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This edition first published: Was there no poetic tradition in Hebrew? Why this wholesale adoption of Arabic poetics? There was a tradition of liturgical poetry in Hebrew, but it was increasingly irrelevant to the poetic tastes of the day. It was a long, very complex, and very serious game, if you will. Translating this game into Hebrew was a natural extension of the literary culture in which they moved.
What they did not have at their disposal was a tradition of profane, or non-religious poetry. The language they used to do this was the Hebrew of the Bible. The result was a kind of mosaic by which they used words and whole phrases lifted directly out of the Hebrew Bible to give voice to images and metaphors drawn from Arabic tradition. One way to look at this is that it became a kind of contest between Hebrew and Arabic to see which was the most vibrant, most authoritative language.
This discourse has its beginning in the eleventh century, when Moses ibn Ezra explains that Hebrew takes Arabic as its model:. Over time Hebrew poets became more militant, almost nationalist in their arguments, so that by the beginning of the twelfth century, when Arabic was on the decline as a literary language in the parts of al-Andalus, such as Toledo, that had since been conquered by Christians, poets now championed Hebrew as superior to Arabic.
Judah al-Harizi, a writer from Toledo who lived in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, wrote the following:. They have enslaved the tongue of the Israelites to the tongue of Kedar [i. And the tongue of Kedar blackened her, and like a lion, tore her. An evil beast devoured her. All of them spurned the Hebrew tongue and made love to the tongue of Hagar. The irony is that these proclamations of the superiority of Hebrew, which were probably more like literary exercises than serious manifestos of linguistic policy, were couched in a register of Hebrew that owed everything except for the words themselves to Arabic.
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As I said earlier, these compositions were like mosaics in which the poets constructed the images and poetric conceits of Arabic using tiles cut from the Hebrew Bible. Later writers used the metaphor shibbutz to describe this style, meaning inlay, just as a precious gem set in a gold setting is made from a different material but forms a part of the overall composition of the piece.
The bold text shows the direct quote from the Biblical Hebrew. The final couplet in italics is a kharja in colloquial Andalusi Arabic, which contrasts sharply with the Biblical Hebrew of the rest of the composition:. Your breath smells like apples. My beloved, where have you eaten the apple? This is a direct quote from the Biblical Shir ha-Shirim , or Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, where the lover describes his beloved.
In the literal sense of the Biblical text, the poetic voice describes the body of the beloved in a series of agricultural metaphors that suggest fertility and echo the idyllic setting of the love encounter. The effect is a kind of layering, an ironic juxtaposition of the original Biblical context and the Andalusi Hebrew poetry and adaptation of Arabic poetics.
The poets deployed the ancient biblical language in a poetic setting that was purely Andalusi and contemporary and, it should be stressed, not always devotional or pious. Of course one might argue that the Song of Songs itself is not a particularly pious text as far as the Biblical canon goes. Later interpreters of the song read it as an allegory for the relationship between the Jewish people and God, but it was originally probably just a very successful love poem at the court of Solomon or David, not unlike an Andalusi qasida or ode, with an amorous theme, that for its popularity came to be included in the biblical canon and pressed into service as a devotional allegory.
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The story is pretty straightforward. The campaign was preached by Pope Alexander II as a kind of proto-crusade, for the First Crusade to the East was not launched until Since the s the Vatican had run a series of test campaigns in Spain. Popes issued bulls, or official documents that guaranteed remission of sins to all those who participated in sanctioned military actions against non-Christian enemies.
So in a way, Spain was a kind of a test ground for the Crusades, and Barbastro was an important one of these trial runs. With the aid of the Popes, Christian Iberian rulers could count on reinforcement troops who came to their aid not only for the promise of booty or future reciprocation, but also for spiritual gain and for expedited access to heaven. However, there was nothing wrong with learning some new songs along the way, apparently, for William the eighth of Acquitaine, who provided the largest contingent of foreign troops in the campaign, received as part of the spoils a troop Andalusi qiyan, women educated in the poetic and musical styles of the court.
These qiyan were more like music professors than slaves forced to sing in a choir.
