The Cheese and the Worms

The Cheese and the Worms BY sk8erBN102 The Danger of Speaking Out Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller explores the trials of supposed heretic Domenico Scandella. Better known as Menocchio, The Cheese and the Worms details his extensive beliefs about mistruths in religion and is written as a micro history of the events of his trial. At a time when religion and God were thought of as pure fact, Menocchio doubted their supreme existence and this lead to his death by burning.

When reviewing Ginzburgs account f the trials, the sources of his many ideas come to light and these ideas show that the Catholic Church and its members were scared the most by Menocchio’s ideas about the origins of earth. Although a miller by trade, Menocchio was a well read, church going man. Having read various religious works, including the Bible, Menocchio came to numerous conclusions that did not sit well with upper authorities in the Catholic Church. To the Medieval Catholic Church, Menocchio’s most dangerous and outrageous claim was that the Book of Genesis was flawed.

While tanding trial, Menocchio is quoted as saying, “l have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed- Just as cheese is made out of milk- and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time” (Ginzburg, 4-5).

Here, Menocchio is comparing the creation of the universe and in particular the human world to the reation of cheese from milk, suggesting that our existence was not formed by God but by some other means. Obviously, this is something that would not sit well with the ardent, strict religious officials of the time. During Menocchio’s time, the Catholic Church sought to keep a pristine reputation without anyone questioning the validity of their religion.

Any remarks that would damage the history of Catholicism, no matter how small, were not taken lightly. However, Menocchio attacked a very integral part of Catholicism with force, thus making his remarks appear very dangerous to the oundation of the Catholic Church. Despite many warnings from his council, such as his lawyer telling him to, “tell them what they want to know’ (Ginzburg, 5), Menocchio was a free spirit and wanted to speak his mind.

While telling the court of his many thoughts, the origins of these, at the time, very radical ideas were unknown. Although the court documents prove that Menocchio had read many religious books, including an unknown book thought to be the Koran, poems and other resources, it was unlikely that he came up with all of his ideas from one single source. Menocchio’s ideas were more of a melting pot of various sources that had culminated in many discontinuous and contradictory ideas.

Menocchio drew from as many as 11 sources, most likely more, that led to his conclusions about the origins of earth as well as what he thought were errors in the religion. It is likely that no single source led to his thoughts on the Genesis. It is more likely that Menocchio compounded oral history, The Bible and likely other sources to compounded with the massive amounts of information that came along with so many sources led to many contradictory ideas seen during his trials. This, combined with his heretical ideas, lead to his ultimate demise.

Menocchio’s thoughts on the Genesis were the most damaging to the Catholic Church, as well as his own well being. Various sources contributed to his “milk and cheese” theory about the Genesis and the origins of religion, including the Bible, oral tradition and various poems and other religious books, including the possibility of the Koran. At a time when to doubt the Catholic Church was a very severe crime, Menocchio mocked religion (in the Church’s eyes) with his theories and heretical ideas, leading to his death.