The Cheese and the Worms  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller (1976, Italian: Il formaggio e i vermi) is a history book by Carlo Ginzburg which examines the beliefs of an Italian heretic, Menocchio, from Montereale Valcellina.

On Menocchio

During the preliminary questioning, Menocchio spoke freely because he felt he had done nothing wrong. It is in this hearing that he explained his cosmology about "the cheese and the worms", the title of Carlo Ginzburg's book.

Menocchio said: "I 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, and he was named lord with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. That Lucifer sought to make himself lord equal to the king, who was the majesty of God, and for this arrogance God ordered him driven out of heaven with all his host and his company; and this God later created Adam and Eve and people in great number to take the places of the angels who had been expelled. And as this multitude did not follow God's commandments, he sent his Son, whom the Jews seized, and he was crucified."

Menocchio had a "tendency to reduce religion to morality", using this as justification for his blasphemy during his trial because he believed that the only sin was to harm one's neighbor and that to blaspheme caused no harm to anyone but the blasphemer. He went so far as to say that Jesus was born of man and Mary was not a virgin, that the Pope had no power given to him from God (but simply exemplified the qualities of a good man), and that Christ had not died to "redeem humanity". Warned to denounce his ways and uphold the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church by both his inquisitors and his family, Menocchio returned to his village. Because of his nature, he was unable to cease speaking about his theological ideas with those who would listen. He had originally attributed his ideas to "diabolical inspiration" and the influence of the devil before admitting that he had simply thought up the ideas himself.

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