I will start now to look at the careers and writings of two personalities, Yohanan Alemanno and Luigi Pulci. I am at this point mostly interested in what light they shed on Jewish-Christian interactions in the 1450s and, by implication, before 1438.
YOHANAN ALEMANNO (c. 1435 - after 1504)
Allemano is best known as a teacher of Pico della Mirandola (1463-1394) , starting in 1488 if not before. Although born in Italy, he was of an Ashkenazi family that had spent much time in Spain, Idel says, and his father made a living selling old manuscripts. So some of these manuscripts, whatever they were, might have influenced young Yohanan. Idel observes, p. 155:
According to some evidence, which needs detailed investigation, the arrival of
R Yohanan Alemanno's family in Italy from Aragon in the 1430s was instrumental
in bringing some speculative literature from Spain.
Yohannan was educated by R Yehudah Messer Leon, a famous but by all accounts quite conservative writer. Idel writes, contrasting the older generation with that of Yohanan (p. 159):
The earlier authors, R. Moshe ben Yoav (Datillo), Moshe Rieti, R. Elijah del Medigo, and R. Yehudah Messer Leon, were much more conservative, closer to medieval Jewish philosophy, and unaware or suspicious of both magic and Kabbalah.
In this connection Hava Tirosh-Rothschild in Between Worlds: The Life and Thought of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon
, 1991, says that Judah Messer Leon (c. 1420-25 - c. 1498) issued a ruling in the 1450s banning Gersonides' Perush al-ha Torah
and Kabbalah (p. 26). (On the Internet at least, nobody calls Gersonides a Kabbalist; he is an Aristotelian, but departs from Aristotle in ways that could have been seen as objectionable. I can find nothing out about the particular work in question.)
Judah Messer Leon's son, David ben Judah Messer Leon (c. 1470-c. 1526), wrote that he had been forbidden to study Kabbalah by his father, but nonetheless, since the year of his marriage when he was 18, he studied it secretly (Tirosh-Rothschild, p. 41). That would have been in 1489, the year his father sent him to Padua to study the Ashkenazi legal tradition in the yeshiva of Judah Minz (pp. 40-41). Despite the ban on Kabbalah, Judah Messer Leon apparently supported a Renaissance education in other respects, including the Aristotelian-oriented part of the humanism that young Christian gentlemen were taught. Alemanno apparently received the same.
Idel says nothing about where Alemanno got his education from Judah Messer Leon, before or after the latter awarded him his doctorate in 1470. However in Studies in Jewish Manuscripts
, edited by Joseph Dan and Klaus Herrmann, p. 25 (http://books.google.com/books?id=AO6dzM ... sa&f=false
), we learn that Cassuto (1918) states that he was in Florence in two periods of his life, the first from "sometime after his 21st birthday until he was 28".. Moreover, during his stays there he lived in the home of "Yehiel (or, as he was known in Christian circles, Vitale) da Pisa". Herrman continues:
Cassuto devotes many pages to Yohanan Alemanno, who spent two periods of his life in Florence, the first being sometime after his 21st birthday until he was 28 (1455-1462) and again when he returned in 1488 and came into contact with Pico della Mirandola. He spent his years there in the home, and under the patronage, of Yehiel (or, as he was known in the secular sources, Vitale) da Pisa (28).
28. See D. Kaufmann, "La famille de Yeheille de Pisa," REJ 26, 1893, pp. 83-110, 220-239.
If before 1452 Alemanno received a conventional education under someone like Judah Messer Leon (who if not his teacher certainly would have carried much weight in Mantua), and after around 1465 was definitely with Judah Messer Leon, where did he get his Platonism? And what, despite everything, motivated his turn toward the Kabbalah?
We might wonder if that first period might have led him toward both the Kabbalah, from Jewish sources, including ones his family might have already had, as well as Platonism, from Christian sources.
The first period would have been during the lifetime of Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464), leading up, in 1462, to his entrusting his Plato manuscript (probably Plethon's earlier, Hankins surmises; see http://books.google.com/books?id=CX06ds ... 3F&f=false
, p. 29) to Ficino (1433-1499) to translate.
This was the time of the controversies over who was superior, Plato or Aristotle, a debate to which the Neoplatonist Plethon had added fuel in 1438; his way had been prepared by the early translators, Bruni and Decembrio, and now Filelfo, Cusano, Bessarion, and many others were joining in (Hankins p. 196, not in Google Books).
