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THE SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OF ITALY 

By A. B. Rhine, Hot Springs, Ark. 

CHAPTER IV 

The Age oe Moses Hayyim Luzzatto. 

The seventeenth century, as we have seen, was a period 
of transition. The poets of this period, though but few 
really deserve the name, are still "vacillating between the old 
and the new, both in style, in versification, and in subject 
matter. But a great gain has been made in the develop- 
ment of poetry. The Hebrew, both in diction and in style, 
gradually assumes a more modern form; the new Italian 
versification introduced, gradually wins favor, and becomes 
firmly established; and the scope of poetry has widened. 
The eighteenth century sees the complete conquest of mod- 
ernity. The Italian form of versification is the sine qua 
non of the poets, is taken as a matter of course, and the 
poetic tone becomes more and more secular. The religious 
feelings which inevitably manifest themselves, since these 
poets were all intensely religious, run as an undercurrent 
and not as the main stream. The number of poets also 
increases, though of many we have only isolated poems 
published, the greater bulk still remaining in manuscript. 
And during this century, we meet with truly gifted poets, 
men inspired, men who sang because they could not help 
singing, because their poetic souls demanded expression; 
and it is during this period that we come across the great, 

25 



26 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

consummate poetic genius in the person of Moses Hayyim 
Luzzatto. 

During the first quarter of the eighteenth century, a 
number of minor poets continued the work of the seven- 
teenth century poets in clearing the diction and freeing the 
style from the affectation and artificialities of medisevalism. 
Eliezer Cohen of Leghorn, in his dramatic poem pa nwi 
■wai "05? "W5? written in 1680 89 shows a mastery of 
free versification. The argument of the poem in brief is 
this: A rich man glorying in the possession of his wealth 
meets a poor man equally glorying in his poverty. Each 
one tries to convince the other of the advantage he pos- 
sesses, the rich man in the power of his wealth, the poor 
man in his freedom from care. The dispute waxes so 
heated that each draws his sword on the other, but the 
quarrel is settled by a third man who shows the strength 
and weakness of the position of each combatant and winds 
up by quoting Solomon's prayer : Give me neither poverty 
nor riches. These thoughts, however, are couched in 
smoothly flowing rimes, the poet employing several forms 
of the Italian stanza as well as the rimed prose of mediaeval 
poets both of which make pleasant reading,. Eliezer b. 
Gerson Hefez (Gentile) 40 whose two poems, a sonnet and 
a longer poem in terza rima, are extant (I£ol 'Ugab, Nos. 
5, n), possesses a fine style and a forcible and poetic dic- 
tion. Samson Cohen Modon (1679 — June 10, 1727,)" of 
Mantua, a member of a very prominent family, a man of 

» 9 g.ol 'Ugab, No. 33- 

40 Possibly a brother of Moses b. Gerson Hefez (1664 — Venice, 1712), 
the father of Gerson, the young author of Yad Ifaruzim,. See Neppi-Ghirondi, 
239- 

41 Delia Volta's biography in Kerem Chemed, II; Steinschneider, C. B.; 
Jewish Encyclopedia, s. v. 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITAEY — RHINE 2J 

wide education both secular and rabbinic, at one time con- 
nected with the Mantuan rabbinate though for the most 
part engaged in commerce, was a master of the sonnet. A 
moralist and given to the didactic, his Koi, Musar (Mantua 
1725), a collection of fifty sonnets, is an elegant and fin- 
ished product, written as it is in a refreshingly fine Hebrew, 
and perfect in rime and rhythm. These sonnets are philo- 
sophic in character, and contain many keen reflections on 
things of deep human interest. One of his sonnets is ad- 
dressed to Moses Hayyim Luzzatto (Introduction to his 
DHieSi |1B>!> ) . (The Koi, Musar is introduced by the con- 
gratulatory poems of David Finzi, rabbi of Mantua and 
father-in-law of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, and of Dr. Kal- 
onymos dTtalia and Dr. Raphael Vita d'ltalia.) Isaac 
Levi ( D^lbn JD ), a grandson of Leon da Modena 42 and 
Venetian rabbi, composed a number of epitaphs which, 
however, lack the brilliancy of his famous grandfather. 
David Nieto (1654-1728), a native of Venice, who prac- 
tised medicine and officiated as rabbi at Leghorn whence 
he was called to London in 1702 to become the Hakam of 
the Sephardic community, also tried his hand at verse- 
making and not unhappily. His poem of ten octaves (I£ol 
'Ugab, No. 1), though somewhat hyperbolic in tone, betrays 
deep feelings, and is easy and graceful. The "Reflections" 
of Joseph Baruch b. Moses Cases, 43 a younger contempor- 
ary of Zacuto, physician and rabbi at Mantua, are well 
written and contain some lyric touches. Fine are the lines : 

Fleeter than an eagle's flight 
The days rush by and life is o'er; 

48 Dr. A. Berliner, Introduction to Lu%ot Abanim; Neppi-Ghirondi, 
pp. 165-76, where he is spoken of as a poet in a large sense. 
43 See Neppi-Ghirondi, 129, 254. 



