The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492

The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492

Translated, Edited, and Introduced by PETER COLE
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 576
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    The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492
    Book Description:

    Hebrew culture experienced a renewal in medieval Spain that produced what is arguably the most powerful body of Jewish poetry written since the Bible. Fusing elements of East and West, Arabic and Hebrew, and the particular and the universal, this verse embodies an extraordinary sensuality and intense faith that transcend the limits of language, place, and time.

    Peter Cole's translations reveal this remarkable poetic world to English readers in all of its richness, humor, grace, gravity, and wisdom.The Dream of the Poemtraces the arc of the entire period, presenting some four hundred poems by fifty-four poets, and including a panoramic historical introduction, short biographies of each poet, and extensive notes. (The original Hebrew texts are available on the Princeton University Press Web site.) By far the most potent and comprehensive gathering of medieval Hebrew poems ever assembled in English, Cole's anthology builds on what poet and translator Richard Howard has described as "the finest labor of poetic translation that I have seen in many years" and "an entire revelation: a body of lyric and didactic verse so intense, so intelligent, and so vivid that it appears to identify a whole dimension of historical consciousness previously unavailable to us."The Dream of the Poemis, Howard says, "a crowning achievement."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2755-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
    (pp. 1-20)

    “The Spanish miracle—”

    three words were all it took S. D. Goitein, the great historian of medieval Mediterranean society, to sum up the phenomenon that was the Golden Age of Hebrew poetry in Iberia. The emergence in the tenth century of this vibrant Hebrew literature seemed miraculous to Goitein, as it has to so many others who have come to know it well, because the poetry appeared virtually full-blown, at the far western edge of the medieval Jewish world, after more than a millennium of almost exclusively liturgical and ingrown poetic activity in the language. Suddenly, for the first...

  6. PART ONE Muslim Spain: (c. 950–c. 1140)
    • DUNASH BEN LABRAT (mid-tenth century)
      (pp. 23-26)

      By all accounts the founder of the new Andalusian Hebrew poetry, Dunash Ben Labrat reimagined the very nature of Hebrew verse and, with that conceptual and tactile shift, brought about a revolution in Jewish letters and the world onto which they open. Just how and why he did that remains something of a mystery, as we have little more than an outline of his life. Born in the first third of the tenth century in Fez, Morocco (the name Dunash is Berber in origin), he traveled to Baghdad in his youth in order to study with the greatest scholar of...

    • THE WIFE OF DUNASH (mid-tenth century)
      (pp. 27-27)

      This single poem by the wife of Dunash Ben Labrat is all of her work that has come down to us. It is, so far as we know, the only poem by a woman in the entire medieval Hebrew canon. The poem’s heading in manuscript explains that it was composed on the occasion of her husband’s forced departure from Spain. The reasons for his leaving remain obscure, but the last line of the poem suggests that he fell out of favor with Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, the leader of Spanish Jewry and patron of the local Hebrew revival. Apart from these...

    • YITZHAQ IBN MAR SHA’UL (mid-tenth–early-eleventh century)
      (pp. 28-29)

      Moshe Ibn Ezra mentions some twelve second-generation writers who, he says, “surpassed [their predecessors] in eloquence.” Of that dozen, we have work by just a handful, including Yitzhaq Ibn Mar Sha’ul, who lived in Lucena, where he taught Hebrew language and Scripture. Ibn Mar Sha’ul’s single extant secular work is the first Spanish-Hebrew poem to employ one of the central elements of Arabic medieval poetry, the figure of thetzvi, or gazelle, as the object of desire, and as such it is of considerable importance. While in some cases, the gazelle can be understood as either male or female, here...

    • YOSEF IBN AVITOR (c. 940–after 1024)
      (pp. 30-34)

      Yosef Ibn Avitor was born in Merida into a prominent Jewish family that had lived in Spain for generations. He studied in Cordoba under the renowned Talmudist Moshe Ben Hanokh and soon became known as one of his most precocious students. Ibn Avitor went on to serve as a religious authority for many Spanish Jews, who turned to him with questions regardinghalakha, or religious law. He is, though, best known for his poetry. Just as hisresponsashow the influence of the Babylonian academies, so, too, his liturgical poetry preserves the then six-hundred-year-old Eastern tradition that went back to...