Ficino, like Alemanno, had been trained in Aristotelian scholasticism, and like him (at least later) was breaking away from that tradition in a Platonic direction, with Cosimo's hearty approval. According to Hankins (Plato in the Renaissance
, (http://books.google.com/books?id=BLgfAA ... no&f=false
, p. 276), Ficino in the 1450s was influenced mainly by an Augustinian monk and teacher named Lorenzo Pisano, who was from an aristocratic Pisan family. Through him he came in contact with a Platonizing theology and the writings of pseudo-Dionysius (as translated by Traversari, perhaps). Although he was long familiar with the extant Latin translations of Plato, he wrote his own first Platonizing work in 1456 (no longer extant, but it upset his spiritual advisers, Hankins says).
Ficino, born 1433, was about two years older than Alemanno, born c. 1435. Pulci, whom we will meet shortly, was born in 1432.
Alemanno's sponsor (then or later, I'm not sure) Yehiele/Vitale da Pisa, of course, was a member of one of the four banking families invited to Florence from Pisa in 1430. Thus Alemanno's early Jewish sources, apart from Aristotelian ones, might have included those that Trevarsari's Jewish source knew. This possibility is strengthened by footnote 27 at the bottom of page 25 in Studies in Jewish Manuscripts
(http://books.google.com/books?id=AO6dzM ... sa&f=false
), in which Alemanno in a post-1488 work cites the same Aramaic work, the Targum Esther ha-Sheni
, that seems to have been the source of the bird in Ghiberti's Solomon and Sheba panel. Only now it is not the Pope who is the new Solomon (in Krautheimer's interpretation, with Sheba as the Greek Church), but the "typical nobleman" (Idel's quote from Alemanno) of Alemanno's day, who allocates money to the idols worshiped by his wives, even though he doesn't believe in them. (The post-1488 work is Alemmano's Hesheq Schlomo
, in English, The Desire of Solomon
; according to Idel, p. 177, Alemanno says in it that Pico encouraged him to write it.)
Another clue is in other "of Pisa"'s that Idel gives: Alemanno's patron was "the grandfather of R. Yehi'el Nissim of Pisa"; his student was "the latter's uncle, R. Yitzhaq of Pisa" (Idel p. 179). The da Pisas were not only bankers but rabbis. And all of them, to some extent, can be assumed to be friends of the Medici.
At the same time, Judah Messer Leon was always in the background, even in Florence. in the 1450s one of Judah's students married Yehiel da Pisa's daughter Hannah (Tirosh-Rothschild, p 28f). This gave Judah an entree into Jewish high society, so to speak, the society of wealth and power--"the most prominent Jewish family in Italy", Tirosh-Rothschild says--rather than knighthood and service, one that a yeshiva director in Ancona both needed and sought. There is no reason why Alemanno would not have welcomed the association as well. It might have been how Alemanno came under Yehiel's wing. But there were things going on then, the late 1450s and early 1460s, in Florence just as there would be in Padua in the 1480s, that the man in Ancona could not prohibit.
LUIGI PULCI (1432-1484)
For more about this period, the 1450s-1460s, I turn to Lorenzo de' Medici's friend Luigi Pulci. According to Edoardo A Labano (in the introduction to the 1998 English translation of Morgante
), the German scholar Ernst Walser has shown that:
Luigi did not derive his sharply rationalistic, pantheistic, and tolerant ideas from the study of antiquity, but rather from his familiarity with Florentine Jews, from whom he also acquired his profound knowledge of the cabala.
This quote is at http://books.google.com/books?id=CIICQp ... ws&f=false
. The "highly regarded essay" is Lebens- und Glaubenprobleme aus dem Zeitalter der Renaissance: Die Religion des Luigi Pulci, ihre Quellen und ihre Bedeutung
, Marburg: a.n. Lahme Envert, 1927.
I don't know where Walser gets the idea of "profound knowledge of the cabala", but I can see now who the "Florentine Jews" might be: those invited by Pico and Lorenzo, in the circle of the da Pisas and other Jewish bankers. How serious the involvement with "magic" (Ageno's phrase) was is unclear. Ageno cites some 1466 letters from Pulci to Lorenzo, of which I give my translations here: "God will help us, or Salay" (Lett. IV, p. 40); "Estimate that Salay still wants his part from us" (Lett. VI, p. 49); "Here with some saplings and advice from Salay I am governed" (Lett. VIIII, p. 53); and ""I cannot think of anything else but you and Salay from a time past (for a long time?) (Lett. IX, p. 56). Agnelo introduces these quotes, on what basis I do not know, by saying, in my translation
Probably as early as 1453 Luigi had been initiated into the practice of magic.
