FARISSOL, Abraham ben Mordecai.


FARISSOL, Abraham ben Mordecai. Igiret Orchot Olam.

Venice, Giovanni di Gara, 1586.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. [36]. Rashi Hebrew type, headings in square Hebrew. Typographic border to title, and initial letter of introduction, printed diagrammatic map of the New World with ms Latin title and Hebrew description. Slight marginal foxing and light soiling, marginal worming on title and fly, occasional small ink stains. A very good copy in contemporary limp vellum, Hebrew title inked to spine, remnant of early paper label to upper cover, missing ties. Intermittent but sometimes extensive C17 Hebrew annotations by Avraham Graziano throughout and to fly.

Good, first edition of Farissol’s extremely rare ‘Letter of World Visits’ – the first Hebrew text to discuss America and the first known Hebrew geography. Based on ‘recent news of the geographic discoveries of, mostly, the Spanish and Portuguese (Z.B.D. Benite, 2009), Farissol’s cosmographic text is organised into 30 chapters. Chapters 1-4 describe the geography and continents of the Earth, divided into seven climate zones. Later chapters focus upon discoveries in Africa, Asia and America, with descriptions from Vasco da Gama’s travels through the Cape of Good Hope and India. Chapter 29, ‘On the Existence of a Great New World’, is the first Hebrew description of America, containing anthropological and geographical accounts. Farissol’s depiction of the new world includes a splendid typographic map of theּּ ‘ ּּּּאדץ חדשה’ (‘Eretz khadasha’), glossed as ‘Mondo Nuovo’ in handwritten annotation. Beginning with an account of the journey to America, Farissol moves onto an exoticized description of indigenous peoples with ‘no minister and governor; no Torah, and no Lord’, emphasizing their sexual customs and cannibal diet. This description is juxtaposed with the account of “great mountains” and dangerous forests full of vicious animals, emphasizing the brutality of local life.

Farissol synthetized contemporary Jewish ideas about the New World in the ‘emotionally charged’ context of the Spanish expulsion (Ruderman 1981). Combined with his analysis of the Lost Tribes of Israel in Chapter 14, and efforts to topographically identify the site of the Garden of Eden (Chapter 30), there is a sense of Farissol’s ‘confidence that elemental mysteries of the diaspora were being unravelled in his time, owing to the explorations and discoveries he described (Efron et al., 2001). Scholars have also identified possible commercial motivations for the book; its ‘detailed directions for those travelling by ship from Venice to Constantinople and then to Alexandria […] [suggest] connection with Jewish business interests who sought accurate information on trade routes’, as opposed to providing directions for a pilgrimage (Ruderman 1981).

Born in France, Farissol spent most of his life in Ferrara, Italy, where ‘Igeret Orchot Olam’ was written. Working as a Rabbi, as well as a mohel and a scribe, Farissol had good social connections and some access to the Ferrara court. However, these connections did little for the success of ‘Igeret’, which was not widely read in his lifetime; written in 1525, the book remained in circulation as a manuscript for sixty years and was rarely referenced by his contemporaries.

The work was published during a resurgence in the dominance of Venetian-printed Hebrew books, following a suppression of the trade by the Roman Inquisition, which imposed restrictions on Di Gara’s press, including the use of Christian compositors. Widely regarded as the heir of Daniel Bomberg, Di Gara inherited his mentor’s original typefaces, based upon the Sephardiv style of Hebrew lettering. ‘Bomberg’s typefaces became dominant and greatly influenced the future development of Hebrew typography’ (Posner 1975). The majority of ‘Igeret’ is printed in ‘Rashi’ style type, often used in religious works to distinguish Rabbinic  commentary from the text itself; Rashi had the advantage of being less ‘holy’ and more compact, but can be harder to read.

Amongst the varied and detailed near-contemporary annotations, a number exist to gloss the Rashi type at points of confusion, often clarifying where a Rashi character differs significantly from its square type equivalent. The annotations are attributable to Rabbi Avraham Yosef Shlomo Graziano (d.1684), identified by his acronym signature ‘ ׳ג׳ר א׳ש’ (‘Ish Ger’), meaning ‘a strange man’ – alluding to his sense of alienation in Modena, as well as representing his initials. Born in Pesaro, Graziano is remembered as one of the earliest Italian Jewish collectors of books and manuscripts. He moved to Rome as a young man, and later to Modena, where he was ultimately appointed Rabbi. As well as his signature, which is inscribed on the titlepage, final page and several places within the book, Graziano’s annotations include numerous marginal glosses, and lengthy explanations, commentaries, and corrections to Farissol’s text.

Alden 586/26, ‘includes refs to New World derived from Vespucci’; JFB F26 (1601 Latin Hebrew ed.), ‘includes accounts of Portuguese overseas expansion and a description of the New World’; Steinschneider 4222 (1); Zedner, p.24; Bib. Hebrew Book 0156693; LCCN 51050447. Not in Sabin.
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