28 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

An instant, and life's bridge is spanned, 
And, lo! we are no more. 

(I£ol 'Ugab, No. 32). The sonnets of Isaac Vita Cantarini 
(died 1 723)" and of his pupil Shabbethai Marini (died 
1748), 43 both physicians as well as rabbis of Padua, in 
honor of Abraham Cohen's Kehunnat Abraham, are grace- 
ful, though Cantarini's short poems contained in his yp n$ 
(Amsterdam 1710) have no poetic value at all. Isaiah 
Bassani (d. 1739), teacher and staunch friend of Moses 
Hayyim Luzzatto, 40 rabbi of Cento, Padua, and Reggio 
successively, while betraying no poetic depth of feeling, is 
a master of diction and of a clear, incisive style. His sonnet 
is finished, his octave is clever, and his elegy on Benjamin 
Cohen, his father-in-law (d. 1721), in sixty-nine terza rima 
stanzas" is vigorous (K.ol 'Ugab, Nos. 6, 14, 64). While 

M This date is given by Neppi, p. 143. Ghirondi, quoting Isaac Pacifico, 
gives the date of his death as 1742, at the age of over ninety. Fiirst, Bibl. 
Jud., s. v., gives the date of his birth as 1644; he was still living in 1718. 
Conip. his sonnet in Kehunnat Abraham, Venice 17 19. He was an eminent 
physician sought after by the Italian nobility, as well as the head of the 
rabbinical college of Padua. He is the author also of Pi Sefarim (which 
I have not seen). His grandson Hayyim Moses Cantarini is likewise spoken 
of as a poet by Ghirondi who was in possession of his manuscript (Neppi- 
Ghirondi, p. 102, 238). 

45 He translated Ovid's Metamorphoses into Hebrew octaves, the publi- 
cation of which was interrupted by his death. His Shirim (34 Sonnets) and 
his rimed version of the Pirke Abot are still in manuscript. Fiirst: Shab- 
betai Vita Maaini, Litcraturblatt des Orients, 1820, c. 124; Bibl. Jud., s. v. 

"Kol 'Ugab, No. 9; Neppi-Ghirondi, p. 154. M. H. Luzzatto in Leshon 
Limmudim (Warsaw 1891, p. 78) quotes a few lines from an epithalamium 
written by Bassani in honor of Isaac b. Shabbethai Marini, and speaks of it 
in the highest term of praise. 

47 He was a disciple of Zacuto, rabbi of Reggio, and teacher of M. 
H- Ivtizzatto. Abraham Kahana in his "Life of Euzzatto" (Hebrew, Warsaw 
1898) asserts that Benjamin Cohen, an eminent kabbalist, a favorite disciple 
of Zacuto's, and himself a fervent poet, exerted a great influence upon Luz- 
zatto both as a kabbalist and as a poet. I have not been able to obtain 
any of Benjamin Cohen's poems. 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITALY — RHINE 20, 

the intrinsic poetic value of these men is not great, they 
emphasized the best elements of the poetic expression of 
the seventeenth century, and perfected the outer form of 
Hebrew poetry. The spirit of modernity which was thus 
struggling for realization was soon to find embodiment in 
the truly gifted Moses Hayyim Luzzatto. 

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto (1707-1747), a descendant of 
an old scholarly family, is the most tragic figure in the 
history of modern Hebrew poetry. A poet born, a man of 
splendid natural abilities, he received the most careful edu- 
cation which the wealth of his father, a rich silk merchant 
of Padua, could obtain for him. A precocious child, he 
mastered early Hebrew and Latin, the two languages 
which in Italy at that time, were the standards of 
Jewish and Christian culture respectively. The restless 
energy of his mind found expression already in his seven- 
teenth year in a drama "Samson and the Philistines," of 
which only fragments are extant, and before he was 
twenty he had composed 150 Psalms in imitation of the 
Psalms of David. Both these works, written in a clear, 
pure, vigorous Biblical Hebrew, simple, direct, easy, and 
vivid, already foreshadowed the master. Had he fol- 
lowed his natural tendencies, had he devoted himself to the 
Hebrew muse for which he had been born, he would have 
been the most imposing figure in Hebrew literature, the 
Hebrew poet par excellence. Poetry, as his later produc- 
tions proved, though written in the stress and storm of 
conflict and strife, was, with him, a part of his soul. There 
was little of the fit, and all of the nascitur in him. More- 
over, it would have spared him the many persecutions, hu- 
miliations, and sorrows which rendered his life so tragic. 
Unfortunately, in 1727, he became possessed of a passion 
for mysticism, and a burning desire for the study of the 