    • YITZHAQ IBN KHALFOUN (c. 965–after 1020)
      (pp. 35-36)

      A key transitional writer of the second generation, Yitzhaq Ibn Khalfoun was born in Spain, c. 965, to parents who had immigrated from North Africa. His father seems to have been supported by Shmu’el HaNagid’s father, as was the young Yitzhaq himself. Later on HaNagid also became Yitzhaq’s patron and friend, and the two exchanged poems in times of trouble. Ibn Khalfoun is often called the first professional Hebrew poet, that is, a poet who produced poems on demand for pay. His limiting role notwithstanding, he expanded the scope of the new Andalusian Hebrew poetry, introducing a fuller range of...

    • SHMU’EL HANAGID (993–1056)
      (pp. 37-69)

      The major poets of the period emerge in the third generation, and they are masters of their art in every respect and giants in the history of Hebrew literature. Shmu’el HaNagid, known in Arabic circles as Isma’il Ibn Naghrela (from the Latinniger, meaning “dark”), was a spectacular figure: prime minister of the Muslim state of Granada; leader of Spain’s Jewish community; military commander; scholar of religious law; biblical exegete and grammarian; patron of the arts; and poet. He was born in Cordoba to a well-established Meridian family and raised in the capital of the crumbling Andalusian caliphate. The city...

    • YOSEF IBN HASDAI (first half of the eleventh century)
      (pp. 70-73)

      Very little of Saragossan Yosef Ibn Hasdai’s work survived even into the time of Moshe Ibn Ezra, who wrote that “his words were few, but sublime.” His reputation was made by a single poem, which became known in the Hebrew tradition as “HaShira HaYetoma”—literally, the orphaned poem, though the phrase in this context derives from its Arabic cognate and means something more along the lines of the unique, singular, or unequaled ode. It also happens to be his sole surviving work. Addressed to Shmu’el HaNagid, Ibn Hasdai’s qasida is a classical two-part ode: lines 1–22 constitute a highly...

    • SHELOMO IBN GABIROL (1021/22–c. 1057/58)
      (pp. 74-110)

      Philosopher, misanthrope, and spectacular fly in the ointment of the refined eleventh-century Andalusian-Jewish elite, Shelomo Ibn Gabirol, the second major poet of the period, comes down to us as one of the most complicated intellectual figures of the entire Hebrew Middle Ages. He was born in either 1021 or 1022, in Malaga, to an undistinguished family that may have fled the collapsing capital of the Umayyad caliphate, Cordoba, with the same wave of refugees that included Shmu’el HaNagid. At some point his father moved the family north to Saragossa, and Ibn Gabirol—or, in Arab circles, Abu Ayyub Sulaiman Ibn...

    • YITZHAQ IBN GHIYYAT (1038–89)
      (pp. 111-113)

      Protected from the hot southern winds by a range of mountains and therefore cooler than much of southern Andalusia in summer, the town of Lucena—known both as “the city of the Jews” and “the city of song”—was famous for its fertile lands and thriving commerce, which included trade in slaves. It was also home to Spain’s most important Hebrew academy, for many years headed by Yitzhaq Ibn Ghiyyat. In temperament Ibn Ghiyyat was distant from the Arabized and progressive court of HaNagid, whose student he had been, and he was very much the moderate man devoted to the...

    • YOSEF IBN SAHL (mid-eleventh century–1124)
      (pp. 114-116)

      The small fraction of Yosef Ibn Sahl’s work that has come down to us seems to bear out his friend Moshe Ibn Ezra’s judgment that his poetry “joined extremes of firmness and sweetness, strength and grace” and that when he aimed his arrows at the enemies of poetry, “he made men laugh describing their ways, and gladdened their hearts revealing their lies.” If not for his uncontrollable tendency toward the satire at which he excelled, says Ibn Ezra, he would have been among the front rank of men. In terms of talent, Schirmann implies, Ibn Sahl was one of the...

    • LEVI IBN ALTABBAAN (second half of the eleventh century)
      (pp. 117-118)

      Saragossan Levi Ibn Altabbaan was primarily known as a grammarian, though Yehuda HaLevi has high praise for his poetry in several places. His younger friend Moshe Ibn Ezra refers to him as “the renowned teacher and exalted scholar,” and he too counts him among the poets. In the early thirteenth-century Yehuda Alharizi writes that “[his] poems are greatly desired” and, playing on the consonants of his name, notes that he shook out lines of poetry as easily as the winnower of wheat shakes out piles of straw (matben). That said, Ibn Altabaan was extremely modest about his own gifts and...

