Moderata Fonte Chapter uri icon



  • Moderata Fonte was the pseudonym of Modesta Pozzo (b. 1555–d. 1592), a gifted poet and proto-feminist who championed equal access to education for women. Her pen name (Moderate Fountain or Spring) suggests flowing water, an image often associated with eloquence, and it functions as a clever recasting of the still, unassuming waters suggested by her given name (Modest Well). Celebrated by her contemporaries for her poetic skill, today Fonte stands alongside other Venetian women writers, including Veronica Franco, Lucrezia Marinella, and Arcangela Tarabotti, as a seminal voice of European feminism. (See the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles in Renaissance and Reformation “Lucrezia Marinella” and “Arcangela Tarabotti.”) Orphaned at a young age, Fonte received her earliest education at the Venetian convent of Santa Marta and then through her maternal grandmother’s second husband, Prospero Saraceni, who granted her access to books and encouraged her literary endeavors. Sometime after 1576, Fonte joined the household of her step-grandfather’s daughter Saracena Saraceni and her husband Niccolò Doglioni, an active member in Venetian literary circles who promoted Fonte’s career. In 1581, Fonte published I Tredici canti di Floridoro (The Thirteen Cantos of Floridoro), a chivalric romance in the Ariostan tradition. Projected to be fifty cantos but never finished, Fonte’s poem foregrounds the actions and adventures of the female protagonists, whose depictions challenge both literary and gender norms. The same year her banquet play, Le feste (The Feast Days), was published and performed before the Doge Niccolò da Ponte, testifying to her status in Venice’s literary culture. Fonte’s most productive literary period coincided with the years she spent in Doglioni’s household before marrying the lawyer Filippo Zorzi in 1583, though she continued to write and publish throughout her life, including two religious poems, La passione di Christo (The passion of Christ) (1582) and La resurrettione di Giesu Christo nostro Signore (The resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord) (1592). Today, Fonte is best known as the author of the witty dialogue Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women), which she completed in 1592 shortly before dying from complications of the birth of her fourth child. The controversy sparked by Giuseppe Passi’s virulently misogynist treatise I difetti donneschi (The defects of women) (1599) provided Doglioni and Fonte’s children the perfect opportunity to publish her dialogue in 1600, which features seven women engaged in a dialogic game in which one group denounces all the vices and evil of men, while the other side seeks to defend them. During the second day of the dialogue, the discussion broadens to cover a vast array of subjects, as the women instruct each other in topics typically excluded from female education. Since the 1980s, interest in Fonte’s life and writings on the part of artists and scholars of literature, history, and philosophy has grown.

publication date

  • February 27, 2019

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  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • January 19, 2020 7:37 AM

Full Author List

  • Magnanini S

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  • 1

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