The history of Italy is traceable all the way back to the 9th century B.C., when it was divisible, linguistically, into Oscans, Umbrians and Latins. With the emergence of Rome as a powerful city state in 350 B.C., Latin culture dominated. The Roman culture dominated over Western Europe for centuries and made immense contributions in almost all walks of life. Its contribution to the development of Western philosophy, arts and science was invaluable. The Roman influence continued up to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy was divided into many small city states. A few of these city states were connected to Austria, Spain and Napoleon’s Empire, but the Vatican remained in control of Rome. Italy was reunited in the late 19th century. Many famous Italians have set incomparable examples in the fields of arts and science.
1. Elena Cornaro Piscopia
Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia was born to Giovanni Battista Cornaro Piscopia and his wife, Zanetta Boni, in Venice on June 5, 1646. She died of tuberculosis at Padua in 1684. She was the first woman in the world to receive a degree from Padua University in 1678. She started learning Latin and Greek languages under the guidance of the era’s great scholars, at the age of 7. Later on, she mastered Hebrew, French, Spanish and Arabic languages and earned the title of ‘Oracular Septilingue.’ Her higher studies included mathematics, philosophy and theology. The degree of Doctorate in Philosophy was conferred upon her on June 25, 1678, in the Cathedral of Padua, in the presence of Padua University authorities and the city’s prominent persons. The conferring ceremony was very impressive: A wreath of laurels was placed upon her head and a ring on her finger. The scene was preserved through a painting in Thomson Memorial Library of Vassar College.
2. Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci was born in Venice, Italy, on April 15, 1452, and died in Amboise, France, on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67. Internationally, he is one of the most famous people in the diverse fields of arts and science; he is known as a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, writer and botanist. No other individual had ever been so known as da Vinci for mastery in so many fields, simultaneously. Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the best all-time painters. He is best known for his masterpieces The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and The Vitruvian Man. According to art historian Helen Gardner, ‘His mind and personality seem to us superhuman ‘¦ .’
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, commonly known as Michelangelo, was born in Capress, Florence, Italy, on March 6, 1475, and died in Rome, Papal States and Italy, on February 8, 1564, at the ripe age of 88. In the fields of sculpture, painting and poetry, he rivaled Leonardo da Vinci. He is best known for the creation of his master works: David and The Creation of Adam. He sculpted his master sculptures before he turned 30 years old. His Fresco, depicting scenes from The Book of Genesis on the ceiling ” and The Last Judgment on the altar walls ” of the Sistine Chapel are unparalleled in the history of Western Art.
4. Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri, commonly known as Dante, was born around mid-June 1265 in Florence, Italy, and died in Ravenna on September 14, 1321, at about 56 years old. He was a famous Italian poet, prose writer, political thinker and philosopher. He is best known for his epic poem, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), which is regarded as a masterpiece of world literature. Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio and Francesco Petrarca (known as Petrarch) are known as the Three Fountains, and Dante, among them, is known as ‘Il Somo Poeta’ (The Supreme Poet). His most famous works include The Divine Comedy, which describes Dante’s Journey through the three realms of the dead: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Inferno (Hell) and Purgatorio (purgatory) were written under the influence of Publius Vergilius Maro (known as Virgil) and Paradiso (Paradise) with Beatrice de Folco Portinari (Dante’s muse). Vita Nova is also one of his famous works. Dante was exiled many times and died in Ravenna, far from the place which he dearly loved. In 1829, a memorial was built in his honor in Florence in the basilica of Santa Croce.
5. Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was born in Certaldo, Italy, in 1313 and died in Certaldo, Italy, on December 21, 1375, at the age of 62. He was a renowned Italian poet, author, Renaissance humanist and a friend of Petrarch. He is best known for his great works: Decameron, On Famous Women and Poetry, in Italian Vernacular. His Dialogue is seen as surpassing all the contemporary works. In 1930, he fell in love with the married daughter of Robert the Wise, King Robert of Naples. Inspired by her, he created the eternal character of ‘Fiammetta’ in his prose romances, particularly in Il Filocolo. His notable works include Filostrato, Tesedia (the source for Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde), The Knight’s Tale, Filoco, La Caccia di Diana and Interza rima.
6. Guglielmo Marconi
Guglielmo Marconi, commonly known as Marconi, was born in Palazzo, Marescalchi, and Bologna, Italy, on April 25, 1874, and died in Rome, Italy, on July 20, 1937, when he was 63 years old. Marconi exploited the ideas of others, such as Hertz, Maxwell, Faraday, Popoy, Lodghe, Fessenden, Stone and Telsa. The fact that he was result-oriented and continued working toward his goal helped him to finally succeed in commercializing radio transmission. Therefore, he is credited as the inventor of radio. He shared, with Karl Ferdinand Braun, the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics ‘in recognition of their contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy’.
Maria Montessori was born in Chiravalle, Ancona, Italy, on August 31, 1870, and died in Noordwijk, Netherlands, on May 6, 1952, at the age of 81. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator, best known for her philosophy of education, which is synonymous with her last name. The Montessori educational philosophy places emphasis on the independent and psychological development of a child through mixed-age classrooms for children 3 to 6 years old; a student’s choice of activity; continuous work time and a discovery model, working with educational (and everyday) materials, instead of just through instruction. She was educated at Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti, Regio Insituto Technico Leonardo da Vinci, and earned her ‘diploma di licenza’ in 1892 from the University of Rome. In 1897, she graduated from the University of Rome as a Doctor of Medicine. Her thesis was published in the Journal Policlinico in 1897.
8. Luca Bartolomeo
Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli, sometimes known as Paciolo, was born in Sansepolcro, Tuscany, Italy, in 1447, and died in Sansepolcro in 1517, at the age of about 70. He was an Italian Mathematician, Franciscan Friar and collaborator of Leonardo da Vinci. His first book, Summa de arithmatica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita, was published in Venice in 1497. He met Leonardo da Vinci in Venice, where they lived and collaborated together. Paciolo and Leonardo were forced to flee to Milan, from Venice, when Louis XII of France captured the city in 1509 and expelled their patron.
9. Amedeo Carlo Avogadro
Amedeo Carlo Avogadro, commonly known as Avogadro, was born in Turnin, Italy, in 1776, as Lorenzo Romano Amedeo Carlo Avogadro di Quaregna e di Cerreto. He died in Turin, Italy, on July 9, 1856, at the age of 79. Amedeo Carlo Avogadro is known as the founder of the Atomic Molecular Theory, including the Avogadro’s Law, which states that, ‘at the same temperature and pressure, equal volumes of all gases contain the same number of molecules, hence the molar volume of all gases at 0 centigrade and at 1 atmospheric pressure is 22.4 Liters’.
10. Grazia Deledda
Grazia Deledda was born in Nuoro, Italy, on September 27, 1871, and died in Rome, Italy, in August of 1936, at the age of 64. She published Elias Portulu in 1903, which brought her success as a writer. Her most popular works in Italy are: L’incendio nell’oliveto and Il Dio dei Venti. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1926, for her most inspiring work. Places, people, environment and feelings are strongly connected in her novels as depicted in native Sardinia.
Italy had been home to one of the most influential civilizations: the Roman Empire. Italian men and women of high renown, from all fields of arts and science, have rendered unforgettable services to humanity and have left indelible imprints of their great works on the pages of history.