Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller


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The Cheese and the Worms is an incisive study of popular culture in the sixteenth century as seen through the eyes of one man, the miller known as Menocchio, who was accused of heresy during the Inquisition and sentenced to death. Carlo Ginzburg uses the trial records to illustrate the religious and social conflicts of the society Menocchio lived in.

For a common miller, Menocchio was surprisingly literate. In his trial testimony he made references to more than a dozen books, including the Bible, Boccaccio's Decameron, Mandeville's Travels, and a "mysterious" book that may have been the Koran. And what he read he recast in terms familiar to him, as in his own version of the creation: "All was chaos, that is earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and of that bulk a mass formed—just as cheese is made out of milk—and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels."

Ginzburg’s influential book has been widely regarded as an early example of the analytic, case-oriented approach known as microhistory. In a thoughtful new preface, Ginzburg offers his own corollary to Menocchio’s story as he considers the discrepancy between the intentions of the writer and what gets written. The Italian miller’s story and Ginzburg’s work continue to resonate with modern readers because they focus on how oral and written culture are inextricably linked. Menocchio’s 500-year-old challenge to authority remains evocative and vital today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780880294485
Publisher: Dorset Press
Publication date: 09/28/1990
Series: Reprints Ser.
Pages: 177

About the Author

Carlo Ginzburg has taught at the University of Bologna, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. The recipient of the 2010 International Balzan Prize, he is author of The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Table of Contents

Preface to the 2013 Edition ix

Translators' Note xv

Preface to the English Edition xix

Preface to the Italian Edition xxi

Acknowledgments xxxv

1 Menocchio 1

2 The town 2

3 First interrogation 5

4 "Possessed?" 6

5 From Concordia to Portogruaro 6

6 "To speak out against his superiors" 8

7 An archaic society 12

8 "They oppress the poor" 14

9 "Lutherans" and Anabaptists 16

10 A miller, a painter, a buffoon 19

11 "My opinions came out of my head" 26

12 The books 27

13 Readers of the town 28

14 Printed pages and "fantastic opinions" 30

15 Blind alley? 31

16 The temple of the virgins 32

17 The funeral of the Madonna 32

18 The father of Christ 34

19 Judgment day 35

20 Mandeville 39

21 Pigmies and cannibals 42

22 "God of nature" 45

23 The three rings 47

24 Written culture and oral culture 49

25 Chaos 49

26 Dialogue 51

27 Mythical cheeses and real cheeses 54

28 The monopoly over knowledge 56

29 The words of the Fioretto 57

30 The function of metaphors 58

31 "Master," "steward," and "workers" 59

32 An hypothesis 61

33 Peasant religion 64

34 The soul 65

35 "I don't know" 66

36 Two spirits, seven souls, four elements 67

37 The flight of an idea 68

38 Contradictions 70

39 Paradise 72

40 A new "way of life" 73

41 "To kill priests" 75

42 A "new world" 77

43 End of the interrogations 82

44 Letter to the judges 82

45 Rhetorical figures 84

46 First sentence 86

47 Prison 88

48 Return to the town 90

49 Denunciations 92

50 Nocturnal dialogue with the Jew 95

51 Second trial 96

52 "Fantasies" 97

53 "Vanities and dreams" 100

54 "Oh great, omnipotent, and holy God…" 102

55 "If only I had died when I was fifteen" 103

56 Second sentence 104

57 Torture 104

58 Scolio 105

59 Pellegrino Baroni 111

60 Two millers 115

61 Dominant culture and subordinate culture 119

62 Letters from Rome 120

Notes 123

Index of Names 175

What People are Saying About This

Lauro Martines

Ginzburg has excavated a marvelous and melancholy tale. Lay readers know that historical work of this order requires formidable skills and dogged research... Ginzburg's discovery of Menocchio is a dazzling entry into the historical world of popular culture.

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