A new anthology called The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950–1492, edited by Peter Cole, looks to be well worth investigating. Marjorie Perloff’s Bookforum review begins:

In the middle of the tenth century, a young Moroccan Jewish poet named Dunash ben Labrat arrived in the Andalusian city of Cordoba, then ruled by the blue-eyed caliph of Spanish-Basque descent ‘Abd al-Rahmaan III. Dunash had studied in Baghdad, then considered the most spectacular city in the world, with the head of the Babylonian Jewish academy of Sura, Sa’adia ben Yosef al-Fayuumi, a man of great learning, who taught him, among other things, a keen appreciation of Arabic and its notion of fasaaha (radiance, clarity), as well as its importance for the understanding of Hebrew Scripture. Tenth-century Cordoba was a second Baghdad: a sophisticated city, where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in relative harmony and Arabic was the dominant language. “By the mid–tenth century,” writes Peter Cole, “Jews, Christians, North-African Berber Muslims, and Christian converts were competing with the Arabs themselves for mastery of that most beautiful of languages, which became both the lingua franca of al-Andalus and the currency of high culture.” Indeed, conditions for the Jews were so favorable that the conversion rate was low: They spoke Arabic, adopted native dress, and worked side by side with their Muslim neighbors. Dunash, settling in Cordoba and adapting the inflections of Arabic poetry to his native Hebrew, declared, “Let Scripture be your Eden . . . and the Arabs’ books your paradise grove.”

She goes on to say that the book “represents poetic scholarship at its best” and quotes a number of short tzvi poems (the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic ghazal). The Princeton UP web page for the book generously provides links not only to the table of contents and introduction but to pdf files of the Hebrew texts (Muslim Spain, Christian Spain & Provence). Thanks for the link, Trevor!


  1. Well, as the author says here, “The golden age of Spain was golden, but for the Jews, it was always a bit tarnished.”
    Accents are somewhat shifted in the story, don’t you think?

  2. Well, life is always a bit tarnished, isn’t it? Certainly the Jews have had far worse times and places than al-Andalus. In any event, the focus of the book (and the post) is on the poetry, which flourished there.

  3. Well, the premise of this book of poetry is somewhat faulty. Praising Islamic rulers of Andalusia for Golden Age of Jewish poetry is like praising the WWI and, later, Bolsheviks, for Silver Age of Russian poetry.

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