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 confusing political and religious conditions of the time. 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.
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This was first published on the now-retired polarcosmology. Check out more information , or buy from Strange Attractor Press. In , in the small hill town of Montereale in northeast Italy, a miller called Menocchio was denounced to the Holy Office by a local priest.
He was accused of blaspheming, and of compounding his heresies by spreading them. He was frequently getting into arguments with people about theological matters. During his trial, Menocchio veered between espousing his singular opinions — which were clearly deeply felt, whether based on reading or personal experience — and pragmatic attempts to back down and save himself from execution. His convictions won the day — eventually, in , he was burned at the stake.
But perhaps the most curious view he proffered was his bizarre idea about the origins of the cosmos:. I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed — just as cheese is made out of milk — and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels.
The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels, there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time, and he was made lord, with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
The metaphor, comparing God and the angels to worms emerging from decomposing cheese, would no doubt have been supremely distasteful to Church authorities. Just as scandalous was the underlying idea that the cosmos, rather than being made by God, emerged spontaneously, before the angels and the Lord himself also emerged, spontaneously. Not in opposition to smaller-scale studies, but hopefully as a complement, in dialogue with them.
But we should never get caught up in grand stories and forget to stop regularly, and ground or sometimes dissolve the story in historical details. And it still manages to keep an eye on the bigger picture, gesturing toward great currents which can sweep through the lives of many thousands without a historical voice, and only register in official records in distorted and diminished ways.
No comments here for now, but if you want to you can chip in on Facebook or Twitter. But perhaps the most curious view he proffered was his bizarre idea about the origins of the cosmos: I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed — just as cheese is made out of milk — and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels.
Fox-Horton on Ginzburg, 'The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller'
Carlo Ginzburg. Translated by John and Anne C. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, Set to celebrate its fortieth anniversary next year, the monograph persists as one of the earliest and most influential examples of microhistory.
The Cheese and the Worms
The book is a notable example of cultural history , the history of mentalities and microhistory. The study examines the unique religious beliefs and cosmology of Menocchio — , also known as Domenico Scandella, who was an Italian miller from the village of Montereale , twenty-five kilometers north of Pordenone. He was from the peasant class and not a learned aristocrat or man of letters, Ginzburg places him in the tradition of popular culture and pre-Christian naturalistic peasant religions. His outspoken beliefs earned him the title of a heresiarch heretic during the Roman Inquisition. Menocchio's literacy may be accounted for by the establishment of schools in the villages surrounding Friuli : Aviano and Pordenone.