Solomon ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol
Modern depiction of Ibn Gabirol
|Born||1021 or 1022|
|Died||1070 (1050?, 1058?)|
|Other names||Avicebron, Avicebrol|
Solomon ibn Gabirol (also Solomon ben Judah; Hebrew: ? Shlomo Ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol, pronounced [?e.lo'mo b?n j?.hu'da: '?.bn ?ga.bi.'r?:l]; Arabic: ? ? Abu Ayyub Sulayman bin Yahya bin Jabirul, pronounced [æ.'bu: æj.ju:b ?su.læj.'mæ:n? bn? ?jæ'?jæ: bn? d?æ.bi:.'ru:l]) was an 11th-century Andalusian poet and Jewish philosopher in the Neo-Platonic tradition. He published over a hundred poems, as well as works of biblical exegesis, philosophy, ethics:xxvii and satire.:xxv One source credits ibn Gabirol with creating a golem, possibly female, for household chores.
In the 19th century it was discovered that medieval translators had Latinized Gabirol's name to Avicebron or Avencebrol and had translated his work on Jewish Neo-Platonic philosophy into a Latin form that had in the intervening centuries been highly regarded as a work of Islamic or Christian scholarship.:xxxii As such, ibn Gabirol is well known in the history of philosophy for the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form ("Universal Hylomorphism"), and for his emphasis on divine will.
Little is known of Gabirol's life, and some sources give contradictory information.:xvi Sources agree that he was born in Málaga, but are unclear whether in late 1021 or early 1022 CE.:xvii The year of his death is a matter of dispute, with conflicting accounts having him dying either before age 30 or by age 48.
Gabirol lived a life of material comfort, never having to work to sustain himself, but he lived a difficult and loveless life, suffering ill health, misfortunes, fickle friendships, and powerful enemies.:xvii--xxvi From his teenage years, he suffered from some disease, possibly lupus vulgaris, that would leave him embittered and in constant pain. He indicates in his poems that he considered himself short and ugly. Of his personality, Moses ibn Ezra wrote: "his irascible temperament dominated his intellect, nor could he rein the demon that was within himself. It came easily to him to lampoon the great, with salvo upon salvo of mockery and sarcasm.":17-18 He has been described summarily as "a social misfit.":12
Gabirol's writings indicate that his father was a prominent figure in Córdoba, but was forced to relocate to Málaga during a political crisis in 1013.:xvii Gabirol's parents died while he was a child, leaving him an orphan with no siblings or close relatives.:xviii He was befriended, supported and protected by a prominent political figure of the time, Yekutiel ibn Hassan al-Mutawakkil ibn Qabrun, and moved to Zaragoza, then an important center of Jewish culture.:xviii Gabirol's anti-social temperament, occasionally boastful poetry, and sharp wit earned him powerful enemies, but as long as Jekuthiel lived, Gabirol remained safe from them:xxiv and was able to freely immerse himself in study of the Talmud, grammar, geometry, astronomy, and philosophy. However, when Gabirol was seventeen years old, his benefactor was assassinated as the result of a political conspiracy, and by 1045 Gabirol found himself compelled to leave Zaragoza.:xxiv He was then sponsored by no less than the grand vizier and top general to the kings of Granada, Samuel ibn Naghrillah (Shmuel HaNaggid).:xxv Gabirol made ibn Naghrillah an object of praise in his poetry until an estrangement arose between them and ibn Naghrillah became the butt of Gabirol's bitterest irony. It seems Gabirol never married,:xxvi and that he spent the remainder of his life wandering.
Gabirol had become an accomplished poet and philosopher at an early age:
As mentioned above, the conflicting accounts of Gabirol's death have him dying either before age 30 or by age 48. The opinion of earliest death, that he died before age 30, is believed to be based upon a misreading of medieval sources. The remaining two opinions are that he died either in 1069 or 1070,:xxvii or around 1058 in Valencia. As to the circumstances of his death, one legend claims that he was trampled to death by an Arab horseman. A second legend relates that he was murdered by a Muslim poet who was jealous of Gabirol's poetic gifts, and who secretly buried him beneath the roots of a fig tree. The tree bore fruit in abundant quantity and of extraordinary sweetness. Its uniqueness excited attention and provoked an investigation. The resulting inspection of the tree uncovered Gabirol's remains, and led to the identification and execution of the murderer.
Though Gabirol's legacy was esteemed throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, it was historically minimized by two errors of scholarship that mis-attributed his works.
