Recycling the Troubadours in Hebrew: Todros Abulafia, Hebrew Troubadour at the Court of Alfonso X

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Title: Recycling the Troubadours in Hebrew: Todros Abulafia, Hebrew Troubadour at the Court of Alfonso X
Author: Wacks, David A.
Abstract: Troubadours both Provencal and Galician Portuguese were regulars at the court of Alfonso X of Castile-Leon (1252-1284). The “Learned King” himself was a prolific composer of Galician-Portuguese verse both sacred and profane and was a patron of poets working in a number of languages. One of these, Todros Abulafia, was exceptional among his Christian counterparts in that he composed troubadouresque verse in Hebrew as opposed to Provencal or Galician-Portuguese, and among Jewish poets in that he enjoyed the direct patronage of a Christian sovereign whom he celebrated in his poems. Abulafia’s poetry is typical of writers working in Diaspora in that his literary practice reflects both the Jewish community to which he belongs as well as the greater community of Romance-speaking Iberia. It reflects the socio-economic relationship between Jewish community and sovereign as well as the linguistic and artistic relationships between the Hebrew and Romance poetic traditions. This tension between sovereignty and Jewish community, between Hebrew and Romance, so characteristic of life in diaspora, fuels certain innovations in Abulafia’s poetry. He pioneers in Hebrew a poetic voice that goes beyond the stock tropes and commonplaces of previous Hebrew tradition, to embrace the more personal and self-conscious lyric of the troubadours. He elegizes a Christian King’s patronage in a language the monarch is sure not to understand. All of this is expressed in an idiom laced with images and set phrases drawn from the Prophets and Song of Songs of the Hebrew Bible. In this paper I give a full accounting of Abulafia’s entanglement with troubadouresque poetics and how the sociopolitics of diaspora inform his literary practice.
Description: Slidecast (slides + audio) of a conference paper
Date: 2011-02-18

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