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    Posting Addict Finzmom4's Avatar
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    Default Pope Joan Discussion Questions

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?


    2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?

    3. Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?

    4. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?

    5. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?

    6. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?

    7. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?

    8. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?

    9. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?
    10. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not become pregnant or miscarried during the Papal procession?

    http://www.manitowoc.lib.wi.us/reade...s/popejoan.htm

  2. #2
    akbooklover
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    1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?

    I'd like to think so...and I'd really like to think that there were intelligent 'rebel' women out there, invading the world of learning.


    2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?

    Important for the story--not so much because it's a great story. Important for history-- I'd say a little...what a brave woman, a smart woman, an ahead-of-her-time woman.

    Lessons...perhaps. Don't judge a book by its cover? You can achieve what you set your mind to achieve? As a modern woman, I have a hard time understanding that sort of ignorance and 'backwardsness'. So a lesson for me would be, My how things have changed!


    3. Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?

    Somewhat. I think the whole women-as-property idea still exists in many developing countries. Just think of the raping of women in Sudan--the women are powerless to prevent this violence against them. Or that woman who was stoned in Somalia for 'adultery' who was actually raped. Or even arranged marriages that take a woman's voice away.

    I guess I'm dwelling on the oppression of women in the story, huh?

    4. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?

    Men! *grin* Not sure how threatening a woman pope would be so many centuries later, so I'm not sure. Beyond the changes in the church at that time?

    5. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?

    I think the church took the "Adam's helpmeet"="lesser person" thing very seriously. And the scripture about Paul telling women to be quiet in church. I think it's basically "Biblical" but twisted way out of context.

    6. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?

    Yes! I think choosing that deception was at least a chance at living a full life. She probably would have been destitute otherwise, as well as completely unable to do anything beyond being a wife and mother.

    7. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?

    Lots of superstition mumbo jumbo and believe in the miraculous to cure serious ills. It was still a time of great ignorance and belief in witchcraft. It's hard to fight an uphill battle against centuries of tradition and unquestioning faith in 'healers'. It was refreshing to know that there were scholars out there willing to think outside the norms and figure out the 'whys' of disease and infection.

    8. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?

    She meets resistance and must fight the politics that would keep things as a status quo. No one understands why she'd want to help that segment of the population.

    Cost, perhaps? It would divert money away from them or their pet projects? Just plain not caring is probably a big reason, as long as they were taken care of why bother with the others.


    9. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?

    I think experiencing the different beliefs taught her to question and seek answers, in general. Her father's beliefs were so unyielding and filled with fear and anger that her mother's beliefs must have been much easier to bear and consider. She knew that there had to be a middle ground between the two.

    Her father causes so much damage in terms of relationships and faith that Joan seeks alternatives to what he represents, I think. At the heart of everything is her thirst for knowledge and her ability to reason. Once she finds herself able to feed those needs, she can focus on the faith issues and the kindness and compassion that is also in her nature. I think she does manage to at least quiet her conflicts.


    10. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not become pregnant or miscarried during the Papal procession?

    I don't think so. I'd like to think she would have remained there until she died or until a political maneuver kicked her out. Unless she allowed herself to 'dally' again with Gerold (is that his name?).


    This was an enjoyable book. Thanks for reading it this month! Anyone else read it? Come on, step right up!

    Peace,
    Julie

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    1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?

    From the author's note about what she found during her research, it certainly sounds plausible to me. I would like to think so too.

    2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?

    I think that it does make a larger impact if she did exist. However, I do think there are indeed lessons to be learned regardless. An obvious one being the glimpse into history we get from the researched aspects of the book, and how we have - and should - improved on the situations of that time. A sort of "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" type of thing.

    3. Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?

    Of course there are still societies where women are treated as second-class citizens. It does raise an interesting point that I wonder what a woman from one of those societies would think of this book? I don't imagine many would get the chance to read it, of course, given the message being so clearly against that kind of society. To further answer the question, there are similarities, in the lack of choices for the women, and the oppression of them.

    4. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?

    A few things, likely. Firstly, the changes in that these days we require a lot more hard evidence for something to be widely accepted. Especially given the many more tools we have these days to give us hard evidence. However, at the same time, the church also seemed to make a conscientious effort to eliminate all that could have been hard evidence. Unfortunately it has made it all a bit difficult to seriously study the actual case. I hope that scholars do continue to look into it!

    5. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?

    I think it was all just a part of the whole elevation of men and suppression of women. Taking portions of the bible too literally, in a very Christian society, for one. I haven't done enough studies into the history to really know all the catalysts for this, although from what I do know it seems like over time society has waxed and waned from a Man-focused to a more equal society. I understand there were times and places before this where women weren't so oppressed. It would be interesting to look into further.

    6. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?

    I think she made the right choice for herself. She knew the kind of life she would have had as a woman, and it wasn't what she really wanted. In the end, I think she would have been pleased with her choice, as she was able to make many positive impacts on many lives.

    7. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?

    I think this question connects with my answer for #4. There was a lot based on superstition rather than scientific evidence. I think Joan showed the beginnings of the movement toward what we have today. The shift would have to have begun somewhere, so I think the author shows the seeds of it in people like Joan.

