Abstract

A survey of textual sources relating to Jewish eating habits in pre-modern Italy should also include a composition penned by the Venetian rabbi Leon Modena (1571-1648). Written on the occasion of the wedding of an affluent member of the Venetian community, the text humorously depicts, in verse, the dishes that—according to Modena—were served at the reception. Comprised of eight short units of verse, each devoted to a different dish and varying in length and meter, the composition reflects the assortment of food typical of festive occasions: delicacies like capon, duck, sausages and pastries are presented in an orderly sequence and their taste, texture, and shape are extolled. In a verbal display in which the gap between the real and the fictional table is annulled, some of the dishes even speak in the first person inviting the banqueters to enjoy the pleasures of commensality and dine heartily in honor of the bride and groom. Composed in a witty and punning language in which biblical and rabbinical allusions are masterfully mingled, Modena’s culinary epithalamium vividly captures a convivial occasion, thus casting light on the experience of fine dining in early modern Jewish Venice with its related social conventions and practices. By confirming the aesthetic value attributed to food in Jewish culture and its symbolic significance, Modena’s ‘menu in verse’ allows us to explore the ways in which food and poetry, both perceived as forms of art that bring pleasure and refinement, intersected, while being defined and conditioned by historical circumstances, cultural trends (meal- and food-related poetry was a common feature of Italian baroque literature), religious identity and social mores.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0604
Print ISSN
0021-6682
Pages
pp. 456-481
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-14
Open Access
N

Copyright

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