The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic / Edition 2

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A brilliant scholar and one of the finest writers of her day, Olympia Morata (1526-1555) was attacked by some as a "Calvinist Amazon" but praised by others as an inspiration to all learned women. This book publishes, for the first time, all her known writings—orations, dialogues, letters, and poems—in an accessible English translation.

Raised in the court of Ferrara in Italy, Morata was educated alongside the daughters of the nobility. As a youth she gave public lectures on Cicero, wrote commentaries on Homer, and composed poems, dialogues, and orations in both Latin and Greek. She also became a prominent Protestant evangelical, studying the Bible extensively and corresponding with many of the leading theologians of the Reformation. After fleeing to Germany in search of religious freedom, Morata tutored students in Greek and composed what many at the time felt were her finest works—a series of translations of the Psalms into Greek hexameters and sapphics.

Feminists and historians will welcome these collected writings from one of the most important female humanists of the sixteenth century.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226536699
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Series: Other Voice in Early Modern Europe Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Holt N. Parker is an associate professor of classics at the University of Cincinnati and Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

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Read an Excerpt


By Olympia Morata
Copyright © 2003 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-53668-2

Chapter One



There was also Pelegrino Morato, a scholar and critic from Mantua. He wrote many verses both Latin and vernacular, some of which have been published, others are still withheld. He spent many years at Ferrara as the teacher to the noble children. He was married there and had children. One of them was Olympia Morata, a girl clever beyond her sex. Not content with the vernacular speech, she is learned to the highest degree in Greek and Latin literature and seems almost a miracle to all who hear her. She recently married our Grunthler, who is planning to take her to Germany, to his home town of Würzburg. [Wotke 1894, 94]


You write to me that you wish to know more about our Olympia, a name which many think invented. I will do what you ask quite willingly and briefly, although Georg Hörmann would also be able to testify to what sort of person she is.

Olympia had as her father Fulvio Morato of Mantua, a man outstanding in learning and morality, with whom I had a long-standing reciprocity and friendship. He was employed as an independent teacher in all the most famous cities of Italy, and he instructed and polished the sons of Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, the two brothers of Ercole, in literature and arts. Since he knew that Olympia was endowed with the highest genius, he taught her at home with all the customary studies which train humans to the highest humanity. In a short time she was so proficient that she was a source of admiration to our citizens. And so when Anna, the daughter of Ercole Duke of Ferrara, was being instructed in the same learning by that excellent man Johannes Sinapius, in order for her to have someone with whom to compete in noble competition, it seemed good to her mother (whom I mention with the highest honor) to summon Olympia to court, where she lived for several years with great praise. There I personally heard her declaiming in Latin, speaking in Greek, expounding Cicero's Paradoxa, and responding to questions, so well that she seemed able to be compared to any girl of ancient times, who was outstanding for praise of her intellect.

While this was going on, her father contracted a fatal illness, and in order to take care of him, his daughter left the court and returned home. After the death of her father, because she was the eldest and thought that her mother was still too sick, she took over the running of the household and gave her brothers and sisters an honorable education.

There was at Ferrara at that time a certain Andreas Grunthler, a youth well educated in Greek and Latin, who was studying with the physicians and even earned the doctorate in medicine here. He admired Olympia's singular erudition and chaste morals; she in turn respected a man who had no bridal present other than talent. He chose her for his wife and they joined together in a beautiful marriage. He took her from here to Germany (for it was Germany that despoiled Italy of so learned a girl) where they lived at the home of Georg Hörmann, a counselor to the Holy Roman Emperor, at Augsburg.

Therefore, there's no reason for doubt about that poem in sapphic meter, written in Greek, which celebrates the praise of God most high. It is a work of a genuine Olympia, and one which does not seem remarkable to me who has known her from her earliest years and who has seen and possesses other works by her. She is more cultured in literature and the arts, Greek as well as Latin, than anyone would think possible, and famous for her knowledge of theology.

So much about Olympia. You can get anything else from the excellent and exceptional Georg Hörmann.


Finally-and even if it does sound ridiculous, it's got to be said-I am deeply moved by the erudition of Olympia Morata, a most learned woman, and spurred to the study of literature. For I am ashamed to be bested by a mere woman, and a young one at that. This particular woman is descended from an important family and lived at the court of the Duke of Ferrara. She was trained in the liberal arts and was exceptionally studious in sacred literature from an early age. When she was not allowed by the courtiers to devote herself to these, the young lady married Andreas Grunthler, a German doctor, so that she could more easily devote herself to sacred literature. I cannot admire her learning enough. And since my letter contains nothing worth the reading by a most learned man, I'm appending some Greek verses, written by that same woman and sent to Caelius Curio, whose son I'm teaching Greek, so that you can see how devoutly she practices our religion, how much piety she possesses, and finally with how much learning she's imbued. If the mail carrier were not all set for the road, I'd send you the poems rendered into Latin verse by me.

