Women and Madness: Joan of Arc (Excerpt)

13 Mar

Joan, like earlier mythological heroines, such as Athena, is a virgin-warrior who helps men. (It is important, however that Joan herself at her trial of condemnation said that she bore her banner or standard aloft “when we went forward against the enemy, I held the banner aloft to avoid killing anyone. I have killed no one”) Although, like all Kore-Maidens, she serves as a source of male renewal, she does so through her military victories and her subsequent political persecution. Her identity, as such, is a crucial one for women. Although she is doomed (and women might identify with her on this ground alone). she is also physically and spiritually bold; she is a leader of men; she is not sexually raped and consequently does not become a Mother. She embodies the avoidance of both the Demeter-Mother fate and the Persephone-Daughter fate. As such, she begins to step completely outside the realm of patriarchal culture.

It is frightening to read the account of Joan’s imprisonment by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini ( the future Pope Pius II), quoted by Regine Pernoud: “It is known that, taken in war, the Maid was sold to the English for ten thousand gold crowns and conveyed to Rouen. In that place she was diligently examined to discover whether she used sortileges (spells) or diabolical aid or whether she erred in any way in her religion. Nothing worthy to be censured was found in her, excepting the male attire which she wore. And that was not judged deserving of the extreme penalty. Taken back to her prison she was threatened with death if she resumed the wearing of man’s clothes . . . her gaolers brought none but male attire.

Women and Madness, Phyllis Chesler Ph.D (Doubleday & Company, Inc, Garden City, New York

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