Isotta Nogarola

Depiction of Isotta Nogarola with her aunt, poet Angela Nogarola

Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466) was an Italian writer and intellectual. She was passionate about her education, and became one of the most famous female humanists of the Italian Renaissance, inspiring generations of female artists and writers. Her most influential work was a literary dialogue, "Dialogue on Adam and Eve", in which she discussed the relative sinfulness of Adam and Eve, contributing to a centuries-long debate in Europe on gender and the nature of woman.[1]

Early intellectual life

Born into a well-to-do family in Verona, Italy, she was one of ten siblings, seven of whom survived into adulthood. Her first tutor was Martino Rizzoni, who had been taught by the famous Guarino da Verona, one of the most forward humanist thinkers. Nogarola's early letters demonstrate her familiarity with Latin and Greek authors, including Cicero, Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius, as well as Petronius and Aulus Gellius.[2]

Isotta proved to be an extremely able student, with literary works that began to gain acclaim throughout the region. Her eloquence in Latin was well respected.[3] It concerned her that her fame did not come from the sheer volume of intelligence she seemed to possess, but from the novelty of her gender. At the time a common way to start a humanist career was to write to an established academic and publicise their praise or other feedback. She did this in 1437, writing to Guarino da Verona himself after some of her earlier letters had been sent to him by a friend.[2] This news spread throughout Verona, which inspired much ridicule from women in the city. A year passed without a reply, and she furiously wrote a second letter to Guarino, in which she said:

"Why... was I born a woman, to be scorned by men in words and deeds? I ask myself this question in solitude... Your unfairness in not writing to me has caused me much suffering, that there could be no greater suffering... You yourself said there was no goal I could not achieve. But now that nothing has turned out as it should have, my joy has given way to sorrow... For they jeer at me throughout the city, the women mock me." [4]

This time, Guarino da Verona wrote her back saying "I believed and trusted that your soul was manly...But now you seem so humbled, so abject, and so truly a woman, that you demonstrate none of the estimable qualities I thought you possessed." [5]

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