Sarra Copio Sullam

Sarra Copio Sullam (c.1600–1641, also known as Sarra or Sara Copia Sulam), was born into a prosperous family of Jewish merchants in the Ghetto in Venice. By the time she was fifteen, beside Italian and Hebrew, Sarra could read Latin, Greek, and Spanish, and was an accomplished poet and musician.  Sarra was married to Jacob (Giacob) Sulam, a banker around 1613 or 1614; the couple had a daughter, who died at ten months of age and  another pregnancy soon thereafter ended in miscarriage. Copio Sulam’s health was poor and there were no other children. By 1618 she was becoming known as a poet, though only fourteen of her sonnets have survived. Copio Sulam was also renowned for a literary salon she held in her home in Venice; these gatherings were attended by both Jews and Christians. When the poet Ansaldo Cebà (1565-1623) published his sacred poem “Queen Esther” in 1615, with its positive representation of a Jewish heroine, Copio Sulam was so impressed that she wrote to the author. After that the two exchanged many letters; in 1623 Cebà published a collection of his fifty letters written to her. Although none of her replies have survived, it is possible to glean aspects of Copio Sulam’s personality even from this one-sided documentation. Above all, it is clear from his letters that she courteously but steadfastly resisted  Cebà’s attempts to convert her to Christianity. Having become the most prominent female Jewish literary figure in Italy, Copio Sulam attracted  criticism as well as admiration. In late 1619 the prelate Baldassare Bonifacio (1585-1659), began  a correspondence with Copio Sulam questioning her belief in the immortality of the soul. In 1621 Bonifacio published this hitherto private correspondence, exposing her to charges of heresy and condemnation not only from Christian, but also Jewish authorities. Copio Sulam responded by defending herself in her celebrated Manifesto, which she published that same year.

 
                                                      Possible portrait of Sarra Copio Sulam

 

RESOURCES

Jewish Women’s Archive article on Sarra CopioSullam

Museo Ebraico Manifesto di Sara Copio Sullam Hebrea

 

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