ABSTRACT

Studies of female Italian humanists have followed a similar approach to those of their male counterparts, focusing on the success and influence of individuals and the ways in which those exposed to humanist learning contributed to their communities. Concentrating on exemplary figures, such as Isotta Nogarola (1418-66), Cassandra Fedele (1465?–1558) and Laura Cereta (1469-99), their brief periods of literary activity and the men in their lives who promoted and supported their learning, these studies have shown the opportunities and limitations of humanist learning for women and the conditions in which educated women worked.1 The goals that humanists, both men and women, were promoting – eloquence, honour, glory – assumed access to social and political power, and although women had influence in these realms, they lacked the official power of men to act. One of these female humanists, Laura Cereta, manipulated the boundaries of gender and incorporated her social and cultural role as a woman with her intellectual authority, thereby creating a space in which to think about female scholarship. In her letters, she argues that she is at once an individual accomplished in study and a woman who attends to domestic responsibilities. This essay explores the ways in which Cereta integrated both of these qualities in her letters, altering masculine humanist style to thereby carve out a role for herself as a learned woman.2 It also argues that Cereta’s peculiar expression of humanist themes can be attributed, at least partially, to the deliberate blending of two worlds: the world of literary men, to which she was trying to gain acceptance, and the cultural world of the convent, where she was first educated, and to which she thus already belonged. Cereta sought entry into one community, adapted humanist ideals to another and wrote for both, crafting her selfimage along the way.