"With truthful tongue and faithful pen": Arcangela Tarabotti against Paternal Tyranny.
(Tarabotti, Semplicita ingannata, ed. Bartot 176-77)
In this corrupt age, alas, few are not tainted with the great fault I speak of, at least in giving their tacit approval. And so my words will bear little or no fruit and will remain unheeded, condemned as the offspring of a deranged mind stripped of religion and accused of imprudence, since in this false world, as the proverb goes, "Speaking the truth incurs hatred."
(PT 41) (1)
The Venetian writer Arcangela Tarabotti (1604-1652) spent most of her life in the Benedictine convent of Sant'Anna in the Castello district of Venice, a victim of coerced religious vocation. She had been hurt, unfairly treated by her father and her society, civil and religious, but she made the best of a sad situation, availing herself of the opportunity the cloister offered her to study and write. She was largely, if not entirely, self-taught, yet she became an eloquent and prolific writer; she used her talents to decry her fate, and that of many women like her, and to expose to all who would listen to her or read her prose the social, economic and political underpinnings of a system that, to preserve a family's patrimony and social standing, forced the children they could not or would not marry into religious life. (2) She did not spare fathers, nor the Venetian state that quietly supported the practice in order to limit the size of the aristocracy, nor the Church, which officially condemned it, but remained silently complicit, unwilling to uphold its principles and defend the exercise of free will. Tarabotti's complaint did not remain a personal one. She understood that misogyny was the source of her oppression and that all women were its victims, and she spent her life defending women and exposing the illogic of arguments for their inferiority and suppression. Through her writing and her forceful personality Arcangela Tarabotti made connections in the literary and publishing world of Venice and beyond, and despite being an enclosed nun she was able to publish her work. She could not let the misogynist behavior of men stand without response: she wrote that "he who stings must be stung" (Letters 152). (3) That she felt as she did is easy to understand, but that she was able to react publicly and accuse powerful men and institutions from within her convent walls, even in seventeenth-century Venice, is an astounding tale of conviction, courage, strong will, and exceptional intellect that made her then and now a voice to be reckoned with, that "spoke truth to power."
Since her rediscovery by Benedetto Croce, Giuseppe Portigliotti, and Emilio Zanette in 1929-30, Tarabotti's story has slowly entered the annals of Italian literary history. At the end of the 1970s Ginevra Conti Odorisio claimed an important place for Tarabotti in the history of feminism. Since that time there has been much new research into her life and we now have many modern editions, translations, and studies of her works. It is not my intention in this essay to survey that work. I will instead limit my discussion to characterizing Tarabotti's outspoken attack on the misogyny in her society and the responses she provoked.
Elena Cassandra Tarabotti was born in 1604 to Stefano Tarabotti, a chemist, and Maria Cadena dei Tolentini; she was one of ten children, the eldest of six daughters. So many girls presented the family with the serious problem of finding them marriage partners and the required dowry money. Of all the girls, Elena was the least likely marriage prospect, since she had a limp and was probably frail from an early age--her letters are filled with complaints of poor health--so her family destined her for the convent, where they would also pay a smaller dowry. (4) She was taken to Sant'Anna in Castello, not far from her family's home, when she was either eleven or perhaps thirteen years old; accounts are unclear. A convent document records her entry as a school girl ("educanda") on September 1, 1617 (Zanette, Suor Arcangela 26-27), and perhaps she was there earlier as a boarder, since she claims in a letter to have been taken to the convent when she was eleven: "I came to live in these cloisters when I was eleven years old without ever having basked in the light of learning" (Letters 152-53). (5) An unwilling nun, she, nevertheless, was clothed in 1620, becoming suor Arcangela, and she professed in 1623, a difficult time in her life that she describes in her Soliloquy to God (Soliloquio a Dio 8-9), and in a third person, yet passionate account in Convent Hell (Inferno monacale). (6)
In her short life Arcangela Tarabotti published six works and composed perhaps five others, though four, which she mentions, have not survived. In 1643 she published Convent Paradise (Paradiso monacale) and, together with it, Soliloquy to God (Soliloquio a Dio). Convent Paradise opened a trilogy that was to include Convent Hell (Inferno monacale), unpublished in her lifetime, though it circulated in manuscript, and the Purgatory of Unhappily Married Women (Purgatorio delle malmaritate), which Tarabotti mentions in two of her works, but which, if she indeed wrote it, is now lost. In 1644 she penned and published the Antisatire (Antisatira), a response to Francesco Buoninsegni' s misogynist satire of women's dress and behavior, Against the Luxuries of Women, a Menippean Satire (Contro 'l lusso donnesco satira menippea) of 1638; and in 1647, with That Women Are of the Same Species as Men (Che le donne siano della spezie degli uomini), she responded to an even more outlandish misogynist tract that argued that women had no souls and did not belong to humankind. Originally published in Germany, it was translated into Italian by a fictitious Oratio Plata, who called it A Most Delightful Disputation (Disputatio perjucunda). Tarabotti found it offensive and heretical. In 1650 she collected and published her letters, Letters Familiar and Formal (Lettere familiari e di complimento) and appended to them a lament entitled Angela Tarabotti's Tears on the Death of the Most Illustrious Signora Regina Donati (Le lagrime d'Arcangela Tarabotti per la morte dell'illustrissima signora Regina Donati). The letters provide information about her daily life in the convent, her precarious health and her contacts with the secular world. They document her attempts to publish her works and to defend her literary reputation from critics who argue that she could not have written them.
