Friday June 25, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Elena Cornaro Piscopia PHD

On this Day:

In 1678, Venetian Elena Cornaro Piscopia was awarded a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Padua, becoming the first woman to receive a university doctoral degree or PhD.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia was born in the Palazzo Loredan, at Venice, Republic of Venice on 5 June 1646. She was the third child of Gianbattista Cornaro-Piscopia and his mistress Zanetta Boni. Her mother was a peasant and her parents were not married at the time of her birth. Lady Elena was therefore not technically a member of the Cornaro family by birth, as Venetian law barred illegitimate children of nobles from noble privilege, even if recognized by the noble parent. Worse for Zanetta’s case, she was from an extremely poor peasant family. Zanetta had likely fled to Venice in order to escape starvation, and soon found herself the mistress of a member of one of the most powerful noble dynasties in the Republic. Gianbattista and Zanetta married officially in 1654, but their children were barred from noble privilege, which galled him.

In 1664, her father was chosen to become the Procuratore di San Marco de supra, the treasurer of St. Mark’s Cathedral, a coveted position among Venetian nobility. At that point, Gianbattista was second only to the Doge of Venice in terms of precedence. Because of this connection, Lady Elena was prominent in the Marriage of the Sea celebration, even though she was born illegitimate. Her father tried to arrange betrothals for her several times, but she rebuffed each man’s advances. Early biographers’ suggestion that she took a vow of chastity at age 11 are disputed by Francesco Ludovico Maschietto.

In 1665 she took the habit of a Benedictine oblate without, however, becoming a nun.

As a young girl, Lady Elena was seen as a prodigy. By the advice from Giovanni Fabris, a priest who was a friend of the family, she began a classical education. She studied Latin and Greek under distinguished instructors, and became proficient in these languages, as well as French and Spanish, by the age of seven. She also mastered Hebrew and Arabic, earning the title of Oraculum Septilingue (“Seven-language Oracle”). Her later studies included mathematics, philosophy and theology.

Elena came to be an expert musician, mastering the harpsichord, the clavichord, the harp and the violin. Her skills were shown by the music that she composed in her lifetime. In her late teens and early twenties she became interested in physics, astronomy and linguistics. Carlo Rinaldini, her tutor in philosophy, and at that point the Chairman of Philosophy at the University of Padua, published a book in 1668 written in Latin and centering on geometry. The book was dedicated to a twenty-two year old Elena. After the death of her main tutor, Fabris, she became even closer to Rinaldini, who took over her studies.

In 1669, she translated the Colloquy of Christ by Carthusian monk Lanspergius from Spanish into Italian. The translation was dedicated to Gian Paolo Oliva, her close friend and confessor. The volume was issued in five editions in the Republic from 1669 to 1672. She was invited to be a part of many scholarly societies when her fame spread and in 1670 she became president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici.

Upon the recommendation of Carlo Rinaldini, her tutor in philosophy, Felice Rotondi petitioned the University of Padua to grant Cornaro the laurea in theology. When Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo, the bishop of Padua, learned that she was pursuing a degree in theology, he refused on the grounds that she was a woman. However, he did allow for her to get a degree in philosophy and after a brilliant course of study she received the laurea in Philosophy. The degree was conferred on 25 June 1678, in Padua Cathedral in the presence of the University authorities, the professors of all the faculties, the students, and most of the Venetian Senators, together with many invited guests from the Universities of Bologna, Perugia, Rome and Naples. Lady Elena spoke for an hour in Classical Latin, explaining difficult passages selected at random from the works of Aristotle: one from the Posterior Analytics and the other from the Physics. She was listened to with great attention and when she had finished, she received plaudits as Professor Rinaldini proceeded to award her the insignia of the laurea: a book of philosophy, a laurel wreath on her head, a ring on her finger, and over her shoulders an ermine mozzetta. She was proclaimed Magistra et Doctrix Philosophiae [“teacher and doctor in philosophy”], thus becoming one of the first women to receive an academic degree from a university, and the first to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

The last seven years of her life were devoted to study and charity. She died in Padua in 1684 of tuberculosis and was buried in the church of Santa Giustina.

