Page 61 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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e f f e r
— J
barban el
gnawed constantly at his heart and, twelve years after this
poignant event, Judah wrote a moving elegy in Hebrew, com­
memorating his son’s living death, in which he begged him,
“Remain continually mindful of Judaism. Cherish the Hebrew
language and literature. Keep ever before thee the grief of thy
father, the pain of thy mother.” Another son, Samuel, was born
to him later, but again Judah’s joy was short-lived, for the child
died at the age of six.
The Abarbanels now took up the staff of exile together with the
other Jews of Spain. They settled for a while in Naples, where
Isaac received an office at the court of Ferrante I and Judah
practiced medicine and was physician to the successive kings of
the “Sicilies.” But less than three years later the French loosed a
pogrom against the Jews of Naples which caused thousands to
flee the city. Among them was Judah, who sought a home suc­
cessively in Venice, Florence, Corfu and Genoa. T o gain a
livelihood he practiced medicine in all these places and became
for a while personal physician to Viceroy Gonsalvo de Cordova,
the “Great Captain” and the conqueror of Naples. Finally Judah
settled in Genoa, continuing his medical practice but also fol­
lowing his favorite pursuits of astronomy, mathematics and
metaphysics. I t was in Genoa that he began to compose his
magnum opus
Dialoghi d’Amore,
or “Dialogues about Love”—
the most important philosophical work of the Italian Renaissance.
In a Renaissance Bet Midrash
These bare outlines of Judah Abarbanel’s life, passing through
a dramatic chiaroscuro of light and shade, have taken little account
of their accompanying intellectual creativeness and imaginative
vigor. Judah’s wanderings, although laden down with suffering
and tribulations, exposed his brilliant and sensitive mind to the
great intellectual and artistic awakening which was taking place
in Italy at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the six­
teenth century. Florence, Genoa and Naples were in a state of
ferment. Scholars, poets and philosophers were wandering from
city to city, eager to meet their peers and their masters in the
universities and in other centers of scholarship. Florence, es­
pecially, became the center of Italian learning. Lured by the
generous patronage of the Medici and other Florentine nobles,
scholars flocked to it from all parts of Europe. Through Lorenzo’s
generosity the Platonic academy of Florence was restored and
enlarged. This was not a formal school but an association of men
interested in Plato who met at irregular intervals to read aloud
a Platonic dialogue and to discuss its philosophy. Among those
who frequented this Renaissance
bet midrash
was the fascinating
Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Blessed with all of