In 1584, shortly after his bar-mitzvah, the young Italian Jew Leon Modena (1571-1648) composed an eight-line poem so remarkable that it has never been rivalled in its own genre. Known as Kinah Shemor in Hebrew, Chi nasce muor in Italian, this elegy makes sense simultaneously in both languages. It stands at the head of a little-known tradition of short poems, fragments, and fragments of memories of short poems, often composed by Jews and operating at the borders between Hebrew and romance vernaculars, Jewish and Christian communities. More than merely bilingual or macaronic, for Modena the form seems to have existed somewhere between language and music. Yet for want of a formal name, this tradition has long slipped through the cracks of the critical canon.
Leon Modena’s Kinah Shemor publishes the first critical edition and English translation of the poem to take into account all three of its primary witnesses. It places Kinah Shemor in Modena’s thought as a bridge between poetry and music and between Jewish and Christian religious communities, and describes the poem’s afterlife in relation to broader questions of genre theory, critical taxonomy, and the Christian study of Jewish literature in early modern Europe.
Micha Lazarus is Senior Lecturer in English at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published widely on the intellectual history and literary culture of Renaissance and Reformation Europe. Previously a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Warburg Institute, he is General Editor of Sources in Early Poetics (Brill) and a member of the Bar of England and Wales.