Readings in Medieval Hebrew Poetry || Arabic Poetics in Hebrew Poetry of the Golden Age

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<ul><li><p>Arabic Poetics in Hebrew Poetry of the Golden AgeSpanish Hebrew Poetry and the Arabic Literary Tradition: Arabic Themes in HebrewAndalusian Poetry by Arie SchippersReview by: EVERETT K. ROWSONProoftexts, Vol. 16, No. 1, Readings in Medieval Hebrew Poetry (JANUARY 1996), pp. 105-111Published by: Indiana University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 20:52</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Prooftexts.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 20:52:17 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>REVIEW </p><p>Arabic Poetics in Hebrew Poetry of the Golden Age Arie Schippers. Spanish Hebrew Poetry and the Arabic Literary Tradition: Arabic </p><p>Themes in Hebrew Andalusian Poetry. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994. xiv + 376 pp. </p><p>After centuries of neglect, the secular Hebrew poetry of medieval Andalusia has in recent decades become the subject of intense study and debate. Celebrated on the one hand as representing a golden age of Jewish literature and attacked on the other as an assimilationist dead end ultimately contributing nothing to the </p><p>ongoing Jewish heritage, this peculiar hybrid of a patently borrowed Arabic </p><p>poetics and a strictly delimited biblical Hebrew lexicon raises a host of questions, both literary and historical. Why, for example, at a time when Andalusian Jews were writing philosophical and theological works of obvious religious import in </p><p>Arabic, should they be composing secular poetry in Hebrew? Who was the audience for such poetry, and what place did poets and audience occupy in both the Jewish community and the wider interconfessional society of their day? What </p><p>aspects of Arabic poetry?formal, thematic, rhetorical?were borrowed whole </p><p>sale, and what aspects were modified or rejected, and why? Much of the debate over such issues is being pursued in Hebrew, but much is also appearing in Western languages, especially English?which is fortunate for students of Arabic </p><p>literature, such as myself, to whom the Hebrew scholarship is inaccessible but who have a clear interest in knowing what is happening in this field. Not only can Arabists learn something from these discussions about the historical context of the literature they study and the range and directions of literary influences in such a </p><p>polyglot and multiconfessional society as Andalusia; they also can expect, by looking at what the Hebrew poets took from their Arabic models and what they did with it, to gain increased insight into the aesthetic norms and values embodied in those models themselves, as well as into underlying attitudes toward secular uses of a canonized and indeed sanctified langnage. Arie Schippers's recent book, which focuses precisely on the relationship between classical Arabic poetry and its Hebrew counterpart, is, in fact, explicitly directed in part to Arabists, "who have to take into account how and why Arabic poetic motifs circulated in Andalusian </p><p>society" (p. 3), and it is perhaps thus appropriate that it be reviewed by someone with such concerns. </p><p>There is certainly no lack of Arabic poetry in Schippers's book; it is cited in </p><p>quantities at least equal to those given of Hebrew poetry. But therein lies the </p><p>problem?and there is a problem: Schippers's stated intention is "to give a survey of most of the poetic themes and motifs occurring in Hebrew Andalusian </p><p>PROOFTEXTS16 (1996): 105-111 ? 1996 by The Johns Hopkins University Press </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 20:52:17 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>106 REVIEW </p><p>literature which have been borrowed from Arabic literature" (p. 1), and he </p><p>proceeds to do so, amassing three hundred pages of parallel citations, from wine </p><p>poetry, love poetry, elegiac poetry, and other genres, to demonstrate that "[i]n Hebrew Andalusian poetry, Arabic poetic conventions are assumed and Arabic </p><p>poets are imitated; only the language is different" (p. 22). Had one any doubts about the first part of this statement (and an Arabist would be unlikely to, even before picking up Schippers's book), they would be easily allayed by such overkill; but by reducing the differences between the two poetries purely to one of language, and mirtirnizing his attention even to that factor, Schippers seems to me to miss most of the really interesting questions?for Arabists as well as Hebraicists. Rather than the "how and why" of adoption of Arabic poetic motifs, what is presented is mostly simply the "that," and analysis is on the whole avoided in favor of simple cataloging. </p><p>The book is lucidly organized. The