30 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Kabbalah, in which he seems to have been encouraged by 
his teacher Isaiah Bassani, at that time rabbi at Padua. 
While his logical mind would under ordinary circumstances 
have easily seen through the hollowness of the thing, his 
great, poetic imagination proved his undoing. Fascinated 
by the glitter and charm of the Zohar, absorbing rather 
than discerning its mysteries, he mastered them so thor- 
oughly, that he was enabled to write a "Second Zohar," 
a perfect imitation of the first in language and style, and 
surpassing it in logic (if logic and Kabbalah are compat- 
ible at all), for he endeavored to systematize the mystic 
teachings! His enthusiasm and poetic fervor soon led him 
beyond all bounds, in that he began to believe that he had 
a special guardian angel who appeared before him in 
nightly visions, and taught him the mystic sciences while 
a host of higher beings, among them patriarchs and saints, 
listened to his words of wisdom. Nor could his ardent 
soul keep such things to himself. A small circle of loyal 
disciples grouped themselves about him and listened spell- 
bound to his eloquent and glowing as well as erudite inter- 
pretation of the Kabbalah according to the new light he 
had received from his guardian angel. Carried away by 
his enthusiasm he even intimated to them that he himself 
was the Messiah! One of his disciples, Jekuthiel Gordon 
of Wilna who had come to Padua to study medicine, but 
fell under the magic of the Kabbalah as personified by 
Luzzatto, could not refrain himself from confiding to a 
kabbalist in Vienna and to Joshua Hoschel, rabbi of Wilna, 
in 1729, the wonderful powers of Luzzatto. The secret 
thus leaked out. From that time Luzzatto became the 
center of strife, contention, and persecution which termin- 
ated only with his life. 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITAEY — RHINE 31 

The tragic career of this remarkable man, resembling, 
as Graetz suggested, in his life that of Spinoza and in his 
death that of Judah Halevi, is too well known to need 
repetition. But crowded as his life was with many activ- 
ities, among which the Kabbalah claimed the lion's share, 
he nevertheless found opportunity to respond to the real 
call of his nature, to that of the muse; and this, it was, 
that saved him from oblivion. For, busy as a kabbalist, 
forcible as a moralist, and excellent as a rhetorician, his 
poetical works are his chief claim to distinction. His poetic 
spirit found expression in two dramatic poems, Migdae 
'Oz (Strong Tower) and La-Yesharim Tehieeah (Praise 
for the Righteous), the former written about 1727, the 
latter in 1743. 

While the dramatic form of poetry had already been 
introduced in Hebrew literature by Zacuto in his Yesod 
'Olam, Luzzatto's Migdal 'Oz is the first romantic drama 
in Hebrew literature. Luzzatto is the first to strike the 
keynote of true modernity in that his drama is not, like 
Zacuto's, a mere pretext, a collection of rimes and sonnets 
loosely connected with a plot ready made in the midrashic 
interpretations of biblical texts. With Luzzatto the dramatic 
form is essential. For the first time in Hebrew literature 
he undertakes to depict that most intensely dramatic human 
passion — the passion of love. Hitherto the erotic theme had 
hardly been touched upon by Hebrew poets. The innate 
modesty of the Jew, and the sadness and uncertainty of the 
Jewish life in the Middle Ages, made the subject of love 
a thing profane. Even that most beautiful and most pas- 
sionate biblical erotic idyll, the "Song of Songs", has been 
interpreted by the rabbis as representing the alliance of 
God, the lover, with Israel, the bride. When a poet did 



32 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

venture upon this subject, it was only incidental. Spanish 
poets, and especially Immanuel, early in the fourteenth 
century, sang of love, after the fashion of their time, but 
the ingenious licentiousness of the "Mahberet" with its riot 
of passion, levity, and frivolity was Italian rather than 
Jewish, and repelled rather than attracted. All through 
the middle ages, the somberness and seriousness of Jewish 
life reflected themselves in Hebrew poetry which was in 
consequence equally somber and serious. But this youth 
of twenty appeared, and, in an instant, as it were, cleared 
the atmosphere of the despair of the ages, and breathed into 
the Ghetto the spirit of love, the love of man for woman, 
of woman for man, with its sorrows and its joys! This 
innovation alone was sufficient to revolutionize the char- 
acter of Hebrew poetry. It is this, above anything else, 
that stamps Luzzatto as modern. But not alone in matter, 
but also in manner did Luzzatto prove himself a pioneer, 
for he created an entirely new style of diction, of expres- 
sion, of versification. To express real human emotions 
and human passions, biblical phraseology was altogether 
inadequate. Hitherto, writers, both in prose and verse, 
displayed their ingenuity by burying their thoughts beneath 
an ocean of ready-made biblical phrases, quoted bodily 
from the Bible and Talmud whether the entire quotation 
fitted into the context or not. To these were concatenated 
an endless chain of other complete phrases, with indefinite 
allusions to the sources quoted, thus forming a whole, in- 
genious beyond comparison, but puzzling, mystifying, hard 
to unravel. Scholars writing for scholars, only those thor- 
oughly at home in biblical and rabbinical literature could 
fathom their meaning; and the style was admired in 
proportion to its ingenuity and complexity. Luzzatto's 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITALY — RHINE 33 

