The Venetian Qur'an

9780812250121: Hardback
Release Date: 8th May 2018

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 320

Series Material Texts

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

The Venetian Qur'an

A Renaissance Companion to Islam

Written by
Pier Mattia Tommasino
Translated by
Sylvia Notini

In The Venetian Qur'an, Pier Mattia Tommasino uncovers the author, origin, and lasting influence of the Alcorano di Macometto, a book that purported to be the first printed European vernacular translation of the Qur'an.

Hardback / £52.00

An anonymous book appeared in Venice in 1547 titled L'Alcorano di Macometto, and, according to the title page, it contained "the doctrine, life, customs, and laws [of Mohammed] . . . newly translated from Arabic into the Italian language." Were this true, L'Alcorano di Macometto would have been the first printed direct translation of the Qur'an in a European vernacular language. The truth, however, was otherwise. As soon became clear, the Qur'anic sections of the book—about half the volume—were in fact translations of a twelfth-century Latin translation that had appeared in print in Basel in 1543. The other half included commentary that balanced anti-Islamic rhetoric with new interpretations of Muhammad's life and political role in pre-Islamic Arabia. Despite having been discredited almost immediately, the Alcorano was affordable, accessible, and widely distributed.

In The Venetian Qur'an, Pier Mattia Tommasino uncovers the volume's mysterious origins, its previously unidentified author, and its broad, lasting influence. L'Alcorano di Macometto, Tommasino argues, served a dual purpose: it was a book for European refugees looking to relocate in the Ottoman Empire, as well as a general Renaissance reader's guide to Islamic history and stories. The book's translation and commentary were prepared by an unknown young scholar, Giovanni Battista Castrodardo, a complex and intellectually accomplished man, whose commentary in L'Alcorano di Macometto bridges Muhammad's biography and the text of the Qur'an with Machiavelli's The Prince and Dante's Divine Comedy. In the years following the publication of L'Alcorano di Macometto, the book was dismissed by Arabists and banned by the Catholic Church. It was also, however, translated into German, Hebrew, and Spanish and read by an extended lineage of missionaries, rabbis, renegades, and iconoclasts, including such figures as the miller Menocchio, Joseph Justus Scaliger, and Montesquieu. Through meticulous research and literary analysis, The Venetian Qur'an reveals the history and legacy of a fascinating historical and scholarly document.


Chapter 1. The Misfortune of a Translation
Chapter 2. The Material Text: Three States, One Edition, a History Book
Chapter 3. "What Everybody Wishes for and Keeps Silent": Analysis of the Context Through the Paratext
Chapter 4. "And He Translated the Alcorano in the Vulgar Tongue": Giovanni Battista Castrodardo, Translator of the Alcorano di Macometto
Chapter 5. The Iberian and Italian Mi'rāǧ by Giovanni Battista Castrodardo: An Unknown Dante Scholar and Muhammad's Ascension into Heaven
Chapter 6. The Religion of the Italians, or Purgatory and the Qur'an: A Belief and a Place Between Robert of Ketton and Roberto Bellarmino
Chapter 7. Scribendae Historiae Gratia: The Oration of Sergius the Monk to the Prophet Muhammad
Chapter 8. Reading and Rewriting the Alcorano di Macometto: Francesco Sansovino Between the Historie Universali and the Selve
Chapter 9. A Cheese Maker from Lucca and a Miller from Friuli
Chapter 10. The Fortune of the Alcorano di Macometto and a Conclusion



Some years ago, as a graduate student at the Scuola Normale Superiore, I began to consult on a daily basis the exemplar of the Alcorano di Macometto in the University Library of Pisa. More than one spring afternoon was spent reading and transcribing a Renaissance companion to Islam, the second half of which contained the first printed translation of the Qur'an in a European language. Published by Andrea Arrivabene in Venice in 1547, this book is well known to experts on a number of subjects. Carlo Ginzburg's essay on the cosmos of the miller Menocchio, The Cheese and the Worms, brought it to the attention of historians and made it known to a wide readership. European scholars of Oriental languages have been familiar with it for some time. Beginning with the European proto-Orientalists of the second half of the sixteenth century, the Alcorano di Macometto was considered fraudulent, an act of plagiarism, an imposture. It was seen as a partial, arbitrary, and awkward translation of the Qur'an, in actual fact translated from the medieval Latin version by Robert of Ketton (1143) and not at all what the publisher stated on the title page: "Newly translated from the Arabic into the Italian tongue."