first four chapters deal with preliminary matters: purpose of the study and definitions of genre, theme, and motif; the </p><p>poetic climate of Andalusia in the eleventh century; the Jews in Muslim Spain; and the Arabic poem?developments, genres, subdivisions. The following six chapters run through the Arabic-Hebrew thematic parallels in six genres (or clusters of </p><p>themes): wine, love, nature, war, elegy, and descriptions of poetry. A final chapter, labeled "conclusions," is essentially a straightforward summary of what has been said in the six "thematic" chapters that constitute the heart of the book. Appended are a rather full bibliography and an index, as well as a table of correspondence between the two published editions of the poetry of Samuel Hanagid, one of the four Andalusian Hebrew poets on whom the author concentrates. </p><p>The introductory chapter raises two fundamental questions, promising answers that we never really get. First, why did such Arabizing secular Hebrew </p><p>poetry arise in eleventh-century Andalusia? Why specifically then and there? In </p><p>reply, we are offered only a jejune history of "The Jews in Muslim Spain" (chapter 3) and a paraphrase of selections from Moses ibn Ezra's discussion of the </p><p>origins of this poetry; the closest we get to a real answer seems to be that "poetry arose at a time when there were also many other linguistic activities. Perhaps linguistic and poetic activities stimulated and influenced each other" (p. 52). Second, was there something distinctive about Andalusian poetry (Arabic or </p><p>Hebrew), compared with Eastern Arabic poetry? Schippers gives a review (in chapter 2) of the extensive scholarship on this question, appropriately emphasiz ing the contributions of Gregor Schoeler and Raymond Scheindlin, but does not </p><p>attempt to advance the discussion himself, and no definitive answer is settled on. </p><p>Perhaps his own contribution is to be found in the penultimate paragraph of the </p><p>book, where (without previous discussion) he announces that "we cannot refrain from concluding that the Hebrew Andalusian poets imitated Oriental Arabic </p><p>poets far more than they imitated contemporary local Arabic Andalusian poets" (p. 325). But whether this conclusion is actually borne out by the accumulated evidence in the preceding catalog of comparisons (which does regularly offer both Eastern and Western Arabic examples) remains unclear to me. </p><p>The basic parameters of this catalog are discussed in the preliminary chap ters. First, there is the question of which poets to include. On the Hebrew side, Schippers focuses his attention almost exclusively on "the four greatest poets," </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 20:52:17 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Proo?exts 107 </p><p>Samuel Hanagid, Solomon Ibn Gabir l, Moses Ibn Ezra, and Judah Halevi, whose lives and works he summarizes in chapter 3. His choices from the Arabic side are somewhat more diffuse; the Eastern tradition is represented primarily by Abu </p><p>Nuw?s, Ab? Tamm?m, and al-Mutanabb?, and the Andalusian by Ibn Khafaj?, but </p><p>many others, both Eastern and Western and from various periods, appear as well. The second question is that of what is to be compared or identified as borrowed. A </p><p>preliminary discussion of this problem, in chapter 1, considering the terms </p><p>"genre," "theme," and "motif," does little beyond establishing the subordination of "motif" to "theme," but is supplemented by further treatment in chapters 2 and 4. In the latter, basing himself in part on previous work by Schoeler, Schippers reviews a number of discussions of genre (gharad) in Arabic theoretical works, as </p><p>well as the actual generic divisions appearing in medieval recensions of the collected verse of several major poets. To this, he adds his own survey of the </p><p>genres represented in the oeuvre of the four Hebrew poets, which is perhaps the most interesting section of the book?although it is not altogether clear how much of this generic labeling is based on the manuscript sources and how much on the work of modern editors. (I would note that the "Hij?ziyy?t" of Moses Ibn Ezra, which puzzle Schippers, are perhaps less likely to refer to the verse of the </p><p>Umayyad poet cUmar b. Ab? Rabfa, as he suggests, than to the group of poems known by this rubric that were composed by the eleventh-century Baghd?dl Shfite al-Shar?f al-Rad?.) Two further sections of this chapter, attempting to subdivide Arabic and Hebrew polythematic poems into subgenres, are less </p><p>satisfactory, and degenerate into content summaries of sample poems that seem to have been rather randomly selected. </p><p>Schippers is bothered by the fact that standard Western definitions of </p><p>"genre," which involve form, do not seem to