Defending Women against Misogyny - The Rare First Edition of Arcangela Tarabotti’s ‘Antisatire’

Tarabotti, Arcangela (1604-1652); Buoninsegni, Francesco (ca. 1600- after 1655)

Contro’l lusso donnesco, Satira Menippea del sig. Fran. Buoninsegni. Con l’antisatira D. A. T. in risposta. [Divisional title: Antisatira d. A. T. in risposta al Lusso Donnesco Satira Menippea del Sign. Fran. Buoninsegni. Dedicata all’Altezza Sereniss. Di Vittoria Medici della Rovere Gran Duchessa di Toscana.

Venice: Francesco Valvasense, 1644


Duodecimo: 13.8 x 7.4 cm. 227, [1] p. Collation: A-I12, K6

FIRST EDITION (issue B, final sig. re-set and with errata).

Divisional title to second work. Both titles with printed rule and printer’s device. Bound in contemporary carta rustica, title on spine. A good copy of an extremely rare book but damp-stained and with some ink spots to a few leaves and some occ. soiling. Contemporary annotations on two blank lvs. at end. Contemporary index on blank at end. Contemporary ownership inscription on title. A combined search of OCLC and KVK yielded only 8 copies outside of Italy, 3 of them in North America (Stanford, U. Illinois, U. Chicago), 1 in Ireland, 1 in Germany, 2 in France.

Arcangela Tarabotti’s celebrated response to (and printed together with the original text of) Buoninsegni’s misogynistic satire “Against the vanities of Women”. Tarabotti’s “Anti-satire” is not only a “defense of women’s fashions and a denunciation of men, their clothes, and their hair styles but also a strong condemnation of men’s treatment of women and, in general, of the subordination of women in society.”(Weaver) Th book is dedicated by the author to Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, on 30 June 1644. “The hostile reception of the ‘Antisatira’ belies the notion that dedication of a work to a prominent woman offered any actual protection, at least outside her own regional jurisdiction.”(Cox)

Satire and Antisatire:

“At a gathering in 1632 of the Academy of the Intronati in Siena and in the presence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando II de’ Medici and members of his court, Francesco Buoninsegni, a prominent Sienese intellectual, delivered a semiserious discourse entitled ‘Contro ’l lusso donnesco, Satira menippea’ (Against the Vanities of Women, a Menippean Satire) that denounced women’s fashions as excessive ornamentation and an extraordinary waste of time and money. Menippean satire, an ancient literary form that had a revival in the late Renaissance, is a semiserious satire of ideas, conventions, and institutions written in a combination of prose and verse. Buoninsegni’s discourse also belongs to an age-old tradition of misogynist satires, which were popular in Italy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when women’s place in society was being widely debated and was a frequent topic of discourse in the literary academies . Buoninsegni’s satire was first published in Milan in 1637, according to Giammaria Mazzuchelli, but it seems no copy has survived. It then appeared in Venice in 1638 with a polemical response written by Giovan Battista Torretti, a member of the Venetian Academy of the Incogniti. Torretti’s response seems to have garnered little interest and was soon forgotten.

“However, not long afterward—around 1641—Buoninsegni’s satire came to the attention of the outspoken and spirited Venetian nun Arcangela Tarabotti, who decided to write a response—or, as she claims, was convinced by some important ladies to do so. Her work, the ‘Antisatira’ (Antisatire) as it was called, was published in Venice together with Buoninsegni’s satire in 1644 and created quite a furor and public outcry. Tarabotti’s response is not only a defense of women’s fashions and a denunciation of men, their clothes, and their hair styles but also a strong condemnation of men’s treatment of women and, in general, of the subordination of women in society—central issues in all the writings of the talented literary nun. In this debate both Buoninsegni and Tarabotti write with the exaggeration and absurd arguments typical of Menippean satire; they show off their knowledge of ancient and contemporary literature in a prose style interspersed with poetry, as the genre required, and replete with the astonishing Baroque conceits that delighted their contemporaries. What perhaps most surprised the readers of this literary exchange and demands our attention today is that Tarabotti, an enclosed nun with only the rudimentary education available in the convent, displays a level of culture in no way inferior to that of her adversary—who had frequented the period’s best institutions of learning as well as prestigious literary and scientific academies—and that she was not fooled by the supposedly semiserious nature of the academic discourse and in her response exposed its serious misogynist underpinnings.

“Arcangela Tarabotti was born on February 24, 1604 to Stefano Tarabotti and Maria Cadena dei Tolentini in the section of Venice known as Castello; she was baptized Elena Cassandra. The family, if not of the citizen class, was certainly of considerable means. Elena was the fifth of their ten children, the eldest of seven daughters. Two of her sisters married: Innocenza Elisabetta to Francesco Dario, the family doctor, and Lorenzina to the lawyer Giacomo Pighetti. Four sisters, Camilla Angela, Angela Lorenza, Lucia Caterina, and Caterina Agnese remained at home, while Elena was destined for the religious life, perhaps because she was the least likely to marry, being born with a limp and having somewhat precarious health. At the age of eleven, as she writes, or thirteen, as convent documents attest, she entered the Benedictine convent of Sant’Anna, a fate she deplored. Nevertheless, she was clothed in 1620, taking Arcangela as her religious name, professed in 1623, and was consecrated in 1629. She died on February 28, 1652, at the age of forty-eight. Arcangela Tarabotti did not have a religious vocation but had to submit to the will of her family; she made protesting the practice of forced monachization and, more generally, the denial to women of free will the driving passion of her life. There is no doubt that she hoped through her writing to effect change, if only in the minds of men, and that she should be considered an early feminist thinker and activist.

“Tarabotti would have learned to read and write at home before entering the convent of Sant’Anna, where, if we can take her at her word, she learned little more from convent teachers. She claims to be entirely self-taught. Society’s failure to educate women was a subject about which she was passionate and to which she returns frequently in her writing. In one of the digressions in the ‘Antisatira’, she explains that most of her learning has come from ‘reading good books, both religious and profane, Latin and vernacular, through which, however crudely, and without anyone to teach me, I have somewhat smoothed out the roughness of my intellect’.”(Weaver, “Antisatire: In Defence of Women, against Francesco Buoninsegni”(2020), p. 1-5)

Catalogo unico, IT\ICCU\CFIE\003823 (variant A); S.P. Michel, Répertoire des ouvrages imprimés en langue italienne au XVIIe siècle conservés dans les bibliothèques de France, VIII, p. 18; Libreria Vinciana, Autori italiani del ‘600, nr. 93; Melzi, Dizionario di opere anonime e pseudonime, I, p. 69. Literature: N. Canepa, Francesco Buoninsegni and Suor Arcangela Tarabotti. Satira e Antisatira, in: “Italica- Bulletin of the American Association of Teachers of Italian”, vol. 81, no. 3, 2004, pp. 431-432; D. De Bellis, Attacking Sumptury Laws in Seicento Venice: Arcangela Tarabotti, in: “Women in Italian Renaissance Culture and Society”, L. Panizza, editor, p. 229-244; Weaver, “Antisatire: In Defence of Women, Against Francesco Buoninsegni”(2020)