Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

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| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Usque, Samuel

  • Anna LissaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_170-1

Abstract

(XVI century), member of the Portuguese Hebrew nation, author of Consolaçam ás tribulaçoens de Israel, first edition Ferrara 1553, second edition Amsterdam 1599

Biography

Little is known about Samuel Usque’s life recent archival findings situate his birth between 1500 and 1520 in Portugal (Wilke 2014). It is however clear that he lived and experienced one of the most troubled periods of Jewish history in Europe: the end of the fifteenth century and the first half of the sixteenth century. After the expulsion of the Jews Spain in 1492, the king of Portugal John II (1455–1495) opened the doors of his kingdom to the exiles because he appreciated their talent in finance, tax administration, astronomy, and cartography. Nonetheless, he took their children from them and deported them to Sao Thomè on the African coast in order to have them baptized. His heir, Manoel I (1495–1521), set the Jews free. However, 1 December 1496, he issued a decree ordering the Jews and the Muslim to leave Portugal in the space of 10 months. The following year, he changed his mind and decided to force them to convert in order of being able to keep them and profit from their skills. According to traditional historiographic reconstruction, he acted so since he cherished the hope of marrying the Spanish princess daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel and uniting Spain and Portugal. Recent historiography has tried to challenge this assumption, which, however, seems to hold still its validity (Soyer 2007, 5–8). Thus, the Jews were turned into New Christians or, as they were commonly labeled, into Marranos; Jewish assimilation in Portugal had started. Nonetheless, the process was not as drastic and severe as it was in Spain. The members of this community ascended to a high level of wealth, and at the same time, they managed to preserve a double identity: they were Christians outwardly and officially; inwardly, they strove to preserve a secret allegiance to Judaism. Thus, they shaped for themselves an identity of their own and were called the nação hebrea (Hebrew nation) of Portugal (Yovel 2009). This ambiguity together with the wealth of the community did not remain unnoticed for long time. In 1506, the mob massacred the New Christians in Lisbon. In the wake of this massacre, Manoel’s attitude changed, and he issued laws allowing some freedom to the Marranos. His successor, John III, maintained these privileges. The Marrano community had the possibility of developing both from an economic and political point of view, and it knew a period of prosperity that came to an end in 1531, when the Inquisition was established in Portugal.

It is commonly assumed that Samuel Usque was a member of this Portuguese nation, a Marrano, whose Christian name remained unknown. His family came allegedly from the Spanish city of Huesca (Kayserling 1905, 387–388; Cohen 2002, 12). Usque possibly witnessed the Sao Thomè deportation, the massacre in 1506, and the establishment of the Inquisition (Cohen 2002, 13). According to Graetz, there is no doubt that he flew the Inquisition from Portugal and he succeeded in finding a safe harbor in Ferrara (Graetz 1998, vol. IX, 311). Recent archival discoveries locate Usque in Antwerp in 1543; from there in 1545, he arrived to Ancona where he claimed to be a Portuguese merchant. Later on, he moved to Ferrara. Legal documents attest his presence in Venice in 1548. A little afterwards, he came back to Ferrara and then he moved to Pesaro. In 1553, the text of the Consolation was published in Ferrara (Guerrini 2001). His relationship to Abraham and Salomon Usque has not been fully cleared (Cohen 1977, 14). Abraham Usque, however, printed the text of the Consolation in Ferrara in 1553.

Usque wrote his work in his mother tongue, Portuguese. Nonetheless, he had also command of Spanish and Latin, and he used these languages in order to access the original sources allowing him to compose an original work (Graetz 1998, vol. IX, 311–312). To these “languages,” Martin A. Cohen adds Greek and Hebrew and suggests that Usque may possibly have known some Italian and some French (Cohen 2002, 12).

Heritage and Rupture with the Jewish Tradition

The Consolation for the Tribulation of Israel is a historiographical work divided into three dialogues. The main character Ycabo tells the history of the people of Israel to the other two characters Numeo and Zicareo. This history begins with the biblical origins of Israel, and it focuses on the countless tribulations Israel had to face since the fall of the First Temple until the author’s present days. The last episode Ycabo narrates is the desecration of the Tora scrolls in 1553 in Pesaro.

Usque intended to address a very specific public, namely, the “Gentlemen of the Diaspora of Portugal” (Cohen 2002, 38). He dedicated them the prologue to the entire work, written in Portuguese to their benefit. In this prologue, he also explains that he aimed at consoling these people by reminding them that the past afflictions he recollects were much worse than the present ones.

