Assignment 2: Critical Book Review -
The Cheese and the Worms
The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller by Carlo Ginzburg
Translated by John and Anne C. Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013)
The Cheese and the Worms written by Carlo Ginzburg in 1980. In the book, he narrates a story about insignificant miller from the province of Friuli, Italy in the 1500s. Ginzburg is peeling light on the inner workings of the Roman Catholic justice system, the agricultural economy of the area, and what he calls the peasant or popular culture. This review will summarize his narrative, evaluate his thesis, style, and approach, and provide a personal assessment of the book.
In the Middle Ages, it has been seen as ‘the age of faith’ because nearly all the evidence which can survive was written by monks and priests. They appear to be centuries of faith because priests controlled the censorship. It was very difficult to find out what ordinary people thought and what is truly right. However, The Cheese and the Worms gives a different perspective that makes the book more appealing. It can look into the mind of a sixteenth-century miller, Domenico Scandella, nicknamed Menocchio by his friends and neighbors who lived from 1532 to 1599. He was a miller, who spent almost his life in a small hill town- Montereale at Friuli, a part of the Venetian Republic. Menocchio is charged as a heretic that he both believed and propagated by the Friuli Inquisitors and subsequently interrogated which reveals a host of differences once believed by historians for such an individual considered an ordinary peasant during 1500s. His ability to spread his beliefs is what has brought him to trial.
Through the trial course, author Ginzburg highlights how certain aspects of Menocchio’s thought can be deduced to have had their origins in certain popular the logical tracts or works. Ginzburg listed a list of books that Menocchio reference throughout his first and second trial.( p.27-28) Having this understanding of how Menocchio read, and the books he often quoted during the trial, indicates a deeper understanding on how beliefs and ideas were formed by peasants of the sixteenth century. Many of the books were borrowed, which Ginzburg uses to illustrate how books in that day were spread not only through sharing the physical book but also through conversation. Books began to have oral interpretations that sometimes strayed far from their intent. Menocchio then is “one embodiment” of “the encounter between the printed page and the oral culture”.
Given the former assumption that peasant were mostly illiterate is altered by the ability to read and retain knowledge in books, and taking the former argument into consideration, having the ability to translate this knowledge with the that of the orally transmitted stories and histories give a wider scope of their culture. This is seen through the lens o...