Šemeš lešon ha-qadoš, cioè Sole della lingua santa.

Bergamo, Comino Ventura, 1591.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (xxiv) 415 (i), fold-out table. Italic letter, with Roman and Hebrew, occasional Greek. Printer’s device and architectural headpiece with caryatids to t-p, decorated initials and headpieces. Light age browning to first few ll. and intermittent light foxing, oil stain to upper outer corner of pp. 37-57, light water staining to last few gatherings, outer edges a bit dust-soiled, occasional thumb marks. A good, well-margined copy, untrimmed, in old carta rustica, casemark on spine, ex-libris ‘Biblioteca Cravenna’ and bookplate of Antonia Suardi Ponti to front pastedown. In slipcase.

A good, very well-margined copy of the first edition of the first Hebrew grammar in Italian. Guglielmo Franchi (1563-98) was a converted Jew and Vallombrosan monk. Reprinted in 1599 and 1603, Franchi’s work provided the first accessible introduction to Hebrew grammar which used the Italian vernacular as a linguistic reference point instead of Latin or even Hebrew. The Reformation had encouraged the development of a new systematic study of Hebrew among Christian scholars as a fundamental philological tool for biblical exegesis based on traditional knowledge derived from the ancient Masorah and Midrash. Franchi’s grammar was however addressed to the Jews of Italian communities, very few of whom were by then versed in Latin or could read or speak Hebrew. Whilst rabbis opposed the vernacular translation of ancient Hebrew texts for fear of misinterpretation, anti-Jewish polemicists—often converted Jews like Franchi—published their works in the vernacular to reach a broader audience. Franchi begins with the consonantic nature of Hebrew, its orthography and pronunciation, explaining in plain words how, for instance, the Daghès sounds like our ‘b’, but ‘when it has no dot inside’ it sounds like a ‘v’, or the Nghàin is pronounced ‘using the nose down to the end of the throat, almost as if one were choking’. He then moves on to the aspects and conjugations of verbs, declensions, methods to find the root of words and how accents may signify punctuation, concluding with notes on non-biblical Hebrew poetry and metrics. An uncommon edition of this ground-breaking work for Renaissance Hebrew studies in the vernacular, still recorded in the libraries of major C19 Italian intellectuals like the poet Giacomo Leopardi.

Only Hebrew Union College copy recorded in the US.

USTC 830767; BM STC It., p. 277; Fürst, Bibliotheca Judaica I, 287. Not in Brunet or Adams.


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