[Early Printing - Basel] [Early Women Authors] [Reformation]

Eolympia Fulvia Morata

Opera omnia.
(Edited by Celio Secondo Curione, with his own contributions.)

Basel: Petrus Perna, 1580.

$1,750   INQUIRE

Latin and Greek text.

Embellished with a fine woodcut full-page decorative border enclosing Morata's epitaph by Johannes Herold incorporating allegorical figures of Germany and Italy and dated 1556.

Fourth Edition (enlarged) of the collected writings of a noted Ferrara-born classical scholar, poet, and Protestant convert, who settled in Germany following her marriage. Fulvia Morata (1526 - 1555) was raised in the ducal house of Este and the daughter of the Este princes' tutor, Morata became fluent in Greek and Latin at an early age. Forced to flee to Germany after converting to Protestantism, she died at only 29.

"Olympia Fulvia Morata was an extraordinary figure in the sixteenth century European culture, especially in the German, Italian speaking realms, and has been called the 'Miracle of the century'. Her reputation in the sixteenth century as an exceptional humanist scholar, exile religionis causa, and as someone aware of female dignity in the intellectual sphere, accompanied her in Italy and Germany, where she found refuge. [...] Her fame allowed to claim that she was the first university Professor of Greek in the Empire. [...] She became an exemplary intellectual, religious, and feminine model of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation; an icon in the reformed martyrology; an example of intellectual woman in the Frauenfrage in the German culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her fame shows no sign of fading even today." (L. Felici, Olympia Fulvia Morata, in: C. Zwierlein (ed.), Fruits of Migration, p.147).

While much of Morata's writing was lost in the siege on Scheiwnfurt, he widow Andreas Grunthler managed to salvage some and sent it to Celio Secondo Curione, a professor at the University of Basel and close friend of Morata's father, who published a collection of her work published in 1558, with three further editions printed in 1562, 1570 and 1580.

The most complete of the four early editions, this 1580 edition of Morata's works (as the previous two) is dedicated to Queen Elizabeth of England, a fellow learned Protestant woman, and presents all of her extant writings comprising: two dialogues (in Latin); a declamation on Cicero's Stoic Paradoxes and another In Praise of Mutius Scaevola (the latter in both Greek and Latin), several poems (some in Greek, some in Latin), as well as a Greek verse rendering of seven Psalms (which were set to music by her husband), and her Latin translations of the first two stories of Boccaccio's Decameron; as well as her letters (a few of which are written partially or fully in Greek) including letters to/from her sister Victoria, her husband Andreas Grundler, her friend and editor, Curione, the German hellenist and physician, Johannes Senf (aka Sinapius), Pietro Paolo Vergerio, Lavinia Della Rovere (Orsini), Anna d'Este duchesse de Guise, et al..

This edition also includes writings by the editor, Celio Secondo Curione: numerous letters (including a few exchanged with Melanchthon), humanist studies on Aristotle, Cicero, etc. Appended at the end are Marcus Antonius Paganutius' Latin versions of several Aesop's fables and a tale of Abraham the Jew from Boccaccio's Decameron, which have not been included in any o previous editions.

"Olimpia's Dialogue of Theophila and Philotima from 1551 has been deemed her most important text, for many reasons. First of all, compared to the earlier Dialogue between Lavinia della Rovere and Olimpia, the 1551 texts demonstrate Olimpia's maturation as a woman, scholar, and friend. The first text being more autobiographical (concerning Olimpia's lament over her over her earlier ignorance and lack of interest in religious matters), the second dialogue, from Germany, is more theological and presents a sophisticated application of Olimpia's impulse to teach. In an imagined situation in which the female characters' husbands are absent, the women engage in an intellectual conversation for a moment of teaching and learning. The activity of God is implied, but in the latter the teaching role and spiritual guidance of women are remarkably emphasized. The latter dialogue's inclusion of both male and female models for spiritual life relativized the sexual/gendered differences in faith matters. [...] The dialogue also calls attention to the learned Olimpia's real need to balance her roles of writer and housewife." (K. Stjerna, Women and the Reformation).

Born in Ferrara in 1526 Olimpia was educated by her father, Fulvio Pellegrino Morato, a well-known humanist and university professor. She learned her subjects so well that at the age of twelve she was invited to the court of Ferrara as a companion of study to Anna d'Este, the daughter of Duke Ercole II. There she continued her classical studies with Anna under the guidance of her father and two German brothers, John and Chilian Senf, and won the praise of many intellectuals for her fluency in Latin and Greek. Her sympathies for the Reformation likely began at the court of Ferrara since the Duchess herself supported the reformers. Morata's formal studies came to an end in 1548 when she was called home to care for her dying father. After her father's death, she made a request to return to the court, but it was denied. Many of her reformist friends had already left the court and Anna now resided in France with her new husband Francis de Guise.

