Aemulatores Erasmi? “The Council of Women” in Polish Literature of the 16th Century

Justyna A. Kowalik


The aim of this paper is to present how the Polish renaissance authors creatively transformed and adapted to the native context one of Erasmus’ dialogues, Senatulus sive Gynaikosynedrion. Erasmus exploited a popular motif of a meeting of women who debate on different issues. The work is based on one of Aristophanes’ comedies, as well as an episode from a biography of the Roman emperor, Elagabalus. Senatulus was very popular and was translated into a number of vernacular languages all over Europe. Erasmus, with his characteristic sense of humour and criticism, pointed to some of the vices of women, but did not stop there. He used the seemingly paradoxical  formula of a women’s council to draw attention to the social and political problems of the time.

Early modern Polish texts that used the theme in question can be understood in the context of Polish parliamentarism. But their literary inspiration has to be taken into consideration as well. The first part of this paper focuses on problematic aspects of Senatulus, and its somewhat provocative and ambiguous character, which probably attracted authors to this particular text. Then two Polish dialogues that are linked to Erasmus’s work are examined. These are the anonymous Senatulus to jest sjem niewieści (Senatulus, or the council of women) from 1543 and Sjem niewieści (The council of women) written by Marcin Bielski in 1566/1567. Even a preliminary comparison of these two works with Erasmus’ colloquium indicates that the vernacular texts are a kind of sequel to the original and further develop its basic idea. References to the Latin version are present here on different levels. Similarity lays not only in the title and topics discussed by the characters, but also in the linguistic structure. In both cases, the concept of the female parliament was used by the writers  as a pretext to draw attention to the political, social and economic problems Poland faced at that time and to suggest their own solutions. 


* Polish text: J. A, Kowalik, “Aemulatores erasmi? «Sejmy niewieście» w polskiej kulturze literackiej XVI wieku,” Terminus 2/17 (2015), pp. 241–263.


Publication of this paper was financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education uder the grant 643/P-DUN/2018.

Słowa kluczowe: Erasmus of Rotterdam, satire, Senatulus to jest sjem niewieści, Marcin Bielski, “council of women, ” dialogue

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