Sullam, Sara Coppio

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SULLAM, SARA COPPIO (1592?–1641), Italian poet. Born into a wealthy Venetian family – her father and uncle were benefactors of Leone *Modena and financed the printing of several of his works – Sara Sullam spent her life in Venice. She became known through the sonnets and letters she exchanged with Ansaldo Cebà, a Genoese nobleman and monk. This correspondence, which was conducted at a remarkably high literary level (somewhat resembling the platonic "game of love" then in vogue), arose from Cebà's publication of a verse epic on Queen Esther (1615–16). When this work came to Sara's attention it aroused her enthusiasm, and from 1618 to 1622 the two writers exchanged sonnets, letters, and gifts. Sara lavished praise on Cebà for choosing the tragic figure of Esther as a literary theme, thus departing from the conventional use of motifs drawn from classical Greek and Roman sources, and even declared her spiritual love for him. In reply, Cebà praised Sara who, "though a Jewess," revealed in her writings her thorough humanistic education and the purity of her soul. Cebà's replies were, however, primarily aimed at inducing her to convert. Shortly before his death, having despaired of these endeavors and in the hope of gaining merit for himself as a faithful Christian, he published the letters and poems which he had written to Sara (53 Lettere di Ansaldo Cebà, scritte a Sara Copia Sullam e dedicate a Mare Antonio Doria, Genoa, 1623). The letters written by Sara were, however, omitted from this publication.

In 1614 Sarah had married Jacob Sullam, a prominent member of the Venetian Jewish community, and she took an active part in the city's cultural life, her house serving as a meeting place for Jewish and Christian scholars. In 1621 Baldassar Bonifaccio (later Cardinal of Cape d'Istria) attacked her in a pamphlet, claiming that the poetess had denied the immortality of the soul, a belief shared by Jews and Christians alike. The religious liberty which Venetian Jewry then enjoyed enabled Sara to make public her reply in a witty and mordant manifesto refuting Bonifaccio's allegations. She also answered his charge with two caustic sonnets in which she declared her pride in her faith. In 1619 Leone Modena dedicated to Sara Coppio Sullam his Italian version of Salomon *Usque's tragedy Esther, and also composed her epitaph. A volume of her collected sonnets (ed. L. Modena) appeared in 1887.


M.A. Levy, Sara Copia Sullam… (Ger., 1862); M. Soave, Sara Copia Sullam… (It., 1864); E. David, Sara Copia Sullam (Fr., 1877); F. Kobler, A Treasury of Jewish Letters, 2 (1952), 430–48; C. Roth, Venice (1938).

[Joseph Baruch Sermoneta]