Women’s Bodies, Women’s Souls – Lucrezia Marinella’s “The nobility and excellence of women and the defects and vices of Men”

Marinella [also Marinelli], Lucrezia (1571-1653)

La nobilta, et l'eccellenza delle donne, co' diffetti, et mancamenti de gli huomini. Discorso di Lucretia Marinella, in due parti diuiso. Nella prima si manifesta la nobilta delle donne co' forti ragioni, & infiniti essempi ... Nella seconda si conferma co' vere ragioni ... che i diffetti de gli huomini trapassano di gran lunga que' delle donne. Ricorretto, & accresciutto in questa seconda impressione.

Venice: Appresso Gio. Battista Ciotti sanese, all 1601

$5,800.00

Quarto: 19.25 x 15.5 cm. [8], 326, [2] p. Collation: a4, A-V8, X4 (with blank X4)

SECOND EDITION, REVISED AND EXPANDED.

A fine copy in contemporary parchment over boards, citron label tooled in gold on spine. Contents clean aside from 4 lvs. (G3-6) lightly browned and with early repair to short worm track, obscuring part of two-lines of text. Printer's device on title page. The second edition includes 14 new chapters, 4 refutations of the misogynistic views of prominent men (Ercole Tasso, Sperone Speroni, Torquato Tasso, and Boccaccio on the subject of women; and 10 on the vices of men (adulterers, men who murder their families, etc.)

A fine copy in contemporary parchment over boards, citron label tooled in gold on spine. Contents clean aside from 4 lvs. (G3-6) lightly browned and with early repair to short worm track, obscuring part of two-lines of text. Printer's device on title page. The second edition includes 14 new chapters, 4 refutations of the misogynistic views of prominent men (Ercole Tasso, Sperone Speroni, Torquato Tasso, and Boccaccio on the subject of women; and 10 on the vices of men (adulterers, men who murder their families, etc.)

Lucrezia Marinella, born in Venice, was the daughter of the famous writer and physician Giovanni Marinella, who encouraged her to study poetry, music and philosophy. She became the most versatile, prolific, and learned woman writer of her generation. Lucrezia was a ferocious polemicist and wrote lyric, narrative and epic poems, mainly published by Ciotti, alternating secular and sacred, prose and verse in her production. She was related to the Accademia Veneziana, of which Ciotti was the official typographer, but led a reclusive life of private study. Nevertheless, she married a physician and had two children. Her fame as one of the very first feminist writers ever is mostly due to the treatise ‘La nobiltà et l’eccellenza delle donne, co’ difetti et mancamenti de gli uomini’ ('The nobility and excellence of women and the defects and vices of Men', Venice, 1600), [revised and expanded in 1601.] She died in Venice in 1653.

“‘La nobiltà et l’eccellenza delle donne, co’ difetti et mancamenti de gli uomini’  was one of the first polemical treatises written by a woman in Italian as part of an ongoing debate about the nature and worth of women, often called the querelle des femmes  (the debate about women).  ‘The Nobility and Excellence of Women’  is an erudite recapitulation of the arguments and evidence brought forward to support claims for the merits of women, but it is more than a summary. Marinella provides a cogent, extended argument for the superiority of women’s intellectual and moral capacities, effectively constructing an account of a nature proper to women and distinct from the nature of man.

“The book is remarkable in several respects, aside from its philosophical and rhetorical skill. First, although several of Marinella’s predecessors on the pro-woman side of the debate had argued both that men and women were equal in so far as they shared a rational soul, and also that women were superior, they had failed to address adequately the tension between the claims of equality and of superiority; Marinella addresses it directly and persuasively. Her argument takes the bodies of women as a starting point, from which she adduces evidence to demonstrate that women’s moral characters are better than those of men, and that the moral superiority of women leads to an intellectual superiority. Second, Marinella advances the case being made by women and their supporters beyond a demand for sympathy and respect from men to a demand for freedom, power, and equality (Cox 1995, 520). Although she did not propose concrete reforms, she did analyze the situation of women in explicitly political terms. Third, although many had decried the viciousness of those who argued for the inferiority of women, Marinella was one of the first to supply an explanation of the motives of men who published misogynist works, and to connect those motives to the exclusion of women from public life (Jordan 1990, 259; Cox 1995, 516).

“‘The Nobility’ is divided into two parts, the first of which demonstrates the nobility and excellence of women, the second of which sets out the defects and failings of men. Both the respects in which she claims superiority for women and the contrast she draws between the excellences of women and the vices of men are standard in the contributions to the querelle des femmes  that take the side of women. What is unusual with Marinella is the learning, the sophistication, and the systematic and cogent development of the arguments. Unlike most pro-woman authors, she makes no concessions to the convention of masculine excellence, asserting the superiority of women in all respects. The argument for women’s superiority is largely set out in the first part of the treatise. But the second part, on the defects of men, is not incidental to the central claim that women are nobler. Marinella details the defects of men, and in particular their evil motives, in order to support her positive argument for women’s nobility, by demonstrating that the motives men have for denigrating women are ignoble, stem from defects of nature, and are thus evidence of the inferiority of men. So the defects of men are introduced not only so that women might appear more excellent in comparison, but also, and more importantly, to show that the deficiencies attributed to women by men are more properly the deficiencies of male nature, and that those very deficiencies are responsible for the fallacious claims about women made by some men (Aristotle and Passi in particular). So Marinella offers an explanation for the misogynist claims to which she is responding, and that explanation supports her claim that women are better than men in certain precise respects. (Deslauriers)

For a more detailed description of the book, see Marguerite Deslauriers, "Lucrezia Marinella", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta, ed.) 

See also S. Kolsky, The literary career of Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), in: "Rituals, images, and words: varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe", F.W. Kent & Ch. Zika, eds., Turnhout, 2005, pp. 325-342).