    • BAHYA IBN PAQUDA (second half of the eleventh century–first half of the twelfth century)
      (pp. 119-120)

      About Bahya Ibn Paquda we know very little, apart from the fact that he lived in Muslim Spain and was probably a religious judge at Saragossa or Cordoba. He also composedpiyyutim, including two long poems of petition and admonition that gained a considerable following. The short poem below comprises a verse abstract of Bahya’s major prose work, the Muslim-influenced ethical treatiseHovot HaLevavot(Duties of the Heart), which he composed as a corrective to his predecessors, whom he felt had stressed religious observance—the duties of the body—at the expense of inwardness and the life of devotion. Bahya...

    • MOSHE IBN EZRA (c. 1055 – after 1138)
      (pp. 121-136)

      Balance, calm employment of ornament, clarity of presentation as well as emotion—these are the traits that characterize the poetry of the third major poet of the period, Moshe Ibn Ezra, who was often considered Andalusia’s finest Hebrew craftsman. While lacking the spirit of innovation we find in the poetry of HaNagid and Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra brings to his work such a thorough integration of Arabic and Hebrew literary elements that he has come to be considered the representative poet of the Spanish-Hebrew Golden Age. Often overlooked in this concentration on Ibn Ezra’s technical and typical accomplishments, however, is...

    • YOSEF IBN TZADDIQ (c. 1070–1149)
      (pp. 137-140)

      “A sage and a sage’s son” is how Ibn Daud in hisBook of Traditioncharacterizes Yosef Ibn Tzaddiq. About his life we know only that he was born to a family of considerable means and social standing, wrote—in addition to his poetry—at least one important work of philosophy (Sefer ‘Olam Qatan, or Microcosmos), and was appointed to the Cordovan religious courts in 1138 as a judge, a position he held until his death in 1149. Moshe Ibn Ezra describes him as kind-hearted, gracious, and remarkably learned in matters of religious law. He maintained close ties with the...

    • SHELOMO IBN TZAQBEL (first half of the twelfth century)
      (pp. 141-142)

      Rhymed prose had long existed in both Arabic and Hebrew literature, albeit in wholly independent traditions. Pre-Islamic Arabic literature made use ofsaj‘, a nonmetrical mode that was employed by soothsayers and diviners for their incantations, and numerous parts of the Quran are also composed in a musical and powerfully cadenced prose employing variable rhyme. In the Hebrew tradition, liturgical poetry from Byzantine Palestine often contained passages of nonmetrical rhymed prose; the mid-eleventh-century Italian Byzantine historical chronicleMegillat HaYuhasin(orMegillat Ahima’atz) for example, employs rhymed prose throughout; and of course Ibn Gabirol’s great poemKeter Malkhutmakes magnificent use...

    • YEHUDA HALEVI (c. 1075–1141)
      (pp. 143-170)

      An unrivaled master of Hebrew and its prosody, Yehuda HaLevi is perhaps the most famous and certainly the most revered of all the medieval poets. “The quintessence and embodiment of our country . . . our glory and leader, illustrious scholar, unique and perfect devotee,” is how an 1130 letter from the Cairo Geniza describes him, and his reputation has faded little since. Born near the border between Christian and Muslim Spain (some say in Toledo, others Tudela, and still others neither of the two), HaLevi, it seems, traveled to Granada as a teenager, at the invitation of Moshe Ibn...

  7. PART TWO Christian Spain and Provence: (c. 1140–1492)
    • AVRAHAM IBN EZRA (c. 1093–c. 1167)
      (pp. 173-191)

      With the departure of Yehuda HaLevi for the Land of Israel and, several years later, the first wave of invasions by the North African Almohads, the Golden Age of Hebrew literature in Andalusia for all practical purposes comes to end. Its spirit, however, does not; instead, it moves north with many of the Jewish refugees from Muslim Spain and continues to develop, albeit along different lines, in Christian Spain and Provence. One of the most important transmitters of that Andalusian heritage was Avraham Ibn Ezra, who is sometimes considered a fifth major poet of the Spanish-Hebrew Golden Age. His astonishing...

    • YITZHAQ IBN EZRA (c. 1109–mid-twelfth century)
      (pp. 192-195)

      Peculiar, vulnerable, hypersensitive, and arrogant are some of the adjectives scholars have used to describe Yitzhaq Ibn Ezra. And, indeed, both his poems and the often obscure letters by him that have emerged from the Cairo Geniza’s mountain range of correspondence suggest that Avraham Ibn Ezra’s son was a difficult and gloomy man. We know little more about his life in Spain than we do about his father’s during that period, and none of Yitzhaq’s poems from those early years have survived. He seems to have spent part of his childhood in Seville and lived in both Cordoba and Almería,...

