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Reviewed by:
  • Sweet Fire: Tullia D'Aragona's Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose, and: Selected Poetry and Prose: A Bilingual Edition
  • Ann Rosalind Jones
Tullia d'Aragona . Sweet Fire: Tullia D'Aragona's Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose. Ed. and trans. Elizabeth Pallitto. New York: George Braziller, 2006. 128 pp. index. bibl.$15.95. ISBN: 978–0–8076–1562–1.
Chiara Matraini . Selected Poetry and Prose: A Bilingual Edition.The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Ed. and trans. Elaine Maclachlan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. xxx + 275 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. $24. ISBN: 978–0226–51085–9.

Both of these editions and translations of sixteenth-century women poets present their poems in a bilingual format, include translations of some of their prose work, and are usefully framed by biographical and interpretive material. A striking difference between Tullia and Matraini, however, lies in what might be called the shared ownership of Tullia's Rime and Matraini's much greater authorial possession of the texts she produced over a fifty-year writing career.

Elizabeth Pallitto's translation of Tullia's Rime (Venice, 1547, 1549, 1560) presents her small poetic oeuvre (thirty-eight poems), mainly sonnets addressed to family members of Duke Cosimo de' Medici and to literary men active in Florentine cultural circles. The identifications of these addressees, a detailed set of [End Page 881] footnotes to the poems, and a carefully researched introduction provide a useful framework. Pallitto's translations are graceful and ingenious: she works out precise or slant rhymes corresponding to Tullia's rhyme schemes, often with admirable faithfulness to the originals. Even in the twelve sonnets by Tullia's male acquaintances, which were paired with her sonnets in the second and third section of the book, Pallitto frequently captures the verse forms.

But she understandably omits a substantial part of the collection as a whole, poems not written by Tullia: the eclogue by Girolamo Muzio that occupies the fourth section of the book and the fifty-five sonnets written by men collected in the fifth. The final impression the Rime makes is that Tullia was considerably outwritten by her interlocutors. Pallitto's concluding translations from four prose passages show the same thing. Three are by Muzio: his dedication to his own eclogue in the Rime, his preface to Tullia's Dialogo de l'infinità di amor, in which he praises his own role in bringing the text into print, and his letter to Antonio Mezzabarba offering him a history and interpretation of his own eclogue. Only the fourth passage was written by Tullia, her preface to her epic, Il Meschino Guerrino. This emphasis on Muzio's authorship is in no way Pallitto's creation; rather, it invites her readers to recognize the degree to which Tullia's visibility depended on cooperation with the male intellectuals in her milieu, whose writing dominates almost two-thirds of her collection. The Rime was a creation of many writers, among whom Tullia was the only woman. Her later, single-authored writings have now been made available in Rinaldina Russell's translation of her dialogue and, more recently, Julia Hairston and John McLucas's translation of her epic, which they entitle The Wretch, Otherwise Known as Guerrino, both in The Other Voice series from The University of Chicago Press. Yet Tullia's lyrics first brought her into view as a consequence of the focus on poetry in anthologies from the late sixteenth century through the eighteenth, and Pallitto's translation is now doing the same for modern readers of English.

Chiara Matraini was a writer of a more familiar kind: the single composer of poems, letters, and meditations all published under her own name. Giovanna Rabitti, who published an Italian edition of Matraini's poems and letters in 1989, introduces (thanks to a translation into English by Natalia Costow-Zalessow) the long history of the poet's career, centered in Lucca, including poems first published in 1555 and substantially revised in 1595 and 1597; letters, first published in 1555 and much expanded in 1595; spiritual meditations, first published in 1581; and, written in her early seventies, a massive set of meditations and sonnets on the Penitential...


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