The first dialogue begins with the description of a lost, golden age of pastoral life, where the children of Israel lived as peaceful shepherds and found their nourishment in honey and milk. The idyllic image is broken when a group of terrible shepherds arose from among the peaceful ones. They pursued different ways of life and decided to become hunters and to eat meat. The metaphor is explained by identifying the faithful shepherds with the Israelites that remained loyal to God. Then some of them became disobedient, they forgot God’s commandments and were eventually punished because God sent several foreign peoples to conquer and devastate their land and to enslave them. The pastoral metaphor runs through almost the entire narrative and gives it a poetic accent. The lambs that belong to the flock of Israel are the persecuted; the hunters are the persecutors. The first dialogue ends with the fall of the First Temple. In the second one, Ycabo recounts the tribulations of Israel until the fall of the Second Temple. The third dialogue is possibly the most interesting one. There, Ycabo vividly describes the disgraces the Jews of Portugal had to face after 1492, namely, the deportation of Sao Thomè, the forced conversions, the Lisbon massacre in 1506, and the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal.

According to Graetz, Usque is together with Yoseph ben Joshua Kohen (1496–1578) and Solomon ibn Verga (second half of the fifteenth to first quarter of the sixteenth century), an outstanding historiographer who, in the middle of the tragedies that engulfed Jews and Marranos, tried to find in Jewish history the traces of the work of the providence (Graetz 1998, vol. IX, 306). He labels him “the poet,” and he points out that his muse found her own very personal expression in the composition of his historical work and masterpiece. In Graetz’s evaluation, Usque was familiar with biblical history, and he succeeded in the composition of the Consolation because he strived to access the sources firsthand (Ibid. 311). Nonetheless, Cohen has shown that Usque was not able to draw a distinction between reliable and unreliable sources (Cohen 2002, 19 and 269). Accordingly, he differentiated himself from his predecessors in his effort to access the sources firsthand, but he failed in developing a solid historiographical method.

It may however be argued that scientific historiography was not on Usque’s agenda while he composed the Consolation (Cohen 2002, 19). His main purpose seems to be an attempt to try and make sense of all the tribulations. To this end, the literary pastoral metaphor remains central. Usque himself, in his prologue, explains the metaphor: Ycabo is to be identified with Jacob the patriarch. Numeo and Zicareo are the prophets Nahum and Zechariah disguised as shepherds and sent to God’s command in order to remind the Jews the blessing they received in exchange for their suffering.

Ycabo’s narration reconstructs the entire history of Israel in the context of a fall from a golden age stemming from the disobedience and unfaithfulness to God that started already in the biblical times. Israel’s history narrated in the first and second dialogue and the Marranos’ vicissitudes described in the third dialogue are thus parallel (Cohen 2002, 22). The Marranos’ tragedies are a variation on this very same theme: the tribulations that happened in Spain and Portugal stemmed from the forsaking of God’s commandments due to the forced conversions. From this point of view, Usque seems to hint at another crucial parallel between the destiny of the ten tribes and the destiny of the Marranos.

Usque interprets the history he is narrating from a religious point of view. The fall from the golden age can be rectified. If in his rhetorical strategy, each tribulation is followed by a prophecy that indicates that the tribulation is the fulfilling of the prophecy and that the restoration of the lost golden age is not very far. According to Usque, the facts of Spain and Portugal are a proof that salvation is approaching, for the measure of punishment for Israel’s and the Marranos’ disobedience is filled up. The fact that some Marranos were already reverting to Judaism was the demonstration of this thesis.

From the point of view of the interpretation of history, Usque remains an intellectual figure immersed in the traditional mentality. However, his expectation of the upcoming salvation foreshadows the messianic wave that was about to overwhelm Jewish culture and society. Furthermore, the ambiguity of his Marrano identity, a mystery that has not yet fully unraveled, turns him into the embodiment of a figure of transition towards the modern intellectual and political world.

Impact and Legacy

Usque’s work has failed to receive the attention it would have deserved by his contemporaries and those who came thereafter. The text of the Consolation is probably one of the sources of Yosef ha-Kohen’s (1496–1575) Emeq ha-bakha (Vale of Tears, 1575) (Kayserling 1905, 387–388; Cohen 2002, 267) and of Gedalia ibn Yahia’s (1515–1587) Shalshelet ha-Qabbala (Chain of Tradition, Venice 1587) (Cohen 2002, 30). The text reached the Jewish communities in England and in Amsterdam where it was reprinted but with many errors. In 1640, the Inquisition forbade the reading of the Consolation. At the same time, the dwindling of the Usque’s generation of Marranos also worked against the dissemination of the work (Cohen 1977, 31–33).

