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Cereta, Laura, of Brescia (1469–1499)

Cereta, Laura, of Brescia (1469–1499)

Italian scholar. Born Laura Cereta in 1469, in Brescia, Italy; died in 1499 and buried at the Church of San Domenico in Brescia; daughter of Veronica di Leno and Silvestro Cereta (a jurisprudent and humanist); eldest of six children; educated for two years at a convent school and then at home by her father; married Pietro Serina at age 15.

Taught philosophy for seven years at the University of Padua. Works: 84 pieces comprised mostly of letters, orations, and essays, including one parody of funeral orations.

Laura Cereta was educated in a convent school for two years and then at home by her father Silvestro Cereta, a staunch supporter of her scholarship at a time when the education of women was a much disputed issue. A jurisprudent who generally worked for the public administration of Brescia, he was also a humanist and a very capable tutor for his daughter in her studies of mathematics, astrology, and religion.

As was usual for learned women in Renaissance Italy, from an early age Laura was involved in public argumentation, orations and debates. Also in line with the fashion of the time, her philosophizing was concerned mostly with ethics, rather than metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality) or epistemology (the theory of knowledge). She had a great love of learning, exalting it as characteristically human, and a desire to seek the truth, although her intellectual activities were also motivated by the wish to immortalize her name.

When she was 15, Brescia married Pietro Serina, a man who shared her thirst for learning. In only 18 months, however, she was widowed and would mourn the death of her husband for several years while seeking solace in religion.

Around the time of her marriage, she probably wrote all of the 84 pieces left behind after her death. These included mostly letters (to family members and local professionals), orations, and "disputations" (a type of essay popular at the time) in Latin. The letters concern malice, death, fate, chance, war, the contemporary political problems with Turkey, marriage, the importance of leading an active life, and the happiness gained from self-control. She also wrote a parody of the elaborate funeral orations popular at the time, about the death of an ass.

Cereta probably taught philosophy for seven years at the University of Padua. With a strong belief in her own intellectual capabilities, she argued that women should be educated. She felt isolated as a female scholar and thought that her scholarship suffered from lack of time and harassment by others who were jealous of her intellect. At the end of her life, she was pressured to abandon scholarship and enter a religious order. She died in 1499, at age 30, and was buried at the Church of San Domenico in Brescia.

sources:

Kersey, Ethel M. Women Philosophers: a Bio-critical Source Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Russell, Rinalda. "Laura Cereta," in Katherina M. Wilson, ed., An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. NY: Garland, 1991.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph

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