Jewish Poet and Intellectual in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Works of Sarra Copia Sulam in Verse and Prose Along with Writings of Her Contemporaries in Her Praise, Condemnation, or Defense


The first Jewish woman to leave her mark as a writer and intellectual, Sarra Copia Sulam (1600?–41) was doubly tainted in the eyes of early modern society by her religion and her gender. This remarkable woman, who until now has been relatively neglected by modern scholarship, was a unique figure in Italian cultural life, opening her home, in the Venetian ghetto, to Jews and Christians alike as a literary salon.

For this bilingual edition, Don Harrán has collected all of Sulam’s ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (15) from $17.85   
  • New (9) from $28.68   
  • Used (6) from $17.85   
Sending request ...


The first Jewish woman to leave her mark as a writer and intellectual, Sarra Copia Sulam (1600?–41) was doubly tainted in the eyes of early modern society by her religion and her gender. This remarkable woman, who until now has been relatively neglected by modern scholarship, was a unique figure in Italian cultural life, opening her home, in the Venetian ghetto, to Jews and Christians alike as a literary salon.

For this bilingual edition, Don Harrán has collected all of Sulam’s previously scattered writings—letters, sonnets, a Manifesto—into a single volume. Harrán has also assembled all extant correspondence and poetry that was addressed to Sulam, as well as all known contemporary references to her, making them available to Anglophone readers for the first time. Featuring rich biographical and historical notes that place Sulam in her cultural context, this volume will provide readers with insight into the thought and creativity of a woman who dared to express herself in the male-dominated, overwhelmingly Catholic Venice of her time.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The Jewish Daily Forward - Benjamin Ivry
"[Sulam] was a kind of Susan Sontag of the Venetian Ghetto....[The book is] rewarding and enlightening."
Sixteenth Century Journal - Jerold C. Frakes
“The volume provides a comprehensive documentation of Copia’s life and work and is essential for scholars of Copia, women’s studies, early modern studies, and Jewish studies.”
The Jewish Daily Forward
[Sulam] was a kind of Susan Sontag of the Venetian Ghetto....[The book is] rewarding and enlightening.

— Benjamin Ivry

Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Don Harrán is the Artur Rubinstein Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jersualem. He is the author of many books, including Salamone Rossi, Jewish Musician in Late Renaissance Mantua.


Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


The Works of Sarra Copia Sulam in Verse and Prose, Along with Writings of Her Contemporaries in Her Praise, Condemnation, or Defense
By Sarra Copia Sulam


Copyright © 2009 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-77989-8

Chapter One


      The poem about lovely Esther—a remarkable, noble
      Work of that illustrious Genoese spirit—
      Awakened flames of love in the genteel heart
      Of the famous and no less learned Sara [sic];
      Unable to endure the hard, harsh suffering,
      She revealed her great ardor to that bard,
      And he would have extinguished the cruel fire
      If only, because of the work, she abandoned the Jewish cult.
           Francesco Clodoveo Maria Pentolini, Le donne illustri, canti dieci


Cebà's Lettere ... scritte a Sarra Copia e dedicate a Marc'Antonio Doria was published in Genoa by Giuseppe Pavoni in 1623. Its fifty-three letters include two to Giacomo Rosa (nos. 39, 41), who visited Copia, and one to her husband, Jacob Sulam (no. 36). They cover the period 1618–22. Of the poems they contained, Cebà reproduced four sonnets out of what must have been a considerably larger number by Copia, one son net by an unnamed person from her circle of friends, and, of his own authorship, thirteen sonnets, six madrigals, and two multistrophic canzoni (one in twenty stanzas, the other in fifty). Though no longer extant, the original letters by Copia and Rosa have been partially reconstructed from Cebà's responses.


My poem about Queen Esther moved a noble Jewish woman to covet my friendship, as discussed in these letters. I did not refuse to make love to her soul in order to improve the condition of mine. After a period of four years, however, I realized that I was making little progress with hers and gaining nothing for my own. Unable to make my speech effective, I decided to leave the undertaking to someone with an even more fervid heart of charity. [†2v] It is true that out of gratitude for the love this lady professed to bear me I wanted, in some way, to perpetuate her memory in the present letters. In writing them I strove to make her known with my pen, despite my never having seen her with my eyes. Notwithstanding my efforts to this end, I feel I have but only poorly discharged my obligation to you, Signor Marc'Antonio. It is to you, therefore, that I dedicate this book. Should it lead you to exercise your charity, please see to it that the Jewess, whom I presented through my letters as generous, be acknowledged through your prayers as Christian.

