If, having now gone through some of the antifeminist texts of the twelfth century – and there are others besides those cited here -, we attempt to highlight the major features we find there, several things stand out about the number of these works, their literary genre, their purpose and content.

First of all, can we rightly say that these texts are ‘legion’? Certainly there is no dearth of them. But as in antiquity, so in the Middle Ages: when these texts are set among all the literary works produced on subjects other than women and against women, they are in the minority. Furthermore, examination of the manuscript tradition of most of them would show that they had a limited diffusion: many have been preserved in merely a few, sometimes later, manuscripts, or even in a single manuscript.

In the case of the Polycraticus of John of Salisbury, we have on this point a well documented study whose author, A. Linder, shows that the work, completed in 1159 (that is to say, a few years after Saint Bernard’s death) circulated far less than did Bernard’s works during his own lifetime and immediately after his death in 1153. There were hundreds of bernardine manuscripts, many of them monastic, copied throughout the twelfth century and up to about the middle of the thirteenth. But circulation of John of Salisbury’s treatise ‘remained rather limited’, to about a dozen manuscripts before 1180.

Jean Leclercq, Women and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1989)


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