Ibn Gabirol

IBN GABIROL [SOLOMON BEN JUDAH], Jewish poet and philosopher, was born at Malaga, probably about 1021. The early part of his troublous life was spent at Saragossa, but few personal details of it are recorded. His parents died while he was a child and he was under the protection first of a certain Jekuthiel, who died in 1039, and afterwards of Samuel ha-Nagid, the well-known patron of learning. His passionate disposition, however, embittered no doubt by his misfortunes, involved him in frequent difficulties and led to his quarrelling with Samuel. It is generally agreed that he died young, although the date is uncertain. Al Harizi 1 says at the age of twenty-nine, and Moses b. Ezra 2 about thirty, but Abraham Zaccuto 3 states that he died (at Valencia) in 1070. M. Steinschneider 4 accepts the date 1058.

His literary activity began early. He is said to have composed poems at the age of sixteen, and elegies by him are extant on Hai Gaon (died in 1038) and Jekuthiel (died in 1039), each of which was written probably soon after the death of the person commemorated. About the same time he also wrote his 'Anaq, a poem on grammar, of which only 97 lines out of 400 are preserved. Moses ben Ezra says of him that he imitated Moslem models, and was the first to open to Jewish poets the door of versification, 5 meaning that he first popularized the use of Arabic metres in Hebrew. It is as a poet that he has been known to the Jews to the present day, and admired for the youthful freshness and beauty of his work, in which he may be compared to the romantic school in France and England in the early 19th century. Besides his lyrical and satirical poems, he contributed many of the finest compositions to the liturgy (some of them with the acrostic " Shelomoh ha-qaton "), which are widely different from the artificial manner of the earlier payyetanim. The best known of his longer liturgical compositions are the philosophical Kether Malkuth (for the Day of Atonement) and the Azharoth, on the 613 precepts (for Shebhu'dth). Owing to his pure biblical style he had an abiding influence on subsequent liturgical writers.

Outside the Jewish community he was known as the philosopher Avicebron (Avencebrol, Avicebrol, etc.) The credit of identifying this name as a medieval corruption of Ibn Gabirol is due to S. Munk, who showed that selections made by Shem Tobh Palqera (or Falqera) from the Meqor Hayyim (the Hebrew translation of an Arabic original) by Ibn Gabirol, corresponded to the Latin Fans Vitae of Avicebron. The Latin version, made by Johannes Hispalensis and Gundisalvi about one hundred years after the author's death, had at once become known among the Schoolmen of the 12th century and exerted a powerful influence upon them, although so little was known of the author that it was doubted whether he was a Christian or a Moslem. The teaching of the Fans Vitae was entirely new to the country of its origin, and being drawn largely from Neoplatonic sources could not be expected to find favour with Jewish thinkers. Its distinctive doctrines are: (i) that all created beings, spiritual or corporeal, are composed of matter and form, the various species of matter being but varieties of the universal matter, and similarly all forms being contained in one universal form; (2) that between the primal One and the intellect (the vovs of Plotinus) there is interposed the divine Will, which is itself divine and above the distinction of form and matter, but is the cause of their union in the being next to itself, the intellect, in which Avicebron holds that the distinction does exist. The 1 Jud. Har. MacamcE, ed. Lagarde (Gottingen, 1883), p. 89, 1. 61.

2 See the passage quoted by Munk, Melanges de philosophie arabe etjuive (Paris, 1859), pp. 264 and 517.

3 Liber Juchassin, ed. Filipowski (London, 1857), p. 217. 'Hebr. Vbersetzungen (Berlin, 1893), 219, note 70; cf. Kaufmann, Studien uber Sal.-ibn Gabirol (Budapest, 1899), p. 79, note 2.

5 See Munk, op. cit. pp. 515-516, transl. on pp. 263-264. Metre had been already used by Dunash.

doctrine that there is a material, as well as a formal, element in all created beings was explicitly adopted from Avicebron by Duns Scotus (as against the view of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas), and perhaps his exaltation of the will above the intellect is due to the same influence. Avicebron develops his philosophical system throughout quite independently of his religious views a practice wholly foreign to Jewish teachers, and one which could not be acceptable to them. Indeed, this charge is expressly brought against him by Abraham ben David of Toledo (died in 1180). It is doubtless this non-religious attitude which accounts for the small attention paid to the Fans Vitae by the Jews, as compared with the wide influence of the philosophy of Maimonides.

The other important work of Ibn Gabirol is Islah al-akhlaq (the improvement of character), a popular work in Arabic, translated into Hebrew (Tiqqun middoth ha-nephesh) by Judah ibn Tibbon. It is widely different in treatment from the Fans, being intended as a practical not a speculative work.

The collection of moral maxims, compiled in Arabic but best known (in the Hebrew translation of Judah ibn Tibbon) as Mibhar ha-peninim, is generally ascribed to Ibn Gabirol, though on less certain grounds.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. Texts of the liturgical poems are to be found in the prayer-books: others in Dukes and Edelmann, Treasures of Oxford (Oxford, 1850); Dukes, Shire Shelomoh (Hanover, 1858); S. Sachs, Shir ha-shirim asher li-Shelomoh (Paris, 1868, incomplete); Brody, Die weltlichen Gedichte des . . . Gabirol^ (Berlin, 1897, etc.).

" Avencebrolis Fons Vitae " (Latin text) in Clemens Baumker's Beitrage zur Gesch. d. Philosophie, Bd. i. Hefte 2-4 (Munster, 1892) ; The Improvement of the Moral Qualities [Arabic and English] ed. by S. S. Wise (New York, 1901); A Choice of Pearls [Hebrew and English] ed. by Ascher (London, 1859).

On the philosophy in general: S. Munk, Melanges (quoted above) ; Guttmann, Die Philosophie des Sal.-ibn Gabirol (Gottingen, 1889); D. Kaufmann, Studien uber Sal.-ibn Gabirol (Budapest, 1899); S. Horovitz, " Die Psychologic Ibn Gabirols," in the Jahresbericht des jud. theol. Seminars Franckel'scher Stiftung (Breslau, 1900); Wittmann, " Zur Stellung Avencebrols ... (in Baumker's Beilrage, Bd. v. Heft i, Munster, 1905). (A. CY.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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