S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

"She deserves very much to be remembered"

I was reading Boccaccio's Famous Women* tonight (the way one does - especially when editing footnotes), and was struck by his description of a probably Roman poet named Cornificia whom "ancient testimony shows that she deserves very much to be remembered". Boccaccio continues:
During Octavian's reign, Cornificia radiated such poetical learning that she seemed to have been nourished not by the milk of Italy but by the Castalian spring, and to have been just as celebrated as her brother Cornificius, a renowned poet of the same period. She was not satisfied with having, thanks to her splendid talent, merely a way with words. I think that the sacred Muses inspired her to use her learned pen in the composition of verses worthy of Helicon.

For those who read Christine de Pizan scholars with undue haste,** Boccaccio was not purely misogynistic in his discussion of famous women. Again, apropos of Cornificia, he writes, "If women are willing to apply themselves to study, they share with men the ability to do everything that makes men famous."***

She was known to Boccaccio by way of Jerome's praise of some of her epigrams. Unfortunately for Boccaccio's hopes to the contrary, she has very much been forgotten. It would have helped had any of her poetry survived to his time or ours.

* Giovanni Boccaccio. Famous Women. Virginia Brown, ed. I Tatti Renaissance Library. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). Quotations taken from pp. 352-5.
** Hasty readers of Christine scholarship sometimes assert firstly that Boccaccio's work was purely misogynistic (he discusses both virtuous and vicious women), and secondly that he deals only with women from antiquity (primarily, yes, but he wraps up with a handful of medievals, culminating in the virtuous and intelligent Joanna, Queen of Naples, a contemporary of his.
*** Admittedly, he says this after several snarky sentences on how many women slothfully believe themselves only useful for having offspring.

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