Originally published in 1529, the Declamation on the Preeminence and Nobility of the Female Sex argues that women are more than equal to men in all things that really matter, including the public spheres from which they had long been excluded.
Rather than directly refuting prevailing wisdom, Agrippa uses women's superiority as a rhetorical device and overturns the misogynistic interpretations of the female body in Greek medicine, in the Bible, in Roman and canon law, in theology and moral philosophy, and in politics. He raised the question of why women were excluded and provided answers based not on sex but on social conditioning, education, and the prejudices of their more powerful oppressors. His declamation, disseminated through the printing press, illustrated the power of that new medium, soon to be used to generate a larger reformation of religion.
Rabil (humanities, SUNY-Old Westbury) has edited the first volume of a new series that will publish in translation texts of 16th- and 17th-century European humanists who supported the idea of the equality of men and women. This volume contains an introduction to the series and an introduction to Agrippa by Rabil as well as the text of the Declamation, the first text to use scriptural sources to advance the notion of women's equality and in some cases superiority. The essay on Agrippa is very brief for general readers but discusses other interpretations of the work and includes a good bibliography. This well-written, scholarly effort will be welcomed by collections dealing with women's studies, early modern Europe, and philosophy, and can be enjoyed by informed lay readers as well.Sharon Firestone, Ross-Blakley Law Lib., Arizona State Univ., Tempe