    • YOSEF QIMHI (c. 1105–c. 1170)
      (pp. 196-199)

      Born in southern Spain, Yosef Qimhi was father to a famous line of sons who distinguished themselves in various fields of learning, particularly Hebrew grammar and biblical commentary. Sometime during the 1140s, he came to Provence in order to flee the Almohad invasion. He settled in Narbonne—some forty miles north of Perpignan—where he played a major role in the dissemination of Andalusian culture. Yosef Qimhi’s primary fields of interest were the same as his sons’, though he also wrote liturgical and didactic poetry, includingSheqel HaQodesh, medieval Hebrew’s largest compilation of epigrammatic poetry next to Shmu’el HaNagid’sBen...

    • YOSEF IBN ZABARA (c. 1140–late twelfth century)
      (pp. 200-202)

      Yosef Ibn Zabara was the first Hebrew poet who was raised in the Christian north and then lived there for most of his life; some scholars, therefore, mark the beginning of the Christian period of Hebrew Poetry in Spain with his—and not Avraham Ibn Ezra’s—work. Born in Barcelona, where he was educated by his physician-father, Yosef too became a doctor, possibly having gone to study at the Hebrew school of medicine in Narbonne in his mid-twenties. Sometime after that he returned to Barcelona and practiced medicine there for several years. In the early eighties he began traveling but...

    • ANATOLI BAR YOSEF (c. 1130?–c. 1213)
      (pp. 203-204)

      Although he spent the majority of his life outside Provence, Anatoli Bar Yosef is considered the first of the properly Provençal Spanish-Hebrew poets. He is also a major contributor to the southern extension of the Andalusian school of poetry into the mid-Mediterranean. Born in Marseille and, it seems, raised there, Anatoli lived for a considerable period of time in Lunel, where he became known as an outstanding scholar and serious poet. For reasons that remain elusive, at some point in his life Anatoli decided to leave Provence and make his way to Egypt. As was customary for travelers sailing from...

    • YEHUDA IBN SHABBETAI (1168/88–after 1225)
      (pp. 205-207)

      Misogyny is by no means an uncommon theme in medieval literature, and a vast corpus of work on the defects of women was produced in both Muslim and Christian lands. Numerous misogynistic elements can be found in Scripture, in the Talmud, and throughout rabbinic literature; and while hardly in keeping with the refined courtly ethos of classical Andalusian Hebrew poetry, misogyny surfaces at times in poems by the major poets of the period as well. It is, moreover, everywhere in the background of that literature, literally and allegorically. The topic doesn’t emerge as an explicit subject in the literature, however,...

    • YEHUDA ALHARIZI (1165–1225)
      (pp. 208-217)

      In all of the extant documents pertaining to medieval Jewish life in Spain and the Eastern rim of the Mediterranean, there is just a single physical description of an important Hebrew poet by another writer. “A tall, silver-haired man with a smooth face” is how the Arab biographer Ibn al-Sha‘ar al-Mawsili (1197–1256) describes Yehuda Alharizi, whom he refers to by his Arabic name, Yahya Ibn Suleimaan Ibn Sha’ul Abu Zakhariyya Alharizi al-Yahudi. From al-Mawsili’s short biography we also learn that Alharizi’s masterpiece, the collection ofmaqaamasknown asSefer Tahkemoni, was written in the East, for which the poet...

    • YA‘AQOV BEN ELAZAR (1170–c. 1233)
      (pp. 218-220)

      When Ya‘aqov Ben Elazar began writing, his home town of Toledo had already been in Christian hands for over a century. While European vernacular and Latin traditions formed part of the city’s cultural heritage, Toledo was still very much informed by all things Arab and Arabic, and Castile’s kings often maintained courts there that preserved the cultural legacy of Andalusia. Ben Elazar’sSefer HaMeshalim(literally, The Book of Parables, though it is also known asThe Love Stories of Ya‘aqov Ben Elazar), completed around 1233, is a wonderful example of a possible fusion of elements from both European and Eastern...

    • AVRAHAM IBN HASDAI (first half of the thirteenth century)
      (pp. 221-224)

      Avraham Ibn Hasdai’s major belletristic work,Ben HaMelekh veHaNazir(The Prince and the Monk), reflects the deep if not always conscious curiosity about foreign literature that characterized the Hebrew readership of the day: it adapts and Hebraicizes a Sanskrit tale that was transmitted through Arabic, via old Persian, and tells the story of the life of the young Buddha. The original tale was popular among Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, and was also translated into Greek (in the seventh century, at the Mar Saba Monastery near Jerusalem), and it eventually made its way into numerous other European languages as well....

