Morata, Olympia (1526-1555)
I, a woman, have dropped the symbols of my sex,
Olympia Morata composed these lines in Greek when she was in her early teens (English translation in Bainton, p. 254). For a period of about ten years, she did as her poem says, setting aside domestic duties for the opportunity to study classical languages and literatures at the court of Ferrara. While Morata's early years were devoted to humanist studies, her later years were spent in exile in Germany with her protestant husband. Historians have characterized Morata's life as a gradual movement away from her classical upbringing to an intense period of religious reform.
Olympia Morata was born in Ferrara in 1526 to Fulvio Pellegrino Morato and a certain Lucrezia (possibly Gozi). In her early years, she was educated by her father, a well-known humanist and university professor. She learned her subjects so well that at the age of twelve or thirteen she was invited to the court of Ferrara as a companion of study to Anna d'Este, the daughter of Duke Ercole II and Duchess Renée of France. There she continued her classical studies with Anna under the guidance of her father and two German brothers, John and Chilian Sinapi. She was considered a "fanciulla prodigio," and won the praise of many intellectuals for her fluency in Latin and Greek. It is highly probable that her sympathies for the Reformation began at the court of Ferrara since the Duchess herself supported the efforts of 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 or 1550, 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. They took Morata's eight-year-old brother, Emilio, with them, never to return to Italy. While they were in Germany, Morata tutored Emilio in the classics. 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 middle of war. Schweinfurt was occupied by the soldiers of Albert Alciabides, and Morata, 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 by Albert's enemies. In a letter to Cherubina Orsini, written on August 8, 1554 from Heidelberg, Morata describes her arduous escape from Schweinfurt:
Vorrei che aveste visto come io era scapigliata, coperta di straccie, ché ci tolsero le veste d'attorno, e fuggendo io perdetti le scarpe, né aveva calze in piede, sì che mi bisognava fuggire sopra le pietre e sassi, che io non so come arrivasse. (quoted in Costa-Zalessow 103)
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 fever that Morata caught in Schweinfurt never subsided, and a few months later 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 taken hold of the residents of Heidelberg.
While much of Morata's writing was lost in the siege on Scheiwnfurt, 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 three editions of her work (1558, 1562, 1570). Another edition followed in 1580. Morata's extant writings consist of fifty-two letters (most written in Latin), 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), eleven poems (eight in Greek and three in Latin), as well as translations of seven Psalms (in Greek) and the first two stories of Boccaccio's Decameron (in Latin). The Psalms that Morata translated were set to music by her husband.
Works by Olympia Morata:
Submitted by Jennifer Haraguchi, The University of Chicago, 2003.
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