness: some she pushed into robbery and piracy; others she induced with her tricks to cast all honor aside and take up commerce and trading; many she made arrogant because they loved her inordinately." (p. 75) GASP! She turned respectable men into merchants?? Oh the horror! ------------------------------------------------ So I've read parts of this book: although I think readers looking for Decameron-esque storie(p.do:"With This book is marvelous fun. Look at the terrible things Circe (the temptress) made her captives do: "With her wiles and charming words not only did she entice many who reached her shore to join in her wantonness: some she pushed into robbery and piracy; others she induced with her tricks to cast all honor aside and take up commerce and trading; many she made arrogant because they loved her inordinately." (p. 75) GASP! She turned respectable men into merchants?? Oh the horror! ------------------------------------------------ So I've read parts of this book: although I think readers looking for Decameron-esque stories will be disappointed, Famous Women is still interesting in its own right. Essentially, it's an encyclopedia of famous (and infamous) women: the audience is meant to draw a moral lesson from their example. However, the modern reader will be further entertained by the amusing attitudes and anachronisms, as I hope my quote demonstrates. To broaden his scope, Boccaccio included ancient goddesses along with contemporary women. His inclusion of purely legendary material allows him to trace the invention of writing, painting, and agriculture to a single woman. He follows the theory of 'euhemerism,' writing that mythical figures were once real individuals so revered in their lifetime, they later became worshiped as gods: "Since all these people were blinded by the blackest ignorance, they declared this woman to be an immortal goddess, although they knew she had been born of a mortal woman." (p. 19-20) Famous Women is also amusing for its blatant inconsistencies. Boccaccio tends to extract whatever moral lesson is convenient, regardless whether it clashes with earlier conclusions. In one story (p.92) he writes how a Vestal Virgin gave birth to Romulus and Remus, for which she was put to death; this gives him an opportunity to criticize families who force their daughters into covenants. But in a different story (p.82) (where he recalls Queen Dido's alleged suicide to protect her virginity), he criticizes women who do not remain chaste. Overall, it's an entertaining kaleidoscope of legend and chronicle, of moralizing and classicizing sensibility. This book was widely read in its time; a French translation, Des Cleres Et Nobles Femmes, was Christine de Pizan's primary source for The City of Ladies. And don't forget the many beautiful illuminations made of this book: The Goddess Isis, also called Io, sailing towards Egypt

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kelsi

    I had to read this for a class and throughout the book was looking for what society thought women should be at the time. This book was written by a man and so it was obviously biased. After just reading Cleopatra: A Lifeby Stacy Schiff, the chapter on Cleopatra was a nice comparison. Her story has been distorted and in Boccacio's world she was a whore, a temptress, and a sly, awful woman. One of the main morals I picked up on was it is better to die than be an impure woman. Oh how the times have changed! Not I had to read this for a class and throughout the book was looking for what society thought women should be at the time. This book was written by a man and so it was obviously biased. After just reading Cleopatra: A Lifeby Stacy Schiff, the chapter on Cleopatra was a nice comparison. Her story has been distorted and in Boccacio's world she was a whore, a temptress, and a sly, awful woman. One of the main morals I picked up on was it is better to die than be an impure woman. Oh how the times have changed! Not the easiest book to read, but Boccaccio at least tries to give women some justice, thus making it a thought provoking, sometimes funny read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hope

    Primarily of interest to historians and scholars of the Renaissance. The moralizing about chaste women gets old pretty quickly.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Yann

    http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1... http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    Renaissance misogyny. No thanks. I think I will restory this book now by finding pictures and realistic accounts of famous women and paste them into the pages.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Interesting read. Boccaccio's misogyny can be a bit galling at times, but it's still worth reading for entertainment, not information.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    The good, bad and ugly of famous women in history and mythology. There is a lot to learn about renaissance attitudes towards women and their place in society. Some genuine heroines and some seriously dastardly ones too. The book is largely short accounts of literally hundreds of famous women. At times there are fascinating observations on courage, morality and duty in feminine character. I enjoyed it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marianna

    Did not like the author's portrayal of women. But it was an interesting look at the views of the times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    920.72 B6642 2003

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cady

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

  14. 4 out of 5

    Abbie Comber

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rey

  17. 5 out of 5

    K.A. Masters

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mick

  19. 5 out of 5

    S.C. Flynn

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  21. 4 out of 5

    Vesna Denić

  22. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Diego Gaspar

  24. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  26. 5 out of 5

    Casey Jones

  27. 5 out of 5

    bdm

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maja - BibliophiliaDK ✨

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mossdaniel

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