    • MEIR HALEVI ABULAFIA (1170–1244)
      (pp. 225-226)

      Meir HaLevi Abulafia opposed Avraham Ibn Hasdai in the debate that took shape around theGuide for the Perplexedand reached its height in the 1230s. Abulafia admired the Rambam, but differed with him profoundly on philosophical and religious matters, and he was the first European rabbi to publicly denounce the great philosopher. Born in Burgos and raised in Toledo, Abulafia was the most renowned Jewish religious leader of his time. He was also known for his extensive talmudic commentary, his role in the administration of Spain’s Jewish communities, his writings on themasora(the body of notes relating to...

    • YITZHAQ HASNIRI (c. 1170/75–after 1229)
      (pp. 227-228)

      While the Spanish liturgical canon left little room for new material, it seems that greater opportunity for expression was offered by the tradition of sacred verse in Provence, where links were maintained to other Jewish communities in France and Ashkenaz. Yitzhaq HaSniri was the first Provençal religious poet who, in the eyes of the period’s leading scholars, bears comparison to the Spanish liturgical poets, and he is perhaps the most important of the Provençalpaytanim. He was active during the turbulent years of the Albigensian Crusade; though that campaign was not aimed at the Jewish community, the Jews of Provence...

    • MESHULLAM DEPIERA (early thirteenth century–after 1260)
      (pp. 229-232)

      Meshullam DePiera lived his entire life in northeastern Spain and never experienced Muslim rule. Born, it seems, and raised in Gerona, he was also known by the Catalan name of Envidas and most likely spoke the regional language, which was close to Provençal. He was one of the most daring and innovative of the Spanish-Hebrew poets, and his poems indicate that the man was every bit as difficult as his work: “I admit there’s a little strangeness in me,” he confesses in one poem, but adds, “though my heart goes out to my friends in need.” Perhaps because he was...

      (pp. 233-239)

      The central personality of the “Catalan renaissance” of the early thirteenth century and an important writer in diverse fields that included Qabbala, biblical commentary, religious law, philosophy, poetry, and communal affairs, Moshe Ben Nahman—HaRamban, Nahmanides, or, to his fellow Catalans, Bonastruc de Porta—was one of medieval Spanish Jewry’s outstanding figures.

      Nahmanides was born to a distinguished family in Gerona and lived most of his adult life there and in Barcelona, where he was involved in the major controversies of his day. The first of these involved the debate over Maimonides’ work, when Ben Nahman sought, without much success,...

    • SHEM TOV IBN FALAQERA (c. 1225–after 1290)
      (pp. 240-242)

      The attack on the old secular poetry and all it implied is taken up more directly by Shem Tov Ibn Falaqera. In the introduction to his major work,Sefer HaMevaqesh(The Book of the Seeker), Ibn Falaqera resolves to turn his back on his youthful literary ways and, instead of flattering the wealthy and impugning misers, and pursuing vain songs of desire, “to compose a treatise to teach [men] the proper path.” First, however, he would have to divorce the Muse, something he does explicitly, in verse: “I’ll send the daughters of song away—and with this tract our bonds...

    • YITZHAQ IBN SAHULA (late thirteenth century)
      (pp. 243-244)

      Yitzhaq Ibn Sahula was a resident of Guadalajara, a town that was close to the centers of the Spanish mystical movements that came to full flower toward the end of the thirteenth century. He appears to have known Moshe de Leon, the principal author ofThe Zohar, and he himself wrote a qabbalistic commentary on the Song of Songs. There is, however, nothing esoteric about his best-known work,Meshal HaQadmoni(An Ancient Tale), which is grounded in the scientific learning of his day and addressed to the broadest possible readership rather than the limited audience of the Qabbala.

      A physician...

    • AVRAHAM ABULAFIA (1240–c. 1291)
      (pp. 245-251)

      Avraham Abulafia is known as one of the major figures in the history of the Hebrew mystical tradition. Born in Saragossa in 1240, and raised in Tudela, he was orphaned at the age of eighteen and two years later began a life of wandering that would take him to Palestine, Greece, mainland Italy, and Sicily. His first trip was to the Land of Israel, when he was twenty, in search of the ten lost tribes and the mythical river Sambatyon, beyond which, legend had it, large parts of these tribes had been exiled by the Assyrian king Shalmanaser. Abulafia believed...