This is an impressive list of publications, and quite unusual for a nun, yet the work for which Tarabotti is best known, and justly so, is Paternal Tyranny (Tirannia paterna), which she probably began to write in the 1620s shortly after entering the convent. She claims to have composed it in a nine-month period of illness, but she may have chosen that number to conform to the birth metaphor she used, calling the work the offspring of her intellect (Letters 161; Lettere 168). She circulated it in manuscript and returned to it from time to time, while she sought for years unsuccessfully to publish it. She clearly made revisions after 1641, since she includes polemical references to Il corriero svaligiato by Ferrante Pallavicino and the Adamo of Giovanni Francesco Loredano, which were published in 1640-41, and to Angelico Aprosio's Scudo di Rinaldo, of 1642; and we know that sometime after 1644 she was still revising her work, since she mentions the death of Pallavicino, which occurred that year (Panizza, PT introduction 24-25; Bartot, SI introduction 153-54). Even in her correspondence with Ismael Boulliau, who shepherded her treatise through its publishing in Holland, we find that she attempted to make a "last minute" change in the title (Westwater, "A Rediscovered Friendship" 92). She had decided to call it Innocence Deceived (La semplicita ingannata) rather than Paternal Tyranny (Tirannia paterna), its initial title, perhaps, as most scholars believe, arguably to appear less provocative to potential publishers and put the emphasis on the victim rather than the perpetrator of injustice (Panizza, PT, introduction 15). Yet in her last letter written to Boulliau she again changed her mind and asked him to inform the publisher that she wanted to call it Paternal Tyranny, Or Rather, Innocence Deceived (La tirannia paterna overo semplicita ingannata), to use the pseudonym Galerana Barcitotti, and to consecrate it to God, apparently removing an earlier sarcastic dedication to the Republic of Venice (Medioli 27-28; PT 37-38). (7) This request was not honored; either Boulliau neglected to forward it or, if he did, perhaps it did not get to the publisher in time. In 1654, two years after her death, La semplicita ingannata (Innocence Deceived) was published by the Elzevier Press in Leyden under a slightly different pseudonym, Galerana Baratotti. (8)
Three more texts, religious in nature, that are mentioned by Tarabotti and others, have been lost. (9) Her corpus, as most of her titles make clear, was a lifelong defense of women, a protest against their subjection and mistreatment by men, who consider women inferior, deny them an education, participation in public life, and the exercise of their free will, confining them in convents and in the home. Even her Convent Paradise, which extolls religious life for those who have a vocation, does not abandon the themes of her other works and contrasts the happiness of willing nuns with the misery of the unwilling.
In a letter to her friend Betta Polani, Tarabotti wrote: "[...] that I should not be writing is quite impossible. In this prison and in my illness nothing else will satisfy me [...] had I not this diversion, I would be dead by now [...]. Only a tempered pen can temper my suffering" (Letters 103-04). (10) Her writing was her salvation, and her obsession.
Arcagela Tarabotti had friends in circles of power in Venice, especially among the libertine literati of the Academy of the Incogniti. It was perhaps through her brother-in-law Giacomo Pighetti, a member of the Academy, that she met Giovanni Francesco Loredan, the Academy's founder, Girolamo Brusoni, Ferrante Pallavicino, Francesco Pona, Angelico Aprosio and others. (11) They were all at odds with religious authorities more often than not, and, even if they did not always sympathize with her protest against forced monichization, many of them wrote about it themselves. Clearly they were intrigued by such a talented and outspoken woman and unusual nun. They corresponded with her, visited her at the convent parlor, exchanged books; and she and they read one another's works. Brusoni and the librettist Giovanni Francesco Busenello modelled characters after her. (12) Loredan was responsible for the publication of her Paradiso monacale and of her letter collection, which she dedicated to him, and in which she includes twelve letters written to him; his published letters include four written to her. Yet her relations with Loredan, and with the others as well, were not always cordial, and their ups and downs are reported in her letters. In the words of a recent critic, their relationship was characterized by "a precarious equilibrium, in which sincere appreciation and demonstrations of esteem existed alongside an impossible divide that separated the fierce and unmitigated misogyny of the members of the academy and the feminist assertions of the nun" (Bufacchi 60-61; my translation). (13) Aprosio and Brusoni turned against Tarabotti following the publication of her Antisatira. She had gone too far and, at least in the case of Aprosio, she had not taken his advice to refrain from publishing it. They wrote angry responses: Brusoni's Antisatira satirizzata was never published and Tarabotti through her powerful connections was able to block the publication of Aprosio's La maschera scoperta. (14)
Tarabotti had friends too among the French diplomats in Venice and their families, who visited her often at the convent. The French ambassador to Venice between 1645 and 1647, Nicolas Bretel de Gremonville, and his wife AnneFrangoise de Lomenie, entrusted their two daughters to her at Sant'Anna for their education, and it was ultimately through her French connections that Tarabotti made the acquaintances that led to the publication of Paternal Tyranny (as La semplicita ingannata) by the Elzevier Press in Leyden. Her Venetian supporters, who had read Paternal Tyranny in manuscript, were either unable to help her during the many years in which she sought a publisher in Italy, or they preferred not to, perhaps seeking to dissuade her, as they had in the case of her Antisatire. Yet they were almost certainly behind the clandestine publication of the second edition of her controversial treatise, which appeared in Venice, masquerading as another Elzevier edition of 1654. (15)