A few months after Elena’s conferral, Charles [Carlo] Patin, lecturer in medicine at Padua, applied for his daughter Gabrielle-Charlotte [Carla Gabriella] Patin to begin a degree. The university, supported by Gianbattista Cornaro-Piscopia, changed its statutes to prohibit women from graduation. The next female doctorate was granted by the University of Bologna in 1732 to Laura Bassi.

Cornaro’s death was marked by memorial services in Venice, Padua, Siena and Rome. The Accademia degli Infecondi published two memorial volumes of tributes by members: one to mark her degree, and the other her death. Padua’s Accademia dei Ricovrati also produced a volume at her death. Her statue was placed in the University of Padua, which caused a medal to be struck in her honour in 1685.

In 1895 Abbess Mathilda Pynsent of the English Benedictine Nuns in Rome had Cornaro’s tomb opened, the remains placed in a new casket, and a suitable tablet inscribed to her memory. Her graduation ceremony is depicted in the Cornaro Window, installed in 1906 in the West Wing of the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College. At the suggestion of Ruth Crawford Mitchell, Cornaro is depicted in Giovanni Romagnoli’s 1949 mural in the Italian Nationality Room at the University of Pittsburgh. On 5 June 2019, Google celebrated her 373rd birthday with a Google Doodle (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A lady just completed her PhD studying torque. I guess that makes her a spin doctor.

Second, a Song:

Brad Douglas Paisley (born October 28, 1972) is an American country music singer and songwriter. Starting with his 1999 debut album Who Needs Pictures, he has released eleven studio albums and a Christmas compilation on the Arista Nashville label, with all of his albums certified Gold or higher by the RIAA. He has scored 32 Top 10 singles on the US Billboard Country Airplay chart, 19 of which have reached number 1. He set a new record in 2009 for the most consecutive singles (10) reaching the top spot on that chart.

Paisley has sold over 11 million albums and has won three Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 Country Music Association Awards, and two American Music Awards. He has also earned country music’s crowning achievement, becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Paisley also wrote songs for Pixar’s Cars franchise (“Behind the Clouds”, “Find Yourself”, “Collision of Worlds” (along with Robbie Williams), “Nobody’s Fool”, etc.).

Paisley released his book Diary of a Player: How My Musical Heroes Made a Guitar Man Out of Me in 2011 under Howard Books Publishing. He co-wrote the book with author David Wild, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine and an Emmy nominated TV writer and producer. The book is an autobiography and talks about Paisley’s introduction to the music industry and how the events in his life helped to prepare him for what was up ahead. The book features topics such as the first guitar that his grandfather gave him, his first band the C-notes, the first song he wrote, and many more music/guitar related topics. Although the book does speak briefly of his personal life, the main focus is on his music and the start of his career.

“Two People Fell in Love” is a song co-written and recorded by American country music artist Brad Paisley written about Richard Harper and Kayleigh Harper. It was released in March 2001 as the first single from Paisley’s album Part II and reached a peak of number 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs in mid-2001. The song was written by Paisley, Kelley Lovelace and Tim Owens.

According to Paisley, this song “is about the fact that you can trace everything back to two people’s romance. The reason you’re here, the reason I’m here is our parents saw something in one another, fell in love and we’re the product. It goes back to everybody that’s ever been born. It’s like a snapshot of real life that’s set in motion because you see it happening. You hear these stories throughout the song there’s three different scenarios about people that fell in love and changed their little part of the world by doing so.” (per Wikipedia).

Here is Brad Paisley in a live performance of “Two People Fell in Love”. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” – Plato

Further to the Freemasonry Smile, Frank Fowlie of Richmond, BC, Canada writes:

“Great post today on a subject dear to my heart.  Now all we need to do is get you to join Lodge!

Best regards,

Dr. Frank Fowlie”

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

Smile of the Day June 25, 2021

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