    • AVRAHAM BEN SHMU’EL (second half of the thirteenth century?)
      (pp. 252-253)

      Virtually nothing is known of Avraham Ben Shmu’el’s life and work apart from the one powerful penitential poem included here, which Haim Schirmann ranks among medieval Hebrew poetry’s finest creations. Schirmann has suggested that it might be possible to identify its author as Avraham Ibn Hasdai (ofThe Prince and the Monk), but there is no evidence of Ibn Hasdai’s ever having displayed the gifts possessed by the writer of this poem. Likewise some have sought to identify the poet as the qabbalist Avraham Abulafia (above), whose father was in fact named Shmu’el—but again, the extant evidence argues against...

    • YOSEF GIQATILLA (1248–c. 1325)
      (pp. 254-255)

      Praised by Avraham Abulafia as his finest student, Yosef Giqatilla was greatly influenced by the prophetic Qabbala of his teacher, and he went on to become one of the major qabbalists of the thirteenth century. His most well-known book,Sha‘arei Ora(Gates of Light, which was written before 1293), demonstrates a marked departure from Abulafia’s thought and shows Giqatilla to be immersed in theosophical qabbalistic teachings treating thesefirotand qabbalistic symbolism. Though no direct link has been established, he seems to have been close to Moshe de Leon, and generally speaking his approach to his subject in his later...

    • TODROS ABULAFIA (1247–after 1300)
      (pp. 256-269)

      A distant relative of Meir HaLevi Abulafia, but no relation to Avraham, Todros Ben Yehuda Abulafia was born in Toledo in 1247 and spent most of his life in that city, where Arabic was still in use some one hundred and fifty years after it had been retaken by Christians. Todros studied Arabic early on and commanded both the language and its literature; he was probably also familiar with Christian vernacular literature. An ambitious poet who was anxious to make his way in the culturally rich court of King Alfonso X (the Wise), of Castile (r. 1252–84), Todros managed...

    • NAHUM (second half of the thirteenth century)
      (pp. 270-271)

      Since the mid-nineteenth century scholars have speculated as to the identity of the talented liturgical poet who signed his poems Nahum. Some have identified him as the fourteenth-century Moroccan writer Nahum HaMa‘aravi, who wrote poetry and translated several important commentaries from Arabic to Hebrew, and whose epithet (HaMa‘aravi—the Westerner, or Maghrebi) appears to be alluded to at the end of the poem below. All the other extant evidence, however, seems to argue against that attribution. Another source mentions a penitential poem by one Nahum of Castile, from the second half of the thirteenth century. Whoever our Nahum was, subsequent...

    • AVRAHAM HABEDERSHI (mid-thirteenth century–after 1290)
      (pp. 272-274)

      Born to a prosperous, well-established family in the Provençal town of Beziers (the medieval name of which was Bedris), Avraham HaBedershi was raised in the home of his wealthy grandfather. When the grandfather died, the young Avraham moved to Perpignan—at the time part of Aragon—where he was educated and went on to work in finance and moneylending. He was also a professional letter writer, known for his flowery style. His financial success allowed him to establish himself in Perpignan as a literary patron and arbiter of poetic taste, someone who determined which poets received support and which did...

    • YITZHAQ HAGORNI (second half of the thirteenth century)
      (pp. 275-277)

      HaBedershi may not have given him the time of day, or bothered to save his poems, but close readers of Hebrew literature are in agreement that Yitzhaq HaGorni was by far the more gifted poet. Born in the small and remote town of Aire, in Gascony—closer to the Atlantic than to the Mediterranean—the poet added the Hebrew translation of his hometown (goren, meaning threshing floor) to his name. Though he held Aire in high esteem, he was forced to leave it in search of work and spent most of his adult life wandering through southern France, stopping in...

    • YEDAYA HAPENINI (c. 1270–after 1306)
      (pp. 278-280)

      Avraham HaBedershi’s son Yedaya HaPenini was born in Perpignan, then educated in Beziers, like his father. (While he sometimes called himself HaBedershi, more often than not he used the epithet HaPenini—the source of which isn’t clear.) After his time in Beziers, Yedaya returned to Perpignan and perhaps lived in Montpelier as well. He was a precocious student and wrote with authority in a number of disciplines while still in his teens. His philosophical commentaries were heavily influenced by the Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, and he played an active role in the second Maimonidean controversy in 1305, siding with those...

    • AVNER [OF BURGOS?] (1260/70–c. 1340)
      (pp. 281-283)

      Toward the end of the thirteenth century, pietistic and mystical trends took hold of Spanish Jewry and Christianity: the central work of the Qabbala,The Zohar, was composed between 1280 and 1286 in central Castile, and like contemporary Christian mystical movements, it espoused humility, poverty, and closeness to nature. In addition to advancing an implicit critique of the Spanish-Jewish aristocracy, which the qabbalists—and some of the Hebrew poets of the day—considered arrogant and corrupt,The Zoharand other related mystical texts of the time spoke of the imminent spiritual triumphs of a messianic age, against the backdrop of Christian...

