Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 1

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SHEMUEL HANAGID—
993
-
1058
(?)
ON THE 95OTH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH
By
H i l lel Bavli
Shemuel Hanag id stands at the threshold of a great creative
epoch in the history of the Jews in Spain, an epoch which he
himself helped to inaugurate . He was un ique in his age. On the
one hand , a leader of the Jewish communi ty
(.Hanagid
meaning
“ the p r ince” or “ the chief”), an em inen t T a lm ud i s t and au tho r
of rabb in ic works, a linguist, a grammar ian , a poet; on the other
hand , a d ip loma t who rose to the supreme rank of G rand
Vizier of the Kingdom of Granada , to which he emigrated at the
age of twenty from his native Cordova, a war r ior active in many
battles. T h e manysidedness of Hanagid , his v ib ran t personality,
is reflected pr imar i ly in his poetry.
His poetic fame rests on three works. T h e ma jo r one,
Ben-
T eh i l l im ,
is a collection of lyrical compositions marked by a
strong epic strain. T h e o the r two works,
Ben-Mishle
and
Ben-
Kohe le th ,
consist of proverbs and epigrams, meditat ions and
though t fu l observations on a variety of subjects. Only a small
po r t ion of H an ag id ’s poetry was known th roughou t the ages. A
complete ed i t ion of his poetry, based on a rare manuscript , was
b rough t ou t recently by David Solomon Sasoon
(Diwan of
Shemue l Hannagh id ,
Oxford University Press, 5694—1934).
Shemuel Hanag id fell heir to a great t rad i t ion of poetic
l i te ra tu re which had flourished in Palestine and in Babylon. His
d is t inct ion lies in the fact tha t he widened the scope of Hebrew
poetry and recast the p a t te rn of its technique, largely und e r the
guidance of Arabic prosody, thus br ing ing in to f ru i t ion the ex-
per iments of his predecessors, the first Hebrew poets-rhetoricians
of Spain. A new poetic style was evolved, which was to influence
the course of Hebrew poetry for good and for bad: a medley of
biblical dic t ion invigorated by linguistic innovations and by
vocabulary derived from ta lmud ic sources and a highly orna te
Arabic phraseology. Hanag id was the first Hebrew poet of im-
por tance who tu rned the dom inan t Arabic influence in to a vital
force, giving new mean ing and d irect ion to Hebrew poetry.
Hebrew poetry, which theretofore was mainly liturgical in
character, became, w i th Hanag id , more humanized . T h e term
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