Fedele, Cassandra

   Venetian author and one of the relatively few Renaissance women who were able to obtain a thorough humanistic education. Her father, Angelo, introduced her to Latin grammar and study of the Roman orators. He regarded her as a child prodigy and arranged for her to be tutored in Greek, philosophy, natural science, and logic. As a young woman she delivered public speeches to the University of Padua, the Venetian Senate, and the doge, and when she was only 22, her first book was printed, a collection of four letters with one of her orations (1487). As a woman, Fedele could not participate fully in the intellectual and academic life of her time, but she became a great letter-writer, corresponding on intellectual matters with humanist scholars at Padua and other places in Italy, including the chancellor of Florence, Bartolomeo Scala, and his daughter Alessandra. One of the most distinguished Florentine humanists of the late 15th century, Angelo Poliziano, described Fedele as second only to his friend Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in learning, and perhaps even his equal. Yet this high praise also underlines her uniqueness and implies that few women could ever be suited for study at such a high level. Fedele also corresponded with Italian and other European rulers. Her correspondence with Queen Isabella of Spain raised the possibility that Fedele might receive an academic appointment in Spain, but the Venetian Senate forbade her to emigrate. She married in 1498 and after the premature death of her husband in 1520 was left an impoverished and childless widow. For several decades both her city and the popes from whom she sought assistance ignored her. Eventually, when she was 82 years old, Pope Paul III interceded with the Venetian government, which appointed her prioress of an orphanage associated with a local church, and she lived the rest of her life there. In 1556, now remarkable for her great age as well as her erudition, she delivered a public oration welcoming the queen of Poland to Venice. This was her last public appearance. In addition to the small book she published in 1487, she left a collection of letters and orations which was posthumously published in 1636. Although she became the most famous learned woman of her time, she accepted the conventional belief that women are naturally inferior to men.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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