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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,058 ratings  ·  180 reviews
The Cheese and the Worms is a study of the popular culture in the sixteenth century as seen through the eyes of one man, a miller brought to trial during the Inquisition. Carlo Ginzburg uses the trial records of Domenico Scandella, a miller also known as Menocchio, to show how one person responded to the confusing political and religious conditions of his time.

For a common
Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 1st 1992 by Johns Hopkins University Press (first published 1976)
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Fantastic study based on trial records of a sixteenth century Italian miller charged with heresy. The book offers a glimpse into an alternative (and generally unheard from) world-view that is full of so much imagination on the part of the miller that it should put many a fiction writer to shame.

That really is its strength and virtue, to be a reminder that the masses of people that now we label as Lutheran, Catholic or Anabaptist were a mess of individuals. While the beliefs of the hierarchies ca
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non dite di conoscere l’Italia, se non siete mai andati a mangiare in trattoria.

Partiamo col dire che non è un ricettario a base di prodotti caseari, tramandato dai nostri avi.
Quindi abbandonate il grembiule e mettetevi comodi.
Ma non troppo comodi, scordatevi l’amaca e il mojito in mano. Piuttosto scrittoio e appunti, preceduti dalla visione di qualche vecchia cassetta di “Un giorno in pretura”.

Trattasi infatti degli atti realtivi a un processo giudiziario del ‘500.
Scordatevi però che riguardi
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Cheese and the Worms is a ground breaking exposé into the field of microhistory and remains a foundational work for historians today. Ginzberg used the story of Menocchio, a sixteenth century miller who was twice prosecuted and ultimately condemned by the inquisition for holding and preaching egregiously heretical beliefs. As a miller and a literate man, Menocchio had a greater exposure to people and ideas than the average peasant-farmer, and apparently also a keen intellect which he used to ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tarih, kitaplık
Sıradan insanların yaşayışlarına yer olmayan tarih anlatımının çok uzağında, ince ince işlenmiş bir mikro tarih çalışması. Ortaçağ engizisyonunun gölgesinde yaşayıp eline geçen kitapları okuyan, okudukça ufku aydınlanan bir değirmenci ve dönemin sosyolojik yapısı ezber bozan cinsten.
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
We should not let the long tradition of smearing practicing Catholics as the brainwashed servants of a threatening foreign power—in which sensationalist and hyperbolic depictions of the Roman Inquisition play a part—from identifying the Catholic Church of the late sixteenth century for what it was: a repressive, cruel, and (in modern terms) fussily anal-retentive organization. No justification can or should be sought for torture, for the wracking of Menocchio and countless others on the ropes of ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: prawns
Shelves: own, european-history

This is an insightful book for all of us who assume European peasants were illiterate, uneducated, non-thinking folk. Our hero, the miller Menocchio, could read and write, owned a few books, borrowed a few more, had read the Decameron and dipped into the Koran, and combined the ideas he got from books with the oral tradition of 16th century rural Friuli to form his own slightly odd, very creative, para-Catholic religious notions. His discussions of these notions with others brought him to the at
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
As a medievalist, I run across this book all the time, which is funny considering it's not really a medieval book (it's more Renaissance/early modern). It's made a huge splash in The Study of Old Things, though, so I'm not surprised it finally showed up in a class of mine on the reading list.
So, the gist of the story (and it really does read like a story, which is kind of neat) is Ginzburg following the trials by the inquisition (no, not the one you didn't expect, another one) of a miller for be
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
This book is so hyped in academic circles, that it was perhaps setting itself up as a disappointment before I even cracked it open. I'm sure for the right type of history major (that is, one that's interested in actual events in history rather than their theoretical importance) this is a revelation. For me, it was more boring than I care to admit. I couldn't care about the miller Menocchio anymore than I care about any other random individual on the street. Sure, he was uncommonly literate, and ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: idiots
this guy goes on for 150+ pages about ALL the possible explanations for this random peasant thinking that the world was formed from chaos like the way cheese coagulates. then he's like the collective unconscious is an "unacceptable" explanation like wtf this whole book is dumb and this guy wasted his time writing it and the translators wasted their time translating it. it's literally written like "well the miller may have gotten his ideas from THIS SMALL, FAR OFF CHRISTIAN EXTREMIST GROUP becaus ...more
This is a microhistory of a sixteenth century Italian miller, whose heretical beliefs brought him to the attention of the Inquisition. Ginzburg uses the records of his trial to examine his personal theology and cosmology, and to examine to what extent we can recover a pre-modern "popular culture." I thought it was a more sophisticated attempt at a microhistory than The Return of Martin Guerre; Ginzburg approaches his sources with more subtlety and with more awareness of the dangers of pre-concei ...more
Jun 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Replace the theology department with 'Cheese and Worms' studies.
Soobie's scared
Questo libro è stata una sorpresa.

