The Arty Semite

The Susan Sontag of the Venetian Ghetto: Sarra Copia Sulam

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

According to Don Harrán, Sarra Copia Sulam was the first Italian Jewish woman to “excel” as a public literary figure, writing in various forms and leaving a “personal imprint on them.” She was a kind of Susan Sontag of the Venetian Ghetto. Sulam was also prominent because of her beauty and wealth (her husband was a banker/moneylender whose brother, also a banker, was likely a patron of Salamone Rossi).

Harrán, Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has published a series of landmark studies, including “Salamone Rossi: Jewish Musician in Late Renaissance Mantua” (Oxford University Press, 2003), about the Italian Jewish composers of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Harrán’s latest publication, from the University of Chicago Press, “Sarra Copia Sulam: Jewish Poet and Intellectual in Seventeenth-Century Venice” is equally rewarding and enlightening.

Sulam’s public literary career lasted only from 1618 to 1624, after which she focused on charitable works. Her writings include lyrical effusions like “Sonnet to the Human Soul”:

O di vita mortal forma divina
E dell’opre di Dio meta sublime
In cui sé stesso e ‘l suo potere esprime…

O divine form of mortal life
And sublime end of God’s works,
In which He expresses Himself and His power….

There is also a lengthy correspondence with the Catholic author Ansaldo Ceba, who ardently tries to get her to convert, which Sulam refuses to do, essentially telling Ceba to go get circumcised (!)

Sulam also tempts Ceba with the joys of Jewish cooking by sending him bottarga, a delectable pressed caviar described succinctly and succulently in Jayne Cohen’s “Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations” (Wiley, 2008).

Also a gifted musician at a time and place where a few Jewish women excelled in this domain, Sulam spoke out at a time when women were often seen as possessions or prisoners of their spouses (Horrifically, Sulam’s own sister Diana was blinded by her husband because he suspected her eyes of straying towards other potential lovers). Sarra Copia Sulam is a voice to be remembered.

Listen here, to selections from a CD of Rossi’s music by the Ensemble Profeti Della Quinta, recently released by the Swiss label Pan Classics.

Watch the Ensemble Profeti Della Quinta, a vocal quintet from Israel’s Galilee region, perform music by Salomone Rossi which was doubtless familiar to Sarra Copia Sulam:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Books, Ansaldo Ceba, Bottarga, Don Harrán, Hebrew University, Jayne Cohen, Poetry, Salamone Rossi, Sarra Copia Sulam, Susan Sontag, Venetian Ghetto, Venice

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.