[PAGE 1] LETTER 1 (19 MAY 1618)

In answer to a letter (probably from early May 1618) in which Copia told why she was writing Cebà. She read his epic poem "Queen Esther" and was so impressed by it that she wished to become acquainted with its author. She praised Cebà for his achievement. The tone of her letter appears to have been obsequious: Copia framed her speech in superlatives. She enclosed two sonnets in Cebà's honor: one by herself and another, at her urging, by an unnamed Jewish friend, who wrote in Spanish (Cebà reproduced both of them at the end of his letter). On a personal note, she admitted to having suffered a miscarriage from which she nearly died.

Most genteel Signora Sarra,

The fruits of Your Ladyship's mind are so noble that they compensate for the delay in their growth by the sweetness of their taste. In my worth I am little suited to deserving them. But your kindness does not desist from making small men great. Though the praises you bestowed on me do not make me greater than I am, they honor me far more than I deserve.

I found it quite unusual for a young woman to be so captivated by a poem treating lofty matters as to be unable to refrain from seeking out the acquaintance of the one who wrote it. Thus I feel obliged to form another judgment of you than that which one ordinarily does of your sex and, at the same time, to rejoice at my book's having had the fate of falling into such generous hands.

I do not know, Signora, what face or figure you have, for I have never seen you. But I clearly understand that you have such a gentle mind that without looking any further I can be content with your portrait alone. I promise to carry it in my heart as long as I have the breath of life. Since there can be little hope of our seeing each other down here, I will ardently pray God to use His powerful hand to let us recognize one another in Paradise, to which both you and I are equally summoned and, if nothing prevents us, equally slated to repair.

In the meantime, I ask you to persevere in your reading of "Queen [2] Esther" and for my sake to ponder what she says about David in canto 19, beginning with stanza 57. It would not be of any great consequence whether it was your Lord or mine who inspired me in that passage to make Esther speak into the ear of Sarra.

For the rest, I thank in prose that genteel spirit who honored me with Spanish poetry and I answer him in verse with what I have been ordained to say by my Christian profession. I will do the same to you for your Italian sonnet. Just as I did not recognize any defect in its content other than the lowliness of my name, so I ask you to condemn no other fault in the freedom of my response than the overabundance of my love. I love you, Signora Sarra, and revere you as much as I am honorably permitted by my law and yours.

Since you have not disdained to become enthused with passion for my poem, I would also like you to be satisfied with my becoming aroused with longing for your grace. I am eager for it, for I believe that you have a mind enamored of lofty matters and I hope that one day perhaps you will purify it in the furnace of Christian charity. Thus may it please God to grant you the bounty of His grace and, meanwhile, allow you the good fortune to carry and bear children, as is necessary for you and them to live happily, for a long time, to His glory. Genoa, 19 May 1618.

Your Ladyship's devoted and most indebted servant, Ansaldo Cebà

[3] P.S. May that kind author of the Spanish sonnet forgive me if, perchance, I made gross errors in using his language. In truth, except for this one occasion, I have never written any verse or prose in that tongue even though I managed at one time to gain some modest knowledge of it. May Signora Sarra believe me when I acknowledge my being obliged to her, not only for having honored me with her own pen, but also for having had others honor me with theirs.

    1. SONNET


    La bella Hebrea, che con devoti accenti
        Gratia impetrò da più sublimi chori,
        Sì che fra stelle in ciel ne i sacri ardori
        Felice gode le superne menti:
    Al suon che l'alme da i maggior tormenti
        Sottragge, Ansaldo, onde te stesso honori,
        Spiegar sentendo i suoi più casti amori,
        I mondi tiene a le tue rime intenti.
    Quindi l'immortal Dio, che nacque in Delo
        A la tua gloria, la sua gloria acqueta,
        Né la consumerà caldo, né gelo.
    Colei ancor, che già ti fé Poeta
        Reggendo questa, da l'empireo Cielo
        Darà per sempre a i carmi tuoi la meta.

    With devout accents the beautiful Hebrew woman
        Implored the exalted choirs for their grace,
        Indeed, midst heavenly stars, in sacred fires,
        She holds supreme minds happily in her grip:
    Upon the sound that removes souls from the greatest
        In order to honor you alone, Ansaldo,
        She holds the worlds intent on your verses
        While feeling her chastest passions unfold.
    Therefore the immortal god who was born in Delos
        Acquires, through your glory, his own glory,
        Nor will heat or cold consume it.
    She who already made you a poet
        Ruling this one will, from empyreal heavens,
        Forever set your poems as the goal.