In 1549 Morata married Andreas Grunthler, a German protestant who came to Ferrara to study medicine. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Germany to evade the Roman Inquisition, and took Morata's 8-year-old brother, Emilio, with them. Grunthler accepted a position as medical doctor for the Imperial Spanish troops who were stationed in his native city Schweinfurt. From 1553-54, they were caught in the midst of a war: Schweinfurt was occupied, and Olimpia, Grunthler, and Emilio lived in dangerous and difficult conditions, at one point taking refuge in a wine cellar. Ultimately, the city was sacked and burned; in a letter to Cherubina Orsini, written on August 8, 1554 from Heidelberg, Morata describes her arduous escape from Schweinfurt. Shortly after arriving in Heidelberg, Grunthler accepted a position as professor of medicine at the university and Morata tutored students in Greek and Latin. However, the tuberculosis that Morata contracted in Schweinfurt never subsided, and a few months later, on October 26, 1555 she died. She was not quite 29 years old. Less than two months later, Grunthler and Emilio also died, most likely of the plague that had broken out in Heidelberg.

"She was buried in Saint Peter's church. The tombstone described her as a 'woman whose genius and singular knowledge of both languages, whose probity in morals and highest zeal for piety were always held above the common level. Men's judgement of her life was confirmed with divine testimony by the most holy and peaceful death which she died'. The German intellectual world consecrated her as a muse in many epitaphs. [...] Morata immediately became an icon of the Germanic Protestant world. Curione [...] wanted to turn her into a new female model for European culture, an exemplary woman for independence in all her choices, for culture and firmness in faith, reachable through education. [...]

"Her project, both the pedagogical agenda and her religious militancy, found expression in the publication of [her] Opera omnia. It was a cultural and religious manifesto. The first edition, released in 1558 by the Basel publisher Pietro Perna, was followed by three other more complete editions (1562, 1560, 1570, 1580). The first edition was notably dedicated to another woman and exile religionis causa in Germany, the Marquise of Vasto, wife of the governor of Piacenza, Isabella Bresegna [...] In the following editions, Queen Elisabeth was the dedicatee of the work, for her exemplary defence of the cause of the Gospel of peace, of the exiles and because she was an exceptional woman for her commitment in traditionally male fields, as well as Olympia. Such female figures, which were the demonstration of the absolute equality between the sexes, were pointed out by Curione as models to be imitated for the Christians. [...]

"[An] engraving produced already in 1556 was enclosed in the Curionian editions: first, in 1558, at the end of Morata's works. [...] The ornamental work framed a dedicatory note by Johannes Herold on the poet's death. Herold celebrated the superiority of the intellect in a woman's body and the complete dedication to faith, having contempt for the world. The engraving showed on the right hand the image of the sorrowful Italy dressed as a court woman with the cartouche 'Spoliata ingemisco (Plundered I sigh)', on the left, Germany in triumph, with a collar in the shape of a lion and the inscription 'Ornata insurgo (Decorated I rise)'. Above the figures, Christ welcomed Olympia with the words 'Veni sponsa mea (Come my bride)', who replied 'Hic requies mea (Here is my peace)'. [At the bottom of the border] a glowering woman with a globe in her hands, a symbol of the despised world and the 'Spreta infrendo (Despised I grind my teeth) cartouche. Olympia, 'sacra vate (sacred prophetess)', represented a glory of Germany, the land that had received her, exile for the Gospel." (Felici, Op. cit., pp.173-5).

Bibliographic references:

Perini, Pietro Perna, p.494: no.354; Caretti, Morata, 154-5; Delandine, Bibliothèque de Lyon, 6565.

Physical description:

Octavo; text block measures 16 cm x 10 cm. Bound in contemporary (late 16th-century) blind-stamped pigskin over pasteboard Full-page decorative border around Morata's epitaph, woodcut device on title.

Pagination: [24], 551, [1] pp.
COMPLETE, including internal blank **4 at the end of the preliminaries.

Title-page with woodcut Perna's device. Leaf *8v with Morata's epitaph by Johannes Herold enclosed within a fine historiated woodcut border dated 1556.

Numerous woodcut decorative initials. Text printed in roman, italic and Greek types.

Includes Curione's dedicatory epistle to Queen Elizabeth I of England (leaves *2r-7r), Perna's preface to the reader **1r,v, table of contents **3r,v, among other preliminary material.


Very Good antiquarian condition. Complete (including the integral blank **2). Binding rubbed and somewhat soiled, with blindstamped ornamentation largely rubbed off but still partly visible; two pairs of original ties gone. Binding still very solid; joints and hinges intact; original front endpapers preserved, rear endpapers renewed. Title page with a small abrasion causing a minor tear at gutter, just touching two letters (but without any loss of text). An (unidentified) ownership inscription dated 'Lipsia (i.e. Leipzig), Sept. 1735' on blank verso of title. Interior with occasional light browning; and light water-staining to some leaves (mostly marginal); a couple minor marginal paper-flaws (without loss). In all, a very pleasing, clean, wide-margined example of this rare edition.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.