“The Excellence of the Ladies”


In ancient days women were able to do
extraordinary things to impress the world
by their excellence in arms (to name but two,
I offer Camilla and Harpalyce, who hurled
spears and wielded swords). And not a few
were followers of the Muses and uncurled
their scrolls as Sappho did with uneven lines,
and Corinna, and their light forever shines.

Women have achieved in every art
and craft the highest distinction, and their fame
is great indeed. They’re strong and they are smart.
Without them history couldn’t have been the same.
I rather think it is envy on men’s part
that keeps concealed the honor and acclaim
they have deserved. If their work is not taught in schools,
it is because men are jealous–or fools.

In our own age, fair women of talent and
worth are everywhere and deserve that pen
and paper record their prowess and their grand
achievements, so that in the future, when
people study our times they will understand
the excellence of the ladies.

– Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso Canto XX,
Published in Ferrara, Italy in 1516.

502 years ago.

The lines above are translated by David R. Slavitt.

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