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A DISPUTATION IN AN ITALIAN NOVEL.
By Max Radin, Newtown High School, New York.
In connection with President Schechter's article on
the Khazars (JQR., New Series, III, i8iff.) the fol-
lowing account of a disputation may have at least the in-
terest of a curiositas litteraria.
Jerome Morlini, a Neapolitan jurist, published on April
8, 1520, a collection of. Novels in Latin. These do not dif-
fer from the many similar collections in Italian and French,
except that they are rather less witty and, if anything, more
obscene. The style, too, is a curious conglomeration of
phrases, a piling of solecism upon euphuism, and the ex-
traordinary book is further disfigured by extremely care-
These vices of substance and form did not, how-
ever, prevent the book from becoming a much-coveted
prize for bibliophiles as early as the eighteenth century.
Finally, in 1799, a certain, Pierre Simon Caron prepared a
second edition at Paris, which purposed to be an exact
reproduction of the first, but which, by gratuitous blunders
in reading, succeeded in being much worse.
A very few years later, one E. T. Simon, of Troyes,
conceived the plan of a third edition. He intended to re-
vise the text thoroughly, and to add to the eighty-one
novels, the fables and the comedy already published, an
appendix consisting of 19 new novels. One of these had
512 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
already been published in the Notizia de' Novellieri Ita-
liani (Bassano 1794) by Count Borromeo, who found it
ascribed to Morlini. The other eighteen he claimed to have
discovered in a MS. where they were attributed to the Nea-
Simon died before he could carry out his project. His
MS. passed into several hands and was finally (1853)
purchased by the Municipal Library of Troyes.
In 1855 Morlini was edited for the third time in the
Bibliotheque Elzeverienne published by P. Jannet. This
third edition is the first one that is properly printed. The
text has been freed from its obvious errata and all the ab-
breviated words are printed in full. The editor is very
short with Simon's eighteen novels, which he pronounces
clumsy forgeries. The decision, to be sure, is based on
differences of style, at best a slippery criterion. But
whether they are genuine or not, a real service was done
in publishing the complete collection, since otherwise the
eighteen novels of Simon would have remained inaccessible.
As to the character of the original novels, little need
be said. The themes are those that meet us in all the Nov-
ellieri — witty retorts, buffooneries, and the inexhaustible
astusia delle donne. Morlini, it may be noted, exercised
considerable influence upon later writers, who often imitat-
ed and translated him.
The novels of the Appendix are, in the main, of the
same type. Two, however, vi and xiii, are peculiar. They
contain miracles of the Virgin and xiii is especially note-
worthy for the fact that in it a Jew suffers both contume-
ly and a beating for his blasphemy. Indeed the novel is
an attempt to explain the custom said to exist in Santa
Maria Oculatrice near Venosa in the province of Basilicata.
DISPUTATION IN AN ITALIAN NOVEL — RADlN 513
by which any Jew found in the village on Assumption Day
(August 15) received a sound beating. 1
In view of the above, the last novel entitled, De Judaeo
Christiano Mahumeditano et regc, is particularly remark-
able. Summarized it runs as follows.
Three travelers once set out from Tripoli for the
Mountains of the Moon, situated at the sources of the Nile.
After countless hardships they reached a beautiful region
called Oasis. Immediately upon their arrival they were
surrounded by a gaping crowd shouting words in an un-
intelligible tongue. Armed men finally took them in charge
and brought them to the King of the country. The latter,
wholly unable to understand them, ordered them to be kept,
at public expense, for the present.
Meanwhile a royal attendant bethought himself of a
resident of Oasis who had come there many years ago, ap-
parently from the same direction as the travelers. This
man was immediately summoned and ordered to find out
who the strangers were.
Now this man happened to be a Moor from Tunis.
