Also known as the beautiful Jew, she was a poetess in the 17th century Venetian Ghetto, admired and celebrated by many contemporary intellectuals for her culture and beauty.

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Sara Copio Sullam (1592? - 1641) was the daughter of Simone Copio, one of the leaders of the Jewish Community of Venice. Married to Giacobbe Sullam, she hosted poets and illustrious writers in her home in the Ghetto Vecchio, and was guided in her cultural education by some of the most famous rabbis of the time, including and above all, Leon Modena, who dedicated his tragedy Estèr to her. 

Sara kept close correspondence with the Genoese Ansaldo Cebà for four years, author of a longpoem, La Reina Ester, which she particularly admired. The Ligurian intellectual tried in vain to convert her to Christianity, but Sara knew how to remain faithful to her religious beliefs. 

In 1621 Baldassar Bonifacio, Bishop of Koper, unjustly accused her of not believing in the immortality of the soul. It was the most painful moment in the life of the poetess: Sara responded with her famous Manifesto , in defense of herself, but also of all of Judaism. Admired by many writers, but also unjustly accused by others who considered her poetry to be the work of minor poets such as Numidio Paluzzi, whom she often protected, Sara defended herself with courage, and was supported by a small group of contemporary artists. Her defensive verses and those of her supporters are collected by the so-called Giulia Soliga Codex .

The brief Manifesto , however, remains her most important work. It is a carefully structured text, on truths that do not need any demonstration in order to reject unfounded accusations:

"The soul of man, Mr. Baldassare, is incorruptible, immortal and divine. It is innate, a creation of God in our bodies at the very moment when our organised being ready, in the maternal to receive it. This truth is as certain and infallible for me as it is - I believe - for every Jew and every Christian" 

Beginning with these statements, the text avoids entering into specific theological discussions and instead insists on the de-legitimization of Boniface to prove the groundlessness of his accusations. The result is not only a defense of the self in front of the entire intellectual community, but also an indirect apologia of the values of Judaism, which makes the short text a fundamental event in the 17th century history of the Venetian Ghetto. 

Preceded by two sonnets and followed, with clear symmetry, by two other sonnets, the Manifesto concludes with some famous verses, which summarise the Copio's entire hypothesis:  

O divine form of mortal life,
And sublime end of God’s works, 

In which He expresses Himself and His power, 
And made you a queen of as much as He created; 
Mind that informs man, in whom the immortal, 
Adjoins the mortal, and that resides amidst the prime, 
Essences in flying from the deepest, 
Parts where heaven bends down to you: 
May stupid thought that lives amidst ephemeral objects, 
Desist now from investigating you, however, 
For you uncover yourself only when you approach God.


Images gallery

Presumed portrait of Sara Copio Sullam
Title page of the Manifesto
Annotation of the death of Sara Copio Sullam in the Register of Dead 1627-1653 of the Archive of the Jewish Community of Venice.

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