Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Juliana Morell, Yet Another "Tenth Muse"

Juliana Morell (27 August 1637)

First, an explanation. In trying to work in all the women I'd like to write about this year, I have to do a bit of juggling. 

We actually do have dates for Juliana Morell, a Spanish Dominican nun, writer, and student of the law. Morell was born on 16 February 1594 and died on 26 June 1653, but I've already used those dates to write about two other women--27 August 1637 is actually the date of the death of the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. Why write about Juliana Morell today, then? 

Well, Lope de Vega offers a series of praises to Morell in his poem "El laurel de Apollo" (1630), a purported account of a festival celebrated by Apollo in honor of contemporary poets. In the lines dedicated to Morell, she is described as "the tenth Muse" (Where have we heard that before? Click the label, below, and you'll see where). Lope de Vega adds that Morell publicly lectured on  "all the sciences" (todas las ciencias) in "cathedrals and schools," while noting that, in light of Morell's achievements, even Cassandra and Marcella "lose their fame."

Born in Barcelona, Juliana Morell belonged to a converso family, her father a Catalan banker. After her mother's death, when Juliana was just two or three years old, she was educated by the Dominicans, though sources vary as to whether they were Dominican nuns or Dominican monks. In any case, she learned so much so quickly that these Dominicans said there was no more they could teach her. 

Her education seems to have been continued in her home--where, beginning at the age of four, she was tutored in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. When Juliana was seven, her father fled to Lyon, taking the young prodigy with him. (He was accused of murder.) 

There she continued her education, adding rhetoric, ethics, mathematics, astronomy, physics, music, and law to her studies. By the age of twelve, in 1606 or 1607, she wrote and defended in public her theses on ethics and morality, dedicated to Margaret of Austria, queen of Spain (wife of Philip III).

Morell continued her studies in Avignon, applying herself especially to the study of civil and canon law. She was awarded a degree of doctor summa cum laude in 1608 after publicly defending her law theses at the papal palace of the vice-legate in Avignon. 

Morell entered the Dominican convent of San Práxedes Avignon in the same year, taking her final vows on 20 June 1610. Three years later, she became prioress of the convent, a responsibility she fulfilled until her death on 26 June 1653.

While a nun, Morell published several works, including a translation from Latin into French of the Spanish Dominican friar Vincent Ferrer's Vita spiritualis (Spiritual Life, 1617), and a French translation of the Rule of St. Augustine (published posthumously in 1680). She also wrote Exercices spirituels sur l'éternité et une petite exercice préparatoire pour la sainte profession (Spiritual Exercises for Eternity and a Small Preparatory Exercise for the Holy Profession, 1637), a history of the convent of San Práxedes Avignon, and Latin and French poetry. 

There's a good biographical essay here, from El Diccionari Biogràfic de Dones, focusing on "la contribució de les dones a l'esdevenir de la història dels territoris de parla catalana" ("the contribution of women throughout the evolution of the history of Catalan-speaking territories"). 

Update, 27 August 2023: I've had some trouble with the El Diccionari Biogràfic de Dones link--if it doesn't lead you directly to the entry for Morell, click the second link ("focusing on," here), type "Juliana Morell" into the search, and you'll find it.)