The Genesis of Modena’s L’Ester: Sources and Paratext


  • Susan Payne English Literature, Florence



Leon Modena’s play L’Ester, as is evinced by the title page, finds its origin in the “holy scripture” of the Hebrew Bible, and more particularly in the Book of Esther, which constitutes the traditional explanation of the Jewish religious feast of Purim. Modena himself underlines this in the Preface to his play. Also on the title page can be found his recognition of the fact that the play constitutes the revision of a preceding play by Salamon Usque, written sixty or so years before. But it seems that one of the reasons Modena decided to write his version of the story, still in dramatic form, may have been to counteract an attempt to convert his pupil and the play’s Dedicatee, Sarra Copio Sullam, to Christianity, on the part of Ansaldo Cebà, a Genoese scholar and monk, who had written a poem on Esther which was greatly admired by Copio Sullam. This poem, in its way is said to represent a sort of source or “anti-text” against which Modena is reacting. Drawing on Gérard Genette’s seminal work on the functions of the paratext, I intend to examine this area of L’Ester, bearing in mind the factors underlying its creation, its structure and especially the contradictions and paradoxes which will be revealed in a play that above all analyses the position of outsiders within an alien community.

Keywords: Leon Modena; Ansaldo Cebà; L'Ester;  Sarra Copio Sullam; paratext; Gérard Genette