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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

first woman to receive Doctor of Philosophy ~ this day, 341 years ago !!


All great philosophies and philosophers of the world have been those who made man premier of their teachings. The first entity that man encounters in this boundless universe is his own self. Centuries before, Socrates, who was influenced by Sophism,  asserted that the real subject of man’s knowledge is the man himself. Out of copious philosophers who emerged in ensuing phases some assumed prominence in comparison to others.

Philosophy (from Greek  philosophia, literally "love of wisdom") is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it?  What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions.     Historically, "philosophy" encompassed any body of knowledge
"The School of Athens" by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.jpg ~ Wikipedia commons

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, Ph.D., or DPhil; Latin philosophiae doctor or doctor philosophiae) is the highest university degree that is conferred after a course of study by universities in most English-speaking countries. PhDs are awarded for programs across the whole breadth of academic fields.  The completion of a PhD is often a requirement for employment as a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields.  Individuals who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree may, in many jurisdictions, use the title Doctor (often abbreviated "Dr" or "Dr.") .. .. this post is on a woman, the first person to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia or Elena Lucrezia Corner (1646 – 1684) was a Venetian philosopher of noble descent who in 1678 became one of the first women to receive an academic degree from a university, and the first to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.  Elena was born in the Palazzo Loredan, at Venice, Republic of Venice, as 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. In Christian monasticism, an oblate is a person who is specifically dedicated to God or to God's service.

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. ] 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.   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[d] in theology.[10] 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, [this day 341 years ago !]  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. 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. On 5 June 2019, Google celebrated her 373rd birthday with a Google Doodle.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
25th June 2019.

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