    Mosse l'antica Esther le voci ardenti,
        Ond'io ritrassi in carte i suoi splendori:
        Movi tu, nova Sarra, i miei fervori
        A farti luminosa in fra le genti.
    Nobil, cred'io, sei tu; tu rappresenti

        [4] De la sposa d'Abram gli antichi honori;
        E forse ancor col nome i bei colori
        De la sua guancia a gli occhi altrui rammenti.
    Ma tu porti però su gli occhi un velo
        Che ravvisar ti toglie il gran Pianeta,
        Onde di vero amor ferisce il telo.
    Tu feconda di gratie hai l'alma e lieta;
        Ma non t'avvedi, oimè, ch'errante zelo
        Miseramente il passo al Ciel ti vieta.

    [3] Ancient Esther roused burning voices,
        Whence I portrayed her splendor on paper;
        May you, new Sarra, rouse my passions
        To make you gleam midst the nations.
    Noble you are, I believe; you represent
        [4] The ancient honors of Abraham's wife;
        Even with your name, perhaps, do you recall
        The beautiful colors of her cheek to others' eyes.
    But over your eyes you carry a veil
        That removes from your sight the Great Planet,
        From which the lance of true love strikes.
    You have a soul fruitful and fertile with graces,
        But alas! you do not notice how wayward zeal
        Meanly denies you the passage to heaven.



           Señor Ansaldo, iuro al Soberano

    Signor Ansaldo, I swear to the Sovereign
        That since I never saw a work that sounds better
        Than that of Terpsichore, Urania, and Melpomene,
        They ought to help us with their tongue and hand.
    Let Greek, Andalusian, and Tuscan poets be silent;
        May their fame now cease and resound in you,
        For your knowledge comes as a wonder
        To set an example of Christian valor.
    The beautiful Esther would not be distressed:
        From such a talent as causes astonishment
        She obtained a gold mine of a huge sum.
    Fortunate is the mine in which the beautiful Jewish woman
        Shows how clever you are, Cebà,
        For your pen is much more than gold.

           4. SONNET


           Señor incierto, pido al Soberano

    Unknown lord, I ask the Sovereign,
        Who sounds His voice so sweetly in you,
        To lead you, more than the voices of Urania and
        [5] To lend a hand to Judaism.
    A much finer author than a Greek or a Tuscan
        Will make your name resound among us
        If from heaven the fire comes to you
        For a generous Jew to turn into a Christian.
    Esther, if I may say so, is distressed:
        Of her people she sees, with much fright,
        Such a meager sum come before God.
    Believe me, in vain do you call her beautiful,
        For until you remove as much [fire] from the heavens
        There will be no flattery for her in your pen.

LETTER 2 (10 JUNE 1618)

In answer to a letter Copia wrote at the end of May or the beginning of June 1618. Again she praised Cebà to the skies, using the epithet "Your Most Excellent" and others like it in addressing him. She defended her Jewish faith from Cebà's attacks by noting its primacy: Judaism came first, Christianity followed. What is old and venerable, she argued, is superior to what is new and questionable. While she deferred to others' authority in secular matters, she professed to be sufficiently informed to discern right from wrong when it comes to religious ones. There was no chance, then, that she would convert. She admitted rather begrudgingly to having read the New Testament, though she had no inclination to return to it to deepen her acquaintance with the life of Christ as told in the Gospels. By no means did she recognize him as the Messiah prophesied by the Hebrews. He was no more, she insisted, than a plain human being. Not his story but the stories of other heroes appear to have moved her, for she enthusiastically related her impressions from having read them. Copia said that she had recently taken up astrology, expending considerable time and effort on its study. She commended Cebà on his book "Citizen of a Republic": it was so precious to her that she lodged it in her heart. Nor could she part with his poem "Queen Esther"; indeed, she kept it on her pillow, comparing it, in its sublimity, to Homer's Iliad. She had a yen to improvise melodies to its verses.