L'ho preso in mano perché avevo partecipato ad un incontro con il regista Alberto Fasulo e lui avevo parlato del suo prossimo progetto cinematografico, appunto un film sul Menocchio. Il nome mi era familiare perché, tutto sommato, vivo ad una quindicina di chilometri da Montereale; ma non avevo la minima idea di cosa avesse combinato per essere ricordato a cinquecento anni di distanza.

Fasulo ha cominciato il suo racconto citando un articolo di The New Yorker, qu
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, emblematic of the sub-genre of microhistory, is actually two stories simultaneously playing out on two levels. On the most obvious level, it follows the life and troubles of an early-modern Italian miller, Menocchio. Menocchio spent most of his life as both an idiosyncratic heretic and a well-respected member of his community. He came up against the Roman Inquisition multiple times, resulting in several imprisonments and eventually his execution.

The second level of this book is Ginzb
Matt McCormick
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Preaching that men should live in peace pleases me..about hell..I think it's an invention of men" So said a simple miller in very late sixteenth century rural Italy. The answer of the Roman church to this and so much more that the miller would think and say was death by immolation, as it would be for so many others who dared to question the theocratic power of the times.
Ginzburg's concise study was a fine read for a number of reasons. First it was unique. It's so easy to access books about the
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Blind Alley?: The books meanings were distorted by Menocchio. His oral culture was the filter for all of his reading
* Temple of the Virgins: Example of a detail in a book becoming the central issue for Menocchio
* Funeral of the Madonna: Again Menocchio overemphasizes the dishonor of Mary and misinterprets the story
* The Father of Christ: Menocchio focuses of Joseph being the father of Christ.
* Judgment Day: Menocchio believes that mans relationship to man is more important than his relationship
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Barbara Hansen
Ok, I'm leaving the rating at 3,5 stars. I really enjoyed this book, the first half of it especially. We had Mijail Bajtin and Rabelais, the juxtaposition between popular culture and high-dominant culture. The only reasonable explanation, in my opinion, is that Menocchio was: either from the future a la Outlander or, he was Socrates resuscitated. Who knows? I don't. But if I ever have a dog I'm naming him Menocchio, I bet he'll be a pain in the ass, judging everything I say. Or perhaps I'll name ...more
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL
This mirco-history concerns the life and times of one Domenico Scandella, a miller known as 'Menocchio', who was put on trial during the Inquisition for conceiving of and promulgating a blasphemous cosmos in a town of the north-eastern Italian state of Friuli. The central metaphor of his cosmic fantasy is 'the cheese and the worms', or, more to the point, the relationship between the cheese and its 'spontaneous generation' of worms.

Menocchio was a literate peasant (a rarity) so it's tempting to
Gilles Candotti
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Aside from very positive reviews, one of the reasons I read this book is that Menocchio (the book's central character) lived about 30 kilometers from my hometown (which could logically be the "unknown place in Carnia" where he was exiled).

