“Not satisfied with excelling in such a splendid art, inspired by the sacred Muses, she rejected the distaff and turned her hands, skilled in the use of the quill, to writing Heliconian verses… With her genius and labor she rose above her sex, and with her splendid work she acquired a perpetual fame.”
Cornificia was born into a family of wealth, status and talent.
Her brother, Cornificius was both a praetor and an augur for the Roman Republic, as well as a poet. This upbringing likely afforded Cornificia a good education which inspired her own love of poetry.
Unfortunately, as happens too often, Cornificia’s work has all been lost. Her work is described as ‘distinguished’ by St Jerome in the 4th Century CE, inferring that the poet’s work did survive and was read for four hundred years after her death.
Cornificia and her brother were immortalised by a monument in Rome which still stands today. She was also praised by early feminist renaissance writer Laura Cereta who passionately wrote:
“Add also Cornificia, the sister of the poet Cornificius, whose devotion to literature bore such a fruit that she was said to have been nurtured on the milk of the Castalian Muses and who wrote epigrams in which every phrase was graced with Heliconian flowers.”
The opening quote of this post is from Giovanni Boccaccio’s On Famous Women (De mulieribus claris)
A praetor was a magistrate and/or military commander, while an augur was a priest whose task was to ‘take the auspices’, interpreting the will of the gods by studying the activities of birds.
Famous Women – Giovanni Boccaccio, Virginia Brown