Gabirol seems to have often been called "the Málagan", after his place of birth, and would occasionally so refer to himself when encrypting his signature in his poems (e.g. in " ", he embeds his signature as an acrostic in the form " ? ? ? " - meaning: "I am young Solomon, son of Rabi Yehuda, from Malaqa, Hazak"). While in Modern Hebrew the city is also called Málaga (Hebrew: ), that is in deference to its current Spanish pronunciation. In Gabirol's day, when it was ruled by Arabic speakers, it was called M?laqa (Arabic: ), as it is to this day by Arabic speakers. The 12th-century Arab philosopher Jabir ibn Aflah misinterpreted manuscript signatures of the form "? ... ... " to mean "Solomon ... the Jew .. the king", and so ascribed to Solomon some seventeen philosophical essays of Gabirol. The 15th-century Jewish philosopher Yohanan Alemanno imported that error back into the Hebrew canon, and added another four works to the list of false ascriptions.:xxx
In 1846, Solomon Munk discovered among the Hebrew manuscripts in the French National Library in Paris a work by Shem-Tov ibn Falaquera. Comparing it with a Latin work by Avicebron entitled Fons Vitæ, Munk proved them to both excerpt an Arabic original of which the Fons Vitæ was evidently the translation. Munk concluded that Avicebron or Avencebrol, who had for centuries been believed to be a Christian or Arabic Muslim philosopher, was instead identical with the Jewish Solomon ibn Gabirol.:xxxi-xxxii The centuries-long confusion was in part due to a content feature atypical in Jewish writings: Fons Vitæ exhibits an independence of Jewish religious dogma and does not cite Biblical verses or Rabbinic sources.
The progression in the Latinization of Gabirol's name seems to have been ibn Gabirol, Ibngebirol, Avengebirol. Avengebrol, Avencebrol, Avicebrol, and finally Avicebron. Some sources still refer to him as Avicembron, Avicenbrol, or Avencebrol.
Gabirol made his mark on the history of philosophy under his alias as Avicebron, one of the first teachers of Neo-Platonism in Europe, and author of Fons Vitæ . As such, he is best known for the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form ("Universal Hylomorphism"), and for his emphasis on divine will.
His role has been compared to that of Philo: both were ignored by their fellow Jews, but exercised considerable influence upon Gentiles (Philo upon primitive Christianity, Gabirol upon medieval Christian scholasticism); and both served as cultural intermediaries (Philo between Hellenistic philosophy and the Oriental world; Gabirol between Greco-Arabic philosophy and the Occident).
Fons Vitæ, originally written in Arabic under the title Yanbu' al-Hayat (Arabic: ) and later translated into Hebrew by Ibn Tibbon as Hebrew: ? ?, pronounced [m?.'kor xay.'yim], lit. "Source of Life", (cf. Psalms 36:10) is a Neo-Platonic philosophical dialogue between master and disciple on the nature of Creation and how understanding what we are (our nature) can help us know how to live (our purpose). "His goal is to understand the nature of being and human being so that he might better understand and better inspire the pursuit of knowledge and the doing of good deeds." The work stands out in the history of philosophy for introducing the doctrine that all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form, and for its emphasis on divine will.
In the closing sentences of the Fons Vitæ (5.43, p. 338, line 21), ibn Gabirol further describes this state of "return" as a liberation from death and a cleaving to the source of life.
The work was originally composed in Arabic, of which no copies are extant. It was preserved for the ages by a translation into Latin in the year 1150 by Abraham ibn Daud and Dominicus Gundissalinus, who was the first official director of the Toledo School of Translators, a scholastic philosopher, and the archdeacon of Segovia, Spain.:xxx In the 13th century, Shem Tov ibn Falaquera wrote a summary of Fons Vitæ in Hebrew, and only in 1926 was the full Latin text translated into Hebrew.
Fons Vitæ consists of five sections:
Fons Vitæ posits that the basis of existence and the source of life in every created thing is a combination of "matter" (Latin: materia universalis) and "form". The doctrine of matter and form informed the work's subtitle: "De Materia et Forma." Its chief doctrines are:
Though Gabirol as a philosopher was ignored by the Jewish community, Gabirol as a poet was not, and through his poetry, he introduced his philosophical ideas. His best-known poem, Keter Malkut ("Royal Crown"), is a philosophical treatise in poetical form, the "double" of the Fons Vitæ. For example, the eighty-third line of the poem points to one of the teachings of the Fons Vitæ; namely, that all the attributes predicated of God exist apart in thought alone and not in reality.
Moses ibn Ezra is the first to mention Gabirol as a philosopher, praising his intellectual achievements, and quoting several passages from the Fons Vitæ in his own work, Aruggat ha-Bosem.Abraham ibn Ezra, who cites Gabirol's philosophico-allegorical Bible interpretation, borrows from the Fons Vitæ both in his prose and in his poetry without giving due credit.
