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Lady linguists
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Other linguists > Lady linguists

A still more attractive topic would be the long line of Lady-Linguists. It is not a little remarkable that, among the sovereigns who have distinguished themselves as linguists, the proportion of queens is very considerable. the three names, Cleopatra, Zenobia, and Christina of Sweden, unquestionably represent a larger aggregate of languages than any three of the king-linguists, if we exclude Mithridates. Nor are the humbler lady-linguists unworthy this companionship. the nun Roswitha, of Gandesheirn, still favourably known by her sacred Latin poetry, was also acquainted with Greek—a rare accomplishment in the tenth century. Tarquinia Molza, grand-daughter of the gifted, but licentious poet of the same name, knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as the ordinary modern languages. Elena Cornaro Piscopia knew Italian, Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and even Arabic Nay, strange as it may seem in modern eyes, the university of Bologna numbers several ladies among the occupants of its pulpits. the beautiful Novella d'Andrea, daughter of the great jurist, Giovanni d'Andrea, professor of law in the University of Bologna in the 15th century, was wont to take her father's place as lecturer on law; observing, however, the precaution of using a veil, lest her beauty should distract the attention of her pupils. Her mother Milancia, scarcely less learned, was habitually consulted by Giovanni on all questions of special difficulty which arose. Laura Bassi held the chair of philosophy in more modern times. Clotilda Tambroni, the last and not the least distinguished of the lady professors of Bologna, has, besides her literary glories, the honour of having suffered in the cause of loyalty and religion. Like her friend and fellow professor, Mezzofanti, she refused, on the occupation of Bologna by the French, to take the oaths of the new government, and was deprived of the professorship of Greek in consequence. the learned ladies of Bologna are not alone among their countrywomen. the celebrated Dominican nun, Cassandra Fedele of Venice; Alessandra Scala of Florence ; and Olympia Fulvia Morata of Ferrara, are all equally distinguished as proficients in at least two learned languages, Latin and Greek. Mar-gherita Gaetana Agnesi, of Milan, was familiar with Latin at nine years of age; and, while still extremely young, mastered Greek and Hebrew, together with French, Spanish, and German. In the very meridian of her fame, nevertheless, she renounced the brilliant career which lay open to her, in order to devote herself to God as a Sister of Charity. another lair Italian, Modesta Pozzo, born at Venice in 1555, deserves to be mentioned, although she is better known for her extraordinary powers of memory, than her skill in languages. She was able to repeat the longest sermon after hearing it but once. Nor are we without examples, although perhaps not so numerous, in other countries. Many Spanish and Portuguese ladies learned in languages, are enumerated by Nicholas de. Antonio.§ Dona Anna de Villegas, and D. Cecilia di Arellano, besides being excellent Latinists, were mistresses of French, Italian, and Portuguese. To those languages Cecilia de Morellas added Greek as one of her accomplishments, and D. Juliana de Morell, a nun of the Dominican order in the middle of the seventeenth century, in addition to those languages, was not only a learned Hebraist, but an acute and skilful disputant in the philosophy of the schools. the accomplished Anna Maria Schurmann, of whom Cologne is still justly proud, in addition to her numerous gifts in painting, sculpture, music, and poetry, was mistress of eight languages, among which were Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Ethiopic. the brilliant, but eccentric Russian Princess Dashkoff, holds a still more prominent place in the world of letters. the early friend and confidant of the Empress Catherine, and (with a few alternations of disfavour,) the sharer of most of the literary projects of that extraordinary woman, the Princess Dashkoff had the (for a lady rare) honour of holding the place of President of the Russian Academy. When the Dictionary of the Academy was projected, she actually undertook, in her own person, three letters of the work, together with the general superintendence of the entire ! the princess was not unfamiliar with the learned languages, some of which she not only spoke but wrote : but her chief attainments were in those of modern Europe. Her autobiographical Memoirs appear to have been written in French ; and the English letters embodied in the work prove her to have possessed a thorough knowledge of that language also. Some of our own countrywomen, if less showy, may perhaps advance a more solid title to distinction. the beauti- ful Mrs. Carter, translator of Epictetus, well deserves to be mentioned; and the amiable and singularly gifted Elizabeth Smith, is a not unmeet consort for the most eminent linguists of any age. " With scarcely any assistance," writes her biographer, Mrs. Bowdler, to Dr. Mummsen, " she taught herself the French, Italian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, and Hebrew languages. She had no inconsiderable knowledge of Arabic and Persian." Her translation of the Book of Job is a permanent evidence that her knowledge of Hebrew was of no ordinary kind. Even the New World has supplied some names to this interesting catalogue. the Mexican poetess, Juana Inez de la Cruz, better known as the " Nun of Mexico," (1651-95), a marvel of precocious knowledge, learned Latin in twenty lessons, when a mere girl; and quickly became such a proficient as to speak it with ease and fluency. Her acquisitions in general learning were most various and extensive; and when on one occasion, in her seventeenth year, forty learned men of Mexico were invited to dispute with her, she proved a match for each in his own particular department. AH those accomplishments, notwithstanding, she had the humility to bury in the obscurity of a convent in Mexico, where she silently devoted herself for twenty-seven years to literature and religion. She died in 1695, leaving behind many works still regarded as classics in the language, which fill no less than three 4 to. volumes, and have passed through twelve successive editions in Spain. All, with the exception of two, are on sacred subjects.

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