[Arbenz-Wartmann 1890-1913, 6:890; Flood-Shaw 1997, 108]


I am leading a solitary life like a hermit or a lonely swallow in the roof, an old widower and sick, still just barely dragging around my feeble limbs, or I should say a living corpse. Some time ago I entrusted my only daughter to a certain noble lady to be educated, since I was probably going to have to leave for Speyer any day. My brother Chilian Sinapius was acting as lawyer there, and his wife was the daughter of the Prefect of Wertheim, who had been brought up properly in the women's court of that pious woman, the dowager Countess. I hoped my daughter would learn good habits as well as piety from her. However, she was unable to teach letters, which had always been the most important thing to her mother. Some of fundamentals of the Latin language had already been laid down in her by the most learned virago, Olympia Morata, who had left the women's court at Ferrara, just as I had, along with Dr. Andreas Grunthler, her husband, for Germany and Schweinfurt, which was his hometown (and mine). But after the destruction of Schweinfurt (which I've already mentioned and in which I lost most of my relatives and my one surviving sister, who left behind three orphaned children, to add to my other misfortunes), she went to Heidelberg, where the Elector Palatine had summoned him to be Professor of Medicine at a quite good salary. There she died of a wasting illness on 26 October, last year. A little while later, on 22 December, Grunthler himself died of the plague, together with Olympia's little brother, Emilio. And so I failed in my wife's last and most serious wish to teach my daughter Latin, although unwillingly, I swear, and there's no need of expiation, I think, but you be the judge.

[Calvin 1863-1900, 16, cols. 374-77, no. 2575 (Calvini Opera 16 = Corpus Reformatorum 44), Cod. Genev. 112, fol. 17. Flood-Shaw 1997, 213-15.]



Caelius Secundus Curio to the illustrious and religious woman Isabella Manriquez Bresegna, through Jesus Christ.

Socrates said that if women were carefully educated they would be no less fit and teachable in letters, the liberal arts, and in every virtue that is considered proper to men, including courage, than are males. That this is true is clearly proved by many women not only in our lifetime but that of our fathers. I could offer examples from every age, but entire volumes exist devoted to famous women, and everyone reads them. And yet in these books how few women do we read of who added chastity of morals to their erudition, and even fewer who added true study of religion and a love of divine letters. And of these scarcely any were outstanding in the command of both Greek and Latin together.

But our age, blessed in many things, is even more blessed than others in that it has produced several such women and among them one in particular, on whom God seems to have conferred all the endowments of genius. She was named Olympia Fulvia Morata, the daughter of that most learned man, Fulvius Moratus of Mantua. I would write her biography at this point, but it can be easily gathered and understood from the letters that follow. She was so learned in both Latin and Greek and the arts which these contain that she surpassed not only learned women but also many outstanding men. God added so great a love of His Son and divinity that she turned her attention to heaven. She produced many different testimonies to her divine genius. She undertook a defense of the Roman orator against certain of his new critics, an oration which Caelius Calcagnini, a most learned man, approved of highly (as can be seen from his letter, which we have added to the others). She wrote remarks on the prince of poets, Homer. She composed many poems in a variety of meters, especially on divine subjects, with great elegance. She produced dialogues, both Greek and Latin, in imitation of Plato and Cicero so perfectly that not even Zoilus himself would be able to find anything to criticize. When she was scarcely sixteen years old, she wrote three Prefaces to Cicero's Paradoxes, which the Greeks call prooimia (which we publish here). With me and many other men and women in the audience, she elucidated the Paradoxes in the private Academy of the Queen of Ferrara, and lectured memorably and elegantly. She wrote these out afterwards at my request, in her own hand. I have saved them as though a new gift from the Graces to this very day. All the others perished at the same time as her husband's hometown of Schweinfurt in Germany, as will be clear from one of her letters to me below. We have managed to collect these few "leavings from the Danaans and hateful Achilles." From these few, however, one may get a sample of the rest, even as one might recreate a lion from his claws. There are also a few short orations, letters in Latin, and poems, some in Greek, some in Latin, all written in the sweetest and purest style. We have also added other peoples' letters and poems either to her or about her, so that the reader can see how much learned men thought of her. There may be more in other hands, since she wrote letters and poems to many people. I would like to request these, so that they may not lie uncollected. The owners may join theirs to these, so send them to us to be published. In this matter I must thank Guillaume Rascalon, the noble Frenchman, who after the death of Olympia and her husband (for once he saw that his dearest wife had ascended to heaven, he was not able to linger on this earth for very long), sent me everything he was able to find, and encouraged me to undertake this edition. Johannes Herold, a man of great reading and learned in antiquities, also showed me a few things.