Another 12th-century philosopher, Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo, was the first to take exception to Gabirol's teachings. In Sefer ha-Kabbalah he praises Gabirol as a poet. But to counteract the influence of ibn Gabirol the philosopher, he wrote an Arabic book, translated into Hebrew under the title Emunah Ramah, in which he reproaches Gabirol for having philosophized without any regard to the requirements of the Jewish religious position and bitterly accuses him of mistaking a number of poor reasons for one good one. He criticizes Gabirol for being repetitive, wrong-headed and unconvincing.
Occasional traces of ibn Gabriol's thought are found in some of the Kabbalistic literature of the 13th century. Later references to ibn Gabirol, such as those of Elijah Chabillo, Isaac Abarbanel, Judah Abarbanel, Moses Almosnino, and Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, are based on an acquaintance with the scholastic philosophy, especially the works of Aquinas.
The 13th-century a Jewish philosopher Berechiah ha-Nakdan drew upon Gabirol's works in his encyclopedic philosophical text Sefer Ha?ibbur (Hebrew: , pronounced ['se.fer ha.xi.'bur], lit. "The Book of Compilation").
For over six centuries, the Christian world regarded Fons Vitæ as the work of a Christian philosopher or Arabic Muslim philosopher,:xxxi-xxxii and it became a cornerstone and bone of contention in many theologically charged debates between Franciscans and Dominicans. The Aristotelian Dominicans led by St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas opposed the teachings of Fons Vitæ; the Platonist Franciscans led by Duns Scotus supported its teachings, and led to its acceptance in Christian philosophy, influencing later philosophers such as the 16th-century Dominican friar Giordano Bruno. Other early supporters of Gabirol's philosophy include the following:
The main points at issue between Gabirol and Aquinas were as follows:
The Improvement of the Moral Qualities, originally written in Arabic under the title Islah al-Khlaq (Arabic: ?), and later translated by Ibn Tibbon as (Hebrew: "? ? ?", pronounced [ti.'kun mi.'dot ha.'ne.fe?]) is an ethical treatise that has been called by Munk "a popular manual of morals."[This quote needs a citation] It was composed by Gabirol at Zaragoza in 1045, at the request of some friends who wished to possess a book treating of the qualities of man and the methods of effecting their improvement.
The innovations in the work are that it presents the principles of ethics independently of religious dogma and that it proposes that the five physical senses are emblems and instruments of virtue and vice, but not their agents; thus, a person's inclination to vice is subject to a person's will to change. Gabirol presents a tabular diagram of the relationship of twenty qualities to the five senses, reconstructed at right, and urges his readers to train the qualities of their souls unto good through self-understanding and habituation. He regards man's ability to do so as an example of divine benevolence.
Mukhtar al-Jawahir (Arabic: ?), Mivchar HaPeninim (Hebrew: ? ?. lit. "The Choice of Pearls"), an ethics work of sixty-four chapters, has been attributed to Gabirol since the 19th century, but this is doubtful. It was originally published, along with a short commentary, in Soncino, Italy, in 1484, and has since been re-worked and re-published in many forms and abridged editions (e.g. Joseph ?imc?i versified the work under the title "Shekel ha-Kodesh").
The work is a collection of maxims, proverbs, and moral reflections, many of them of Arabic origin, and bears a strong similarity to the Florilegium of Hunayn ibn Ishaq and other Arabic and Hebrew collections of ethics sayings, which were highly prized by both Arabs and Jews.
Gabirol wrote both sacred and secular poems, in Hebrew, and was recognized even by his critics (e.g. Moses ibn Ezra and Yehuda Alharizi) as the greatest poet of his age.:xxii His secular poems express disillusionment with social mores and worldliness, but are written with a sophistication and artistry that reveals him to have been socially influenced by his worldly Arabic contemporaries.
Gabirol's lasting poetic legacy, however, was his sacred works. Today, "his religious lyrics are considered by many to be the most powerful of their kind in the medieval Hebrew tradition, and his long cosmological masterpiece, Keter Malchut, is acknowledged today as one of the greatest poems in all of Hebrew literature." His verses are distinctive for tackling complex metaphysical concepts, expressing scathing satire, and declaring his religious devotion unabashedly.
Gabirol wrote with a pure Biblical Hebrew diction that would become the signature style of the Spanish school of Hebrew poets, and he popularized in Hebrew poetry the strict Arabic meter introduced by Dunash ben Labrat. Abraham ibn Ezra calls Gabirol, not ben Labrat, "the writer of metric songs," and in Sefer Za?ot uses Gabirol's poems to illustrate various poetic meters.
He wrote also more than one hundred piyyu?im and selichot for the Sabbath, festivals, and fast-days, most of which have been included in the Holy Day prayer books of Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and even Karaites. Some of his most famous in liturgical use include the following:
Gabirol's most famous poem is Keter Malchut (lit. Royal Crown), which, in 900 lines, describes the cosmos as testifying to its own creation by God, based upon the then current (11th-century) scientific understanding of the cosmos.