I noticed, Signora Sarra, that you are much less delighted with my love than I am with yours, for among lovers, as you know, titles are not used. You nevertheless overwhelm me with them. But I know, by contrast, that when it comes to love, you are right in not becoming overfamiliar with me, for you, as far as I understand, are young and beautiful, and I, as far as you might have been told, am neither the one nor the other. Yet if, by special grace of your kindliness, you should still wish to make love to me, however I may be, let us both, if you agree, maintain an amorous decorum and leave the use of those "Your Most Excellent" expressions to those miserable persons who evoke the greatness of men by the vanity of words. I know that you are of honorable birth and that you have all those talents that would make you recognizable as most noble. With your good grace, though, I would like the esteem that I bear you [6] to consist in something other than courtly ceremonies. I will ask you then to show me what you bear me, however far from the truth it may be, not by an inflation of superlatives but otherwise. Ansaldo Cebà is my name quite bare of merits. Since it is only right for me, though, from having become your servant, to have been given some light, I rely on you, if it pleases you to give me the title I give you, to do so with discretion. I declare to you that whatever my birth or condition may be, I will always consider myself more honored by you the less honorably you address me.

Turning to your most gracious letter, I confess to you that it has multiplied my reasons for loving you. But I cannot deny that it still does not give me new grounds for sympathizing with you. The law that we observe, my Signora, is not so new as not to have been in the mind of the Supreme Legislator from eternity and as not, through an ordered succession, to have come to reveal itself in the fullness of time. Whether it be called new or old, though, it is not of a kind as would have to submit to the proverbs of the multitude. Proverbs, as you know, are adjudged to be false not only by divine provisions but also, very often, by human accidents. Say a person reads the life story of Christ and sees in it the qualities so explicitly described as of the Messiah and notes the excellence of his virtues and perceives the effectiveness of his miracles. It is quite a new form of obstinacy for him or her to persist in observing those rites that may have been appropriate to another era, yet were varied by God not through inconstancy of mind, but by order of providence, according to the variety of times and [7] humans. But when I see this obstinacy not only in the remainder of the Jews, for whom the charity of Christ teaches me to have compassion, but also in your own person, Signora Sarra, I confess that it pierces my soul, for I certainly love and respect you much more than I can express in words. It weighs on me to no end that you, who see so much where (by virtue of modesty) you think you see nothing, would see so little where (out of excessive confidence) it seems to you that you are lynx-eyed.

You say you have not disdained to read the New Testament, as if you greatly debased yourself by proceeding to a similar reading. I do not want to answer you with what the zeal of the faith I keep would dictate to me, for instead of helping you I would perhaps offend you, and offending and loving do not tolerate each other. Despite your not recognizing in the person of Christ the features of the Messiah you await, I would like to ask you, nevertheless, whether you do not find anything heroic and marvelous in his actions or manners. I would like to question you as to why you are impressed by reading about those otherwise imperfect virtues of some men who neither were Hebrews nor recognized the God of the Hebrews and why you do not lose your head in beholding the perfect ones of him who, even when considered a simple man, as you insist, was all the same an Israelite, as you are too; and who, as far as religion is concerned, revered the same God as did your elders.


Excerpted from JEWISH POET AND INTELLECTUAL IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY VENICE by Sarra Copia Sulam Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations  


List of Abbreviations  

Series Editors’ Introduction  

Volume Editor’s Introduction

Volume Editor’s Bibliography

I Sarra Copia and Ansaldo Cebà

1. Letters to Sarra Copia from her Christian Correspondent Ansaldo Cebà (1618–22)

2. Letter from Sarra Copia to Isabella della Tolfa (1623)

3. References to Sarra Copia in a Second Collection of Ansaldo Cebà’s Letters (1623)


II A Controversy on the Immortality of the Soul

1. Letter from Baldassare Bonifaccio to Sarra Copia (End of 1619)

2. Sarra Copia’s Letter in Response (10 January 1620)

3. Excerpts from Baldassare Bonifaccio’s “Discourse on the Immortality of the Soul” (June 1621)

4. Sarra Copia’s Manifesto in Self-Defense (July 1621)

5. Baldassare Bonifaccio’s Essay in Rebuttal (August 1621)

6. Portion of a Letter by Baldassare Bonifaccio (December 1621)


III “Notices from Parnassus”

1. “Notices from Parnassus” (1626 or Thereafter)

2. Excerpts from Numidio Paluzzi’s Rime, as Edited by Alessandro Berardelli (1626)

3. Letter by Angelico Aprosio (Undated, Though Based on a Report from 1637)


IV Miscellanea

1. Dedication to Sarra Copia from Leon Modena’s Play Ester (1619)

2. Two Poems by Gabriele Zinano and a Poem by Sarra Copia in Response (Probably 1622–23)

3. Leon Modena’s Epitaph for Sarra Copia’s Tombstone (1641)


Appendix: Sarra Copia’s Prose Writings in the Original

Series Editors’ Bibliography

Index of Poems by Their First Lines, Forms, and Authors

General Index

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)