Among the scholars of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, Graetz attempted a serious examination of Usque’s Consolation. Furthermore, the text was reprinted in Coimbra (Portugal) in 1906–1908. The Yiddish translation Elias Lipiner published in 1949 must also be mentioned. Nonetheless, Samuel Usque’s personality and work still deserve and await more in-depth studies.

References

Primary Literature

  1. Usque, Samuel. 1553. Consolaçam ás tribulaçoens de Israel. Ferrara: en casa de Abraham aben Usque.Google Scholar
  2. Reprints

    1. Dos Remedios, and Joaquim Mendes, ed. 1906–1908. Samuel Usque Consolaçam às tribulaçõens de Israel, 3 vols. Coimbra: Francisco Franca.Google Scholar
    2. Yerushalmi Yosef Hayim, and de Pina Martino José, V., eds. 1989. Samuel Usque Consolação às tribulaçõens de Israel. Edição de Ferrara 1553, 2 vols. Lisbon: Fundação Callouste Gulbenkian.Google Scholar

    English Translations

    1. Cohen, Martin A., ed. 2002. Samuel Usque’s consolation for the tribulation of Israel. Skokie: Varda Book. 1st edition 1965. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.Google Scholar

    French Translations

    1. Wilke, Carsten, ed. 2014. Consolations aux tribulations d’Israël, 1553. Paris: Chandaigne.Google Scholar

    Yiddish Translation

    1. Lipiner, Elias, ed. 1949. Bay die Taykhn fun PortugalRabbi Shmuel Usque zein Tequfo un zein ‘Treist tzu die leiden fun Yisroel‘ (By the Rivers of Portugal – R. Shmuel Usque’s time and his ‘consolation for the tribulations of Israel’). Buenos Aires: Instituto Scientifico Judio.Google Scholar

Secondary Literature

    Monographs

    1. Di Leone Leoni, Aron. 2011a. La nazione ebraica spagnola e portoghese di Ferrara (1492–1559): i suoi rapporti col governo ducale e la popolazione locale ed i suoi legami con le Nazioni Portoghesi di Ancona, Pesaro e Venezia. Storia dell'Ebraismo in Italia – Studi e testi, vol. 26, 2 vols. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore.Google Scholar
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    Collections

    1. Abravanel, Nicole. 1999. Zicareo o los juegos de la Memoria en la obra de Samuel Usque. In The proceedings of the tenth British conference on Judeo-Spanish studies: 29 June–1 July 1997, ed. Annette Benaim, 169–182. Queen Mary and Westfield College, Department of Hispanic Studies.Google Scholar
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    Journal articles

    1. Fernández, Marcos Natalio. 1978. On Bertil Maler, A Biblia na ’Consolaçam’ de Samuel Usque (1553) (1974). Estudios Sefardíes 1: 284–286.Google Scholar
    2. Ferreira, Jerusa Pires. 1996. Samuel Usque e a consolaçam. Ibéria Judaica 1996: 589–599.Google Scholar
    3. Frèches, Claude Henri. 1986. L’auteur de Consolaçãm ás tribulações de Israel devant la persécution. Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português 22: 457–470.Google Scholar
    4. Guerrini, Mariateresa. 2001. New Documents on Samuel Usque, the author of Consolaçam ás Tribulaçoens de Israel. Sefarad 61 (1): 83–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
    5. Joaquim, Mendes dos Remédios. 1927. A Consolação às Tribulações de Usque. Biblos 3: 408–424.Google Scholar
    6. Preto-Rodas, Richard A. 1990. Samuel Usque’s Consolação às Tribulaçoes de Israel as Pastoral Literature Engagée. Hispania 73 (1): 72–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
    7. Roani, Gerson Luiz. 2011. Memoria judaica e literatura portuguesa: A Consolação ás Tribulações de Israel, de Samuel Usque (1553). Arquivo Maaravi: Revista Digital de Estudios Judaicos da UFMG 5 (9): 56–63. doi: 10.17851/1982-3053.5.9.56-63.Google Scholar
    8. Salomon, Herman Prins. 1990. Samuel Usque et les problèmes de la Consolação às Tribulações de Israel. Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português 28: 503–596.Google Scholar

Tertiary Literature

  1. Cohen, Martin A. 2010. Usque, Samuel. Encyclopaedia Judaica XX: 433–434.Google Scholar
  2. Kayserling, Meyer. 1905. Usque, Samuel. The Jewish Encyclopaedia XII: 387–388.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maître de conférences en Littératures hébraïques et juives modernes et contemporainesUniversité Paris 8ParisFrance

Section editors and affiliations

  • Vasileios Syros
    • 1
  1. 1.Finnish Center of Political Thought & Conceptual ChangeJYVÄSKYLÄN YLIOPISTOFinland