Olympia Morata. the Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic

By Tedeschi, John | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview
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Olympia Morata. the Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic


Tedeschi, John, The Catholic Historical Review


Olympia Morata. The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic. Edited and Translated by Holt N. Parker. [The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe.] (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 2003. Pp. xxxiii, 275. $22.50 paperback.)

The short life of Olympia Morata, the literary prodigy who died in Heidelberg late in 1555, not yet twenty-nine years of age, far from the court of Ferrara, where she was raised and educated, has never ceased to amaze. It caught the imagination of contemporaries and continues to spark the interest of modern scholars. Olympia, a member of the entourage of the sometime Calvinist Duchess Renée, the French wife of Duke Ercole II Este, became deeply steeped in classical languages and culture thanks to the instruction she received from her father, Fulvio Pellegrino Morato, an admired humanist teacher in Ferrara, Mantua, and Vicenza, and his learned friends, Celio Calcagnini and Celio Secondo Curione, among others. But from her father and from Curione Olympia also imbibed Erasmian ideals and the doctrines of the Reformation. After her marriage to a young medical student at Ferrara, Andreas Grunthler, she returned with him to his native Germany. In Schweinfurt, his hometown, they experienced a siege by imperial forces where the young couple lost all their belongings, including Olympia's few writings, mostly poetry and translations.

Olympia died in October, 1555, in Heidelberg, where Grunthler had obtained a post in the university. Curione, who himself had preceded Morata into exile because of his evangelical beliefs and had settled in Basel, where he combined a life of teaching and editing classical and humanist texts with writing tracts against the Church of Rome, set about collecting what literary remains and letters of Olympia's he could retrieve from their mutual friends and admirers. A few verse compositions which Olympia reconstructed from memory on her deathbed were forwarded to Curione by her husband. Curione published what he had managed to gather up in four successive editions of her writings, appearing with slightly differing titles between 1558 and 1570 in Basel through the presses of his friend and fellow exile, Pietro Perna (a letter or two from Morata to Curione had been published by the latter in an edition of his own correspondence appearing two years before her death, in 1553).

The volume under review, meticulously edited and beautifully translated into English by a classical scholar whose training is revealed on every page, contains the materials from the Basel editions of Olympia's writings along with complementary pieces gleaned from Lanfranco Caretti's modern Italian, and Rainer Kössling's and Gertrud Weiss-Stählin's German editions of her works, as well as an occasional manuscript discovery. The collection consists of "documents," contemporary or near-contemporary letters serving as testimonies to Olympia's piety and learning; the dedications by Curione to his editions of her Opera; "juvenilia" (poems, orations, dialogues, translations) that she wrote between ages 12 and 14; letters from the Italian and German phases of her life; poetry and psalm translations into classical Greek, concluding with poems, tributes, and epitaphs by the many men of letters who had admired her, written during her lifetime as well as after her death.

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