Nogarola, Isotta

Nogarola, Isotta
(1418-1488)
   One of the earliest female hu-manists. The daughters of a noble family of Verona, she and her sister Ginevra were given a humanistic education on orders of their widowed mother. In their youth, both sisters won praise from northern Italian hu-manists associated with the famous teacher Guarino Guarini, himself a native of Verona. The sisters exchanged books and letters with these male humanists. In 1438, however, Ginevra married and abandoned her scholarly activities. Isotta drew back from public expression of in-terest in secular learning in 1441, partly because she found herself ac-cused of engaging in activities that were not permissible for a re-spectable woman. Even when she received replies to her letters to male scholars, she saw that though some of these letters gave her extrava-gant praise, others belittled her learning, making it clear that there could be no true scholarly fellowship between their authors and any woman. An anonymous critic accused her (with no evidence) of promiscuity and incest.
   Perhaps even more humiliating was the failure of the great educator Guarino, who had trained her own tutor, to reply to her initial letter. When she protested, Guarino did reply but expressed disappointment at her abject appeal for his approval, warning her that she must stop act-ing like a woman if she wanted to be esteemed by men for participa-tion in a masculine scholarly world. Her response was to withdraw entirely from public society. Though not a nun, henceforth she lived in a single room, where she occupied herself in religious devotions and studied purely religious texts. This activity was deemed more suitable for a woman. Lauro Quirini, a learned Venetian nobleman, outlined for her a rigorous program of private theological study based on Aristotle and the commentators used at the universities. More emotionaly rewarding was her relationship with Ludovico Foscarini, who met her when he was governor of Verona. Although Foscarini admired her, he respected her vow of virginity. Indeed, the one rec-ommendation that she got from nearly all who corresponded with her and praised her piety and learning was that she must preserve her vir-ginity: that was what was most important for a woman. She and Fos-carini exchanged tracts arguing the question whether Adam or Eve was the more guilty of humanity's original sin. She argued that Eve was the less guilty, but she did so by emphasizing the inherent infe-riority of female nature: Eve could not have been responsible for the sin, for as a woman she had been created ignorant and imperfect; Adam had been made perfect, and therefore his was the greater sin.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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