After speaking with the travelers, he promptly discovered
that they were all three from Tripoli, but that they were
of different religions, being a Christian, a Jew and a Mo-
hammedan respectively. The Moor was himself a Mo-
hammedan by birth, but had long lapsed into the idolatry
of the other inhabitants of Oasis. Secretly, however, he
still favored his old belief and bitterly hated both Jews
and Christians. When, therefore, he reported the results
of his investigation to the King, he wickedly asserted that
the new-comers were dangerous to the state because of
1 The custom is somewhat like that recorded for Lyon in the fourteenth
century. — Jewish Encyclopedia, VIII, 2506.
514 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
their widely-differing religions. Thereupon the King or-
dered the travelers to learn the Oasitan language as soon
as possible, and commanded his attendants to see to their
The travelers obeyed. Instructed by the Moor, they
soon succeeded in mastering the language, although they
would vastly have preferred to pursue their journey.
When the King thought that they had learned enough
for his purpose, he summoned the frightened travelers to
him. He conversed with them on frequent occasions and
quickly discovered the dogmas of their respective religions
and the differences, disagreements, and mutual hatred that
reigned in the breasts of all three. Convinced that they
never could agiee and would make bad citizens of any
State or government whatever, he nevertheless decided to
try to overcome such obstinacy. He, therefore, called them
together and summoned the executioner. Then he ordered
every one of them at once, under pain of immediate death,
to adopt the religion of one of the other two, and to give
in the presence of one another and of the court, the rea-
sons that guided him in his choice.
The Christian spoke first. "Since it is a matter of life
and death," he said, "and since the Jewish faith is older
than my own and consequently than the Mohammedan, and
since the whole Christian religion is derived from the Holy
Scriptures handed down by Moses and the ancient
prophets, I have no hesitation in adopting the laws of the
The Mohammedan, calling both Jews and Christians
dogs, and reviling them bitterly, declared, nevertheless,
that he held the same opinion. He announced that he pre-
ferred to be a follower of Moses than of Christ, the God
DISPUTATION IN AN ITALIAN NOVEL — RADIN 515
born of a virgin, and that he held his own life dearer than
the Alcoran, because the Bible was older than the latter.
Then the devotee of Moses arose and thus addressed
"My fate hangs on your nod. Nevertheless, most
noble judge, you see the great veneration these men have
for my law. Both religions are daughters of Moses, the
Prophet. But the father is greater than the daughters. I
cannot join the child when the child of its own accord
cleaves to my father. It would be both absurd and dis-
loyal on my part. As far as my life is concerned, do what-
ever seems best to you. I shall continue to adore the God
who is the Judge and Sovereign even over you."
Moved by these words, the King permitted the Jew to
retain his faith, dismissed the executioner and distributed
many gifts to the travelers. He even permitted them to
proceed on their journey if they chose. They preferred,
however, to stay there, induced by the delightful climate
and the sacred and inviolable blessing of liberty enjoyed
by the citizens. They, therefore, pitched their tents there.
Soon all the people became converted to Judaism, and the
travelers guided King and people in the observance of the
holy days, sub insignibus Symagogae.
This story teaches that ancient rites are always to be
How this story, in which the Jew plays a triumphant
part, came into this collection side by side with Novel xiii,
above mentioned, is difficult to imagine. The substance
— an obvious adaptation of the disputation in Judah Halevi's
Al-Khazari — could have reached Morlini (if he was the
writer) only by oral communication. There were many
Spanish Jews and Marannos in Naples after the expulsion
516 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
of 1492, and we know that they were effectively protected
by the King. 2
If, however, the novels are a forgery of very much
later date, we have not far to look for its source. In 1660
Buxtorf translated the Al-Khazari from Hebrew into Latin.
After that time, the story of the disputation was common
property and may very easily have been adapted into the
form here found. The curious circumstance, however, that
such a story should be written by a Christian for a Chris-
tian audience remains quite without explanation.
2 The novel of Bandello, Pt. i, Nov. 32, addressed to Cardinal Lodovico
d'Aragone. — Frate Francesco Spagnuolo volendo cacciar con inganni i Giudel
del regno di NapoK e imprigionato.