I have grown increasingly interested in the portrayal of women in rhetoric and the gender specific definition of “virtue” by classical rhetorician Aristotle. After exploring Aristotle’s thoughts of a virtuous man, I will further connect two of de Pizan’s texts in order to document the shift in female rhetoric and its depiction of a “virtuous woman” and some scholarly articles.
It can be said that a “virtuous person,” within the 21st century, renders a genderless appeal relating to all equally. Virtue, according to the dictionary, comes from the Latin word “vir” meaning “man” and virtus meaning “valor, merit, and moral perfection” (dictionary.com). During the middle ages, the French word vertu evolved into what is known today as virtue linked to “good moral behavior.” For women, the dictionary defines the archaic word virtue to mean “virginity or chastity, especially of a woman” (dictionary.com). To be Virtuous means “having or showing high moral standards” (dictionary.com). On my quest to find “virtuous women” within the rhetoric discourse, I realized that “virtue” is never quite defined for a woman, but only for a man. In order to fully understand the negation of “virtuous women” in rhetoric, we must first define “virtue” in Aristotle’s text Rhetoric. Furthermore, Politics by Aristotle lays a foundational stance of a woman in a man’s domain.
In my pursuit to define “virtue” for women in rhetoric, I quickly recognized that there is a gap between Classical Rhetoric and Medieval Rhetoric. Many orators believed that speaking well coincided with a virtuous person, but never included women among this category. It is now well known that women were seen as obsolete and never allowed to speak publically. Aristotle in Rhetoric does, however, state that “virtue is, according to the usual view, a faculty of providing and preserving good things; or a faculty of conferring many great benefits, and benefits of all kinds on all occasions [1366b]” (Bizzel and Hertzberg, “Rhetoric” 197). According to Aristotle, virtue is “justice, courage, temperance, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, prudence, wisdom” (Bizzell and Herzberg, “Rhetoric” 197). He also states virtue must somehow be noble therefore linking the two. Courageous men, or to have courage is the very thing that “disposes men to do noble deeds in situations of danger” all while still abiding with the law ( Bizzel and Herzberg, “Rhetoric” 197). “Virtue”, by this definition, is something only accomplished by men because it is believed women were weak and of ill power. Continue reading