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They brought with them to Acquitaine the instruments, music theory, techniques, and reptertoire of the Andalusi musical and poetic traditions. Each of them had memorized thousands of compositions of Andalusi poets. As Menocal points out, the young William the Ninth of Acquitaine grew up with these Andalusi qiyan as the house band, or the court musicians of his father William the Eighth of Acquitaine. Young William IX was the man who would become known as the first troubadour, the first artist to compose and perform courtly lyric verse in the vernacular as opposed to Latin.
This was a big deal — just as big a deal as when the first Andalusi poets started singing songs in vernacular Arabic and Romance at court in the tenth century. So why was this thesis so controversial? And we must remember, the nineteenth century was the time when most of our ideas about nationhood and nationalism were formed. This was time time of great linguistic homogenization, when public schools began to teach a national language, a national culture, a national ethos.
This is the time of various pseudo-scientific approaches to ethnic identity, of phrenology, of theories of biological ethnic identity the type of which eventually gave us Nazi Aryanism. In this environment, to suggest that the foundational forms of French poetic tradition were an import from Spain, and ultimately from Africa, was nothing less than an affront to national honor.
But it gets worse. In a researcher named Samuel Stern made a remarkable discovery. He was examining some manuscripts of Andalusi Hebrew muwashshahat such as those we have seen and came across some very cryptic verses of which he could not get a clean reading either in Hebrew or in Arabic, meaning that the letters did not appear to add up to words that made sense either in Hebrew or in Arabic.
Stern was trained in both Semitic and Romance languages and he eventually put it together that these verses were written in Hebrew characters but that the language they represented was not Hebrew, not Classical Arabic or colloquial Andalusi Arabic, but another language entirely —Andalusi Romance, the dialect of Romance spoken in al-Andalus:.
Des kand meu Cidello benid ton bona al-bishaara com ray de shol yeshed fi waad al-hijaara. When my Cidello arrives, What glad tidings! Like a ray of sun he comes out in Guadalajara.
This meant that the first courtly poetry written in a Romance language was not the French troubadour poetry, but the, well what was it exactly? The popular Andalusi ditties remixed by classical Arabic and Hebrew poets?
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The sound bites of popular tunes preserved in longer, learned compositions? Whatever you chose to call it, it meant that Spain, in , could now if they chose to, which is another matter entirely boast the first written lyric of Romance tradition! Spain, which had been invaded by Napolean, Spain which had always, in the European context, been the African red-headed stepchild south of the Pyrenees.
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But there was still that annoying detail of the Hebrew and Arabic poetry that allowed Romance poetry to enter the literary arena. In an age of pure literary histories this was problematic. But luckily there was a simple solution. The kharjat could simply be studied as a case of Romance resistance to Semitic hegemony, the Romance flower pushing up through the Semitic pavement, evidence of the creative spirit not of the innovative Arabic and Hebrew poets who incorporated the popular Romance ditties, but of the indomitable spirit of the Latin people whose poetic ingenuity shone through and entranced even their swarthy, foreign oppressors.
For the Spanish critic concerned with maintaining the integrity of Spanish as a national language, the Romance kharjat of the Andalusi muwashshahat were evidence both of the enduring Hispanic spirit, as well as the primacy of Hispano-Romance over Franco-Romance in written lyric tradition.
Eventually, editors of textbooks sidestepped the issue entirely, rendering cleaned up, de-Arabicized versions of the kharjat rendered jarchas in Spanish , in total isolation from the Arabic and Hebrew muwashshahat of which they formed an integral part.
Nearly every textbook of Spanish literature includes the Romance kharjat as the first example of Spanish literature, but not a single one includes the Hebrew and Arbabic poems from which the kharjat are mined. It is as if the Hebrew and Arabic compositions were a seed case providing nutrition to the kernel of the kharjat , keeping it alive until the day that it might sprout in the fertile black earth of modern European nationalism. This trip, which Peter undertook in the middle of the twelfth century, at the height of the crusading movement both in the Peninsula and in the Eastern Mediterranean, had another purpose.