Unlike the Antisatire, That Women are of the Same Species as Men, or even her letters, which respond to another text or person, Paternal Tyranny is a thorough, independent presentation of Tarabotti's thought. It is a defense of women and an indictment of men who enclose them, deprive them of their Godgiven free will, of an education, participation in public life, and, in general, it is a condemnation of misogyny and its deleterious effects on the lives of women. In this treatise Tarabotti presents her protest and defends women against the accusations of misogynists in three books, each with different emphasis and examples, and all characterized by recurring digressions. If there is one constant, it is a persistent refrain and cry of anguish in which with angry words she accuses men of being tyrants, persecutors, betrayers, and hypocrites in their treatment of innocent, loving, trusting, vulnerable women whom they imprison and condemn to permanent, irreversible solitude. Throughout Paternal Tyranny she accuses men in strong language, often speaking directly to them, primarily to fathers of forced nuns, but also to men generally: "You are tyrants from Hell," she writes, "monsters of nature, Christians in name, and devils in deeds" and "you are not men but beasts" (PT 59, 136). (16) Their daughters are their victims whom they have condemned to "a crushing unbearable torment," "buried alive," given life sentences in "harsh prisons" (PT 91, 95, 150). (17) Tarabotti occasionally reminds the reader that she is only directing her polemic to the tyrannical fathers, not to others, but it is hard to imagine who these others are, since she accuses all men of misogyny, and therefore of complicity. She is unrelenting in her attack on forced religious vocations, and she writes, in one of her strongest denunciations of this deplorable yet widespread practice, that it is abetted by the State and the Church:
For private individuals to commit such enormity through self-interest--cursed selfinterest --is an abominable abuse of power, but for religious superiors and rulers to allow it makes one reel in horror at their insensitivity. The prince's eye, we know, guards not only the "interests of state" [Ragion di Stato] but the salvation of souls as well; he ought not to allow so many to perish wretchedly by thus subordinating their salvation to these same interests [Ragion di Stato] (18) (PT 60)
I include Tarabotti's term "Ragion di Stato" here to make clear that she is referring to and denouncing a political theory that argues that whatever is considered necessary for the good of the state is legitimate, independent of the effect it may have on the individual. (19) Her criticism in this passage and elsewhere of the State and the Church were certainly among the reasons she was unable to publish the treatise in Italy, though she tried to do so by appealing to powerful friends like Giovanni Dandolo in Venice and rulers in whom she hoped to find sympathy for it, such as the grand duchess of Tuscany Vittoria della Rovere. Yet members of the ruling class would have been stunned as they read the accusations and sarcasm of Tarabotti's original dedication, for instance where she writes:
This Paternal Tyranny is a gift that well suits a Republic that practices the abuse of forcing more young girls to take the veil than anywhere else in the world. My book does not deserve to be dedicated to other rulers, as it might cause them too much outrage. It is fair, however, to dedicate my book to your great Senate and its senators, who, by imprisoning their young maidens so they chant the Psalter, pray, and do penance in their stead, hope to make you eternal, most beautiful virgin Republic, Queen of the Adriatic. (20)
By exposing their hypocrisy, she could hardly have expected them to promote her work. She must have already despaired of publishing it in Venice when she penned such words, though she may still have hoped to find a female ruler like the grand duchess sympathetic to her cause.
Paternal Tyranny is much more than the protest and accusations of a forced nun. While Tarabotti begins her treatise condemning the practice of coerced monichization, which will be a refrain throughout, she quickly moves to the misogyny that lay behind it. She demonstrates that the deplorable practice of which she was a victim and the many other ways that women were oppressed derive from the belief in women's inferiority, inconstancy, moral and intellectual weakness and the consequent need for male guidance, correction, suppression, and the confinement of women to protect them from others and from themselves. This is why, she argues, women are denied the exercise of free will, that gift of God to all human beings, and the course of their lives is decided by others. She finds fault with the reading of Genesis that gave men power over women, and declares that Adam, the first man, blaming Eve for the Fall, was the first misogynist of the plurimillenary tradition. (21) She disputes as well the justification for women's subservience deriving from the natural sciences and philosophy of the times, which, claiming the authority of Aristotle, held that man is a perfect animal, woman imperfect. Tarabotti demonstrates in her treatise that these invalid arguments are the underpinnings of the misogyny of her culture and are responsible for the unjust subjection of women to men. She adds her voice to those of the Querelle des femmes, the debate on the nature and social status of women that had produced by the early seventeenth century two centuries of pro- and anti-woman texts. (22)
Tarabotti presents her argument in three books, each restating the problem with different emphasis and examples. In the overall structure she charts a general progression from negative to positive, from Eve to Mary, from the Fall to Redemption. The first book centers on a reading of Genesis, the second on contemporary society, and the third provides a feminist reading of the Bible, especially of the New Testament. Throughout the treatise, and linking the whole, is a recurrent refrain of protest against the unjust enclosure of women in convents, the pain and suffering it costs, and the cruelty of men who perpetuate it.
