The Medieval Woman and the Transcendental Nature of Beauty




Harrell, Elisabeth Sydney

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Can a woman’s beauty be a catalyst—and even a guide—on a man’s journey to knowing God, who is Beauty Himself? In the Middle Ages, where knights and their ladies are preserved in literature, the lady’s beauty is the catalyst for a knight fighting with purpose. I believe that that a woman’s beauty can begin the journey of discovery which leads to Beauty Himself, because He placed His image of beauty specifically within a woman. I will use Aquinas’s definition of beauty from his Summa Theologiae as the foundation of the thesis. Aquinas’s definition of beauty creates the framework for how the beautiful takes a person from the physical realm to the spiritual. I will explore his definition in Guillaume de Lorris’s Romance of the Rose and the Sir Gawain poet’s Pearl poem, as they contain ladies who exemplify the definition of beauty. Finally, Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies presents the role of beauty as she builds a city of beautiful—physically, morally, and spiritually—women. Ultimately, the three texts reveal that admiration of one beautiful woman can lead to the admiration of beautiful women, and then, like the rising stairs of Plato’s Symposium, the beautiful eventually leads to the admiration of true, absolute Beauty.



Middle Ages., Medieval Literature, Feminine beauty., Transcendental beauty.