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

Carlo Ginzburg , John Tedeschi , Anne C. Tedeschi
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 15.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

4 Sep 2013

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. 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Reprint edition (4 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421409887
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421409887
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.8 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A wonderful book... Ginzburg is a historian with an insatiable curiosity, who pursues even the faintest of clues with all the zest of a born detective until every fragment of evidence can be fitted into place. The work of reconstruction is brilliant, the writing superbly readable, and by the end of the book the reader who has followed Dr. Ginzburg in his wanderings through the labyrinthine mind of the miller of the Friuli will take leave of this strange and quirky old man with genuine regret.

(J. H. Elliott New York Review of Books)

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.

(Lauro Martines Washington Post)

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.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cheese and the Worms 25 Sep 2013
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
"You might as well go and confess to a tree as to priests and monks."

I came across a reference to this book quite by chance, and was intrigued.

Domenico Scandella was born in 1532, and died, burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1599. He was an obscure miller from an obscure Italian village, and his beliefs are recorded for us today purely because he was tried by the Inquisition twice. Their precise and detailed records allow us to get a glimpse into a life that was formed by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, and framed by the advent of printing, giving Menocchio (as he was called) the ability and opportunity to take his own thoughts and blend them into what the Church deigned to call a heresy. The Catholic Church Counter-Reformation led to harsh penalties for those who thought outside the orthodox, and the Reformation, together with printing, had enabled those who wondered to think outside what the Church had earlier taught them. A dangerous mixture, if the thinkers read too much, spoke too much and caught the attention of the Inquisitors.

A sad story, one cannot help but wonder if Menocchio had learned his lesson after his first incarceration and release and had kept his ideas to himself, he would not have ended up again in trouble, this time fatally. All the more poignant for his apparent redemption and then failure, this is an eye-opening story, horrifying because of its truth, sad because of its loss. In a world where the Church could condemn men such as Giordano Bruno to horrible death, what hope did a man like Menocchio have? This book left me with a real feeling of deep sadness, for what man can do to man.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Microhistory at its classical best. 7 Mar 2014
By John M. Jennings - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Classic micro historical look at Roman Inquisition though the eyes of court records and testimony of a rural miller in 16th century Italy. Fascinating and true!
3.0 out of 5 stars Read it for school 17 Feb 2014
By Ben Marks - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
well like Rosebud, I now know what the cheese and the worms means. interesting book, provides the trial and background knowledge in the book. the extra information can be boring, but the trail was very interesting. only real. complaint is that the page numbers are very messed up.
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