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Penso de la Vega, Joseph


PENSO DE LA VEGA, JOSEPH (1650–1692), *Marrano writer and merchant. Joseph was born in Amsterdam. His father Isaac Penso Felix, a native of Espejo, Spain, had been imprisoned by the *Inquisition in Spain, and supposedly vowed to embrace Judaism openly within a year of his release. When freed he fled with his family to Antwerp and then to Amsterdam, and formally returned to Judaism at Middleburg. A charitable man, Isaac was said to have distributed 80,000 guldens as tithes from his profits.

Joseph Penso spent a short period in Leghorn, but lived mainly in Amsterdam, where he was a member of several literary academies and produced many and varied works. Besides funeral orations, wedding verses, and similar occasional pieces, he claimed to have written more than 200 epistles to different European statesmen. One of his earliest efforts was a Hebrew drama, Asirei ha-Tikvah (Amsterdam, 1673), an allegorical depiction of the victory of the will over the passions.

His Spanish books, all published in Amsterdam, include the Triunfos del Aguila (1683), on the relief of Vienna by John Sobieski; Retrato de la Prudencia (1690), which eulogized William of Orange when he became king of England; a collection of Discursos académicos, morales, retóricos y sagrados (1685), which he delivered at the Academia de los Floridos in Amsterdam; and Rumbos Peligrosos (1684), containing three short novels. These works, particularly the last named, enjoyed considerable vogue, but suffer the defects of the period: excessive display of erudition, digressions, and baroque floridness. One of his outstanding works is Confusión de Confusiones (1688), the first book to treat the workings of the stock exchange. It is still considered one of the best descriptions of dealings in stocks and shares. In the form of four dialogues between a "fastidious philosopher," a "prudent merchant," and an "erudite stockholder," Penso explains what stocks are, how they are bought and sold, the use of options, speculative maneuvers, and so on, and describes the operations of the Dutch trading companies. In spite of its serious subject, the work is enlivened by whimsical explanations of the origins of this kind of dealing and ironic descriptions of the bourse, of Amsterdam's coffee houses, and of the life of stock traders. Selections of it were translated into English by H. Kellenbenz and published under the same title in 1957.


Roth, Marranos, 336–7; M.B. Amzalak, Joseph de la Vega e o seu livro Confusión de Confusiones (1925); idem, As Operações de Bolsa segundo Joseph de la Vega (1926); idem, Trois précurseurs Portugais (193–?); J. Caro Baroja, Los Judios en la España moderna y contemporánea, 2 (1962), 157–9.

[Kenneth R. Scholberg]

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