Given my background in linguistic and philological studies on medieval Italian poetry, the exemplar before me, marked D'Ancona 16.7.10, was a novel object. Half bound in green leather and marble paper, the book revealed visible traces of its history and its owners: on the title page, the stamp of "Dono D'Ancona" to the University Library of Pisa and, on the back of the front cover, a printed ex libris that read: "Ex libris Jacobj Manzoni."

As I read and transcribed the text during the spring of 2004, enjoying the breeze that blew in through the library windows overlooking Piazza Dante, I paid little attention to those notes of ownership. I did not question whether, how, or why Alessandro D'Ancona (1835-1914), director of the Scuola Normale di Pisa from 1892 to 1900, had read the so-called Arrivabene Qur'an before donating it to the library of the university where he taught for many years. Nor did I notice the ex libris of one of the greatest nineteenth-century Italian bibliophiles: Count Giacomo Manzoni (1816-89). Both men were prominent figures during the Risorgimento and in the first post-Unification period, and both, for different reasons, had owned the same copy of the book whose story is told here. Later, unsurprisingly, it was in the essay La leggenda di Maometto in Occidente (The Legend of Muhammad in the West) by D'Ancona of 1888-89 (republished in 1994), that a tantalizing piece of information caught my attention, an old insight into the Alcorano di Macometto made in passing that had remained unexplored for over a century. I followed it up, and my findings on the historiographic and political background of the translator and editor of this Renaissance companion to Islam are contained in Chapter 7, "Scribendae Historiae Gratia."

During those first readings I understood, however vaguely, that beyond the criticism of historians Carlo De Frede and Elena Bonora, among others, and beyond the insights of scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies in early modern Europe, including Angelo Michele Piemontese, Hartmut Bobzin, and Alastair Hamilton, the Arrivabene Qur'an was characterized by problems that were still unresolved and that needed to be discussed. At the same time, I knew that dealing with the subject appropriately would require a very complex strategy, a strategy that demanded working in between disciplines in a way that was systematic, but which would often prove to be slippery as well. Initially, the process was hardly gratifying, yet I had the energy, enthusiasm, and above all the time to follow it through. I was also backed by an institution, the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa, which provided the opportunity to improve my knowledge of Arabic and Qur'an studies for at least two years: I studied the former at Dar Comboni in Cairo, directed at the time by Father Camillo Ballin (2004-5), and the latter at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome under the watchful guidance of Michel Lagarde (2005-6). I had chosen that particular topic—which I then knew very little about—because I was intrigued by the Arabic language and Islamic culture, and wanted to merge this new fascination with the philological and literary studies I had already undertaken.

My interest in Arabic and Islamic culture had early beginnings, during my childhood. My father Luigi, a nuclear physicist, was an expert on the measurement of radon gas and, during the 1980s, my family often hosted students, friends, and colleagues from the Arab and Muslim world. I fondly remember Zora Lounis, Djamel Eddine Cherouati and Salah Djeffal, Mashid Lofti and her husband, Dariush Azimi Garakani, and their son Navid. I also remember Hameed Ahmed Khan, a native of Pakistan, who tried to convert me, to no avail, from my unshakable and fanatic devotion to soccer to the luminous revelations of cricket. Childhood memories, interest, friendship, curiosity. Two decades later, all this came back into my life as a college then graduate student, but in an entirely new form, a methodological one. To understand the Alcorano di Macometto and, more generally, the cultural and religious interweavings, the contacts and overlaps, and the polemical manipulations of texts between early modern Italy and the Islamic world, I needed to know Arabic and be familiar with Islam and the Qur'an. With a hint of presumption, I was not content to merely scratch the surface. I did not want to analyze representations of the Ottomans in European Renaissance literature. Nor did I want to avoid going deeper, or to limit myself to analyzing just the projections of Italian intellectuals, writers, and artists on the mirror of the Ottoman East. I wanted to break that mirror and delve much deeper. At the same time, I questioned whether I would succeed and, above all, wondered what I would find. Would the outcome be equal to my efforts?