The first words of Paternal Tyranny set the accusatory tone of the treatise: "Men's depravity could not have devised a more heinous crime" (PT 43). (23) The crime is that of defying God's laws, and pride of place goes to enclosing women in convents, depriving them of their free will and condemning them to imprisonment for life. To denounce this great wrong, Tarabotti turns to the Creation story. She explains that when God had created the heavens and the earth he then created the first man, Adam, so that he might enjoy the beauties and delights of creation. Tarabotti writes, he created Adam, "the proudest animal of all," but he did not consider Adam perfect; indeed God foresaw that without a companion Adam would remain a "compendium of imperfections," and his work would not be complete, so he gave Adam a "helpmate like unto himself' (PT 46; "adiutorium simile sibi" Gen 2.16). (24) Tarabotti calls woman a "compendium of all perfections," reporting that Eve existed in God's mind even before Creation (Sir. 24.3-5; Prov. 22-26), and states that her creation from the rib of Adam gave perfection to man (PT 45). (25) Much of this argument comes from Henricus Cornelius Agrippa's Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex (De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus, 1529), one of the most influential treatises of the Querelle tradition, but the careful logic with which Tarabotti tells her version of the Creation story and the obvious criticism of all men implied in the description of the first of their kind is a good demonstration of Tarabotti's rhetorical skills.
In the commentary which follows her account of the creation of Adam and Eve, Tarabotti reiterates that Eve perfected Adam and that the first woman is Adam's equal, endowed, like Adam, with free will. "What arrogant presumption is yours, then, you liars," she writes, "when you repeat time and again that woman serves man as a help only with respect to reproduction, and that for the rest, she is an imperfect animal meant, fittingly, to live in subjection to him as the unstable, weak and frail sex" (PT 50). 26 In this passage it is clear that Tarabotti is referring to those men, like the members of the Academy of the Incogniti, who claim, on the authority of Aristotle, that the male animal is perfect, the female imperfect. (27) When Tarabotti in Paternal Tyranny uses the terms perfect or imperfect animal, or simply applies the term animal, with whatever qualification, to persons, it is not accidental: she is referring to this theory that argues the inferiority of women. (28) In the passage cited above that begins "What arrogant presumption," she means to refute it with sarcasm. She uses such terms throughout the treatise, and in Book Three concludes her protestations with ridicule and with such rhetorical flourish that contemporary men, even if offended, will be amused by her cleverness and her opinion, in this case, of their facial hair. The sentence is also a good example of how adeptly Tarabotti wields extended metaphors:
Oh how much more it is with envious spite than sincere truth that you call woman an imperfect animal, while you, who have hair on your face, and beastly behavior as well as unseemly visage, imitate brute animals, and, in order to become in every way an unreasoning creature like those to whom nature gave horns, you have worked hard to succeed in raising those hairs on your face, precisely in the form of horns, anxious to imprint above your mouth, if not on your head, a sign that distinguishes you as a perfect animal. (29)
Ridicule and satire in Tarabotti's writing often take the form of scorn, and, given her strong motivation to dismantle misogyny wherever she finds it, Tarabotti is more often serious than not in Paternal Tyranny.
When she takes up the subject of the Fall, Tarabotti insists on Eve's lesser and Adam's greater guilt. Eve sinned, she acknowledges, but she was naive and deceived ("ingannata") by the cunning of the serpent. Adam, instead, sinned knowingly, enticed to do so because he was taken with the charm of such an innocent and pure creature ("innocente e pura creatura") as Eve. Tarabotti calls him an "ungrateful animal" (PT 52), (30) because when God confronts him, he blames his wife. She must have had Loredan's account of the story in his Life of Adam before her or on her mind as she wrote. She adopts the language of his biblical novella, albeit to different effect. Loredan has a guilty Eve attempt to defend herself before God, saying, "My innocence has been deceived by the cunning of the serpent." (31) Tarabotti clearly sees Eve as the first in the long line of innocent women who, like Tarabotti herself, have been deceived by evil that disguises itself as good. It seems clear from this passage why she chose to use "innocence deceived" ("la semplicita ingannata") in the title of her work.
