Nogarola, Isotta (1418–1466)

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Nogarola, Isotta (14181466)

An Italian scholar, author, and feminist who was renowned, and notorious for her ambition to debate religion and philosophy with the men of the Renaissance. Born into a noble family of Verona, she was offered an extremely rare (for a young girl) private education. Her tutor, Martino Rizzoni, followed the new humanist philosophy and instructed her in Latin, moral philosophy, poetry, and historyleaving out rhetoric, considered to be the exclusive domain of young men preparing themselves for a public career. She wrote skillful essays and letters in classical Latin and sought a mentor in Guarino of Verona, then the leading humanist of northern Italy, who ignored her for a full year before deigning to reply to her letter with a scornful rejection.

In 1438 Nogarola fled plague-stricken Verona for Venice. She drew criticism in that city for presuming to debate male scholars, and was satirized in an anonymous play for her alleged decadence. In 1441 she returned with her family to Verona, where she studied the Bible and classical authors, lived with her family, avoided marriage, and wrote nothing that has survived to modern times.

Her letters were considered good enough to be copied and circulated, however, and reached a wide audience, from Venice to Rome, by the middle of the fifteenth century. Later in her life Nogarola aspired to a synthesis of Christian ethics with the emerging humanist philosophy. In 1451 she came out of isolation to debate Ludovico Foscarini of Venice, a diplomat then living in Verona. From their correspondence and argument she authored a dialogue, Of the Equal or Unequal Sin of Adam and Eve, over the fall of humanity into sinfulness and God's expulsion of Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden. In hundreds of letters, Nogarola defended Eve and maintained her sins and guilt to be less than those of Adamcontrary to the popular and traditional view that Eve's temptation of Adam was the cause of the expulsion. After her death the dialogue was published, along with her lone surviving poem, Elegia de Laudibus Cyanei Ruris, a eulogy praising the charms of the countryside.