ON THE EXCELLENCE OF WOMEN

De la grandeur et de l’excellence des femmes, au dessus des hommes. Ouvrage composé en Latin, par H.C. Agrippa. Et traduit en François, avec des Notes curieuses, & la vie d’Agrippa, Par ***.

Paris, François Baruty, 1713.

12mo, pp. [42], 125, [4 (table)], [1 (approbation)], [3 (privilege)], [1 (blank)]; woodcut device to title, woodcut headpieces; ownership inscription of Mlle Huré (?) at head of title-page; some spotting in places, but largely clean and fresh; in contemporary wrappers, paper label at head of spine; wrappers stained, spine worn, edges rubbed.

£650

Approximately:
US $839€770

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De la grandeur et de l’excellence des femmes, au dessus des hommes. Ouvrage composé en Latin, par H.C. Agrippa. Et traduit en François, avec des Notes curieuses, & la vie d’Agrippa, Par ***.

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The third translation into French, but the first in the eighteenth century, of this work in praise of the female sex by the German occultist, lawyer, and soldier Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535).

Agrippa had been appointed in 1509 to present a course of lectures on Reuchlin’s De verbo mirifico at the University of Dôle in Burgundy. His inaugural lecture was prefaced with a speech in honour of Margaret of Austria, daughter of the emperor Maximilian, which he then expanded into the present work in praise of women, although it was not finished, or published, until 1529. The work opens with the assertion that there is no difference between the soul of a woman and that of a man, before going on to argue that the name of Eve proves woman’s superiority over man.

Agrippa praises female beauty and modesty, and discusses the contribution women make to men’s happiness (there is only so much one can expect of sixteenth-century feminism), the minimal part played by Eve in the Fall, the unfair emphasis on female iniquity, and the ways in which Aristotle proves the excellence of women.

It is possible that Agrippa got carried away, going on to argue that everything bad springs from men, and all goods from women, but he was on surer ground in claiming that nothing great and illustrious could be done by men that could not equally be done by women.

Perhaps of the greatest import are the final two sections, in which Agrippa argues that the present state of women is entirely due to the usurpation of her rights, and that the role of women is not to obey men. Agrippa’s text was much translated, into English and German as well as into French. The present translation is attributed to one Jean d’Arnaudin (1690–1717), of whom little is known; he appears also to be the author of a Refutation par le Raisonnement d’un livre intitulé De l’Action de Dieu sur les Créatures (1714).

OCLC records North American copies at Cornell, Minnesota, NYPL, Princeton, UNC Greensboro, Wells College, and Yale Medical School, with Library Hub adding the British Library and Glasgow.

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