Edward Goldberg is the author of Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis, and the recently released A Jew at the Medici Court: The Letters of Benedetto Blanis.
A Jew at the Medici Court: The Letters of Benedetto Blanis Hebreo (1615-1621) is now coming off the press—only a few months after Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis. (A major thumbs-up to the UTP for their quick follow-through on this companion volume!)
In Jews and Magic, I tell the astonishing story of the rise and fall of Benedetto Blanis, a Jewish businessman and aspiring magus in the Florentine Ghetto in the early seventeenth century. In A Jew at the Medici Court, I share the essential "documents in the case"- two hundred letters from Benedetto Blanis to his great patron, Don Giovanni dei Medici.
For me, the Blanis Letters were the discovery of a lifetime-the largest body of surviving correspondence from any Jew in Early Modern Europe. This writer takes us inside his fraudulent business deals, his desperate schemes for a grand career at the Medici Court, his violent conflicts with other Jews and his perilous trafficking in banned books (including alchemy, astrology and Kabbalah). We can follow his reckless course to its inevitable conclusion-a clash with the Inquisition, then many years in the Bargello prison.
"How on earth did you make this amazing discovery?" is the first question that I am usually asked. Basically, I found the Blanis letters buried under three million others—in Florence, in the archive of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Day by day, over the course of several centuries, masses of letters arrived at the Medici Court. They were read, processed and then filed away. Seldom to be seen again…
Two hundred letters amidst three million? "Needles" and "haystacks" probably come to mind! But in archival terms, most of these letters are exactly where they ought to be—once we master the intricacies of daily life at the Medici Court and know where to look.
I have been working my way through the Medici Granducal Archive for nearly forty years and I thought that I had seen it all, when it comes to bizarre flukes of history and the extravagances of human behavior. But then I met Benedetto Blanis—and my view of the past will never be the same!
I hope that you will read Benedetto’s letters—now in print for the very first time—and tell me what you think. We have only begun to penetrate the dark recesses of this man’s life, in a strange and often terrifying world.
For more on Benedetto Blanis, be sure to visit the author's website: EdwardGoldberg.net.