Usque, Samuel

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USQUE, SAMUEL (16th century), Portuguese Marrano. All that is known about Usque comes from his Consolaçam as tribulaçoens de Israel ("Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel", Ferrara. 1553; second ed., Amsterdam, 1599). This unusual work reveals that the author was a man of unusually broad culture and of Spanish descent – his family having emigrated from Spain in 1492. He knew many languages, including Hebrew; he was versed in classical literature, in the Bible, and in Jewish and Christian postbiblical literature. There is no evidence that he is to be identified with Solomon *Usque, the poet-playwright, or with Abraham *Usque, who printed the first edition of the Consolaçam, or with the Portuguese belle-trist, Bernardim *Ribeiro.

Written in limpid Portuguese prose, the Consolaçam was dedicated to the great patroness of Jewish art and culture, Doña Gracia *Nasi. Its avowed purpose was to persuade Marrano refugees from Spain and Portugal, and perhaps also those Marranos who were still in those two countries, to return wholeheartedly to Judaism. To this end the author, in a sweeping review of Jewish history, based upon traditional Jewish apologetics, demonstrated that the Jews, despite their centuries of hardship and persecution, had not been abandoned by God; they were rather, he declared, standing on the threshold of the golden messianic age.

The Consolaçam takes the form of a typically Renaissance pastoral dialogue between three shepherds, Zicareo, Numeo, and Ycabo – the names being thin disguises for those of the prophets Zechariah (the "Recaller"), Nahum (the "Comforter"), and Jacob, the eponymous hero of the Jewish people, who narrates the history of the Jews in the first person. The three sections of the book, dealing respectively with the eras of the First Temple, the Second Temple and subsequent Jewish history up until Usque's own day, form an integrated work which yields numerous insights into the mind of Usque's generation. Furthermore, the third dialogue contains invaluable accounts and impressions of events which the author experienced personally.

The first edition of the Consolaçam was, for the most part, destroyed by the Inquisition shortly after its publication. The second edition, also rare, marks the beginning of Sephardi literature in the Netherlands. The work is regarded as a major contribution to Jewish historiography, and as a classic of Portuguese prose. An English translation by M.A. Cohen appeared in 1965.


J. Mendes dos Remedios (ed.), Consolaçam as tribulaçoens de Israel (1906–08); M.A. Cohen (tr. and ed.), Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel (1965), 3–5; E. Lipiner (tr.), Bay di Taykhen fun Portugal (1949).

[Martin A. Cohen]