Jewish poetry from Al-Andalus

The golden age of Jewish poetry in Al-Andalus developed in the literary courts of the various taifas. Like its Arabic counterpart, its production diminished in the 12th century under the rule of the Almoravids y Almohads.[1] In the last part of the 10th century, Dunash ben Labrat revolutionized Jewish poetry in Al-Andalus, who brought Arabic meter and monorhyme into Hebrew writing.[2] Jewish poets employed Arabic poetic themes, writing bacchic poetry, garden poetry, and love poetry.[3]

Literary language

As in the rest of the Arabic world at the time, Arabic was the typical language for Jewish writing, except for belles lettres. Practically all Jewish works about philosophy, theology, mathematics, were written in Arabic, typically in Hebrew characters. This type of writing has been called Judeo-Arabic, although there was little difference in the language used by Jews and non-Jews at this time. The choice of Hebrew as the poetic language can be seen as an expression of Jewish self-assertion.[4] Contemporary Arabic poets considered their language, the language of the Qu'ran, the most beautiful language, and Arabic verse as the highest form of poetry; Jewish poets thought similarly of their sacred writings and composed poetry in Biblical Hebrew[5] Apart from Dunash's metrical innovations, the Hebrew of these poems tried to emulate the diction and style of Classical Hebrew, abolishing elements that had introduced into the language after the canonization of the Bible. This classical approach was facilitated by advances in the study of Hebrew grammar and biblical interpretation.[2]

Hebrew liturgical poetry

The Tanakh contains several poetic sections, including the Song of the sea[6] and the Song of Deborah,[7] as well as poetic books such as the Book of Psalms[8] and the Book of Job.[9] The Talmud also includes a number of poetic sections. Piyyut had flourished in Byzantine Palestine between the fifth and seventh centuries. The incorporation of the complex and opaque poetry of the piyyutim required the recognition of an unusual vocabulary, foreign words, complex grammatical forms, and a great number of allusions to Jewish religious sources.[2]

Caliphate of Córdoba

In the late 10th century, Dunash ben Labrat, a north African student of Saadia Gaon, arrived at the Caliphate of Córdoba and revolutionized Hebrew poetry in al-Ándalus. Dunash designed a system of short and long vowels for Hebrew that allowed it to imitate Arabic meter, and adopted the structure of the qasida. Practically all Judeo-Spanish poets adopted Dunash's innovations. Moses ibn Ezra said that the best Hebrew poetry was composed according to the Arabic model, but Yehudah Halevi, a contemporary of ibn Ezra, felt ambivalent toward the metric innovations, condemning them as a cultural surrender.[2]

Golden age of Judeo-Spanish poetry

Taifas in 1080. The division of the Caliphate of Córdoba into taifas produced a literary flourishing in al-Ándalus.

The division of the caliphate into taifas, and the subsequent literary courts in various taifas, brought a golden age to Judeo-Spanish poetry. Notable poets of this period include Semuel ibn Nagrella (993-1056), Salomón ibn Gabirol (1021-1055), Moses ibn Ezra (1055-1138), Yehudah Halevi (1074-1141), Yishaq ibn Gayyat (1038-1089), and Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167).[10] These poets were particularly by Middle Eastern Arabic poets such as al-Mutanabbi and Abu Tammam, rather than Andalusians poets. Many shared al-Mutanabbi's elitism toward a society that wasn't interested in their poetry.[11] Love poetry, following the Arabic tradition, was inspired by the work of Abu Nuwas. Themes included seduction, wine, and naseeb; as well as the love obstacles of Hejazi poetry.[12] A number of medieval Hebrew songs glorify the beauty of boys, particularly between the 11th and early 13th centuries.[13] As with Arabic poetry, the production of Jewish poetry diminished under the reign of the Almoravids and the Almohads.[1]

Meters and genres

The qasida was typical for major genres. The madih praised and honored a great man, while the martiyya or ritza commemorated the death of a great man. The satirical hiya or hichá ridiculed enemies, although this form is much more prominent in Arabic poetry.

Poets also adopted the Muwashshah, a strophic form typically devoted to issues related to the pleasures of life, descriptions of wine and its consumption, love or expressions of regret for the ephemeral nature of these pleasures.[14] It is interesting to note the Kharja, or final refrain of these muwashshahat, which typically switched from classical Arabic to colloquial Andalusian Arabic. In Hebrew poems, the change was between different languages—from Hebrew to Arabic or a Romance language—a testament to the trilingual climate Andalusian Jews lived in.[15] As for themes, Jewish poetry, which had previously centered on the liturgical, grew to owe a deep debt to the Arabic tradition. By the tenth century, Arab culture had developed a rich and varied poetic tradition. Jewish poets used the nostalgic tone of poetry of the Arabian Desert for poems about their own exile; imitated the Bacchic poems that described the gardens, and reflected on the lifestyle of an aristocratic class that shared values with their Muslim peers. They also shared an interest in Neo-Platonic concepts about the soul and themes of Arabic love poetry, reformulated through the language of the Bible (especially the Song of Songs), which penetrated both sacred and secular Hebrew poetry.[3]

Notable Poets of the Era

References

  1. ^ a b Zwartjes, Otto (1994). La sociedad andalusí y sus tradiciones literarias. Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 139. ISBN . 
  2. ^ a b c d Decter, Jonathan (2005). "Literatures of Medieval Sepharad". In Zion Zohar. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry : from the Golden Age of Spain to modern times (First ed.). New York: New York University Press. p. 78. ISBN . 
  3. ^ a b Decter, Jonathan (2005). "Literatures of Medieval Sepharad". In Zion Zohar. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry : from the Golden Age of Spain to modern times (First ed.). New York: New York University Press. p. 80. ISBN . 
  4. ^ Decter, Jonathan (2005). "Literatures of Medieval Sepharad". In Zion Zohar. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry : from the Golden Age of Spain to modern times (First ed.). New York: New York University Press. p. 79. ISBN . 
  5. ^ Cohen, Mark (2005). "The origins of Sephardic Jewry in the medieval Arab world". In Zohar, Zion. The origins of Sephardic Jewry in the medieval Arab world. New York: New York University Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN . 
  6. ^ Exodus 15:1-18
  7. ^ Judges 5:2-13
  8. ^ Psalms
  9. ^ Job
  10. ^ Scheindlin, Raymond (1998). "La situación social y el mundo de valores de los poetas hebreos". La sociedad medieval a través de la literatura hispanojudía (in Spanish). Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha. p. 60. ISBN . 
  11. ^ Zwartjes, Otto (1994). La sociedad andalusí y sus tradiciones literarias. Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 141. ISBN . 
  12. ^ Schippers, Arie (1994). Spanish Hebrew poetry and the Arabic literary tradition : Arabic themes in Hebrew Andalusian poetry. Leiden: E.J. Brill. pp. 148–149. ISBN . 
  13. ^ Schirmann, Hayyim (1955). "The Ephebe in medieval Hebrew poetry". Sefarad: Revista de Estudios Hebraicos y Sefardíes 15 (1): 55–68. 
  14. ^ Scheindlin, Raymond (1998). "La situación social y el mundo de valores de los poetas hebreos". La sociedad medieval a través de la literatura hispanojudía (in Spanish). Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha. p. 59. ISBN . 
  15. ^ Decter, Jonathan (2005). "Literatures of Medieval Sepharad". In Zion Zohar. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry : from the Golden Age of Spain to modern times (First ed.). New York: New York University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN . 
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