Alfredo Stussi put me to the test when, in 2005, he assigned me to analyze the spoken Arabic of the character of the gipsy in the comedy La Zìngana (The Gipsy) by Rovigo-born Gigio Artemio Giancarli (d. c. 1561). The comedy was performed in Venice in 1545 and published in Mantua between 1545 and 1546 by Venturino Ruffinelli. This was my first published research article. Written between Cairo and Rome during 2005-6, it was published in the Italian journal Lingua e Stile by Il Mulino, the Italian publisher of this book. This essay was followed by further studies based on two specular, intersecting, and often inseparable strands. The first of these was European Orientalism, both erudite and popular, with particular interest in the distortions and manipulations made to the text of the Qur'an for the purposes of religious propaganda. The second concerned the spread of the Italian language in the Mediterranean, especially by non-Italians who used Italian for commercial, diplomatic, religious, and literary purposes. These studies are ongoing and their goal is to understand the historical and geographical ties between the European prestige of the Italian language and its practical uses in the Mediterranean and beyond, which are also part of the debate on the issue of the church and the diffusion of vernaculars, and that of Italian as a lingua senza impero (a language without an empire) according to the definition given by the historian of the Italian language Francesco Bruni.

These areas of investigation have developed surrounded by equal amounts of enthusiasm and difficulty over the past fifteen years; that is to say, after September 11 and all that followed turned the spotlight on the cultures of Islam in mass societies. Similarly, in the early modern period, each time there was a diplomatic or military conflict between European countries and the Ottoman Empire the interest in Islam was rekindled. In recent years, renewed interest in Islam has also affected the academic world, and this has in turn been affected by the development of world and connected history.

Alongside the geopolitical thinking that followed the Cold War, and while Bernard Lewis's and Samuel Huntington's theories of the Clash of Civilizations (1993 1996) were being waved like a flag or attacked in the prefaces of scholarly books, something else was taking place as well. On a smaller scale, some seminal works were being published in the disciplines I would ultimately pursue. One such work was a 1994 reprint of the essay by Alessandro D'Ancona, which perhaps became D'Ancona's most successful throughout Europe in recent decades because of the new interest on Islam. But most importantly, the influential work by Hartmut Bobzin on the Qur'an during the age of reform (1995) and a seminal essay by Angelo Michele Piemontese on the Qur'ans of Ficino, Pico, and Flavius Mithridates (1996) had recently been published. These works paved the way and established the direction for all subsequent studies on the diffusion of Arabic and Islamic studies in early modern Europe, following in the tracks of research into medieval Latin translations. These tracks had until then been followed more in northern Europe and in Spain than in Italy, and they have now led to new results thanks to lively centers and projects like Islamolatina (La percepción del Islam en la Europa latina) at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Center for the History of Arabic Studies in Europe at the Warburg Institute in London. During those same years other questions were posed, either for the first time or restated. The Anglo-Maltese linguist Joseph Cremona goaded his Italian colleagues as he began publishing his short, painstakingly accurate essays on the Italian used by non-Italian diplomats and consuls in early modern Tunisia. Cremona's work was immediately followed by the scholars and members of the Centro Internazionale sul Pluringuismo at the University of Udine, as well as by Francesco Bruni, Laura Minervini, and Daniele Baglioni, with an eye to the studies conducted by Gianfranco Folena and Furio Brugnolo on the diffusion of the Italian language in Europe.

I closely followed all these directions, with a particular focus on the context I was going to have to deal with: Venice in the 1540s, a center of nonconformist religious propaganda, a place for refugees and spies, a city of translators and editors, and the capital of publishing.

I have chosen to describe how I went about my research because it was not an isolated case; on reflection, it now seems more and more like the work carried out by the many scholars who belong to my generation. And, of course, I have chosen to talk about my personal experience so that it can be of help in understanding the process from which this book was born and the questions as well as the results it puts forward. The book you are holding is neither the study of a scholar in Oriental languages nor the work of a historian of the book, nor is it simply that of a historian of the Italian language and literature. It is the first book by a scholar who placed at the center of his work an object of study and not a discipline. It is also the work of a scholar who used many epistemological tools to analyze a Renaissance companion to Islam published in Venice in 1547, and thus describe a significant moment in sixteenth-century Italian society and, of equal importance, the adventure of a man, of an unknown translator.