    • QALONYMOS BEN QALONYMOS (1286–after 1328)
      (pp. 284-286)

      One of the most versatile Hebrew translators of the middle ages, Qalonymos Ben Qalonymos was responsible for the rendering of at least thirty works from Arabic into Hebrew—many by Ibn Rushd—and he also translated from, and at times into, Latin. Born in Arles in 1286 to an illustrious family that saw itself as descended from the biblical King David, he was raised in relative comfort. Later in life, however, he suffered along with the rest of the Jewish community during the reign of Philip the Fair, who exploited the Jews in every way for financial gain. In 1316...

    • YITZHAQ POLGAR (first half of the fourteenth century)
      (pp. 287-288)

      When Avner of Burgos converted to Christianity and mounted his attacks against the Jews of Castile, his considerable literary skills rendered the assault all the more effective and cast a shadow across the Jewish community, which had few leaders capable of responding in kind. One Jew who did take on the challenge was Avner’s disciple, Yitzhaq Polgar, about whom we know very little. (His name also appears as Polqar, Pulgar, or Poliqar.) In answer to Avner/ Alfonso’s initial assault—in which he claimed to find proof of Christian doctrine in talmudic and other rabbinic texts, and argued for determinism—Yitzhaq...

    • SHEM TOV ARDUTIEL (SANTOB DE CARRIÓN) (late thirteenth century–after 1345)
      (pp. 289-292)

      Shem Tov Ardutiel is best known as the author of a marvelous collection of Spanish epigrams,Proverbios morales, written under the name Santob de Carrión. The modern Spanish poet Antonio Machado—who, like Shem Tov, spent formative time in Old Castile’s stark highlands, which he described as being “so sad, they have a soul”—has testified to the potency of Santob’s wise, doubt-ridden, and down-to-earth “spiritual autobiography,” modeling his own moral proverbs after them. Shem Tov’s HebrewMilhamot HaEt veHaMisparayim(The Battles of the Pen and the Scissors, 1345) has received much less attention, in part because it adopts a...

    • SHMU’EL IBN SASSON (first half of the fourteenth century)
      (pp. 293-296)

      Scholars agree for the most part that the historical value of Shmu’el Ibn Sasson’s poetry far outweighs its literary worth, and they read it for the light it sheds on the cultural situation of mid-fourteenth-century Castile. About the poet himself we know very little, apart from the fact that, unlike nearly all the other Hebrew poets of Spain, he spent most of his adult life in provincial towns (Carrión de los Condes and Fromista, both west of Burgos). Even in those provincial outposts, however, he was able to maintain a literary circle of sorts, albeit a small and inferior one....

    • MOSHE NATAN (mid-fourteenth century)
      (pp. 297-298)

      When the Black Plague wreaked havoc through Spain in 1348, Jews were accused of having poisoned wells and of helping the epidemic spread. Popular uprisings against them further diminished Aragon’s Jewish communities. In Saragossa, for example, the combination of plague and pogrom destroyed four-fifths of the Jewish population. Elsewhere Jews had their houses demolished, were tortured and forced to confess to false charges, or worse. In 1354, Jewish notables gathered at a conference in Barcelona to address the situation and, it was hoped, reorganize Jewish life in Aragon.

      One of the speakers at the Barcelona gathering, and among the four...

    • SHELOMO DEPIERA (1340s–after 1417)
      (pp. 299-304)

      The first seventy years of the fourteenth century, according to Haim Schirmann, marked a low point in the history of Hebrew poetry in Spain. Things began to stir again only with the appearance on the scene of a group of Saragossan poets who called themselves, among other names, ‘Adat Nognim(The Minstrels’ Circle). The senior and perhaps most important member of the group was Shelomo DePiera. Born sometime between 1340 and 1350, in Catalonia, Shelomo seems to have been a distant relative of Meshullam DePiera, possibly his great-grandson or great-great-grandson. For much of his life he worked for one of...

    • VIDAL BENVENISTE (c. 1380–before 1439)
      (pp. 305-311)

      Shelomo DePiera’s student Vidal Benveniste was the most talented member of ‘Adat Nognim, though his gift, it seems, often gave rise to tension with his teacher. Benveniste has several harsh characterizations of the elderly DePiera, whose poetry, he says, “speaks in secret then raises its voice, /answering softly but gnashing its teeth, /provoking quarrels as it calls for peace; /it flirts with combat and then retreats.” At one point he makes it clear that he doesn’t consider the older poet his teacher at all, or even an important influence on him: “How could you think I draw from your well,...