    8. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?

    Joan becomes more suspect when she tries to make changes. There is always a resistance to change, especially great change, even today. People are suspicious that something that hasn't been tried could work. Maybe it's because people tend to think, if it really worked, why haven't we done it yet?

    9. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?

    I think that part of the conflict is this. Her pagan mother is a good person in Joan's eyes, and her religion allows for more freedom for women. In that way it seems to make sense as a better alternative in religion to Joan. On the other hand, all the learning takes place through the Christian church, and the learning is also a very good thing in Joan's mind. Education and knowledge are important values to Joan, and she sees how they do help society. I think that, in the end, she does come to a more Christian way of thinking through her education. (By Christian, I must clarify to mean the specific Christian doctrine being taught, which in many ways does NOT match with current Christian churches & their beliefs.) But I think she also questions a lot of the Christian teachings, and doesn't always follow the doctrine exactly as it is being taught at the time.

    10. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not become pregnant or miscarried during the Papal procession?

    Hmmm... hard to say. In some ways, had she not been discovered I think that would have been more of a shame. Had she gone to the grave as a man, there would have been even less evidence, and chances are we would not have even this legendary and important story of a woman going against all odds to do such good. I suppose it would have been hard for her to not be discovered, but having made it as far as she did, I suppose it was still possible.
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    Stephanie.

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    Quote Originally Posted by akbooklover View Post

    9. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?

    I think experiencing the different beliefs taught her to question and seek answers, in general. Her father's beliefs were so unyielding and filled with fear and anger that her mother's beliefs must have been much easier to bear and consider. She knew that there had to be a middle ground between the two.

    Her father causes so much damage in terms of relationships and faith that Joan seeks alternatives to what he represents, I think. At the heart of everything is her thirst for knowledge and her ability to reason. Once she finds herself able to feed those needs, she can focus on the faith issues and the kindness and compassion that is also in her nature. I think she does manage to at least quiet her conflicts.

    I wrote my own answers before reading yours. I think you bring up a very interesting point here, that having the two different religious influences in her life made her question things more than other girls like herself, and ultimately could have been the catalyst for why she followed the path she did. If there had been a question like "What made the difference in Joan's life that caused her to be able to go down this life path?" then I think you may have found a very good answer. Great point!!
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    Stephanie.

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    Posting Addict Finzmom4's Avatar
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    Discussion Questions:

    1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?
    It seems that there is some evidence to support there was a Pope Joan, and that the church attempted to cover it up.

    2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?

    As far as the story it isn't necessarily important to me that it is completely factual, or that she truly existed. It gives a lot of historical information, a depiction of what life was like, especially for women, corruption among the imperial and papal factions in power.

    3. Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?

    I'd say there are similarities, even in our modern society, and certainly in other societies. In many societies women are still the property of their husbands and fathers. They are valued because of their fertility and ability to bear children, they are not allowed an education at all, or at least not equal to their male peers. Their opportunities are limited based solely on gender. In our own society women face issues in their careers, unequal pay, etc. based on their gender.

    4. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?
    The author basically gives us several reasons as to why that happened. The church worked very hard to cover it up due to Protestantism. Record keeping during the medieval period was innaccurate, and a great deal of the population was illiterate. Any of the appointments she made would have been null and void once she was discovered, and most would have distanced themselves from her for their own safety.

    5. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?
    One of the character's in the book actually stated that it was common belief that a woman's learning was correlated with her ability to bear children, The more she was educated the less fertile she would be. Joan of course disputed this with two examples where this was simply not true. I think it was common practice for the people in power to keep those they saw as lesser uneducated, then they couldn't understand or question the injustices and corruption going on around them. ETA: if you are struggling just to put food on your table and keep your family alive, you really don't give much thought to whose in power and what their agenda is. You are too busy with the struggle of day to day life.

    6. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?
    I think that she did make the right choice for her. I don't know that she ever could have been completely happy as a woman with all the restrictions it entailed.

    7. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?
    Medieval medicine was brutal, and likely caused as many deaths as lives that it saved, and very tied into faith and religion. Some of the medical advancements made by the ancients were lost during the fall of their empires, and some of the very valuable information was disregarded or seen as heretical because of its origins. I think it is safe to say that we learned that some of those who were supposed to be the most educated medieval minds, were not as learned as they thought.


    8. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?
    She meets a lot of resistance and is seen as a progressive Pope by many in powerful positions who want to see the status quo remain. She made quite a few enemies in the process but she was revered by the common people.

    9. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?
    I think she struggled with the two beliefs throughout her life. Her mother's beliefs were so ingrained in her. I'm actually surprised that she didn't embrace the Pagan beliefs more because of the nature of delivery. Her mother was very caring and it seems most of her Christian religious instructors were anything but, to the point of being abusive.
    She does resolve them and sees them as one, at least according to the last paragraph or so of the book

    10. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not become pregnant or miscarried during the Papal procession?
    I do think she would have probably eventually been discovered. With many powerful enemies it was likely that someone would have uncovered the truth.
    Last edited by Finzmom4; 07-29-2009 at 03:45 PM.

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