As critics, especially Letizia Panizza, have observed, Paternal Tyranny is characterized throughout by intertextuality ("Reader Over Arcangela's Shoulder" and PT 16-17). The author's discourse is constantly responding to anti-woman ideas and texts, especially to those of members of the Incogniti, and primarily to Giovanni Francesco Loredan's misogynist novella and Angelico Aprosio's Maschera scoperta and his Scudo di Rinaldo (Bufacchi 72-73). While Loredan's work is a subtext present throughout the treatise, in Book Three Tarabotti actually names him. In the last pages of Paternal Tyranny she also denounces the "indecent accusations [...] obscene, sarcastic, disgusting" of Giuseppe Passi's The Defects of Women (I donneschi difetti), which she has rejected earlier, especially in Book Two, and "the satirical viper's tongue" and "loathsome work" of Ferrante Pallavicino--lies and insults directed at women (PT 146-47). (32) Passi and Pallavicino were dead when she condemned their misogyny, but Loredan was a powerful man in Venice, who, beginning in the 1630s and 1640s, controlled the publishing industry there. He had supported her work, and brought her Convent Paradise and her collected letters to press. Tarabotti, nevertheless, does not hesitate to impugn his motives in his denigration of Eve and denounce his hostility to women:
[...] when a male writer composes to the detriment of women, he tells lies and nothing else. His warped mind produces envy's malformed offspring, not justice's whole ones. Let us hear Sir Giovan Francesco Loredan, the glory of modern letters, the wonder of the universe, the sun whose rays of virtue dazzle us. The world's eyes are turned towards him, gazing with pleasure. And what reason does he give in his novel, The Life of Adam, for not being able to find the death of Eve in Holy Scripture? He says one must not recall the death of a woman who should never have been born! [...] Men's bile, in short, is striving incessantly to employ sophistry with their lies against the female sex; they never stop blaming us for no other reason than envy, for since they cannot lord it over us by their merits, they must do so by their tongues [...]. (33) (PT 134)
The time had no doubt passed when Tarabotti sought Loredan's help in publishing Paternal Tyranny in Venice, and she had criticized him before, without jeopardizing their friendship. Although it is not a very complete picture, we can learn something about their relationship from the little that remains of their correspondence. In a letter to her, Loredan responds to her strong objection to something he had written against women at the instance of the Academy: "So it is, my Lady Arcangela. You must learn patience, because Dio fecit nos, non ipsi nos. Yet I will not let your satire change my heart and keep me from declaring myself to be yours always" (my translation). (34)
In Paternal Tyranny Tarabotti takes a stand on many issues that were important to her. She argues for the education of women and for their access to public roles. She laments her own lack of learning; however, it is clear from the text itself that she has read widely and has learned to write extremely well. (35) She enlivens her prose with passages of poetry and is especially partial to Dante and Ariosto, and she is aware of a women's literary tradition in Italy. She treats many of the topics debated in the Querelle literature and adopts many of its features in her treatise, for instance, the catalogue of examples taken from literature, myth, history, and especially from the Bible, both Old and New Testament. She devotes Book Three to the positive role of women in the world and the special importance of one woman, the Virgin Mary, in the providential scheme of Redemption.
Given the controversial nature of Paternal Tyranny and its accusations of specific persons and institutions, of fathers, the Venetian state and the Church, Tarabotti could find no home for her treatise in Venice or anywhere else in Italy. (36) Her hopes to publish it in France were frustrated too. She had made two attempts and had even written to request the help of Cardinal Mazarin, but without success. Tarabotti never gave up. Despite the obstacles and the setbacks, she persisted until she found persons sympathetic to her cause and a publisher out of the reach of the Roman Church. In the last two years of her life Tarabotti had the satisfaction to learn that the printing was underway, but she died in 1652, two years before the book appeared.
Tarabotti did not enjoy the pleasure of seeing Paternal Tyranny in print, but she was spared the pain of learning that it was condemned by the Holy Office. In 1654, the book had scarcely appeared when the Congregation of the Index began to move against it, and in 1660 they banned the book. Paternal Tyranny (with the title La semplicita ingannata) was officially placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1661. The examiners considered many statements in Paternal Tyranny blasphemous, scandalous and offensive to the Church, and they feared reading the book would deter young women from entering the convent or from taking permanent vows. They found comparing the cloister with Hell, enclosure with prison, and exposing the economic incentives for coerced monichization offensive to the Church, a denial of the divine inspiration for religious vocations. They claimed that Tarabotti misunderstood doctrine and quoted erroneously from Scripture, and they deemed contrary to Catholic doctrine her interpretation of the Fall. They considered her appeal for liberty, for the equality of the sexes, and for a woman's right to choose freely her state in life to be a desire for license. They read her appeal for the freedom to marry and live in the world to smack of Lutheranism. The censors read many of Tarabotti's statements out of context and with no understanding of rhetorical conventions. (37)
As Tarabotti had written in her opening address to her reader, "my words will bear little or no fruit and will remain unheeded, condemned as the offspring of a deranged mind stripped of religion and accused of imprudence, since in this false world, as the proverb goes, 'Speaking the truth incurs hatred'" (PT 41). (38)
The University of Chicago
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Panizza, Letizia. "Reader Over Arcangela's Shoulder: Tarabotti at Work with her Sources." Arcangela Tarabotti: A Literary Nun. Ed. Elissa B. Weaver. 107-28.
