The Beginnings of Ladino Literature: Moses Almosnino and His Readers

The Beginnings of Ladino Literature: Moses Almosnino and His Readers

The Beginnings of Ladino Literature: Moses Almosnino and His Readers

The Beginnings of Ladino Literature: Moses Almosnino and His Readers

Synopsis

Moses Almosnino (1518-1580), arguably the most famous Ottoman Sephardi writer and the only one who was known in Europe to both Jews and Christians, became renowned for his vernacular books that were admired by Ladino readers across many generations. While Almosnino's works were written in a style similar to contemporaneous Castilian, Olga Borovaya makes a strong argument for including them in the corpus of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) literature. Borovaya suggests that the history of Ladino literature begins at least 200 years earlier than previously believed and that Ladino, like most other languages, had more than one functional style. With careful historical work, Borovaya establishes a new framework for thinking about Ladino language and literature and the early history of European print culture.

Excerpt

Moses Almosnino (1518–1580) was arguably the most famous Ottoman Sephardi writer and the only one known in Europe both to Jews and Christians. the author of a few important Hebrew works appreciated by his colleagues, he became renowned for his vernacular books that were venerated by many rabbis and lay intellectuals in various periods.

His name first became known in Europe in 1638, when Jacob Cansino published Extremos y grandezas de Constantinopla (The extremes and great things of Constantinople) in Madrid. It is an abridged adaptation in Latin script of Almosnino’s work, which was published by Pilar Romeu as Crónica de los reyes otomanos (The chronicle of Ottoman kings). Jacob Cansino, a Jew from Oran, like several generations of Cansinos before him, served as an interpreter for Spanish kings whenever there was a need to translate a text from a Semitic language. Yet it was his own idea to “translate” Crónica “from Hebrew letters in which it was written into the Spanish language.” Apparently, this volume, dedicated to the Count-Duke of Olivares, had a large print run (some copies bearing his portrait). in the early twentieth century it was still available in Spain, where some Sephardi visitors bought it.

About two hundred years after its publication, the Cansino volume was used as a source on Ottoman history by the Austrian Orientalist Joseph von Hammer, who cites it a few times in his ten-volume Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches (A History of the Ottoman Empire) . . .

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