Meshal Haqadmoni: Fables from the Distant Past

BookMeshal Haqadmoni: Fables from the Distant Past

Meshal Haqadmoni: Fables from the Distant Past

A Parallel Hebrew-English Text

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


February 26th, 2004



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The wondrous fables of Ibn Sahula in Meshal haqadmoni, presented here in English for the first time, provide a most unusual introduction to the intellectual and social universe of the Sephardi Jewish world of thirteenth-century Spain.

Ibn Sahula wrote his fables in rhymed prose, here rendered into English as rhymed couplets. They comprise a series of satirical debates between a cynic and a moralist, put into the mouths of animals; the moralist always triumphs. The debates, which touch on such subjects as time, the soul, the physical sciences and medicine, astronomy, and astrology, amply reflect human foibles, political compromise, and court intrigue. They are suffused throughout with traditional Jewish law and lore, a flavour reinforced by the profusion of biblical quotations reapplied.

With parallel Hebrew and English texts, explanatory notes, indication of textual variants, and references for all the biblical and other allusions, this edition has much to offer to scholars in many areas: medieval Hebrew literature, medieval intellectual history, Sephardi studies, and the literature and folklore of Spain.

Both the translation and the scholarly annotations reflect Raphael Loewe’s deep understanding of Ibn Sahula’s world, including the interrelationship of Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic speculative thought and the interplay between those languages. Scholars will profit enormously from the textual annotations, and specialist and non-specialist alike will benefit from the masterly introduction.

Two full series of illustrations are reproduced alongside the text: the woodcuts from the second edition (Venice, c.1547), and the splendid vignettes in the Rothschild Miscellany, a fifteenth-century Italian mansucript in the Israel Museum.

'A magnificent English translation ... What we have here is, beyond doubt, a precious specimen of a purpose to which the Hebrew language could be put in Spain, quite apart from the book's value as an example of knowledge concerning philosophy and medicine available in thirteenth-century Castile.'
Joseph F. O'Callaghan, Alcanate: Revista de Estudios Alfonsies
 'Beautifully produced and comprises 816 pages of immaculate scholarship and human interest ... the translator has fully achieved his intention of conveying in English the impact and artistic impression of the original ... the overall effect is highly admirable ... a most informative introduction ... The extraordinary value of this work is that it can be appreciated by readers who have no Hebrew as well as by readers with a good command of the language. Moreover the excellent and thoroughly researched notes make these volumes attractive to Hebrew scholars. The volumes are further enhanced by a series of detailed and informative appendices and useful indices, together with a wide-ranging bibliography ... It is rare that one has the privilege of being able to recommend a major work in every way. This publication deserves the widest possible distribution and it clearly confirms Professor Raphael Loewe as the doyen of medieval Hebrew scholarship in this country, and perhaps beyond.'
David Patterson, Jewish Chronicle
 'Whether one is interested in medieval Hebrew texts or Spanish folklore or satire as a literary form, there is much in this splendid recreation of Meshal haqadmoni in English to enchant the student and careful reader alike. It is indeed a very worthy addition to the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.'
Cyril K. Harris, Jewish Affairs
'The text is beautifully and clearly laid out in both languages, and carefully annotated throughout. It is also generously illustrated ... It is rich in interest for both the historian and the Hebrew scholar.' Erica Gordon, Jewish Renaissance 'In this sumptuous bilingual edition, a bibliophile's delight, typeset with extraordinary care ... Raphael Loewe, whom Nicholas de Lange has called the doyen of medieval Hebrew studies in Britain", for the first time presents a complete English translation with commentary of the fables ... Ibn Sahula's magnum opus is undoubtedly his book of fables, written c.1281 in rhyming, often biblical prose, which Loewe has sympathetically imitated in his translation and masterfully explained in his notes ... an introduction to the social, cultural, and intellectual history of Sephardi Jews in the Middle Ages that can hardly be bettered anywhere else for stimulating brilliance.'
Stefan Schreiner, Judaica
 'In addition, the typographical production is first-rate and a credit to the Littman Library, which is rescuing-for scholars working over a wide spectrum-works comprised within the great spiritual and cultural heritage of medieval Judaism, making them available by the hands of specialist in the relevant fields with due attention to their aesthetic presentation. Into the exhaustive introduction Loewe has distilled years of lovingly accurate scholarship not limited to the text itself, but envisaging also its social, political, and cultural context in thirteenth-century Spain. The result is an excellent monograph that sets the Meshal haqadmoni not only against its cultural and political background, but likewise within biblical and rabbinic tradition, whilst also resurrecting the genre of literary expression of its medieval presentation.'
Rafael Vicent, Salesianum
 'Richly illustrated, luxuriously produced ... his most important publication so far ... The volumes are endlessly entertaining and learned, and form an essential part of any Jewish library.'
Jeremy Schonfield, Sephardi Bulletin

Author Information

Raphael Loewe was formerly Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London, having previously taught at the University of Leeds and held a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a visiting professorship at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. His publications concern various aspects of Judaism in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and include much translation. His English translations of a substantial number of liturgical poems for the Passover season are contained in his Rylands Haggadah (1988), and others—among them the Royal Crown—in his Ibn Gabirol (1989). His translation of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyám into medieval Hebrew verse was published in 1982. He is also a contributing author of the companion volumes to the facsimile editions of the Barcelona Haggadah (1992), the Rothschild Haggadah (2000), the Parma Psalter (1996), and the North French Miscellany (2002). Many other translations remain unpublished, being privately circulated among friends.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Meshal Haqadmoni: Fables from the Distant Past1
Half Title2
Title Page4
Publisher’s Note8
The Illustrations9
List of Abbreviations14
Preface to the First Part153
Part I: On Wisdom174
Part II: On Penitence286
Part III: On Sound Counsel462
Part IV: On Humility552
Part V: On Reverence686
Appendix 1: Astronomical Diagrams860
Appendix 2: Supplementary Notes to the Poem868
Appendix 3: Numbered Notes to the Illustrations900
Index of Citations924
Index of Key Hebrew Terms932
Index of Subjects935