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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  4,080 ratings  ·  289 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.

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Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 1st 1992 by Johns Hopkins University Press (first published 1976)
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Start your review of The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller
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
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.

Largely a detective endeavor of sorts with leanings towards literary analysis. The work itself is an account of a heresy trial in early modern Italy. While the fate of the miller might be grim, this book also offers a startling optimism. As Terry Eagleton once noted the fact that we send our youth to universities where they have a
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 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
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
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: prawns
Shelves: european-history, own

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 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
Barnaby Thieme
Ginzburg's classic microhistory The Cheese and the Worms begins with a penetrating theoretical essay that sets out at length the necessity of carrying out historiography with theoretical sophistication informed by recent developments in critical theory in literature and the human sciences.

Unfortunately, his work suffers from a severe deficiency commonly evidenced by such theorists. While his critique of the naive approach taken by his putative opponents is devastating, he utterly fails to apply
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
''...But what had Menocchio actually read?''
''... This peasant Hereaclitus had recognised the primordial element in fire...

Perhaps crudely reproducing the great Miller's own exegetical idiosyncracies as explored in the book, I'll take Ginzburg's short text as primarily political - while his epistemological and methodological provocations are clearly sharp interventions into the field of 'social history', one seemingly rid of vitality by his contemporaries and near-predecessors in the Annales sch
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
Emily Wood
Only reading for school is turning my goodreads into a pretentious prison
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Italian Renaissance baby!!! And even better the Italian inquisition!!! Shout to Menocchio for being a real one even back in the 1600s.
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
Jun 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Replace the theology department with 'Cheese and Worms' studies. ...more
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
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn't enjoy this book the second time around, thus making me wonder if Frank Sinatra really understood what he was talking about when he wrote that song that I'm referencing. Moving on.

Carlo Ginzburg is an author that, regardless of what historical period you study, you probably know his name and it's priobably because of this book. The Cheese and the Worms has become a landmark text largely because it's credited with either founding or establishing the structure of Microhistory, the mode of
Revanth Ukkalam
Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms is the story of a heretic - but one who is completely forgotten. But going by the church records, the inquisition gave him a lot of attention. They were forced to - by the peculiar intersection of intuition, oral tradition, and an eclectic reading test that played out in the character of Menochio. Menochio is a true antic. He did not read thoroughly but the way he wanted, and apparently he worked with what pleased him. At the point of the trial he was a miller ...more
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
Victor Custódio
The most superb historigraphic work I've read! Carlo Ginsburg was able to enter inside the peasant world of 16th century Italy using the eyes of this peculiar miller called Menocchio and thus understand the cultural mechanisms themselves. Besides that, what caught my attention the most is the didactic way the author presents the subject and therefore how he makes the important scientific matter understandable and interesting for everyone. ...more
Charlie Huenemann
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating examination of the case of Menocchio, a 16th-century Miller with his own way of looking at the religious cosmos. Ginzburg uses what scraps of evidence he can to tell the story of a man history would have otherwise forgotten. Not a popular, easy read, but a careful, thoughtful, academic work.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Nick Bernstein
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
the year was 1599 but menocchio was out here living in the year 2030. RIP gone too soon
Esme Yayla
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
''But I do believe that God is the father of the whole world, and can do and undo.'' I wish God revive Menocchio, and he lives simultaneously in both of the worlds , at least just for a moment. ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book was completely delightful to read, even if the ultimate endpoint of its protagonist (Menocchio) was a very tragic one. I believe I first heard about this book in an episode of CBC Ideas back in 2017. The ideas of Menocchio that were discussed in that CBC Radio program reminded me of the tehomic theology of Catherine Keller, especially the creation of the universe out of some primordial chaos. Ginzburg actually explains how such an idea might have reached Menocchio, mentioning an August ...more
Sachin Bhatia
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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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.

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