Passi, Giuseppe. Idonneschi difetti. Venezia: Somasco, 1599.
Portigliotti, Giuseppe. Penombre claustrali. Milano: Fratelli Treves Editori, 1930. 251313.
Sesti, Lodovico. Censura dell'Antisatira della signora Angelica [sic] Tarabotti fatta in risposta alla Satira menipea contro il lusso donnesco del sig. Franc. Buoninsegni. Scherzo geniale di Lucido Ossiteo [pseud.]. Siena: Bonetti, 1656.
Tarabotti, Arcangela. Antisatira. Publ. anon. by d. A. T [donna Arcangela Tarabotti]. Buoninsegni 1998: 67-227.
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Barcitotti [pseud.] contro Horatio Plata. Norimbergh: Iuvann Cherchenbergher, 1651.
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--. Soliloquio a Dio. Paradiso monacale 1-34.
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Schutte, Anne Jacobson. By Force and Fear: Taking and Breaking Monastic Vows in Early Modern Europe. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2011.
Weaver, Elissa, ed. Arcangela Tarabotti: A Literary Nun in Baroque Venice. Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2006.
Westwater, Lynn Lara, "A Rediscovered Friendship in the Republic of Letters: The Unpublished Correspondence of Arcangela Tarabotti and Ismael Boulliau." Renaissance Quarterly 65 (2012): 67-134.
Zanette, Emilio. "Elena Tarabotti e la sua Semplicita ingannata."Convivium 2 (1930): 4953.
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(1) Hereafter I will refer to the Semplicita ingannata in the Italian edition by Simona Bortot as SI and the English translation, entitled Paternal Tyranny, by Letizia Panizza, as PT. Unless otherwise indicated I will cite from these editions.
(2) The practice was not limited to female children, but male children had more options: a religious life without enclosure and military careers. Much has been written on forced monichization. See especially Medioli, Zarri, and the succinct summary of the practice of coerced religious vocations and of the unheeded Church regulations to prevent it in Schutte 3-5.
(3) "Se questi tali si degneranno, a me poco importa: chi punge debbe essere punto e chi ferisce altrui nella riputazione merita d'esser trafitto nelfonore" (Lettere 158).
(4) The first and only thorough study of Tarabotti's life is that of Emilio Zanette (1960); it has been augmented and updated in the studies of Medioli, Ray and Westwater. According to Zanette 3-4, two of Arcangela's sisters married: Innocenza Elisabetta to Francesco Dario, the family doctor, and Lorenzina to the lawyer Giacomo Pighetti, a connection that proved important to Arcangela; it was probably through Pighetti that she made contact with men of the literary world. Three sisters, Camilla Angela, Angela Lorenza, and Lucia Caterina remained at home.
(5) "[...] d'undici anni sono venuta ad abitare nei chiostri senz'aver avuto lume alcuno di lettere" (Lettere 158).
(6) For Tarabotti's account of the clothing and profession rituals and the psychological suffering of young women, who, like herself, underwent them unwillingly, see her Inferno monacale (especially 40-42; on the clothing ceremony and on profession 65-67, 70). There is no English translation as yet of the Soliloquio or the Inferno, but they are in process, the first, Soliloquy to God, by Meredith K. Ray and Lynn Lara Westwater, and the latter, Convent Hell, by Francesca Medioli; they will be published in the Toronto University Press "Other Voice" series.
(7) The former dedication to the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia was discovered and published by Francesca Medioli in her edition of the Inferno monacale 27-28, and translated and published by Letizia Panizza together with the dedication to God in PT 3738. See below an excerpt from the earlier dedication.
(8) According to Lynn Westwater, the pseudonym Baratotti (an anagram of Tarabotti) may be a misreading of Barcitotti, the form Tarabotti suggested in the version of the title page she sent to Ismael Boulliau: the "ci" may have seemed to him an "a" ("A Rediscovered Friendship" 70n9 and figures 1 and 3, pp. 71, 74). There was a second edition bearing the same title, date and place of publication, but entirely reset and probably printed in Venice. For a description of the two editions, see Simona Bortot, SI 155-62.
(9) Contemplations of the Loving Soul (Contemplazioni dell'anima amante), The Paved Road to Heaven (La via lastricata per andare al Cielo), and Convent Light (Luce monacale), works Tarabotti cites in a letter to Betta Polani (Letters 82-83; Lettere 82-83). In that letter instead of "lastricata" Tarabotti (or her publisher) has written "lasciata" (abandoned), probably an error. Giovanni Dandolo, in his "Letter to the signori Guerigli" that introduces Tarabotti's letter collection, mentions La via lastricata per andare al Cielo, a more likely version of the title (Letters 49-50; Lettere 45). Giovanni Dandolo (1613-61) was a Venetian aristocrat and member of the Academy of the Incogniti, a friend of Tarabotti's and frequent correspondent.
