Page 112 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

Basic HTML Version

popular myth, these poets did
constitute a “courtier” or even
“courtly” class in society, a kind of aristocratic elite separate
from normal daily Jewish life. Quite the contrary, not one single
poet was a rabbi and, apart from Ibn Naghrillah, not one was
a “courtier” or government official of any kind. They wrote
on subjects well known to ordinary Jews of their time, and ex­
pressed emotions common to these Jews. Their poems were im­
mensely popular and widely circulated during their own time
not only in Spain, but in Egypt and as far away as Yemen.
Indeed, poetry was one of the “required subjects” of elemen­
tary education for Muslims and Jews in Spain. We have con­
siderable evidence of the effectiveness of this education, not
only in the frequent citations of actual verses in non-poetic Jew­
ish texts but in numerous examples of rhymed composition and
poems composed by ordinary Jews of Spain. By the beginning
of the thirteenth century, if not earlier, the “renaissance” of
Hebrew had succeeded, and by choice Hebrew now largely re­
placed Arabic as the common form of written expression, and
in a style vastly superior to any found in European lands of
the medieval or later periods.
We are, however, by no means finished with the discussion
of poetry, having surveyed, albeit too briefly, Hebrew verse.11
For Jews also composed poetry in Arabic, and later in the ver­
nacular Romance languages.
Ibn Naghrillah himself is reported to have written a poem
in Arabic. Other Jews who wrote exclusively Arabic poetry are
at present known only by name, such as Ilyas ibn al-Mudawwar,
a physician of Ronda, or Bassam Ibn Shimacun (Simon).12 Of
more interest is Qasmunah bint Ismacil
(“the Jew”),
the only woman (aside, possibly, from Judah ha-Levy’s daugh­
43 (1983): 75-85, overlooked by Doron, which contains important new infor­
11. There are currently projects in Spain for the complete translation o f at
least the works o f the early poets. See also the excellent anthology by Angel
Saenz-Badillos and Judit Targarona Borras,
Poetas hebreos de al-Andalus (siglos
(Cordoba, 1990).
12. Al-Maqqari,
Nafh al-tib
(Arabic), ed. R. Dozy,
et al.
(Leiden, 1855-61) II,
351-52, 355.