For the original Italian for all of this, see my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1019&p=15588&hilit=Salay#p15588
There is also his antagonist, the priest Matteo Franco, who in 1474, in the nasty exchange of sonnets with Pulci, accused him of being one who has committed "a great sin" and "makes war on God with his tongue and pen". According to Labano, Franco is "referring to the magic rituals which were held at the Neroni family, where Luigi was often a welcome guest" (p. xvii).
The sonnet exchange is the trouble in 1474 that Huck has recently reminded us of, the sonnets against first Franco and then Ficino, then n 1475 the sharp rebuke from Lorenzo and Pulci's "Confessione". Later, in 1484, just when things seemed to be really looking up, he had the bad luck to die, in Padua where the clergy refused to bury him in consecrated ground (Labano p. xxiii). I can't help wondering if it wasn't the plan of someone in Padua to have him die; after all, Pico and his Kabbalist friends had just been there translating documents that many, Christian as well as Jewish, thought better forgotten.
These things might make Pulci a dabbler in magic, but a Kabbalist? "Salay" or "Salaye" sounds to me as much Arabic as Jewish. In discussing Pulci's "cabala", Labano next mentions Averroist works:
As Walser points out, the introduction of Averroistic doctrines into European thought was due mainly to Jewish scholars who translated Arabic texts and provided Latin commentaries of such texts throughout the Middle Ages. (104)
104. See Lebens- und Glaubensprobleme..., 64-71.
But what does Averroism have to do with magic? In reading the Jewish Enclopedia's article on the subject, I see absolutely nothing about magic (although Jewish Averroists did discuss prophecy). But "Averroism" was a broad term that applied to anyone who used Averroes (an Aristotelian) in a positive way, such as Maimonides or, later, Gersonides. Perhaps in that broad way even Kabbalists such as Abulafia would qualify as Averroist, but if so the term has lost much of its meaning.
Walser's assumption, I think, is that Jewish dabblers in magic absorbed Arabic elements. I do not have access to Walser's book to clarify his meaning further.
But what does any of this have to do with "Salay"? Agnelo refers us further to the body of Morgante itself, octaves 57-49 of Canto XXI, which she says were written in 1471. They are here, in English translation: http://books.google.com/books?id=CIICQp ... ye&f=false, p. 451. "Salayé" there is an angel who fell with Lucifer. Other demons named--some might be men--are Salyass, Berith, Squaciaferro, Nillo, Bocco, Sottin, Obysin, Ruggiadan, Bileth, Astoroth, and Oratas. What nationalities are such demons? The ones ending in "-th" could be Jewish; the ones ending in "-o" could be Italian or Spanish. The ones ending in "-in" might be French (Pulci says that Sottin speaks in pseudo-French). The acute accent on the "é" in "Salayé" suggests French or Spanish. These demons seem like a European hodge-podge; if any are Arabic, they have been transplanted to Romance soil.
In another place, Canto XXIV, stanzas 112-113, the narrator mentions
Moco and Scarbo, then, and Marmores,
and the bifurcate bone that closed at last
which he associates with the cave of the sibyl that he (the narrator) visited, as well as someone named Cecco d'Ascoli. Pulci in fact visited the Sibyl of Norcia's cave in December 1470 or shortly thereafter. He promised Lorenzo to bring him some truffles after his return from Norcia to visit the sibyl (http://books.google.com/books?id=CIICQp ... ia&f=false). According to the translator's notes, Cecco d'Ascoli had been a professor of astrology at Bologna, forced to leave in 1324, moved to Florence, and was burned alive as a heretic there in 1327. His major work is the Acerba, "for a long time considered to be an important text by all those interested in magic" the translator says, p. 896; it tells how the demons Moco, Scarbo, and Marmores can be evoked. The "birfurcate bone" is from the breast of a rooster that has been bewitched. When placed in a fire it can answer a wizard's questions by opening or closing itself.
It strikes me that Pulci probably dabbled in all sorts of magic, Christian as well as Jewish and perhaps Arabic, of a not very sophisticated kind, and perhaps merely for purposes of research for his poem. What this mostly speaks to is the wide-ranging freedom of esoteric thought and practice in Florence at that time, of a piece with Ficino's singing of Orphic Hymns to Cosimo on his deathbed but more radical.
Now I will take a short break and try to see what Cassuto has to say about Alemanno in Gli Ebrei a Firenze nell' Età del Rinascimento. The name "Jochanan Alemanno" appears 41 times, my computer tells me.