(10) I have slightly altered the translation, substituting "not be" for "leave off": "[...] ch'io resti di scrivere m'e impossibile il farlo. In queste carceri, e ne' miei mali non ho altro di che contentarmi [...] se non avessi questo trattenimento, sarei di gia morta [...] solo una penna temperata ha valore di temperar le mie pene" (Lettere 105).
(11) On the Accademia degli Incogniti, see Muir, especially 70-107, Maylander, Miato (but this study is not entirely reliable and includes errors regarding Tarabotti), and Cannizzaro.
(12) Girolamo Brusoni (1614-c.1686), apostate friar and author of several romances, erstwhile friend to Tarabotti. Characters modelled after Tarabotti appear in Brusoni's Aborti dell'occasione, and in his Orestilla. Tarabotti accused him of plagiarizing Paternal Tyranny in his Degli amori tragici (initially entitled Turbolenze delle vestali). Giovan Francesco Busenello (1598-1659) was a Venetian poet and librettist. On Busenello's allusions to Tarabotti in his libretti, see Heller, "'O delle donne miserabil sesso"' 5-46, and "La Forza d'Amore" 141-57. On the polemical relationship between Tarabotti and Brusoni, see Bufacchi.
(13) "[...] un precario equilibrio, in cui i sinceri apprezzamenti e le dimostrazioni di stima si affiancarono a un'incolmabile frattura tra la feroce ed esasperata misoginia degli accademici e le rivendicazioni femminili della monaca" (61).
(14) On the polemical reception to Tarabotti's Antisatira, see Biga, and for the positive reaction, instead, that it received from Francesco Buoninsegni, see Weaver, Satira e Antisatira 25-27.
(15) See note 8 above.
(16) "tiranni d'Averno, aborti di natura, cristiani di nome e diavoli d'operazioni"; "uomini, anzi non uomini ma fiere" (SI 210, 363).
(17) "supplizio affannoso e insoportabile;" "sepolte vive;" "crudo carcere [...] prigioni perpetue" (SI 270, 277, 389).
(18) "Che i privati per loro interesse benche (maledetto interesse) commettano tal enormita, e abuso detestabile; ma che i superiori e Prencipi il permettano, e cosa da far istupidir d'orrore la stessa insensibilita: quando l'occhio del Principe deve non solamente invigilare sopra la Raggion di Stato, ma eziandio sopra alla salute dell'anime, e non lasciarne perir tante miseramente, posponendo la salvezza dell'anime alla Raggion di Stato" (SI 214).
(19) Tarabotti employs the term "Ragion di Stato," which has specific resonances in the seventeenth century and should be noted. She demonstrates agreement here with Giovanni Botero's Della ragion di stato (1589) and its argument against a political theory of the state that justifies its actions in the name of the common good, independent of their morality: the policies of the state should be moral and promote the common good.
(20) "Ben si conviene in dono la Tirannia paterna a quella Republica nella quale, piu frequentamente che in qual altra si sia parte del mondo, viene abusato di monacar le figliole sforzatamente. Non merita d'esser presentata ad altri principi per non apportar loro scandoli eccessivi: proporcionata e la mia dedicatione al vostro gran Senato, che, con incarcerar le figliole vergini, accio si maccerino, salmeggino et orino in cambio loro, spera d'etternar voi, Vergine belissima, Regina dell'Adria" (Medioli 27). See note 7 above.
(21) Tarabotti objects specifically to the reading of Genesis proposed by Giovan Francesco Loredan in his novella, L'Adamo (The Life of Adam). See the analysis by Panizza in her introduction to Paternal Tyranny 19-21, and in "Reader Over Arcangela's Shoulder" 110-13. Hers is also a polemical response to Angelico Aprosio's reading of Genesis in his Maschera scoperta and Scudo di Rinaldo (Bufacchi 72).
(22) For an overview and analysis of the Querelle des Femmes, see Kelly. Beginning with Christine de Pisan in France and Isotta Nogarola in Italy, women began to challenge the traditional reading of Genesis that blamed Eve for the Fall.
(23) "Non poteva la malizia degli uomini inventar la piu enorme sceleratezza" (SI 178).
(24) "il piu superbo animale fra tutti gl'altri," " l'epilogo di tutte l'imperfezzioni" (SI 183).
(25) "'l compendio di tutte le perfezzioni" (SI 182).
(26) "Che arrogante maniera di presumere e dunque la tua, o mendace, all'ora che milantando ti vai dicendo la donna ne serve d'aiuto in quanto alla generazione, del rimanente e animal imperfetto, e ci vive sogetta per debito, come di sesso infermo, debile e fragile?" (SI 192).
