Arcangela Tarabotti was a feminist ahead of her time. Though forced into a convent in 17th century Venice, she wrote blistering attacks on patriarchal repressiveness in the family, the state and even the Church....Today, Levertov announces a new edition:
Tarabotti's story, and in large measure her daring, may have been exceptional in European Christendom (until the 14th century, generally only nuns were taught reading and writing ). However, the Renaissance era was marked by additional female - and also male - voices that rebelled against the conventions and sought to prove that women were not, as described in the Italian translation of Aristotle, "defective males." The female writers were from the upper-middle class - aristocrats, nuns and courtesans. They wrote fiction, poetry, philosophy and satire, and availed themselves of every literary style of the time. In Venice, too, Tarabotti was not the only defiant - and successful - female writer. Already in 1600, four years before she was born, two books were published there which are still considered milestones among women's works on gender issues. They are "The Worth of Women," by Moderata Fonte, who died eight years earlier in childbirth; and "The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men," by Lucrezia Marinella, a contemporary of Tarabotti's who was a prolific and very popular writer.
[Tarabotti's] family was of Jewish origin, and had resided around Modena before coming to Venice as "conversos." (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition).
--- Michal Levertov, "Get thee to a nunnery," haaretz.com
The new annotated English version of "Convent Life as Inferno" is the work of two Italian-born scholars who teach in England: Dr. Francesca Medioli (introduction and notes ) and Dr. Letizia Panizza (translation ). Medioli, director of the Center for Italian Women's Studies at the University of Reading, rescued Tarabotti's manuscript in 1990 and brought about its publication in Italy. Panizza lectures in the Department of Italian at Royal Holloway College, University of London. Her annotated translation of Tarabotti's "Paternal Tyranny" was published in 2004 in a University of Chicago Press series about women's writing in the Renaissance called "The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe." The series now appears under the imprint of the University of Toronto Press, which will publish "Convent Life as Inferno" in 2012.From it, you'll be able to read Panizza's translation and to hear Tarabotti's insight. Listen to her a bit now, from her Paternal Tyranny:
After the Lord had created the universe and all the animals - as I have just said - it is written, "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good" (Gn 1:31). He then set about shaping the proudest animal of all; but when He had finished, He did not deem His work perfect and so did not recognize it as good. For this reason, Genesis does not add the same words as before; but foreseeing that without woman man would be the compendium of all imperfections, God said after some thought, "It is not good for man to be alone, let us make him a help like unto himself" (Gn 2:18). Thus He willed to bring forth a companion for man, who would enrich him with merits and be the universal glory of the human race (46).[sources:
As soon as His Majesty said the word "help," He immediately added, "like unto himself," implying that woman is of just as much value as man (50).
If he alone had the grace of free will and was superior to Eve, she would not have sinned at all, despite the serpent's promptings and insinuations, for the simple reason that she could not have made choices without her husband's consent (51).
Eve is deceived by the serpent's cunning, and you place all the blame on her. Adam falls for a charming request, and you excuse him. He knew he was offending God; he was not deceived by cunning, but beseeched by an innocent and sincere creature. Have you ever heard of greater wickedness than shielding yourself against your own faults with another's innocence (52)?
Our ancient mother set us a true example: as soon as she was created, she used her free will given by God; her first act was to gaze upon the tree that would bear the fruit of knowledge. Desire pursued her eye; overcome, she aroused the same desire in Adam. It was his excessive gullibility that deprived the whole human race of the happy state of innocence (109).
Adam alone, not Eve, was commanded not to eat the forbidden fruit - which means that his sin, not hers, brought ruin to the world. [...] and for that reason the apostle Paul says, "Through one man sin entered the world [...] (122)."