From Publishers Weekly
Fact or fiction: in the ninth century, a woman named Joan donned britches and entered the male preserve of Catholic scholarship; she was so savvy and smart that she eventually became pope, only to die giving birth two years later. This book is less concerned with the reality of Pope Joan ("Did this papacy truly exist?" Boureau asks at the outset. "Certainly not") than with the historical memory of Joan. How and why has Joan's story been told and retold? Who told it, and to what political end? The Church itself subscribed to the story until the 16th century, when Rome distanced itself from Joan because antipapist reformers used the story to discredit the Vatican. Lutheran reformer Martin Schrott, for example, illustrated his anti-Catholic pamphlet with a picture of Joan as Revelation's Whore of Babylon. She also turned up in anticlerical tracts of the French Revolution and in the writings of the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal. American readers ought to rejoice that this book, which came out 12 years ago in French, is finally available in English. This far surpasses Peter Stanford's 1999 apologia The Legend of Pope Joan, one of the few resources about Joan that has been available in English. Kudos to noted French translator Lydia Cochrane, who gives us such gems as "dabbl[ing] in the dubious tinsel of scandalmongering." The scholarship is impeccable, and the stories and the prose make this a book that a wider audience will also enjoy.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Boureau (The Lord's First Night: The Myth of the Droit de Cuissage) begins with "Did this papacy [of a female] truly exist? Certainly not." Boureau details accounts of a papal sexual verification ritual, the use of the word pontificals as a euphemism for papal testicles, and two chairs with peculiar cut-outs in the seat used in the coronation ritual. As he documents the history of the myth, from Church-supported legend to powerful Protestant anti-Roman polemical use, and then on to modern survivals of the myth, he remains convinced that artifact and legend provide no historical evidence. Peter Stanford's The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth (LJ 1/99) investigates legend and historical document, attempting to discover any truth behind the legend. His conclusion about Joan is quite different: "that she achieved the papacy at a time when the office was hopelessly debased and corrupt, was moderately successful but...her triumph was short-lived." Stanford admits that for about 300 years after the alleged papacy there are no written records of it, but he finds oral tradition and perhaps deliberate editorial deletion sufficient to account for this lacuna. Boureau's research includes more primary historical documents, while Stanford takes folk tradition and legend more seriously as conveyors of unpopular historic truth. Both works are recommended for their different methodologies and conclusions. Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Coll., Farmville, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.