The first English language publication to mention the Jewish Ghetto of Venice was a travelogue that appeared in 1611 under the unlikely title Crudities. Below is an image of that edition’s title page:The central text on the page reads: “Coryats Crudities: hastily gobled up in five moneths trauells in France, Sauoy, Italy, Rhetia com[m]only called the Grisons county, Heluetia alias Switzerland, some parts of high Germany, and the Netherlands.”
In this book, author Thomas Coryat describes several months of travel which he undertook in 1608 to see the cities of Europe. His narrative combines honest descriptions of the cities he visited with an unusually frank confession of the unglamorous realities of travel.
Coryat’s book is mainly famous, however, because the awkward, self-important tone that Coryat wrote it in aroused mockery among many English authors of his day. The engraved frontispiece, created by William Hole, depicts some of Coryat’s misadventures and conveys a little bit of his peculiar outlook.Coryat’s mention of the Venetian Ghetto is the first recorded instance of the word “ghetto” in English. During his visit to Venice, he reported entering the Ghetto and witnessing a bustling community of between 5,000 and 6,000 inhabitants. His stay was punctuated by a conversation he had with one of the Ghetto’s residents. Coryat describes drawing a Jewish man who was knowledgeable in Latin into a learned discussion about the divinity of Christ. Before long, the crowd that had gathered around them became offended at Coryat’s enthusiastic explanation of the inferiority of their faith. With violence imminent, Coryat fled for his life. On Tuesday, February 21, the Law Library of Congress in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy will host a program to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice. Entitled, “Understanding Seclusion: the Legal Dimensions of the Ghetto,” the event will highlight the early history of the segregated Jewish community in Venice and showcase rare books and documents from the Library of Congress collection related to the Jewish Ghetto of Venice. The program will also offer a viewing of the documentary film, “The Venice Ghetto, 500 Years of Life” (2015), which reconstructs the history of the Venetian Ghetto. For more information about the event, look here. We hope to see you there.