A speziala at the Tre Stelle apothecary in Padua, Camilla Erculiani circulated her unorthodox views on topics ranging from the biblical flood to astrology and meteorology in her Lettere di philosophia naturale (Letters on Natural Philosophy, 1584). A slim collection of four letters touching on various problems of natural philosophy – the causes for the universal deluge, the composition of rainbows, the influence of the stars and planets on human temperament and action – Erculiani’s volume positions itself explicitly within the Renaissance querelle des femmes, the debate over women’s intellect and social role that raged throughout early modern Europe. Erculiani explains that her goal is to demonstrate that women are as capable in the sciences as men; while, listing famous women from ancient and modern times who were learned in the sciences, she issues this call to arms:
For Erculiani, women’s performance in the scientific disciplines takes center stage as proof of their equality to men.
Erculiani elected to publish her Letters not in Italy (where the volume was nonetheless the subject of Inquisition scrutiny), but in Poland – a country known for its official policy of religious tolerance. Her example reflects the complexity of early modern networks of scientific knowledge, which often transcended boundaries of both geography and gender and connected men and women with one another not just throughout Italy but well into Eastern Europe.