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Moshe Ibn 'Ezrâ
(1055 - 1138) Spain

Moshe Ibn 'Ezra

Philosopher, linguist, and poet


Moses Ibn 'Ezrâ was born in Granada and appears to have held a position of prominence. His name was qualified by the Arabic title, "Head of the police," or perhaps "His excellency." He was close friends with Judah Ha'Levi and invited his famous colleague to come to Granada. Ibn 'Ezrâ's family dispersed after Granada was destroyed by the Almoravides in 1090. He lived the remaining years of his life in Christian Spain.

A relative of Abraham ibn 'Ezrâ and a pupil of Isaac ibn Ghayyat, Ibn 'Ezrâ belonged to one of the most prominent families of Spain. He had three brothers, Isaac, Joseph, and Zerahiah, all of whom were distinguished scholars.

From his correspondence with his junior and friend Judah ha-Levi, who dedicated to him many poems, it is known that Ibn 'Ezrâ suffered a great disappointment in the rejection of his addresses by a niece, who died shortly after her marriage to one of his brothers. To this affair of the heart, doubtless the cause of his leaving his native city, is probably due the note of melancholy and resignation which distinguishes his poetry.

Ibn 'Ezrâ's activity was extensive and many-sided. He was a distinguished philosopher, an able linguist, and, above all, a powerful poet.

Ibn 'Ezrâ was an unrivaled master of the Hebrew language. His poetical productions, both sacred and secular, are distinguished by their beauty of form and style, and were preferred by poets even to those of Judah ha-Levi and Abraham ibn 'Ezrâ. Ibn 'Ezrâ's secular poems are contained in two works: in the "Tarshish" (so called on account of the 1,210 lines it comprised), or "'Anah." (Arabic title "Zahr al-Riyah"),and in the first part of his "Diwan."

Ibn 'Ezrâ's earnestness is reflected even in the most frivolous parts of the "Tarshish." It would seem that even when he sings of love and wine and of kindred subjects his mind is still occupied with the grave problems of life. He is a great lover of nature, and interprets it in vivid language. Especially striking is the seventh chapter, in which he bewails the loss of youth. His gray hair renders him sad and morose;" O that the night [blackness] still crowned my hair instead of the day!" he exclaims. His only consolation is that old age will free him from passions and enable him to lead a decorous life.

The "Diwan," still extant in manuscript, contains three hundred secular poems, consisting in part of praises of friends and elegies on the death of scholars.


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