depth of feeling and clearness of vision demanded a clear, 
incisive style; a free and lucid form of expression. His 
words, of course, are taken from the Bible, but pure as 
gold, without the dross of Aramaisms. His phrases are 
all of his own mintage ; they represent his thoughts exactly, 
accurately. The resultant is an exceedingly graceful, pli- 
able, smooth style, but vigorous and incisive withal. The 
blank verse which Luzzatto introduced in his drama, with 
longer and shorter lines of nine and six syllables respect- 
ively, is exceedingly rhythmic and musical, and flows softly 
like the tones of a harp, like the murmur of a brook. 

The argument of the Migdal 'Oz written as an epitha- 
lamium is highly romantic. Ram, King of the land of the 
East, promises to give his daughter Salome in marriage 
to the man who would discover the entrance to a magni- 
ficent but inaccessible tower situated on the top of a lofty 
mountain near his capital. Unaware of this offer, a young 
foreign prince, Shalom, attracted by the mystery of the 
tower, explores it and effects an entrance through a secret 
gate which he leaves ajar. Ziphah, a worthless young 
fellow of Ram's capital, finding the gate open, enters the 
tower and then claims his bride from the king, which is 
granted, and the wedding-day is publicly announced. Mean- 
while, Prince Shalom meets the princess and a passionate 
love springs up between them, though Salome would not 
prove false to her betrothed Ziphah whom she despises. 
Adah, the bosom friend of the princess, herself in love with 
Shalom, discovers the secret attachment and determines 
upon the ruin of the princess. She arranges a clandestine 
meeting between Shalom and Salome, hatches a plot against 
the life of Ziphah in the name of the princess, and then 
denounces her. The stern king, in accordance with law, 



34 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

condemns his daughter to be burned, unless some one were 
to offer his life in her stead. Shalom offers himself in 
the princess' place, and confesses to having entered the 
secret tower which he thought was against the law of the 
land. Thereupon Shalom is recognized as the legitimate 
suitor for the hand of the princess, Adah confesses her in- 
trigue, and everything ends happily. 

Crude as is the conception of the plot, and feeble as is 
the dramatic action of Migdai, 'Oz, it is nevertheless a 
finished work of art. The hero and the heroine as well as 
the other persons in the play, while they do not stand close 
scrutiny as character-drawings, are none the less living 
men and women. The passions that animate them are 
real, felt. Both Shalom and Salome are very young, 
very passionate, and given to ranting, but their monologues 
are crowded with beautiful thoughts and still more beau- 
tiful lines. The heroine is a type of womanly chastity 
and reserve, and the sentiment throughout the drama is 
lofty and elevated, chaste and pure, and thoroughly Jew- 
ish. The poet indulges in many observations which betray 
a keen insight into the affairs of practical life and a fine 
eye for the beauties of nature. 

A few lines translated freely are here given by way 
of illustration: 

"O let the rocks of thy majestic height 
Whom I have taught to echo with her name 
Tell of the sorrows of my heart; 
O let each tree, a-murmur with the wind, 
Tell of my grief. O let each bird a-wing 
Across the eastern hills sing of the gloom 
That gathered on my brow. 
(Letteris' edition, p. 8). 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OF ITAI.Y — RHINE 35 

The soul divine which born 'midst God's 
Immense expanse, without a fence 
To bound its vast immensity, 
E'en though confined within a frame 
Does loathe its narrowness; unused 
To limit in its former home. 
(ibid., p. 31). 

The shepherd boy who feeds his flocks, 
How happy is his lot! 
The leader of his sheep, he walks, 
Glad even in his poverty, 
Secure within the shadow lies: 
His heart and face both twins in joy! 
All happy though so poor. 
His spirit knows not lust of wealth, 
Nor glory is his soul's desire; 
Though thorns and thistles be his food, 
His happiness does make them sweet. 
Upon his wretched couch at night 
He finds repose; the morning finds 
The bloom of youth upon his cheek. 
If wasted be the fields or full, 
If black and stormy be the skies, 
His heart is firm and troubles not. 
He fears no ambush, nor does stand 
In dread of perjured witnesses: 
All happy though so poor! 
(ibid., p. 43). 

None can decipher, none can see 
The heavens' hidden cryptogram; 



$6 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Yet from between the reason's rifts 
The wise may gaze and catch a glimpse. 
(ibid., p. 57). 