The heart of this book demonstrates that the Arrivabene Qur'an is actually a handy companion to Islam that was translated and edited by Giovanni Battista Castrodardo from Belluno. The publisher Arrivabene entrusted his editorial project to a man who remained anonymous and who now, after four and a half centuries, has emerged from the shadows: a little-known man from Belluno who lived from 1517 to 1588. But who was Giovanni Battista Castrodardo, what was his life like, and what were his intellectual passions? Was he just a polygraph, an evanescent ghostwriter of the sixteenth century? Or was he simply a local antiquarian as he is described in the historiography of the Venetian Terraferma? It seems that he was not just these things. Giovanni Battista was a complex figure. A lively, well-versed intellectual, a man who "studied letters and law for a long time," as a contemporary of his once wrote, and who was close to many prominent figures of sixteenth-century Italy.

Giovanni Battista Castrodardo was active as a translator of history books, as an editor of Dante's Comedy, as a historian of the bishops of his city, and as a translator and editor of a very succesful companion to Islam in Italian. Hence, Castrodardo was the author of the first printed translation in a European language of the Qur'an. His literary career spanned a five-year period, from 1543 to 1548, years that were truly pivotal to Italy's religious history. Those were also the years when Castrodardo, son of a notary and canon of Belluno Cathedral, left his city to travel to Padua, Rome, and Venice. However, in 1548, after the Alcorano di Macometto was published, he suddenly interrupted his publishing activity to return to his small city, thus choosing, with the exception of his erudite research concerning the bishops of Belluno, a life of silence that lasted some four decades (1548-88). My research seems to go against the will of Giovanni Battista Castrodardo—I hope he won't take offense. I have in fact tried to extract him from the shadows inside which Castrodardo hid himself for four whole decades, taking with him, in his silence, all the work he had done outside Belluno in that brief but very intense five-year period. To achieve my goal I have ventured down paths that had in part already been trodden, including one that would have led historian Natalie Zemon Davis straight to the attribution of the Alcorano had she not, at the very last moment, taken a wrong turn. Here I refer to the well-known 2006 essay by Zemon Davis on Leo Africanus, in which the attribution of the Alcorano di Macometto is incidentally mentioned.

My book then, unveils the identity and the literary career of a man. And it therefore converses with the great number of literary studies that, over recent years for instance, under the aegis of projects such as the Italian Cinquecento plurale project, have reevaluated and redefined the work of the so-called polygraphs, editors and translators who were circulating among the Venetian publishers. This study shares their intentions—it understands their efforts from afar.

Giovanni Battista Castrodardo, a peer of several better-known, significant figures, traveled around the same cities, he entered the same workshops and houses, he crossed paths with people like Giuseppe Betussi, Girolamo Ruscelli, and Ludovico Domenichi. He influenced the genre of the selve with his translation of Leonico Tomeo (1544), but most importantly, he left his own personal mark, his hand, his style, in the Alcorano di Macometto: a complex and individual vision of the Muslim world, in conformity with the context and design of Arrivabene's editorial project, but in which his personality is visible to those who have the eyes and the desire to see it. This is what the three central chapters of this book focus on.

However, before turning to Giovanni Battista Castrodardo, I examine his Alcorano di Macometto as a book and the context of its production. The first chapter, "The Misfortune of a Translation," clears the field of all the opinions, from the second half of the sixteenth century, that is, from Joseph Scaliger, onward to which the Alcorano di Macometto was submitted because of the quality of the translation of the Qur'an. This must not be read as an apology but as a change in perspective, a shift in attention, a focus on the questions raised by the text. We must first of all put to one side the following question: could Arrivabene, or the translator of the Alcorano di Macometto, whoever it may have been, really have translated the Qur'an from the Arabic to the Italian? A more productive idea is to place this pocket-sized companion to Islam back into the context of its wide readership, of the Venetian publishing world, and of Andrea Arrivabene's catalog of books, and thus return the text, described and recontextualized, to the history of Arabic and Qur'anic studies in early modern Europe. All this is condensed in the chapters that follow.