(27) Aristotle argues (in the Generation of Animals and elsewhere) that a female is produced when the generative act is not carried through to its final conclusion, and that, because a female animal is colder and moister in dominant humors, her sexual organs have remained internal, so she is less fully developed than a male animal. She is not a perfect animal (even though she is necessary for generation) also because in procreation a male animal is the more active: he generates in another, whereas a female generates in herself. Cesare Cremonini (1550-1630), an Aristotelian professor of philosophy and free thinker at the University of Padua, wrote a treatise on this subject entitled De calido innato et semine (1634); he was close to the members of the Venetian Academy of the Incogniti, many of whom had studied with him.
(28) A few examples: "the proudest animal of all" PT 46 ("il piu superbo animale" SI 183), "ungrateful animal" PT 52 ("ingrato animale" SI 197), "you perfect animals" PT 63 ("voi animali perfetti" SI 221), "ungrateful animal"(my translation; Panizza has "ungrateful creature" PT 96, "ingrato animale" SI 279), "you bestow on them the quality of 'imperfect"' PT 97 ("voi date attributo d'imperfette" SI 280), "insensitive animal" PT 148 ("indiscreto animale" SI 384).
(29) "O con quanto piu di livore invidioso, che di verita sincera, dai titolo d'animal imperfetto alla femina, mentre tu col pelo sopra la faccia, apunto come nella ferita de' costumi, cosi anche nella ruvidezza del volto, imiti gli animali brutti, e per renderti in tutto e per tutto simile anche a quell'irragionevoli, cui la natura ha proveduto di corna, hai studiosamente mendicata invenzione d'inalzare, apunto in forma di corna, quei peli i quali tu hai ambizioso che sovra la bocca, se non sovra del capo, ti stampino un carrattere che ti contrasegni per un perfetto animale" (SI 357). I have translated it here myself, seeking to preserve the rhythm of the original. Panizza breaks the passage up into three sentences.
(30) "ingrato animale" (SI 197).
(31) "La mia semplicita [...] e stata ingannata dalla sagacita del serpente," cited in Panizza, introduction 15.
(32) "Che sconci concetti, che aplicazioni oscene, mordaci e improprie" "satirica e viperea lingua [...] improperii" (SI 379-80); "con satirica e viperea lingua, in una sua detestabilissima opera va mendicando improperii e inventando ignominie contro il nostro sesso" (SI 380-81). On Giuseppe Passi's I donneschi difetti (1599) see Magnanini 143-94. Tarabotti refers to Ferrante Pallavicino's Il corriero svaligiato (1641) and probably also to Il divorzio celeste (1643). Letter 5 of Il corriero svaligiato, to which Tarabotti objects (PT 147; SI 381), is available in English, translated by Panizza in Appendix 2 of her edition of Paternal Tyranny 158-62.
(33) "[...] quando uno, sia oratore o poeta, scrive in pregiudizio delle donne, altro non sappia dire che bugie e l'ingegno di lui altro non sappia partorire che aborti d'invidie, non parti di giustizia. Odasi il signor Giovan Francesco Loredano, gloria delle moderne lettere, maraviglia dell'universo, e sole che ne' raggi delle sue chiare virtu gli occhi del mondo tutto stanno fissamente rivolti con diletto, qual mendicata ragione apporti nel suo Adamo del non trovarsi su le Sacre Scritture la morte d'Eva. Dice egli che non si deve ramentar la morte di colei che non merito giamai di nascere. [...] In somma il livore degli uomini va di continuo studiando di sofisticare con menzogne a pregiudizio del merito feminile, del quale non dice male con biasimi si frequenti per altro che per un affetto invidioso, gia che conoscendo di non poter sovrastar con le qualita vuol rimaner superiore con la lingua"(S/ 358-59).
(34) "Cosi e, Signora Arcangela mia. Bisogna accomodarsi alla patienza, perche Dio fecit nos, non ipsi nos. Non voglio, pero, che la sua satira alteri il mio cuore, onde non mi professi sempre di V[ostra] S[ignoria][...]" (Loredan, Lettere 272, 274). By satire, Loredan is referring to a satirical letter he received from Tarabotti in response to his misogynist satire, and not a literary work.
(35) Bortot provides an excellent, detailed analysis of Tarabotti's style in her Introduction to La semplicita ingannata 138-46.
(36) By 1650 relations between Venice and Rome had improved and the Venetian government had to give up some of its prerogatives in religious matters to the Church in exchange for aid in the war of Candia. Some of the freedoms enjoyed earlier were curtailed, among them the freedom to publish controversial texts. See Infelise 66-72.
(37) Costa-Zalessow, in "La condanna all'Indice," provides the full text of the censura in Latin with commentary in Italian; and in "Tarabotti's La semplicita ingannata" 320-21, she includes two lists of objections to the work made by examiners. Panizza, in her Introduction to Paternal Tyranny (27-29), provides a summary of the accusations and, in notes, direct quotations from some of the Latin documents; I have taken most of my summary from Panizza.
(38) "[...] i detti miei faran poco o niun frutto, anzi rimaranno censurati, come nati da un animo non ben composto, sfornito di religione, e accusati di temerita, poiche sempre in questo fallace mondo veritas odium parit" (SI 176-77).
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|Author:||Weaver, Elissa B.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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