Lest these things lie hidden any longer and we deprive the learned of such sweet and elegant reading, I have sent them to press. And I wanted them to appear under your most beautiful name, Isabella, most lovely and religious of women, so that by this small token you might realize how great is my respect for your well-known talent and remarkable piety. We all know how many devices have been used to test and assault your faith in Jesus Christ, and how with God's help it has remained firm and intact. For although I have not been a personal observer of the struggles of your people in our beloved Italy, I nevertheless have heard from those who were eyewitnesses, and often had conversations with them, full of pious and holy concern about you and your safety. Yet, what was more well known throughout the whole of Italy than the fact that Isabella Manriquez Bresegna, one of the most highborn of women, kept the integrity of her religion amid the dangers and losses which her confession of the Gospel of God brought in its wake? Just to mention one thing, I will not start from the time in which you began to be illuminated by the divine light in your home city of Naples, but speak about these most recent days, in which you showed yourself more than a woman, nay more than a man, no doubt mindful of His saying, he who begins and "endures to the end, will be saved." You were at Piacenza, the wife of the prefect of that city, the noble Garcia Manriquez, in which city, as everywhere, you always gave famous examples of temperance, chastity, modesty, charity, patience. Therefore all the citizens of Piacenza bewailed your departure as that of a pious parent. You came next for compelling reasons to Milan, where you began to be attacked on a daily basis in order to turn you away from a sincere piety to a vain superstition. But whatever was thrown at you as a hindrance merely drove you in the direction you were headed, and whatever was meant to extinguish the light that God had kindled in you merely fanned the flames. Gusts of wind only serve to stir the fire, as the outcome showed. For when you realized what our Lord teaches, that it is not possible to serve two masters at war with one another, you preferred to leave the one, in order to give yourself totally to the other, rather than satisfy neither. Therefore having followed Christ, the true and lovely Lord, you left the most demanding tyrant. You added yourself to the company of the saints in body, as you already had in mind, and despised the fragile goods with which you once were surrounded. But did your flight make you safe from battle and strife? In no way. For as soon as you crossed the Alps and settled there, messengers were sent with letters from your husband, brother, and others, to bring you back. Your two dearest sons followed, now men of great favor and authority. Others took their place, not immediately but in waves, so that if you did not fall to one assault, you would be forced to surrender, conquered at last by successive onslaughts. What did you do at this point, Isabella, a woman, born and raised in luxury and wealth? Did you yield, conquered by your love for your husband and child, and by a certain weakness? Not at all. Rather, like Mount Zion, which no power can move from its place, you remained immovable. You took their weapons and blows on the shield of faith, you beat back and broke them all with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. You responded that you sought nothing more in this mortal life than to live with your husband and sweetest children, but only if you could do so with a clear conscience; and that you were prepared to be with him wherever he wished, to go with him, and serve him, but on this condition and law: that you be able to serve Christ with a free conscience, and keep the faith granted you (which was the most important thing of all) not only in right thought but also in pious action. In this you openly declared that you cared more for the approval of Christ than the perishable treasures of the Egyptians. Far different than he who lately looking back to Egypt, wretchedly returned to Egypt. And no wonder, for he had never really left Egypt, since he had brought the fleshpots of Egypt with him. A rare example of modesty in a woman, and in such a woman, set not just before women, but also before men. O faith! O singular constancy!

These and other gifts of immortal God to you impel me to publish these divine memorials of our Olympia under your name and patronage. For to whom could I dedicate the works of so erudite and holy a woman, other than to a woman outstanding for nobility, genius, and religion? Especially to one who has not been ashamed (as have so many) to profess the name of Christ even in the middle of Italy. Add the fact that in this way Olympia, whom Italy bore and Germany buried, will be restored to her native Italy.


Excerpted from THE COMPLETE WRITINGS OF AN ITALIAN HERETIC by Olympia Morata Copyright © 2003 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Editors' Introduction to the Series
Key to Abbreviations
Introduction: Olympia Fulvia Morata (1526/27-55)
I. Olympia Morata: Works and Letters
Juvenilia: Ferrara, c. 1539-41, Age 12-14
Letters: Italy
Letters: Germany
II. Writings about Olympia Morata or in Honor of Her
Letters after the Death of Olympia Morata
Poems in Honor of Olympia Morata Written during Her Lifetime
Epitaphs by Learned Men
The Tombstones
Volume Editor's Bibliography
Series Editors' Bibliography
Biblical References Index
Classical References Index
General Index

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