The second chapter, "The Material Text," discusses the place of the book in Arrivabene's catalog of publications in Italian, and in particular as part of a coherent publication—albeit not as yet a fully fledged series—of history books in which the publisher had a clear commercial and intellectual interest. Within such a novel framework the Alcorano di Macometto seems to be the book on Islam, Islamic history, and the Ottoman Empire within a lively editorial line in Italian, which included ancient history, translations of fifteenth-century historiography, the history of the Italian wars, the history of the New World, and sixteenth-century historical theory as well. In this chapter I also describe the three states of the edition, providing new bibliological data, especially as concerns the paratext from which I have discovered a version that was hitherto unknown: that is, a quire of cancellanda sheets that appeared in an exemplar held in the Vatican Library.

The third chapter, "What Everybody Wishes for and Keeps Silent," also focuses on the paratext. It closely examines Andrea Arrivabene's dedicatory letter and Paolo Crivelli's sonnet to Gabriel Luetz Baron d'Aramon, French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1547-53). In this chapter I offer new outlines for the political and religious context previously traced by the Italian historian Carlo De Frede. The Alcorano di Macometto is a companion to Islam born within a diplomatic situation aimed at relaunching the military alliance between France and the Ottoman Empire. Hence, this book reflects French foreign policy, that is, the French anti-Habsburg position and sympathy for the Ottomans, as well as the hopes of the Florentine anti-Medicean exiles in Venice and of nonconformist religious circles linked to the French embassies in Venice and in Istanbul. In short, the Alcorano is not just a book of anti-Islamic polemic based on medieval sources, as it has been described thus far. Nor do I agree with those scholars who have underscored "the absence of heterodox propositions or substantial novelties concerning previous knowledge."

Arrivabene's and Castrodardo's new companion to Islam is filled with historical, religious, political, and ethnographic information for a wide and diverse readership. A close reading of the text, however, reveals that its first and intended public consisted of the women and men of nonconformist religious sympathies who found the French Embassy in Istanbul to be a safe political and religious refuge. As we shall see, dedicated to those readers who were close to Arrivabene's circles, including Sephardic Jews traveling from Venice to Istanbul, are covert political messages and innovative portraits of Muhammad and the Ottoman sultans and califs.

The fourth chapter, "He Translated the Alcorano into the Vulgar Tongue," attributes the work to and offers a first portrait of Giovanni Battista Castrodardo. This portrait goes beyond the sketch that he himself and, later, the historians of the city of Belluno provided after he chose to remain silent. That earlier sketch was of a local poet and a municipal historian, which does not at all correspond to the force and the complexity that were triggered by the brief intellectual life that Castrodardo then suppressed after 1548.

The attribution in the fourth chapter thus leads into the next group of three chapters, which, as I have already written, form the heart of the book. It is here that the text is closely analyzed, by focusing on three short and carefully chosen sections from the text, two from the introduction and the third from the translation of the Qur'an. The fifth chapter, "The Iberian and Italian Mi'rāǧ by Giovanni Battista Castrodardo," reconstructs Castrodardo's knowledge of Dante. Between 1544 and 1547 he worked on an edition of Dante's Comedy including his own argomenti, that is, his own short and introductory commentaries to be published before each canto. To my knowledge this work has never been published, but traces of it are evident in the Alcorano di Macometto, in particular in one section of the introduction.

In this section, Giovanni Battista chooses to reinsert the story of Muhammad's ascension to heaven, omitted in the Latin encyclopedia on Islam printed in Basel (1543). He does so by obliterating the medieval Latin sources and following the version of the mi'rāǧ available in the Opera chiamata confusione della setta machumetana (The Confutation of the Sect of Muhammad) attributed to the Iberian Morisco and convert Juan Andrés (1515), and translated into Italian by Domingo de Gaztelu in 1537. Dante's influence in this rewriting is striking. Muhammad's ascension to heaven, like the cleansing of the Prophet's heart, was rewritten according to Castrodardo's reading of Dante's Comedy. And today these rewritings produce, after a century of controversy concerning Dante's Islamic sources, a strange, bewildering effect, which almost convinces us to see an overturning of the sources, or at least an inevitable magnetism between Dante's and Muhammad's visions and journeys into heaven. More cautiously, this sixteenth-century Italian rewriting of the mi'rāǧ suggests the literary appropriation of new biographies of the Prophet Muhammad, distinct from the medieval Latin biographies. New texts that stem from early modern Iberia and the Muslim West, which are usually overlooked by studies on Italian Orientalism, focused on the eastern Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire. A canon of Belluno, a mid-sixteenth-century Dante scholar, rewrote a work translated by the secretary of the Habsburg ambassador in Venice and written by, or attributed to, a canon of Granada and formerly a Muslim scholar in Islamic law.

