Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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ROTH /JEW ISH LITERATURE IN MEDIEVAL SPAIN
107
aggerated. True, the quality of poetry of even such “stars” as
Judah al-Harizi or Todros Abulafia cannot compare to that of
most of the poets of the earlier period (although it is as good
or better than that of ha-Levy). However, it is important to re­
alize that the tradition of writing secular verse continued in
strength throughout the medieval period, as late as the fifteenth
century in Aragon-Catalonia (where, incidentally, we find Chris­
tians writing Hebrew poetry as well as Jews writing Catalan
verse).18
In areas more properly defined as “literature” (unlike the
standard works on “Hebrew literature,” literature is here con­
fined to works of narrative fiction), there was considerable in­
terest in the collection and translation of proverbs, primarily
from the Arabic but in most cases with a good deal of re-working
or the creation of new material. Such a work of Ibn Gabirol
has already been mentioned. The classic example is the much
longer
Ben ha-melekh ve-ha-nazir
of Abraham b. Hasdai, loosely
based on an Indian legend. The Hebrew version, however,
draws also on a wide variety of proverbial and other sources
(it would be interesting to compare the same writer’s translation
of the important philosophical work
Musrey ha-filosofim
as to
treatment of sources, etc.).19
Similar in many respects are the two Hebrew versions, one
anonymous (13th cent.?) and the other by Jacob b. Elcazar of
Toledo, same period, of the famous
Kalilah ve-Dimnah
story.
Abraham Ibn cEzra was already familiar with the original work,
which he thought to have been translated into Arabic by a Jew
(it was, in fact, a Zoroastrian), and it was known already to the
geonim.
The medieval Spanish translation was, at least in part,
directly from the Hebrew version of Jacob.20
18. See my “La lengua hebrea entre los cristianos espanoles medievales: voces
hebreas en Espanol,”
Revista de filologia espanola
71 (1991), especially pp. 138-39
on the poets, one o f whom was the famous Juan Fernandez de Ixar.
19. A.M. Habermann’s edition (the most recent) needs reprinting; there is also
a Spanish translation. The only important study o f the work is Yehudah Ratzaby,
“Le-heqer mekorotav ha-civrim shel ‘Ben he-melekh ve-ha-nazir’,”
Shay le-
Heiman,
A.M. Habermann Jubilee volume (Jerusalem, 1977), pp. 279-317.
20. Maria Jesus Lacarra, “Un fragmento in£dito del
Calila e Dimna,” E l Crotalon:
Anuario de filologia espanola
1 (1984): 679-706 (cf. Joseph Sol^-Sole, “El
Calila
e Digna
castellano traducido del hebreo,”
Hispanica Judaica
III:
Language
(Bar­
celona, 1984), pp. 101-31). This had already been pointed out, however, by