Reading the Venetian Qur'an

Episode 364

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Today’s scholars of early modern Europe continue to explore the myriad ways in which Islam and Middle Eastern culture found its way into European society. In this episode, we unravel another thread by focusing on an anonymous, printed Italian Qur’an that appeared in Venice in 1547. The story of this first vernacular Qur’an and its accompanying biography of Muhammad reveals a complicated tale of a text aimed at different levels of readership. Pier Mattia Tommasino shows how this Qur'an, in addition to serving as a general Renaissance guide to Islamic history, was also a manual for European refugees seeking to relocate to the Ottoman Empire. In the second half of the episode, we revisit the classic microhistory, The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg. The tale of the oddball Friulian miller named Menocchio takes another turn when it is revealed that the Qur’an he read is this very same Venetian Qur’an. Re-reading Menocchio’s testimony in light of the Venetian Qur’an allows us to reflect once more on the historian’s craft and the problem of 'distance.'

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Contributor Bios

Pier Mattia Tommasino is an Assistant Professor of Italian at Columbia University. He is currently working on a project on Oriental studies in seventeenth-century Florence.
Maryam Patton is a PhD candidate at Harvard University in the joint History and Middle Eastern Studies program. She is interested in early modern cultural exchanges, and her dissertation studies cultures of time and temporal consciousness in the Eastern Mediterranean during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Shireen Hamza is a doctoral student in the History of Science department at Harvard University. Her research focuses broadly on the history of science and medicine in the Islamicate Middle Ages, especially in the Indian Ocean world.


Episode No. 364
Release Date: 26 June 2018
Recording Location: Cambridge, MA
Audio editing by Maryam Patton
Music: Istanbul'dan Ayva Gelir Nar Gelir - Azize Tozem and Sari Recep from Excavated Shellac. Special thanks to Kara Güneş for permission to use the composition "Istanbul"
Images and bibliography courtesy of Pier Mattia Tommasino

Select Bibliography


Tommasino, Pier Mattia. L'Alcorano di Macometto. Storia di un libro del Cinquecento europeo, Il Mulino, 2013.

English translation:

----. The Venetian Qur'an: a Renaissance Companion to Islam, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.


----. “Barthélemy d’Herbelot and Bulghaith Al-Darawi readers of the Qur’an in seventeenth-century Florence” Journal of Qur’anic Studies, forthcoming in 2018

----. “Roman Prophet and Muslim Caesar, Muhammad the Lawgiver before and after Machiavelli,” in Giuseppe Marcocci and Lucio Biasiori, Machiavelli, Islam and the East, Reorienting the Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Basingstroke-New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, 79-103

----. “Travelling East, Writing in Italian: Literature of European travel to the Ottoman Empire Written in Italian (Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries),” Philological Encounters, 2/1-2, 2017, 28-51.

---. “Textual Agnogenesis and the polysemy of the reader: Early Modern European readings of Qur’ānic Embryology,” in Mercedes García-Arenal (ed.), After Conversion, Iberia and the Emergence of Modernity, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2016, 155-173

----. “Lire et traduire le Coran dans le Grand-duché de Toscane,” Dix-septième siècle, 268/3, 2015, 459-480

----. “Otranto and the Self,” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 18/1, 2015, 147-155

----. “Muhammad e la cerva di Quinto Sertorio,” in Cándida Madrid and Óscar de la Cruz Palma (eds.) Las Vitae Mahumeti, Nueva Roma, 2014, 207-219

----. “The Qur’an in Early Modern Iberia and Beyond,” edition and introduction to the monographic section of the journal Al-Qantara, 35/2, 2014, 397-408

----. with Harm Den Boer (University of Basel), “Reading the Qur’an in the seventeenth-century Sephardi Community of Amsterdam,” Al-Qantara, 35/2, 2014, 461-491


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