Chapter 6, "The Religion of the Italians, or Purgatory and the Qur'an," continues in the direction of the previous chapter, but analyzes a passage in the translation of the Qur'an, that is, the Italian version, based on the Latin text by Robert of Ketton (1143), of the seventh sura of the Qur'an, known as al-a'rāf (The Heights). Drawing on studies on the translation of the Qur'an in Europe and by way of a joint stylistic analysis of the text and the paratext, I illustrate here the textual manipulation and the refined rhetorical and layout strategies used by Castrodardo, according to Robert of Ketton's model, to demonstrate the presence of the belief in purgatory in between the lines of the Qu'ran. In doing so, I discuss the role of peripheral spaces and transitory conditions in the Muslim afterlife in the invention of the Roman Catholic purgatory. All this is done taking into consideration the European sixteenth-century debate on whether purgatory, or any other third space between hell and paradise, exists. Thus, the long history of the translation of the Qur'an in Europe seems to be truly parallel to that of the creation of the third place known as purgatory: at least from Cluny to Roberto Bellarmino.

The seventh chapter, titled "Scribendae Historiae Gratia," which completes the central part of the book, analyzes Castrodardo's historiographic and political culture. The chapter returns to to the more hidden parts of the text, and finally turns to Alessandro D'Ancona's insights concerning Castrodardo's new biography of Muhammad published in the introduction of the book. Here the focus is the long "sixteenth-century oration" by means of which the Christian monk Sergius convinced the Prophet Muhammad to found a new religion. At first, I believed this oration was an original work by Castrodardo, but by following some clues concerning the collaboration between Andrea Arrivabene and the typographer Bernardino Bindoni, I later discovered its direct source. It is the oration by Sergius the Monk published in the De origine urbis Venetiarum (On the Origin of the City of Venice) by the Venetian historian Bernardo Giustinian (1492) and translated by Ludovico Domenichi (1545). This speech is rewritten here in a truly original manner and based on Castrodardo's readings—this time of Machiavelli. Locating the clear source of the speech made it easier to point out the differences, the political novelties, with respect to the fifteenth-century source.

Emerging from this oration, which is analyzed alongside the representation of Muhammad on the title page, is a mythicized and dehistoricized image of Muhammad and of the sultan Süleyman behind the figure of the Prophet of Islam, as an armed prophet and a Romanized lawgiver. It is a representation of Muhammad that scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies in early modern Europe usually attribute to French libertine Orientalism and to all that stemmed from it: from the Muhammad of the Enlightenment and George Sale to Edward Gibbon's Prophet of Islam who ruled his people "with the sword in one hand and the Qur'an in the other." Here Muhammad the lawgiver is instead reinserted in the process of the Caesarization of the Prophet already under way in the tradition of the medieval chronicles, as well as within fifteenth-century Italian humanistic historiography and Machiavellian political theory. Giovanni Battista Castrodardo took part in this process. His Renaissance oration is a refined rhetorical exercise that veils pro-French and pro-Ottoman political and diplomatic messages. And it programmatically represents itself as a text based on the works of historians who wrote not so much "to confute that error," that is Islam, as to "write history."

The history of reading and the diffusion of the Alcorano di Macometto in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are explored in the next three chapters. This is where I argue that the Alcorano di Macometto was not merely something to be read by a few erudite readers but that it was a text widely diffused and highly successful in Italy, elsewhere in Europe, and probably outside of Europe, as I suggest in Chapter 10, "The Fortune of the Alcorano di Macometto and a Conclusion." It was a text that was sought out, read, used, and rewritten in different contexts, by Catholic missionaries and European renegades, by exiles religionis causa and Englishmen on their Grand Tour in Italy, by Italian Anabaptists and Antitrinitarians as well as Castrodardo's own colleagues, the compilers of universal history and miscellanous works as the selve, by peasant readers, like the cheese maker Scolio and the miller Menocchio, and by Sephardic Jews and seventeenth-century Italian readers heedful of the arcana imperii (the secrets of ruling).