fit the case of Arabic and Hebrew </p><p>poetry (where typology depends almost entirely on content, independent of </p><p>form), and by the ambiguity of the line between what he calls "genres" and "themes" ( a' ; in the end, he settles for defining a genre for his purposes as "a cluster of themes," which is not very helpful. In any case, most of the "genres" on which he ultimately relies?wine, love, and the like?as well as their subordinate "themes"?such as the invitation to a drinking party, or the beauty of the beloved?are appropriately determined by the tradition itself. There are, however, some difficulties, not the least of which is his decision to omit "the laudatory genre" (that is, panegyric, madTh), "although it is one of the most important," either because "this theme is one of the most difficult genres for modern readers" </p><p>(p. 7) or "[f]or reasons of space" (p. 91). He does not explain why he is nevertheless "confident of presenting a balanced survey of the themes and motifs which occur in the poetry of the four Hebrew Andalusian poets under considera tion" (p. 8). </p><p>Most of the themes known from Arabic wine songs reappear in the Hebrew versions of the genre (chapter 5), although Schippers notes that the Arabic visit to the tavern (run by a "landlord" or "landlady" in his parlance) is missing in </p><p>Hebrew. He remarks that for Abu Nuw?s, the most famous Arabic wine poet, "drinking wine is frequently considered a sin," but does not discuss the difference in wine's legal status in Islam and Judaism or speculate on how that might affect its poetic treatment. He discusses the conventional times for drinking without </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 20:52:17 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>108 REVIEW </p><p>mentioning the omnipresent morning and evening draughts (sab?h and ghab?q); these terms do appear in a later discussion (pp. 135 f.), but with their definitions reversed. </p><p>In chapter 6, on love poetry, Schippers refers to recent controversies over the </p><p>meaning and implications of Hebrew homoerotic verses, but refrains from enter </p><p>ing the lists himself. He rather exaggerates the degree to which homoerotic </p><p>imagery is bound to that of the cupbearer, and while plausibly appealing to (pre Islamic) Iranian customs in this regard, rather oddly adds (p. 147) mat "[t]here are </p><p>comparable situations in other cultures e.g., at the Roman courts" (adding a footnote to Martial), without so much as a nod to the Greek world, probably the </p><p>most relevant and certainly the best-known antecedent. One of the more interest </p><p>ing borrowed motifs illustrated in this chapter is that of the boy with a speech impediment perceived as effeminate (p. 151), consisting in Arabic of a substitution of "gh" for "r," which reappears in Hebrew in a poem by Samuel Hanagid, with </p><p>"g" in place of "r," resulting (unlike the Arabic) in several provocative puns (e.g., "He wanted to answer: 'miscreant [rac],' but he said: 'Come nearer [gac]'"). (The Arabic substitution is well known today, mostly among upper-class speakers, but the Hebrew equivalent seems rather improbable to me.) </p><p>Another common motif in love poetry, that of "wounding eyes" (whose glances pierce the heart) is dubbed "somewhat universal" by Schippers (p. 173), and he adduces parallels in troubadour literature, while steering well clear of any claims to historical connections. Citing further troubadour parallels in a later </p><p>discussion, on the motif of the poet's vaunting his own abilities, Schippers declares (pp. 300f.), "I am not of the opinion that here there is a direct influence of Arabic or Hebrew poetry on Occitanic or Proven?al poetry, but both poetries? Hebrew-Arabic as well as the poetry of the troubadours?may have had the same </p><p>climate and inspiration, which makes the poet conscious of and conceited about himself and his poetry." Whatever this means, it is typical of the author's reluctance seriously to engage in any of the major controversies that impinge on his study. On the other hand, in dealing with the ubi sunt motif (in chapter 9, on </p><p>"elegiac poetry"), he would appear to beg the very question to which his book is </p><p>devoted, by stating, "These kind[s] of ubi sunt themes are perhaps common to all literatures and all cultures, but the Hebrew poets were conscious imitators of </p><p>Arabic poetical themes, and that is the main reason for considering Arabic poetry here as the origin of these themes" (p. 271). </p><p>Both the chapter on elegiac poetry and that on nature poetry (chapter 7) include a somewhat wider range of "themes" than what indigenous concepts of </p><p>genre would justify. The latter initially appears to be devoted to descriptio...</p></li></ul>


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