Isotta Nogarola

Depiction of Isotta Nogarola with her aunt, poet Angela Nogarola

Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466) was an Italian writer and intellectual who is said to be the first major female humanist and one of the most important humanists of the Italian Renaissance.[1] She inspired generations of artists and writers, among them Lauro Quirini [it] and Ludovico Foscarini [it] and contributed to a centuries-long debate in Europe on gender and the nature of woman.[2] Her most influential work was a literary dialogue, De pari aut impari Evae atque Adae peccato (trans. Dialogue on the Equal or Unequal Sin of Adam and Eve) written in 1451 in which she discussed the relative sinfulness of Adam and Eve.[3][4] She argued that woman could not be held both to be weaker in nature and to be more culpable in original sin.[5] Therefore, by a reductio ad absurdum argument women's weakness could be disproved.[5] Nogarola also wrote Latin poems, orations, further dialogues, and letters, twenty-six of which survive.[2]

Early intellectual life

Isotta Nogarola was born in Verona, Italy, the daughter of Leonardo Nogarola and Bianca Borromeo, and the niece of the Latin poet Angela Nogarola.[2] The family were well to-do, and of the ten children, seven survived into adulthood.[2] Isotta's mother, Bianca Borromeo ensured that the children all received fine humanist educations, although she was herself illiterate.[6][2] Two of her daughters, Isotta and her younger sister Ginevra, became renowned for their classical studies, although Ginevra gave up her humanist writing upon her marriage in 1438.[2][7] 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.[8] The girls, as were their male counterparts, were taught the rhetoric necessary for public speaking, and many of them delivered Latin speeches in public and conducted debates in Latin in their correspondence with other scholars, as was the practice among well-educated men of that era and necessary for anyone seeking recognition in learned circles.[8]

Nogarolla's first tutor was Martino Rizzoni, who was himself taught by Guarino da Verona, one of the leading humanists at that time.[8][9] Nogarolla proved an extremely able student, attaining respect for her eloquence in Latin, and by the age of 18, she had become famous.[7]

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