Chapter 8, "Reading and Rewriting the Alcorano di Macometto," focuses on the Alcorano as a literary work, as an anthology of tales and fables, and therefore on the "invisible wire" and the "hidden genealogies" that link this work to the publishing activity of the polygraph Francesco Sansovino. Here the different use of Castrodardo's text by Sansovino in two works he published in 1560 are analyzed, by delineating the new success of Castrodardo's book via both the Historia universale dell'origine et imperio de' Turchi and Sansovino's additions to the Selva di varia lettione by the Spanish scholar Pedro Mexía. In these additions, medieval materials and legends on Islam and its Prophet, removed from the Historia universale, return with all their fictional power, and are combined with the new sources translated and reassembled by Castrodardo.

Chapter 9, "A Cheese Maker from Lucca and a Miller from Friuli," further discusses Carlo Ginzburg's essay on Domenico Scandella in light of new research. Leaving aside the issue of Menocchio's cosmology, I put forward new hypotheses on his reading practices, and therefore on the knowledge of and familiarity with Islam among peasants in early modern Italy. The method again involves an analysis of the miller's testimony by way of an accurate understanding of the Qur'an and of the Islamic religion, as well as a comparison with Scolio's original poem entitled Settennario. I therefore discuss the idea, which is often followed acritically, that it was impossible for an Italian peasant of the sixteenth century to understand the Qur'an: a text that collects the histories of prophets and patriarchs, and does not seem to be so far removed from Menocchio's culture, or merely a strange page on which to project his thoughts and fantasies. Analyzing the case of the episode of Abraham destroying the idols (chap. 10, par. 2) shows that there is a concrete foothold to demonstrate the reading of the Qur'an and therefore the anti-Catholic use of Islam and the Qur'an on the part of Ginzburg's microhero. The filter constituted by Menocchio's oral culture, and unconsciously interposed between himself and the texts, does not appear to me to be so distorting in the case of the episode of Abraham and the idols.

I also discuss, in light of the stylistic analysis carried out in the fifth chapter, the literary construction of Scolio's visions in the Settennario, the poem in ottava rima by the cheese maker from Lucca. Based on a philological and stylistic approach, I suggest that the two texts, the two written sources or decisive elements for the emergence of Menocchio's oral and peasant culture—that is, Dante's Comedy and the Qur'an that Ginzburg discussed separately—are already interwoven in Castrodardo's companion to Islam: they overlap and they are combined in a single tale that emerges forcefully in the fiction of Scolio's visions. In analyzing Scolio's poem, the novelty to be underscored is the reception of the new Iberian and Venetian mi'rāǧ by the Dante scholar Castrodardo: it is a text that Scolio metabolized and made his own, and in which Dante's Comedy and the Islamic traditions about Muhammad's mi'rāǧ already merge in a new formula and therefore cannot be dealt with only separately. Castrodardo rewrote Muhammad's journey into heaven according to Dante's mystical vocabulary and that is how it ended up in Scolio's hands. Scolio was a receptive reader, a new prophet, and a peasant poet, and the representative from Lucca of the success of the kitāb al-mi'rāǧ in sixteenth-century Europe.

Dante, purgatory, Machiavelli. Sansovino, Scolio, Menocchio. I wanted to go beyond "the history of the representations" of Islam in Europe, but eventually I found myself piecing back together the religious and intellectual life of an unknown, but highly interesting figure from Belluno, reflected in his own representation of early Islam and the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire. The result of this is an essay that, revealing the voice of a forgotten sixteenth-century translator and following the diffusion of his major work, helps us to understand how Islam, its revelation, and its historiographical and literary traditions contributed to the development of European societies.

Pier Mattia Tommasino teaches Italian literature at Columbia University.

"The Venetian Qur'an is an impressively rich study. It is a model of multidisciplinary research, drawing on historical, literary, and linguistic approaches."—Thomas E. Burman, University of Notre Dame

"A philological masterwork that introduces readers to a shadowy figure who was central to the intellectual life of his age. It is meticulously argued, encompassing early modern Italian literature, intellectual history, and the history of Orientalism, as well as Reformation-era European religious studies."—Karla Mallette, University of Michigan