JUDAH LEONE B. ISAAC SOMMO (DE SOMMI; called also Leone Ebreo):

Italian writer and dramatic critic and manager; died after 1591. A scion of the Portaleone family of Mantua, he lived first at Ferrara—where he was the friend of Azariah dei Rossi and became known as a scholar and skilful penman—and then at Mantua (c. 1550-1590). At the instance of the ducal court of Mantua he then devoted himself entirely to the stage, as a teacher of the theory and practise of the dramatic art. In 1562, as a result of the appearance of his poem "Drusilla," he was elected member of the Accademia degli Invaghiti, and as he could not become a "cavaliere," being a Jew, he received the title of Scrittore Accademico."

He was a prolific writer in Italian; and his works, which are extant in manuscript in sixteen volumes at Turin, include dramas, dialogues on dramatic art, and poems. The dialogues deal with: (1) the origin and rules of the art of acting; (2) division of the drama into five acts; (3) delivery, costumes, etc.; (4) the actor; (5) scenery; (6) the entr'acte.

Judah considered Moses, the reputed author of the Book of Job, as the originator of the drama. He pretended to have translated from the Aramaic a book, "Corso della Vita," in which a youth receives instructions for correct living from his guardian angel, and is then seduced by the Tempter. This work, according to Judah, was intended for dramatic representation. For the Accademia Judah wrote ten pieces including allegorical dramas on the accession of princes and on their death. His lyrical poems fill four volumes, and include sonnets, canzones, and satires, which he dedicated to various members of the house of Gonzaga and to the pope as protector of the Accademia.

In the field of Jewish literature, Judah translated forty-five Psalms in ottave rima, with superscriptions in Hebrew. He also wrote "Magen Nashim," in Hebrew, an apology for woman, with an Italian translation, which he dedicated to Hannah da Rieti.

  • Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibl. vi. 94;
  • idem, in Monatsschrift, xiii. 467 et seq.;
  • Isr. Letterbode, xii. 73;
  • Peyron, Nota di Storia Letteraria, Turin, 1884;
  • Dejob, De la Condition des Juifs à Mantoue, in R. E. J. xxiii. 75;
  • Alessandro d'Ancona, Origini del Teatro Italiano, ii. 401-427;
  • Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, ii. 103.
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