Maybe I should be upset at the good folks at the fine New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, one of
the great on-line reference works. They have listed the Italian poet (dare I say "poetess"?) Vittoria
Colonna as Vittorio Colonna. Vittori-O is a man's name. Vittori-A is the feminine form--you
know, the weaker vessel. If it's just a typo,ok, get Attila the Nun to slap the proof-reader across
the knuckles with a ruler. Or--this is perhaps a bit too clever--maybe it's sneaky obeisance to
Michelangelo's poem to Vittoria that starts,
Un uomo in una donna, anzi uno dio,
in which the Renaissance master says that Vittoria is not only as good as a man, but as good even as
a god. Heady praise, indeed, coming from the man.
In any event, Victoria (in English) Colonna was born in 1492 and died in 1547. In the meantime,
she made the friendship of Michelangelo, Ariosto, Sannazzaro, Aretino, and others, composing
along the way a body of poetry that would one day have her hailed as the "first great woman poet in
the Italian language."
Also along the way, she married Ferrante Francesco d'Avalos in 1509, Marquis of Pescara, a
Neapolitan nobleman of Spanish origin, who was one of the chief generals of Emperor Charles V.
Vittoria and Ferrante were married in the fine Aragonese castle on the island of Ischia in the Bay of
Naples (second photo, right) and lived there for a number of years.
Ferrante was one of Charles V's generals at the great battle of Pavia in 1525, the climax of decades
of war between France and the Holy Roman Empire for control of the Italian peninsula. The battle
proved to be the last stand for knights in shining armor, as the French knights were annihilated by
the new harquebus design of hand-held firearm used by Imperial forces. During the battle 3000
harquebusiers killed over 8000 French armored cavalrymen.
Ferrante was then involved in an anti-imperial conspiracy that might have wrested the Spanish
vicerealm of Naples away from Spain and put himself on the throne of Naples with Vittoria as his
queen. We'll never know, since (1) he died from the wounds incurred at Pavia, and (2) he is said to
given up the idea because his Vittoria told him that she would rather be the wife of an upright
general than the consort of a king who had backstabbed his way to the throne.
After Ferrante's death, Vittoria went into religious seclusion and wrote poetry to her dead husband.
English translations of much of her poetry are available. Here is one prose translation by George R.
Kay. It is in his Penguin Book of Italian Verse
(Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1958):
Vivo su questo scoglio orrido e solo,
quasi dolente augel che 'l verde ramo
e l'acqua pura abborre; e a quelli ch'amo
nel mondo ed a me stessa ancor m'involo,
perchŤ espedito al sol che adoro e colo
vada il pensiero. E sebben quanto bramo
l'ali non spiega, pur quando io 'l richiamo
volge dall'altre strade a questa il volo.
"I live upon this fearful, lonely rock, like a sorrowing bird that shuns green branch and clear water;
and I take myself away from those I love in this world and from my very self, so that my thoughts
may go speedily to him, the sun I adore and worship. And although they do not try their wings as
much as I wish, yet when I call them back, they turn their flight from other paths to this one."
The same people (the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia) that called her "Vittori-O" says that she
was "undoubtedly greater as a personality than as a poet". I disagree. They can't even get her name
Quite recently, an unknown booklet of lyric poetry by Vittoria was found at the Vatican. The
booklet includes 109 compositions. The discovery was made by researcher Fabio Carboni, who
describes the finding in an essay published in ''Aevum'', the review of the historical, linguistic and
philological sciences of the Humanities Department of the Catholic University of Milan.