Female Authority and Authorization Strategies in Early Modern Europe

  • Jane Stevenson
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


This essay looks principally at a distinctive group of élite European women: those who write poetry in Latin, the language of authority. Since the world of the humanists was an international one, national boundaries are of less significance to women Latinists than to women writing in vernacular languages. The composition of Latin poetry (particularly in classical metres) is a learned, highly specialized skill, entirely independent of the ability to comprehend or translate Latin texts. Any woman who has left an oeuvre of Latin verse is by definition occupying a space normally regarded by men as entirely their own which is far harder to assess than more familiar ‘feminine’ texts such as letters or translations. These women occupy the same authorial space as educated men, and it is extremely interesting to see the effect of this. Constanza Varano, for example, writes a poem of praise to her fellow woman scholar, Isotta Nogarola of Verona (the birthplace of Catullus), which includes the lines,

O Verona, city most abundant in your fruits,

This girl already attracts more praise than the poet Catullus!1

How could a woman write such a thing about another woman in mid-fifteenth-century Italy? How dared she speak as if Isotta were potentially, herself, an authority?


Sixteenth Century British Library Woman Writer Authorization Strategy Latin Verse 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Jane Stevenson

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