The Witch of Agnesi,
a Feminist Reappropriation

Here we have a woman
Maria Gaetana Agnesi, born in Milan in 1718
a child prodigy who spoke
seven languages by age nine,
who is practically a saint
(her father having denied her
request to join a convent
she bargains down to
not having to attend dances),
who after ten years of work
publishes a two-volume treatise of mathematics
which enjoys widespread success
and was the classical textbook in the field
until Euler’s own work,
who then drops mathematics entirely
and dedicates herself to the care of the sick
and starts a hospital motivated
only be her love of humanity…

Sorry to interrupt, but what’s with the witch already?

It’s a long story, the usual one:
Maria Gaetana studied a curve
(already studied by none other than Fermat)
called “versiera” from the Latin “vertere”
which sounds like “avversiera”
meaning “the adversary” or someone
associated (you guessed it) with the devil.
Add to this John Colson, Professor of Mathematics at
who mistranslates “curve” as “witch”
and there you have it:
the saint becomes the witch.

Men, I swear!