And when reading the premises of the book (a world coagulating like cheese, and God and the Angels being worms), as well as the first chapters, I was expecting Menocchio to come out like some of our well loved but often mocked village originals, loudly proclai
Aug 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Though not my typical pick, this book (read for my Honors class) demonstrates the immense hypocrisy of the Catholic Church during the Baroque Period. As a miller in an isolated village in Italy (Montereale), a literate peasant explores the elements of Christianity with an unwittingly pantheistic bend. His conclusions range from being considered Lutheran, Anabaptist, atheist, Muslim, pantheist, and pagan. Despite his anomalous approach to religion his village finds him an amiable personality, fai ...more
Nov 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
O.K. Carlo - I am sorry, but your book 'The Cheese and the Worms' was a chore to finish. I was expecting something along the lines of 'A World Lit Only by Fire,' or like 'A Distant Mirror,' but instead I got an excruciatingly detailed analysis of the reading habits and religious thought processes of a 16th century Miller. I did learn a few things – like the fact that, apparently, a person interrogated by the Inquisition could retain legal counsel and might even have a chance of getting off easy ...more
Sep 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, italy
Carlo Ginzburg looks at detailed records from the Roman Inquisition trial of a sixteenth century miller named Menocchio whose heresies include the rejection of the divinity of Christ, the rejection of the idea of Virgin Birth, and an interesting cosmogony in which in the beginning all was chaos out of which emerged a mass "just as cheese is made out of milk--and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels, and among that number of angels there was also God, he too having been created out of ...more
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've never had the pleasure of reading about such a well-documented life of any regular person that had lived before the 1800s before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is something beautifully egalitarian about the very idea of such an approach, but what makes the book truly fascinating is Ginzburg's ability to paint an image of the wider early Modern peasant society based on this story of a single person. The period he works with is particularly apt for such explorations of individuals, speci ...more
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Facinating book, but Ginzburg over-reaches. There are many reasons why Menocchio may believe what he seems to believe. He may not have actually read the books he says he did. He may not have understood what he was reading very well due to limited literacy or not being able to read the dialect his books were in. All these are more likely than Menocchio tapping into a primeval Indo-European peasant tradition of pantheism untouched by Roman or Christian religion. A classic but ultimately a failed e ...more
May 14, 2014 rated it liked it
This is one of those books that gets talked up by history professors, etc, but also comes in for some criticism of the academic sort that I just don’t care about. I liked it all right. The subject matter – and the subject himself (Domenico Scandella, a miller who was burned at the stake as a heretic in the 16th century) is fascinating. But there’s a relative dearth of information on the trial and the man, and Ginzburg gets to repeating himself a lot. For a more compelling historical biography of ...more
Charlie Hersh
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, textbooks
What an incredible book! Really one of the best books I've read in grad school so far, or at least the one I've had the most enthusiastic response to. The meta-argument of this book -- that an unremarkable individual can be studied as a microcosm of the community they lived in -- is central to my job and the museum education program that I run. So frankly it was very inspiring to read such a groundbreaking model!
Sir Michael Röhm
Genuinely deserving of the hype, Ginzburg uses unearthed Inquisition records, made after the Lutheran rebellion, to investigate the unique heresies of a simple miller.

Taking his time, Ginzburg unearths elements of a peasant oral culture that is largely unrecorded except in Inquisition records.

A great book all around, and highly recommended.
Jul 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A really fascinating book, and I'd guess that would still be true even if you're not usually a big history reader. There are certainly pros and cons to a microhistory like this, but in any case it's a great opportunity to get little glimpses of a non-noble (or at least mostly non-noble) perspective. Menocchio is a wonderful guy to read about, alternately audacious and very sad.
I absolutely love the idea of giving voice to the voiceless, illuminating peasant culture, and "extend[ing] the historic concept of the 'individual' in the direction of the lower classes." But the subject that Ginzburg chose, the singular Mennochio, really doesn't have enough evidence about his life to back up all this extrapolation. That makes it all just seem like tenuous speculation. Bummer.
Aaron Kent
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Id pair this with "The Faithful Executioner" for the reader who's interested in seeing how carefree life was for the peasantry during and after the renaissance.
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Born in 1939, he is the son of of Italian-Ukranian translator Leone Ginzburg and Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg. Historian whose fields of interest range from the Italian Renaissance to early modern European History, with contributions in art history, literary studies, popular cultural beliefs, and the theory of historiography.
“We can readily see the function of nature, how it reconciles discordant things in such a fashion that it reduces all the differences to unity and combines them into one body and one substance: and also it combines them in plants and in seeds, and by the joining of male and female engenders beings according to the natural course.' —Fioretto della Bibbia 2 likes
“As with language, culture offers to the individual a horizon of latent possibilities—a flexible and invisible cage in which he can exercise his own conditional liberty.” 2 likes
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