Sara Copio Sullam

An Italian Jewish Poetess.

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One example of such betrayal came from the Italian scholar and prominent cleric, Baldassare Bonifaccio, who had often been a guest at Sullarns home. In 1621, in his

Discourse on the Immortality of the Soul (Discorso sull'immortalita dell'aniilia), Bonifaccio accused her of denying immortality, an accusation that amounted to heresy, and a serious crime in the Venice of her day. Sara Copio Sullam was quick to reply with a manifesto of her own, defending herself against this dangerous charge. She accused Bonifaccio of not knowing Hebrew, and he retaliated, alleging that she herself had not written the manifesto.  

Left Without Support

Sara Sullam sent her friend Ceba a copy of her manifesto, hoping for his support on her behalf, but Ceba was old and ill. After many months he replied, but only to comment once again on her failure to convert. Ansaldo Ceba died in 1623, shortly after this last correspondence.

The accusation by Bonifaccio and the failure of Ceba and her other friends to rally to her defense constituted real danger to Sullam should the Inquisition decide to investigate the charges. In addition, they were serious personal disappointments. This difficult period in her life continued for some years. Many of her friends and teachers left her, and others played cruel jokes or tried to trick her out of her money. She was even accused of plagiarizing.

Sullam is Defended

Not until after 1625 did someone come to Sullam's defense. In a manuscript called Codice di Ciulia Seliga, her anonymous defender described an imaginary trial against her accusers and denigrators and compared her to some of the most famous Italian women writers of the 15th and 16th centuries. After this work, which included some of her unpublished sonnets, nothing much was written about this most celebrated woman of her time. She died of a continual fever lasting three months. Although the date of her death is in doubt, her death certificate gives February 15, 1641.

A Prayer for Vindication

Some of Sara Copio Sullam's bitterness and disappointment comes through in this sonnet, in which she appeals to God to protect her from "the lying tongue's deceit."

O Lord, You know my inmost hope and thought,

You know when e'er before Thy judgement throne

I shed salt tears, and uttered many a moan.

It was not for vanities I sought.

O turn on me Thy look with mercy fraught

And see how envious malice makes me groan!

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Emily Taitz

Emily Taitz has a PhD in medieval Jewish history from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She taught women's history at Adelphi University and is presently co-editor of The New Light, a literary magazine.