Giuseppa Barbapiccola

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Portrait of Giuseppa Barbapiccola, engraved by Neapolitan artist Francesco De Grado

Giuseppa Eleonora Barbapiccola (1702 – ca 1740) was an Italian natural philosopher, poet and translator. She is best known for her translation of René Descartes' Principles of Philosophy to Italian in 1722.[1]

She was a member of the Accademia degli Arcadi in Bologna under the name Myristic. She often published her poems in collaboration with her friend, the poet Luisa Vico. In her translation of Principles of Philosophy, Barbapiccola claimed that women, in contrast to the belief of her contemporaries, were not intellectually inferior out of nature, but because of their lack of education. Neapolitan scholars credited Barbapiccola as the individual who brought Cartesian thought to Italy.


Barbapiccola's history is unclear, but few facts seem to be known about her. She was probably born in Naples, and her family seemed to have originally come from Salerno. Her uncle was Tommaso Maria Alfani, an acclaimed Dominican preacher in Naples. Alfani was a correspondent of Giambattista Vico, the prominent figure whom Barbapiccola obtained much of her knowledge from. Although nothing is known of her parents, it is arguable that her uncle influenced her upbringing in education and learning.[2]


There is no known information on Barbapiccola’s formal education. However, it is suggested that much of her knowledge accumulated by means of conversations in Neapolitan salons.[3] In particular, it was most likely in the home of Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico where she obtained most of her knowledge, as Vico was the father of her close friend, Luisa[4]

Role for women and education[edit]

But then if one looks carefully and clearly, women should not be excluded from the study of the sciences, since their spirits are more elevated and "they are not inferior to men in terms of the greatest virtues."

Giuseppa Barbapiccola, in her preface to her translation of Principles of Philosophy

As a female translator in science, she was a large proponent of educating women of her time. Her goal for translating Principles of Philosophy was not merely to allow Italians to learn about this new Cartesian philosophy, but mainly for women to educate and empower themselves. In her preface, entitled “The Translator to the Reader,” Barbapiccola advocated her ideas and included a history of women's learning, a history of philosophy, and an autobiography, all while defending the right for women's learning. Demonstrating that Descartes created a philosophy that praised the female intellect, she utilized her understanding of Cartesian thought to hopefully persuade women to educate themselves.[5]

Barbapiccola had always been a central proponent and advocate for women's education. It was her argument that women's inherent nature, being the weaker sex, was not the cause of women's ignorance. She asserted that women were receiving either no education or bad education, and because of this, women of her time were ultimately ignorant and uneducated.[6] It was her claim that women always had the ability and the capacity to learn, and it was not until the emergence of Cartesian thought that she had the necessary tools to affirm her ideas.


  1. ^ Oglive, M.B. (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92040-X. 
  2. ^ Agnesi, Maria Gaetana (2005). The Contest for Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-226-01055-4. 
  3. ^ Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey (1986). Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 35. ISBN 0-262-15031-X. 
  4. ^ Kersey, Ethel M. (1989). Women Philosophers: A Bio-Critical Source Book. Greenwood Press. p. 53. ISBN 0-313-25720-5. 
  5. ^ Agnesi, Maria Gaetana (2005). The Contest for Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 37. ISBN 0-226-01055-4. 
  6. ^ Agnesi, Maria Gaetana (2005). The Contest for Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 44. ISBN 0-226-01055-4.