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historiography, Troy, morality, female readership


Jean Lemaire de Belges (1473-1525), poet and historiographer of the French and Burgundian courts of the early Renaissance, wrote his epic history of Troy, Les Illustrations de Gaule et singularitez de Troye (1511-1513), at the request of his patron, Margaret of Austria, to offer an "occupation voluptueuse, et non pas inutile" [sensual yet useful occupation] to the ladies of France (1:11). Lemaire dedicated each of the three books of his epic to a different noblewoman. Mercury, who narrates the prologues of all three volumes, identifies each noblewoman with one of the three goddesses of the Judgment of Paris: Margaret of Austria with Pallas, Claude of France with Venus, and Anne of Brittany with Juno. He compares Margaret's nephew, the future Emperor Charles V, to Paris, whoo must choose one of the goddesses and the way of life she represents. Citing Fulgentius, Lemaire tells us that Pallas represents the contemplative life; Venus, the life of pleasure; and Juno, the active life (1:272). Scholarly commentary on the work has mainly focused on Lemaire's stated intent—to interpret the Judgment of Paris as a moral lesson for the young Charles (1:6). Although some scholars have acknowledged that he wrote primarily for female audience, the moral lesson Lemaire wished to convey to these women readers has received little critical attention.