Helena Cornaro Piscopia
1646-1684
Aristotelianism, Metaphysics,
Mathematics



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Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia was a multi-talented woman. She is best known as being the first woman to obtain a doctorate in philosophy. In her short life she became proficient in many academic fields and she dedicated her life and energies to serving the book.

Chronology

1646 - Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia was born on June 5 to a well establised noble Ventitian family . Her mother, Zanetta Giovanna Boni had not been from the noblility originally. Her father, Giovanni Baptista Cornaro was the honored Procurator of San Marco.

1653 - Her father began her education. The local village priest recognized her intellectual ability and encouraged the family to have her given formal tutors. She learned Latin and the Greek, grammar and music. Besides these she mastered Arabic, Chaldaic, English, French, Hebrew and Spanish. She also studied sciences, mathematics and astronomy as well as philosophy and theology. She exhibited exceptional powers of reasoning and really enjoyed philosophy and theology.

1662 She becomes known as a musician - having mastered the harpsichord, the clavichord, the harp, and the violin. She also composed music.

1672 Helena Lucretia Cornaro Pisopia wanted to enter the Benedictine Order but her father refused permission . Instead her sent her to the University of Padua to continue her studies.

She just wanted to study. Her father insisted that her learing be given public recognition. Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia applied for a Doctorate of Theology degree from the University of Padua but her application met resistance. Officials of the Church refused to confer the title of Doctor of Theology upon a woman. As a result, she applied a second time. This time, they gave her a Doctorate in Philosophy.

(NOTE: It should be noted that women were not allowed degrees in theology right up through the 20th century in Catholic Universities. Sister Mary Consilia O'Brien O. P., a Dominican Sister of Newburgh, New York was the first woman to graduate with a Ph.D in philosophy from Catholic University in Washington D.C . Why philosophy? because she was not allowed to obtain a doctorate in Theology. Her dissertation was a tome "On Nothing". Other educated women met the same resistance to grant women degrees in theology and more than one woman took a degree in Catechetics or some related subject instead. This barrier has been removed from most universities but it is important to remember that Theology was not really open to women until more recent years. Even philosophy doctoral programs were not always open to women. In the United States, for example, some schools would not accept women during the first half of the twentieth century)

1678 Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia (Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia) received the Doctorate in Philosophy by the University of Padua.

She was the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate degree. In addition she received Doctor's Ring, the Ermine Cape of Teacher and the Poet's Laurel Crown. Her examination for this degree was scheduled for the University Hall at Padua but because of the enormous crowd of spectators the examination was transferred to the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin in Padua. It is said that she was brilliant and her answered amazed her examiners and they agreed that he knowledge far exceeded that of Doctor of Philosophy - hence the additional honors granted to her. She was an accomplished musician - playing the clavichord, the harp and violin as well as composing. She was 32 years old.

In that same year she was appointed mathematics professor at the University of Padua.

After receiving the doctorate Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia dedicated her life to the care of the poor. She left noble society, rejected several marriage proposals and became a Benedictine oblate.

1684 - She died of tuberculosis on July 26. Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia had requested that she be buried in the Church of Santa Giustina in Padua, Italy. There is a statue of her at the University of Padua.

Works

Her collected works were published in Parma after her death.

Secondary sources:

Fusco, Nicolo. Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia: 1646-1684 (Pittsburgh: U. S. Comm. for the E. L. Cornaro Piscopia Tercentenary, 1975)

Guernsey, Jane Howard. The Lady Cornaro: Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, Pride and Prodigy of Venice. 1998.

Guernsey, Jane Howard. The Lady Cornaro: Pride and Prodigy of Venice. 1999.

The Life of Helen Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia, Oblate of the Order of St. Benedict and Doctor in the University of Padua (Rome: St. Benedict's, 1896)

Lupis, Antonio, Eroina Veneta Quero la Vita di Elena Lucretia Piscopia (Venice: Curti, 1689.

Here is a short essay about the mathematical work of Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia


Updated 26 November, 2014

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