Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Guest Post By Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Two: The Common Era Before the Middle Ages

(Echidne's note: This is the second post in the series. For the first one, go here.)

Faltonia Betitia Proba (c. 306/c. 315 - c. 353/c. 366) was a Roman Christian poet, the most important and influential poet of the Late Antiquity who wrote in Latin. A member of one of the most influential aristocratic families, she composed the Cento vergilianus de laudibus Christi, a cento composed with verses by Virgil re-ordered to form an epic poem centred around the life of Jesus. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) declared the poem an apocryphal; therefore, even if it was not considered heretical, its public reading was forbidden. Yet despite this prohibition, the work had some success: it is known that Emperors Arcadius (395-408) and Theodosius II (408-451) requested copies of the poem; furthermore, during the Middle Ages this cento was used in education, and Proba's fame caused Giovanni Boccaccio to include her among a most influential women list, in his De mulieribus claris. The printed edition of the De laudibus Christi, dating back to 1472, was probably the first of a work composed by a woman. An English prose translation (since she wrote in Latin) is available in The Golden Bough, The Oaken Cross: The Virgilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba, by Elizabeth A. Clark and Diane F. Hatch (Chico, California: Scholars Press., 1981).

Egeria or Aetheria (often called Sylvia) was a Gallaeci or Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381-384. She wrote an account of her journey in a long letter to a circle of women at home which survives in fragmentary form in a later copy. This may have been the first formal writing by a woman in Western European Culture. The manuscript has been translated several times, but perhaps the most recommended English translation for the average reader (Egeria wrote in Latin) is Egeria's Travels: Newly Translated, by John Wilkinson, especially since it includes supporting documents and notes. Another English translation of Egeria's writing for the average reader is the Gingras edition in the Ancient Christian Writers series.