The conceit of the echo responding to certain words 
of the hero's monologue, thus forming a cryptic sentence 
of prophecy, is rather factitious from a modern point of 
view. Luzzatto was very likely influenced by Zacuto 
who introduced this device in his ToETE 'Aruk. 
This, however, does not detract from the charm of the 
poem. Taking into consideration the youth of the poet, 
MigdaIv 'Oz stands as a fine work of poetic art, suggestive 
of still greater possibilities in years of maturity. 

La-Yesharim Tehillah (Praise to the Righteous), 
modeled after Guarini's Pastor Pido, and written in 1743, 
represents the poet's maturity both in thought and style. 
It is an allegoric, symbolic drama describing the struggle 
between right and wrong and the final triumph of the 
right. While his earlier work is somewhat diffuse, and 
lacking in depth, this drama is terse and philosophic. The 
plot, if one may call it such with an almost total absence 
of dramatic action, is feeble, as is the case with most 
allegoric plays. Nor is the subject itself altogether new, 
even in Hebrew literature (cf. Penso's nipnn ""TDK). But 
the beauty and perfection of its style, the music and rythm 
of its meter, the profundity of thought, and the poetic 
spirit that pervades every line, render it a masterpiece of 
the highest rank. Published in 1743, it left its impress 
upon all subsequent Hebrew literature, and deservedly 
remains a classic to the present day. 

The argument of the allegory is as follows: Truth 
(Bmet) the father of probity (Yosher), betrothed his son 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OF ITALY — RHINE 37 

to Fame (Tehillah) the daughter of Multitude (Hamon), 
while the children were still in their infancy. At /the time 
of their birth, Lust (Taawah), the maid of Truth and 
living in his house, also gave birth to a son, when the 
army of Confusion (Mebukah) plundered the city and 
took the children captive. For fear that his servant's son 
might be mistaken for that of his own, Truth left a de- 
scription of him with Judgment (Mishpat) before his 
death. Many years later, Deceit (Tarmit) who had 
reared Lust's son, naming him Arrogance (Rahab), suc- 
ceeded in pursuading Multitude that Arrogance was the 
real son of Truth, and he was accordingly betrothed to 
Fame. Meanwhile, Probity, unknown and ignored, lived 
in the same city, and he and Fame fell deeply in love with 
each other, though Multitude insisted upon marrying her 
to Arrogance. A great feast was prepared for the occa- 
sion of the wedding when a terrific storm broke over the 
palace of Multitude shaking it to its foundation. Taking 
this as an omen of God's displeasure, an old man urges 
Multitude to investigate whether Arrogance be the real son 
of Truth, after all. This was done in the palace of Judg- 
ment, when Reason proves that Probity was the real son of 
Truth. Arrogance was dismissed in disgrace, and Probity 
marries Fame. 

While there is no attempt at character study, all the 
dramatis per some being symbolic, Luzzatto evinces a deep 
insight into human nature. Probity, in his desperate 
struggle against Arrogance, is upheld and supported by 
Patience, Reason, and Meditation, while Arrogance is sup- 
ported by Deceit. Multitude who alone can be the father 
of Fame, is characterized by Reason as "bending with 
every wind like a reed in water." His servant is Folly. 



38 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Multitude, while heartily in favor of his daughter's mar- 
riage with Arrogance, is scared out of his wits at the first 
sign of danger. At the banquet hall, as the house is shaken 
by the wind, at a mere suggestion of the old man that 
Arrogance might not be the real son of Truth, Multitude 
turns against Arrogance at once. Deceit tries in vain to 
argue him out of his fear, or to persuade him not to con- 
demn Arrogance before Judgment decided against him. 
Multitude's mind is already made up. This bit of satire 
directed against the pliability and uncertainty of popular 
favor, the poet may have drawn out of his own sad ex- 
periences; had he not himself known the varying 
mood of the people both of praise and condemnation ? The 
underlying basis of the allegory may have been his own 
philosophy of life. Probity, right, supported by patience 
and reason; reason based upon the working of the laws 
of God in the universe must inevitably triumph in the 
struggle with wrong and falsehood. For a time these 
may have the upper hand, but the man of probity, 

Whatever haps 

Stands a pillar of brass <*nd iron, 
Stands mighty; nor for an instant 
Leaves his place or stands aside. 

(Warsaw edition, 1857, 26). Right will ultimately tri- 
umph and even fame will acknowledge him as her own. 

Profound and lofty as is the thought of this poem, 
the extreme simplicity and beauty of the style and the 
diction in which it is couched add a charm of their own 
to the drama which captivates the reader. From the first 
to the last line there is a dignity about it that impresses 
itself at once even upon the most casual. There is not a 
superfluous line, not an unnecessary word. Every mon- 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OF ITALY — RHINE 39 

ologue or dialogue is an essential part of the poem, and 
any omission would be detrimental to the whole. The 
philosophic conceptions of justice, right, and reason are 
here conveyed in a manner simple, direct, appealing. The 
dialogue between Reason and Probity in the first and 
second acts are especially lofty in conception, perfect in 
execution, and majestic in expression; the monologue of 
Meditation in the second act may rank with the noblest 
poetic lines of any language. The great difference between 
the poet's earlier and later work can be seen at a glance 
when one compares the pastoral in Migdal 'Oz with that 
of this play. The second is evidently a copy of the first 
but is much more refined, more spiritual, more elevated 
in every respect. 

