Wednesday, February 27, 2013

2. Costanza Varano (1426-47): "To the Lady Isotta Nogarola"

Costanza Varano was the granddaughter of Battista daMontefeltro Malatesta (1383-1450), herself a scholar, who helped educate her. At the age of 16 she delivered a public oration in Latin on the occasion of the visit of her future sister-in-law, Bianca Maria Visconti, to Pesaro in 1442. Two years later, in 1444, she married Alessandro Sforza, who had had long been in love with her and had bought Pesaro in order to win her. Any visible sign of her studies ceased with her marriage and she died in childbirth three years later. Her daughter Battista Sforza (1447–1472) married Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino and continued the family tradition giving her first memorized Latin oration at the age of four.

In a letter, written in 1442, before her marriage, she included a short hexameter poem in praise of Isotta Nogarola (more about her later). Costanza would have been sixteen and Isotta twenty-four. It is of particular interest in showing the circulation of such pieces not merely to established male humanists in order to attract their acknowledgement but between women in mutual recognition and support. Varano's claim that Nogarola has surpassed men in learning is unique, and the promise of continued learning in the female line is especially interesting in light of Varano's and Nogarola's family histories of learned women ancestors. There is no reference to Isotta's once equally famous older sister Ginevra (c. 1417-1461/68), who would have been about 25, and whose talents seem to have been absorbed by marriage.

Ad Dominam Isotam Nogarolam

4. plus  . . . laudis: partative gen.
6. induls-─ôre: pf.
8. numero: abl. of means, with coniunctam.
15. mixed conditional: pf. + fut.
19. blandiloquus: a good Plautine word, Bacch. 1174.

To the Lady Isotta Nogarola:
Your sweet letter, Isotta, has been fixed
In my breast and no age, however long, will be able to destroy it.
O Verona, town most fertile with your fruits,
Now this girl will draw more praises than the poet Catullus.
For he, your famous child, flourished in an age                   5
wherein men indulged the wakeful Muse with study;
in this age you are most famous for surpassing learned men.
Hence, for the number of your virtues with which you shine,
you should know that I am attached to you, nor do I think
our age is as decadent as I used to.                                           10
The flame of the ancient light has been placed safe
In the hidden recesses of your mind. How happy, I think,
Are your parents, to whom you, their daughter, add elegance
equally of manners and equally of sweet wisdom.
And if the Omnipotent allowed by chance any sister,                    15
O lucky girl! She will be able later on in your footsteps
to take the way with the right path and come with easy flight
to the sacred waters of Parnassus, and taught by her sister's
gift she will compose poems with a sweet-speaking plectrum,
she will write exceptional prose as the stars applaud.                  20

For more about Varano, see:
Nicola Ratti, Dellafamiglia Sforza, 2 vols. (Rome 1795) 2.96–106
Margaret L. King, “Book-Lined Cells: Women and Humanism in the Early Italian Renaissance” in Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past, ed. Patricia H. Labalme (New York: New York University Press, 1980, 75, 83; repr. in Renaissance Humanism, 434–453.
Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil, Jr. Her Immaculate Hand. Selected Works by and about the Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy (Binghamton, NY 1983) 18, 39–44.
Holt Parker, "Costanza Varano (1426-1447): Latin as an Instrument of State" in Women Writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe, v. 3. Early Modern Women Writing Latin, ed. Laurie J. Churchill, Phyllis R. Brown, and Jane E. Jeffrey (New York: Routledge, 2002), 31-53.
Jane Stevenson, Women Latin Poets (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 166-68.
A view of her entry in Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England.

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