This dissertation proposes an alternate to history of modern curiosity in relation to the faculty of the imagination. I argue that in the process of rescuing curiosity from the condemnation of Augustinian theology, and legitimizing it as the driving force of modern intellectual endeavors, its traditional link to the domain of imagination and its associations with (female) passion have been violently severed. Curiosity is thus figured in the works of Hans Blumenberg, and other revisionist interpreters of modernity, as belonging to the purely dispassionate and un-gendered intellect of a normative male epistemology. However, if the Humanist movement opens the door for the seventeenth century empiricist revaluation of curiosity, the first chapter shows that it also grounds curiositas in the faculty of the imagination, following the authority of Apuleius and Augustine. In the works of Petrarch and Politian, imaginative curiosity is presented as having an intrinsic connection to narrative, and an historical character, which is both theoretical and practical as well as being necessarily tendered feminine. I show that the privileged signifier for curiositas is the figure of lamia, the wonder-woman who is both the subject and the object of wonder.
Chapter II focuses on Machiavelli's Asino and its suggestion for a modern model of curiosity that asserts the primacy of an Apuleian aesthetic to legitimate both the lamia's and the author's political transgressions. Through intertextual play with Dante's Comedy, Machiavelli posits the necessary relationship between curiosity and wonder in light of the essential historical nature of the human experience that resists modernity's secularization in the form of a sovereign transcendental subject of thought and power. Thus, in Circe's nuova terra, Machiavelli can bitterly criticize the Medici and advance an alternative model of politics centered around the discourse/intercourse between the explorer and the wonder-woman.
Machiavelli's re-writing of the figure of Ulysses in connection with the travel to a new world becomes a veritable trope in the Cinquecento as curiosity becomes increasingly influenced by the voyages of discovery. If Ulysses becomes the symbol of curiosity of the modern subject, the changes in his relationship to Circe are the most striking parallel figure of the shifting and equivocal status of curiositas. In Strega, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola traces the last metamorphosis of the humanist wondering, the lamia, as the inquisition of the witch in order to attempt to create an intellectual curiosity capable of mastering the imagination; thus suggesting the natural continuity of the word inquisition as an institution of repression, both political and epistemological. The legitimation of curiosity drives a parallel change in the status of the imagination, which is transformed from being a sign of what cannot be appropriated and mastered to an object to be mastered by an autonomous subject. However, whereas Gianfrancesco argues for the necessity of the inquisitor's epistemology, as we will examine in the fourth chapter, Teofilo Folengo individuates, instead, the properly epistemological value of curiosity in its capacity to operate in the realm of the imagination.
Indeed, the revaluation of curiosity in the Cinquecento also opens a space of empowerment. Chapter V examines how Veronica Franca re-appropriates the figure of the wonder-woman, via Augustinian theology, to defend herself in the poetic duel with Maffio Venier to open the possibility for an alternative narrative, which asserts a new political role for women in society. Conversely, the conclusion shows the possibility of similarly tracing an alternative narrative following in the footsteps of Machiavelli's Asino. Bruno, Leopardi, and Nietzsche cite precisely the tradition of imaginative curiositas of Machiavelli's poem in order to re-assert the indivisibility of the relationship between wonder and curiosity in the modern age.