      (pp. 312-313)

      The wave of converts to Christianity at the end of the fourteenth century included, as we have seen, members of the Jewish cultural elite. While some maintained close ties with their Jewish friends and colleagues, others took to their new religion in zealous fashion. Among the latter was Shelomo HaLevi, who was born in Burgos to a wealthy family. A respected community leader and tax collector, he was extremely learned in Jewish law, maintained strong connections to scholarly circles, and was a competent writer of verse. He was also, it seems, drawn to Christian philosophy and “the hidden treasure of...

    • SHELOMO BONAFED (final third of the fourteenth century–after 1445)
      (pp. 314-319)

      The youngest member of ‘Adat Nognimwas Shelomo Bonafed. A prolific poet, he wrote with apparent ease about everything he encountered, and his work is marked above all by its individuality, vitality, density, and poignancy. Far more than the other poets of the Saragossan circle, Bonafed reacted in his poems to the events of his day and the hardships faced by the Jewish community. He saw himself as both a defender of the faith in troubled times (on which see, “World Gone Wrong,” below), and, eventually, the last Hebrew poet of Spain: “When I die,” he wrote, conjuring the most...

    • YITZHAQ ALAHDAB (mid-fourteenth century–after 1429?)
      (pp. 320-325)

      Conversion or hardship weren’t the only options for Jews after the disturbances of 1391; large-scale emigration also followed. Some of the refugees headed for Muslim North Africa, some for the Land of Israel, and some for Sicily, which at the time belonged to the crown of Aragon and had a substantial Jewish population. Among the émigrés who settled in Sicily was Yitzhaq Alahdab, who had been raised in Castile and acquired considerable learning in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, Scripture, translation, and—to an extent—poetry. Between the years 1391 and 1426, Alahdab lived in Syracuse and Palermo, where he...

    • MOSHE REMOS (c. 1406–c. 1430)
      (pp. 326-329)

      Born in Majorca and educated in Rome, Moshe Remos lived the few years of his adult life in Sicily. He was working there as a doctor when, at the age of twenty-four, he was charged by either government officials or officers of the Inquisition with poisoning Christian patients during their treatment. He was sentenced to death and executed sometime around 1430. A poet neither by nature nor training, Remos was, like all the educated men of his time, reasonably skilled at verse composition, and he left behind a handful of poems, both secular and liturgical. His place in Hebrew literary...

    • ‘ELI BEN YOSEF [HAVILLIO?] (second half of the fifteenth century?)
      (pp. 330-330)

      Some eleven poems by a poet named ‘Eli Ben Yosef were discovered in the archives of the Cairo Jewish community and brought to Jerusalem in the early 1950s. Their author may well be ‘Eli Ben Yosef Havillio, of Monzón, who lived in the second half of the fifteenth century and was known as a philosopher and translator of Christian philosophical works by writers including Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Occam. Considered an important figure in the revival of philosophy in the Jewish circles of his time, Havillio was not known as a poet.

      The poem translated here appears...

    • MOSHE IBN HABIB (second half of the fifteenth century)
      (pp. 331-332)

      Portugal’s small Jewish community played virtually no part in the renaissance of Hebrew poetry in Iberia. The first evidence of a Portuguese dimension to the canon comes at the beginning of the fourteenth century, when David Ben Bilieh writes a treatise called “How to Rhyme.” After the Expulsion we find Yehuda Abravanel (Leone Hebreo), perhaps the most famous of Portuguese Jewish writers, in Italy composing a long poem of complaint about his Iberian trials. Also of interest among the part-time Portuguese-Hebrew poets is Moshe Ibn Habib, who was known primarily as a grammarian and philosopher. Born and raised in Lisbon,...

    • SA‘ADIA IBN DANAAN (mid-fifteenth century–1505)
      (pp. 333-336)

      The final poet in our selection brings us full circle, back to the south and Muslim Spain. Sa‘adia Ibn Danaan was born and raised in the last remaining Muslim territory on the Iberian peninsula, the kingdom of Granada, which at that time would have had a Jewish population of perhaps one thousand souls. After the city fell to the Christian Reconquest and the sentence of Expulsion was pronounced over all of Spain’s Jews in 1492, Ibn Danaan fled to North Africa and settled in Morocco, where he became a leading transmitter of the Andalusian legacy and a religious authority known...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 337-526)
    (pp. 527-546)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 547-548)