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto was the darling child of 
the muses. And thinking of the tragic life and the tragic 
death of this sweet singer in Israel one cannot but sub- 
scribe to the words of Dr. S. Bernfeld: "As one reads 
these creations of Luzzatto, one cannot rid himself of a 
feeling of grief, for he thinks then: What might not have 
become of this richly endowed poet had he been born in 
a more auspicious time, and had the Jewish people then 
not been deprived of light and air" (Kampfende Geister 
im Judenthum: M. Ch. Luzzatto, p. 29). 

In striking contrast with the poetic genius of Luz- 
zatto stands his contemporary Jacob Daniel Olmo of 
Ferrara (1690-1757). Olmo, a Talmudist and Kabbalist, 
one of the three favorite disciples of Isaac Lampronti, the 
Talmudic encyclopaedist, 48 while happy in some of the 
shorter liturgical poems, was a man incapable of sustained 
effort and possessed no inspiration or originality. His 

*» S. Z. Margulies in ^OtPKrt, V, 209; Neppi-Ghirondi, p. 137. 



40 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

'Eden 'Aruk (Paradise Prepared) which appeared in 
Venice simultaneously with Luzzatto's epoch-making 
La-Yesharim Tehieeah, is a long, tedious composition of 
277 five-lined stanzas, and is original neither in matter 
nor in manner. It is an imitation of an imitation. The 
very fact that the poet chose Moses Zacuto as his model 
whom he follows slavishly in every detail, in the form of 
verse, in the stilted, artificial style, with its complexity of 
homonyms, with its conceit of the echo, only more exag- 
gerated, and in the scheme of the subject itself, shows at 
once the meagerness of his poetic conception. The central 
thought of the 'Eden 'Aruk is borrowed from the Mid- 
rashim and the Zohar (Bereshit Rabba, 62; Tanhuma, 
'Tips, sec. 3 ; Zohar, Bereshit, 38a, 39b, also Hips and 
nonn ). The righteous man at the point of death ad- 
dresses himself to those who surround him. Like Zacuto's 
dying sinner, he rails against physicians. "Nature, when 
allowed free scope, has the power to ward off disease. But 
when disease and the physician combine against nature, 
the patient is doomed" (stanzas 1-12). He then addresses 
his wealth, his wife, and children, and realizes their pow- 
erlessness (13-27). He appeals to his righteous deeds to 
come to his rescue and they respond encouragingly in an 
echo of his own words (27-34), and then speak plainly 
of the great reward awaiting him (35-37). The righteous 
man then goes into ecstasies over the eternal glories in 
store for him (37-58) when an angel appears before him 
whom he asks the meaning of his glorious visions to 
which the angel replies in an echo (58-81). The angel 
then goes into a lengthy explanation (82-145) of the hap- 
piness awaiting him in Paradise, contrasting his life of 
privation, suffering, and humiliation on account of his 
righteousness while on earth with the eternal bliss which 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITALY RHINE 41 

is to be his portion in the life to come. Thereupon three 
groups of angels appear to greet and welcome him, 
when the Shekinah itself addresses his soul, kisses it, 
and the righteous man dies in ecstasy (145-158). The 
happy dead now describes the seven chambers of Lower 
Eden (159-218), the seven divisions of Upper Eden 
(219-276), and winds up with a song of thanksgiving 
(277)- 

That there is a great deal of poetic beauty in the 
midrashic and kabbalistic conception of Paradise will be 
readily admitted. Olmo, however, follows the Midrash and 
the Zohar too closely, too literally, to allow any display 
of originality, even had he possessed any. His Paradise 
is all glitter. Gold, silver, pearls, and diamonds of the 
most fantastic brilliancy are plentiful, but there is no 
definiteness, no vividness to the description. His hyper- 
boles are best illustrated by the quotation from the Talmud 
which the poet paraphrases: 

If all the oceans turned into ink, 
If all the reeds assumed the shapes of pens, 
The earth and heaven into scrolls were changed 
And every man a scribe, and each were wise, 
They could not tell the plenitude of glory. 

Olmo's work is a continuation of the work and of the 
spirit of Moses Zacuto. Together, they gave a faithful 
reproduction of the Jewish conception of hell and heaven. 
Unequal though both Zacuto and Olmo were to their task, 
only kabbalists of their type with poetic inclination could 
have undertaken to reduce to poetic form the mysteries of 
the life beyond the grave. In this respect they rendered 
Hebrew literature a lasting service. Mediaeval in spirit, 
they were the last representatives of mediaevalism in con- 



42 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

ception and in expression. With Olmo the artificial, com- 
plex, and involved style in vogue for so many centuries 
practically died. Henceforth the spirit of Luzzatto with 
its clearness, simplicity, and naturalness of expression 
reigns supreme. 

