Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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ROTH /JEWISH LITERATURE IN MEDIEVAL SPAIN
101
main mere names. One of the important themes both of Arabic
and Hebrew poetry was love. This included love poems ad­
dressed to, or about, boys as well as women. These poems, hard ­
ly “allegory,” reflected the reality of society in which such re­
lations, while officially frowned upon, were in fact tolerated.4
This could also become the subject of very clever satire, as
when a famous poem, popularly called “orphan” in Hebrew
but which term was similar to Arabic “unique” (it was the only
poem of the poet, hence “orphan ,” but also “unique” in its beau­
ty), addressed to Ibn Naghrillah by a friend, satirized the pen
as a “male” figure. The poem was introduced by a beautiful
description of the night vision of a boy who appears in a dream.
In his reply, Samuel satirized the love of the boy and contrasted
it with his own love of a real woman, who appeared to him
in broad daylight and not in a vision. The pen, too, became
feminine in his version.5
No less prominent (though no more so) than the love of a
beautiful boy was that for a woman in Hebrew verse. Biblical
images were of course employed, and the Song of Songs, which
in Spain was understood quite well to be a literal love poem
and not some “allegory,” served as a major inspiration. Here,
too, is frequently encountered the motif of “love-sickness,” go­
ing back through Arabic influences to ancient Greek ideas.6
Solomon Ibn Gabirol, of course, was the outstanding figure
of the next generation of Hebrew poets. Also a philosopher,
attention should be called to his small collection of proverbs
and ethical sayings, at least in part of his own creation,
Mivhar
ha-peninim
(“Choice of pearls”), which at least partially qualifies
as “literature.” His poetry has quite rightly been praised, as it
is, perhaps second only to Ibn Naghrillah’s, the supreme ex­
ample of Hebrew verse (already the famous Spanish scholar
of the last century, Menendez y Pelayo, who himself was some­
4. See especially Roth, ‘“Deal Gently with the Young Man’ — Love o f Boys
in Medieval Hebrew Poetry o f Spain,”
Speculum
57 (1982): 20-51.
5. Roth, “Satire and Debate in Two Famous Medieval Hebrew Poems: Love
o f Boys vs. Girls, The Pen, and Other Themes,”
Maghreb Review
4 (1980): 105-13
(with translations o f both poems).
6. Roth, “The Care and Feeding o f Gazelles: Medieval Arabic and Hebrew
Love Poetry,” in Moshe Lazar and Norris J. Lacy, eds.,
Poetics o f Love in the
Middle Ages
(Fairfax, Va., 1989), pp. 95-118. A different perspective is that
o f Raymond P. Scheindlin,
Wine, Women and Death
[Philadelphia, 1986]; cf.
my review in
Hebrew Studies
28 [1987]: 201-02.