THE FEMININE PERSONIFICATION OF WISDOM: A Study of Homer’s Penelope, Cappadocian Macrina, Boethius’ Philosophia and Dante’s Beatrice

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This study examines the attribution of abstract values to women by analyzing four characters spanning literary genres and more that 2000 years. Penelope, Macrina, Philosophia, and Beatrice are connected by their contribution to the theme of wisdom through their use of reason against passion. Feminine personification of reason and wisdom makes its own contribution as antidote to traditional understanding of "feminine" as "emotional" or "irrational".


“The main contribution of this work is to be found in the extensive scholarly research into the history of the literary style through which the allegories of the feminine are developed, and in the detailed discussion of interpretations of these allegories, both in the past and of the author herself. The author demonstrates that female personifications of intellectual and moral virtues should be taken seriously as a theme in the history of western thought.” – Prof. Louise D. Derksen, Free University of Amsterdam

“. . . a work of huge range, displaying impressive control of diverse periods and genres and raising questions, literary, cultural, religious, suggestive and at times controversial, that will be of interest to many, not just to experts in the field.” – Prof. John Warden, University of Toronto

“. . . effortlessly weaves together many different interdisciplinary perspectives from Literary Studies, Classics, Philosophy, Women’s Studies, Theology and Religion to give beginner and specialist alike real foundation in, and insight into the state of these questions concerning allegory, personification, the role of women in different periods . . .” – Prof. Kevin Corrigan, Emory University

"... well demonstrated by Dr. Hellemans' thought-provoking and exemplarily researched and organized study, the stereotype was not immovable, and exceptional women might be eulogized for such virtues such as rationality, prudence, self-control, moderation, and piety. Indeed, throughout Greek and Roman literature, and continuing into Christian literature of late antiquity and of the Middle Ages of the West, there runsa veritable if modest current of hagiographyof women who, whether real or fictional, are singled out for excellences associated more typically with the male of the species. Such valorization of women's virtues could be powerfully sustained, whether explicitly or implicitly, through the use of feminine personification or allegory; this is the theme of Helleman's work." - Beert Verstraete, Acadia University

"... demonstrated by Dr. Helleman's thought-provoking and exemplarily researched and organized study, the stereotype was not immoveable, and exceptional women might be eulogized for such virtues as rationality, prudence, self-control, moderation, and piety." --Prof. Beert Verstraete, Acadia University

Table of Contents

1. Philosophy, Allegory and Feminine Personification
2. Wise Penelope
3. Macrina: the Combat of Reason against the Passions
4. Lady Philosophy: Human and Divine
5. Lady Philosophy: Excellent Physician of the Soul
6. Dante's Beatrice as Lady Wisdom
7. Reweaving the Strands

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