The 'Eden 'Aruk is introduced by well and faultlessly 
written commendatory poems of Abi'ad Sar Shalom 
Basilea (died 1743), kabbalist, geometrician, and astron- 
omer, of Mantua, enemy of Frances in his EmunaT 
Hakamim and friend of Luzzatto; and of the poet's 
father-in-law, Mordecai Zahalon (died 1748), physician 
and rabbi of Mantua. 

CHAPTER V 

Luzzatto's Contemporaries and Successors 

While the personality and genius of M. H. Luzzatto 
dominates all subsequent Hebrew poetry of Italy, there 
flourished quite a number of minor poets in the time of 
Luzzatto who survived him, and in whose work his influ- 
ence is manifested. Isaac Vita Musati of Ancona (about 
1704 — after 1800), " a semi-religious poet of that period, 
it is true, shows very little of the new spirit in his Shire 
Zimrah (Florence 1800), and his poems have but little 
poetic value. But he is the exception. The spirit of mod- 
ernity finally triumphed. Nearly all the poets show in 
thought, diction, and versification, a complete breaking 
away from the past. Every conceivable Italian meter 
and rime is employed, no longer as an experiment but as 
a matter of course. The great bulk of the poetry of that 
century was occasional. The epithalamia and elegies 

" In his Preface .to his Shire Zimrah he states that he was 96 at the 
time of its publication (1800). 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OP ITALY — RHINE 43 

alone, written at that time, would form a volume of no 
small proportions; nor did the Italians neglect to celebrate 
in song any event of any importance connected with 
communal life. But even these occasional poems betray 
in some instances sparks of the divine fire, and are usually 
written with a finish, an elegance, and an ease that show 
their authors to have been masters of Hebrew verse. 

Foremost among the contemporaries of Luzzatto, 
and one who caught his spirit most intimately, stands Israel 
Benjamin Bassani, rabbi of Reggio (1701; Piperno, 1703- 
Jan. 20, 1790). A son of Isaiah Bassani, the teacher of 
Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Israel Benjamin Bassani was 
thus brought in frequent contact with Luzzatto and con- 
sequently imbibed his spirit. Only a few of his poems are 
included in Piperno's Collection ]£ol 'Ugab (Leghorn 
1846) and some fragments are quoted in Coen's Ruah 
Hadashah; but these are sufficient to show his power 
as a stylist, and especially as a lyric poet. His canzone 
(%ol 'Ugab, No. 3) teems with lyric beauty, and the de- 
scription of nature to which he devotes several stanzas 
stamps his lines as poetry of a high order. In another 
epithalamium (ibid., No. 27) he describes the origin of a 
spark of electricity (the first mention of the subject in 
Hebrew poetry), comparing it with the flame of love 
that produced the affection in the couple in whose honor 
the poem was composed. Both poems are thoroughly 
original. The sonnets of his disciple and successor in the 
rabbinate of Reggio, Isaiah Karmi (ibid., Nos. 25-26), 
show elegance and finish, as do four of his poems quoted 
by Coen (Ruah Hadashah, 98-101). To this class belongs 
the Venetian rabbi Simhah b. Abraham Calimani (died 
Aug. 2, 1794), grammarian, linguist, orator, and Talmud- 



44 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

ist. The author of an allegoric drama nn»K> Sip,™ his 
elegy on Solomon Zalman of Lemberg (lyol 'Ugab, No. 
16) shows his great ability in hyperbole but indicates a 
lack of good taste though the poem reads well and is 
perfect in rime and rhythm. The sonnet of Samuel b. 
Moses Cohen, rabbi of Leghorn (ibid., No. 20), shows 
facility of expression but little ability; while the lines of 
Malachi Cohen, rabbi of Leghorn (died before 1790), 
talmudic methodologist, written in honor of the dedication 
of the synagogue in 1742 (ibid., 21), are not above medi- 
ocrity. The same may also be said of his poems contained 
in the min TQB> (Leghorn 1746), an order of service 
adopted by the community of Leghorn to be recited on 
the 22nd of Shebat of each year in commemoration of the 
earthquake of 1742. 61 On the other hand, Isaac Hayyim 
Frossolone (born at Sienna; died Leghorn 1794) 52 is a 
master of versification. His epithalamium in eight octaves 
(%ol 'Ugab, No. 35), really a song of praise of the Talmud 
(written about 1786), is a finished production, while his 
other epithalamium (ibid., No. 13) is a fine example of 
blank verse. Containing fine lines of nature description, 
it is suggestive of the best passages of Luzzatto, but gives 
suspicion of being an imitation of Israel Benjamin Bassani 
(cf. ibid., No. 3), though written with more freedom and 
grace. Jacob Saraval, rabbi of Venice, later of Mantua 
(about 1 707- April, 1782), is the author of a poem (ibid., 
No. 23) commemorating the catastrophe which befell the 

50 I have not seen this drama. Neppi (345-6) states that he had pub- 
lished many other poems. See Steinschneider, C.B., 2595; Mortara, Indies, 
9; de Rossi and Furst, s. v. 

