Chapter 1

Text

Here begins the goddess Othea’s Epistle1, which she sent to Hector when he was fifteen years of age.

Othea, of prudence you are the goddess
That sets good hearts in worthiness,
To you Hector, noble prince mighty
That in arms is ever worthy
The son of Mars, the God of battle
That in deeds of arms which will not fail
And of mighty Minerva, the goddess
who in arms is his mistress
Successor of the noble Trojans
Heir of Troy and of the ceteseyns2
Salutation before this complete set
I send, with love feigned in no manner.
O good lord, how am I desiring
This great avail, which I go seeking
And that augmented and preserved
It may be, and ever observed
Your worship and worthiness in old age,
That thou hast greatly had in thy first age.
Now, to show you my letter plainly
I will inform you, and tell truly
Of things that are fully necessary
To his worthiness and the contrary
To the opposite of worthiness
So that all good hearts may equip them.
For to begin to be good by learning
The horse that in the air is flying—
It is the named Pegasus truly—
That all lovers love highly
And because that is your condition
I know, be right inclination,
Able to take knightly deeds in hand
More than is in other one hundred thousand.
For as a goddess I know
Not to be ignorant but to be cunning
Of things the which are still to come.
I ought to understand the whole and sum;
For I know you will be ever enduring,
Worthiest of all the worthy living,
And shall be first among all others,
So that I may be beloved by you.
Beloved, why should I not be so?
I am that which arms all you
That love me and hold me dear
I read them lessons in virtue
Which makes them climb to heaven
I pray that you be one of those,
And that you will listen to me well.
Now, set it well and good in your mind,
The words that I will say to you;
And if you do not what I tell, say or write
Anything that may to come may be,
And if that I see, is unthinkable to you,
As if that I see, is unthinkable to you,
As that which happened in the past, so should you
Know right well that they are in my thoughts
In the spirit of prophecy.
Understand well now and grieve not,
For I shall nothing say but that shall fall
Think well the coming is not yet at all.

Gloss

For the Greeks, Othea was a goddess of wisdom for men and women, for people of old times did not have the light of faith and worshipped many gods, who ruled over the world, in the realms of Syria, or Persia, the Greeks, the Trojans, Alexander, the Romans and many others, and namely the greatest philosophers that ever were, because at that time God had not opened the gate of mercy. But we Christian men and women, now at this time illuminated with very faith by the grace of God, may consider the opinions of ancient people with a moral perspective, and use their stories to create fair allegories. And as they had a custom to worship all things who appeared special and divinely inspired, many wise ladies in their time were called goddesses. And so it was that in the time that great Troy flourished there was a very wise lady called Othea who knew of the the fair youth of Hector of Troy, who was very virtuous, and who seemed to have a great destiny ahead of him, and she sent him many great and notable gifts, and namely the great horse that men called Galathe, who was greater than all other horses. And because Hector had all the worldly graces that a good man ought to, rightly we may say that he understood the council of Othea, who had sent him these letters. By Othea we should understand the virtue of prudence and wisdom, which Hector had, and because the four cardinal virtues are necessary to good behavior, we shall speak of them, showing each after the other. And to the first we have given a name and taken a manner of speech in some ways poetic, which is better to follow the matter to the very story, and for our purposes we shall take some authorities of ancient philosophers. Thus we shall see that this lady gifted this present to good Hector, who can represent everyone else who desires bounty and wisdom. And as the virtue of prudence ought to be strongly recommended, Aristotle, the prince of philosophers, says: “Because that wisdom is the most noble of all other things, it is also the best way to think and act that exist.”

The Prologue of the Allegory

In order to discuss allegory for our purposes, we shall apply Holy Scripture to edify the soul, since we live only in the wretched world. Since the wisdom and might of God apply to all things, and because our spirit is made in God’s image and that of his angels, it is appropriate and necessary that we should be virtues, which may be consistent until we reach heaven. And because we must be vigilant soldiers on guard of the presence of Hell, who is his deadly adversary, and often disturbs God’s beautifulworld, we may call the appropriate life chivalry, as the Scripture says in many parts; and since all earthly things are deceivable, we should keep this in mind for all time. And because this is the great wisdom of perfect knighthood which rises above all other victorious people who are crowned in bliss, we shall discuss virtue in terms of goodly knighthood, and this will be done principally to praise God and to your profit which will delight those who read this letter.

Allegory

It is important to remember how prudence and wisdom are the moderators and deciders of all virtues, without which virtues may not be well governed, and it is necessary for proper knighthood to be armed with prudence, as Saint Austin says in the book of the Singularity of Clerics that, where there is prudence, men can fix discord; but where prudence is despised, discord reigns. And to this purpose Solomon says in his Proverbs: For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul, discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.3

Footnotes

  1. Epistle – A letter, particularly in the form of poetry.
  2. Ceteseyns – Uncertain translation.
  3. This comes from Proverbs 2:10-11. Christine de Pizan uses the Latin: “Si intraeuerit spiencia cor tuum et sciencia anime tue placuerit, consilium custodiet te, et prudencia seruabit te.”

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