Catherine des Roches' Epistle To Her Mother

Catherine des Roches' Epistle To Her Mother

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Catherine des Roches' "Epistle To Her Mother"


The "Epistle To Her Mother" by Catherine des Roches of Poitiers discusses the very close and dear relationship that exists between mother and daughter. In this letter, the daughter gives a very detailed and vibrant description of the closeness and respect that she shares with her mother. She also reveals her thankfulness to her mother for all that her mother has bestowed upon her. She does this by taking a vow of silence at the end of the letter, which will allow her mother to live a longer and fuller life. In the letter, she wrote, "Since he [the Samian] wishes to speak, I will be silent, Mother, after humbly beseeching Divine Mercy that it please Him lengthen and prosper your days so that you may live a long life as example of the graces of Heaven" (Roches 254).

In this letter, Catherine des Roches states facts and details by addressing many parallel points in an easy to read manner. Catherine des Roches does a very good job of consistently using parallel points that contribute to her effectiveness in getting her point across. This means of description allows the reader to grasp the depth of her gratitude and love that she holds for her mother.

In the "Epistle To Her Mother," Catherine des Roches uses a very definite pattern of imagery, which includes her use of many mythological figures and activities as references to describe her mother and the relationship that they share. Catherine des Roches also refers to things such as the earth and nature. An example of this is when she says, "You quickened me as Prometheus, the earth which he himself formed" (Roches 253).
In this letter, there is also a strong appeal to the senses with the use of words such as luminosity and illumines. Catherine des Roches wrote, "And just as the body in all its proportions, and the shadow in its width cannot be seen without light, so the brilliant luminosity of your mind illumines for us the narrow path where I pray" (Roches 253). According to The Oxford English Dictionary, luminosity means shedding light and illumines means to light up or to enlighten spiritually. These two words are very strong and appeal to the senses to a great degree.

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Her use of these words really shows us the depth to which she feels her mother brightens her life, her religious ways, and the path to her future.

When reading this letter, I felt a great sense of inferiority. The references to mythology and nature, especially the one to Prometheus, that Catherine des Roches uses makes it appear as though the relationship that she shared with her mother was something out of the ordinary. It makes it seem as though this was a relationship that was too deep for the common person to understand or experience. To better understand the reference to Prometheus, I looked in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology and also in The Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology. From these two sources, I found that Prometheus was a god who stole fire from Zeus and put it in a hollow tube. He then gave fire back to man and taught them to use it. In the letter, Catherine des Roches compares her mother to Prometheus but defines her in a better way. She does this because her mother did not have to steal to create the miracle of life, but Prometheus did have to steal the fire from Zeus to create his miracle. I found this very interesting because she claims her mother was better than a god. This just once again shows the deep respect and appreciation that Catherine des Roches has for her mother. After reading the letter, I felt as though I was missing something in my life because I would never have the ability to have a relationship of this depth.

The words in this letter that stuck out to me the most were that of mother and life. Each of these words was used four times in this short letter. I felt that Catherine des Roches was trying to make a rarely made connection between these two words. I hypothesize that she was trying to say that her mother is like life. A mother is not only someone who gives you life but is also someone who shares in your life from a very early age. A good example of this is when she says, "Now, knowing that I hold from you not only this mortal life but yet the life of my life, I follow you everywhere as the shadow does the body" (Roches 253). I felt that Catherine des Roches was trying to say that we owe our mothers our life because they have given us not only our life but have also dedicated their lives to us. In this letter, it also seems as though Catherine des Roches feels that her mother has given meaning to her life and therefore feels that she owes her mother a great deal and is willing to sacrifice whatever it takes, even her life, for her mother.

I also found in this letter that there were many references to trees. "The peaceable branch from the tree of Pallas is as necessary to us as was to Aeneas the golden bough divulged to him by Deiphobus" (Roches 254). In this short sentence alone, a reference is made to a tree three times. It seems that there could be many explanations of this use of the image of trees. I have however hypothesized that this image is used because trees are seen as such a strong hold in life. The way I looked at this image of tree was that Catherine des Roches’s mother was the body of the tree and that she was the branch. She was part of her mother and her mother was her support. Once Catherine des Roches no longer needed her mother’s support and could take care of herself she would be cut from the rest of the tree and planted on her own. From this short letter, I did not get the image that she was yet ready to be cut away, and it seemed as though she may never be. She wanted to stay with and remain reliant on the mother who had given her so much.

I also found the reference to the olive tree to be significant. In The Oxford English Dictionary, olive is defined as a gesture of friendship. I found this to be very interesting because of the way that Catherine des Roches uses the word. Catherine says, "where I pray, my mother, that we may find more olive trees than holly" (Roches 254). I am not sure what the reference to holly signifies, but I found it to be interesting that she wishes to find a tree that means friendship over any other tree. I feel that this passage also shows the strong relationship that Catherine des Roches has with her mother.

Overall, I felt that this short letter that Catherine des Roches wrote to her mother displays a great deal about the relationship that existed between the two. I believe that Catherine des Roches felt a great deal of passion, gratitude, and utter respect for her mother. This all can be seen in the words she uses to describe their relationship. These words and phrases she uses make it clear that she feels her relationship with her mother is unique and something that is very special. She very intelligently uses words and references that make it obvious to the reader how deep and trusting a relationship she has with her mother.

Appendix

There were many other references to mythological characters in this letter. When looking them up in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology and The Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology, I could not find the relation between their life stories and the context in which Catherine des Roches used them. I felt that she used these references simply to amplify the point she was trying to make. According to the above reference materials, Pallas was one of the giants who was slain by Athena when he was trying to rape her. Aeneas was a Trojan hero who fled from Troy with his father and son when the city was burning. Later Aeneas founded a settlement and became the predecessor of the people. Finally, according to the above sources, Deiphonbus was a god slain at the fall of Troy and his body was not buried. It is said that his body turned into a plant, which was then used to fight hypochondria.

Works Cited

"Aeneas." The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. 1982.

---. The Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology. 1965.

"Deiphobus." The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. 1982.

---. The Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology. 1965.

"Illumines." The Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.

"Luminosity." The Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.

"Olive." The Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.

"Pallas." The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. 1982.

---. The Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology. 1965.

"Prometheus." The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. 1982.

---. The Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology. 1965.

Roches, Catherine des. "Epistle To Her Mother." Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Katharina M. Wilson. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1987. 253- 254.
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