61 Landshnt, Ammude ha-'Abodah, 173-177: Furst, Bibl. Jud., I, 320; 
Mortara, Indice, p. 15. 

** Ptperno, in Kol 'Ugab, &ob; Mortara, p. 26. 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITALY — RHINE 45 

Jewish community of Mantua in June 1781 when the 
building collapsed in which numerous guests were as- 
sembled at a Jewish wedding, and sixty-five persons were 
killed, among them the poet's oldest daughter. The poem 
in 26 sestets gives a vivid and a realistic description of 
the catastrophe and is naturally full of feeling. 

Of greater interest is Abraham Isaac Castello, a type 
of the self-made man (1726 — Aug. 1, 1789). Born at 
Ancona of poor parents, his father sent him at the age 
of thirteen to Leghorn where he was at first apprenticed 
to a tradesman. As it was the boy's habit to sing Spanish 
and Italian songs while working, his master's attention was 
attracted to his rich and melodious voice, and recom- 
mended him to the authorities of the Jewish community 
who were then without a cantor, the former cantor having 
just died. Castello was given the office, and married the 
former cantor's eldest daughter. Not content, however, 
with being merely a cantor, he devoted himself assiduously 
to the study of rabbinic literature and philosophy, de- 
veloped remarkable powers as a preacher, and was held 
in high esteem both by Jews and non-Jews who disputed 
with him on religious and philosophic subjects. He 
preached usually in Spanish. While his life was a very 
happy and successful one, his latter days were rendered 
sad by the untimely death of his eldest son Joseph who 
died after an illustrious career at the University of Pisa 
where he took degrees in philosophy and medicine. As 
a poet, Castello is very happy, though not very deep. His 
lines are graceful and elegant, his versification masterly, 
and beautiful lyric stanzas are frequent. Like those of 
his contemporaries, his verses were occasional, ephithal- 
amia and elegies. That he had some difficulty in gaining 



46 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

recognition as a poet is shown by the following anecdote 
of his relation to the poet Colbo. 53 Emanuel Colbo, an older 
contemporary of Castello's, born at Salonica, whence he 
and his father migrated to Leghorn, and settled there as 
rabbis, the son also as a physician, had achieved fame as 
a poet, and his reputation stood in the way of the younger 
aspirant to poetic honors. The work of the former was 
praised at the expense of the latter. That the older poet 
did appreciate the talent of the younger, and was honest 
enough to admit the latter his equal is shown by the 
conspiracy they formed to render the senseless critics 
ridiculous. Upon a certain occasion when both poets were 
asked to write an epithalamium as was the custom in 
those days, the two men agreed to exchange poems, so 
that Colbo's work went by the name of Castello's and 
vice versa. The critics at once began to extoll the poem 
attributed to Colbo, and to underrate that of Castello. 
Thereupon Castello showed the letter of Colbo in which 
the permission to exchange names was given, and the 
critics were hushed once for all." As a matter of fact, 
the quality of the work of the two men is equal. Colbo's 
stanzas are more artistic (he uses the seven-line stanza 
(canzonette) by preference), Castello's are more varied. 
While Colbo is always serious, Castello is also a satirist 
at times. Thus in a sonnet he satirizes the fool who 



53 M. rj. Luzzatto wrote a poem in honor of his graduation as a 
physician from the University of Padua. Colbo who already in 1730 had 
been living in Leghorn was appealed to by Luzzatto to intercede with the 
Leghorn rabbis in his behalf. Leghorn was a stronghold of the Kabbalah 
while Venice was opposed to it since the days of Leon Modena. Kahana, 
"Life of Luzzatto," 33, 37. 

54 Piperno, gol 'Ugab, Notes 4 and 11. Castello's poems are Nos. 10, 17, 
22, 41-44. 53-63. 65; Colbo's Nos. 19, 34. 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITALY— RHINE 47 

dresses in the latest fashion but betrays his foolishness the 
moment he opens his mouth, and ends with this gibe ; 

Why royal garments with a boorish voice? 
Or change thy voice to suit thy dress, 
Or change thy dress to suit thy voice. 

(lyol 'Ugab, No. 43). In another sonnet (No. 54) 
he satirizes the miscarriage of justice. A fly fall- 
ing in a spider's web is lost; a bird will brush 
it away with its wing and destroy it. A poor man 
falling into the meshes of the law is lost; a rich man tears 
the garment of justice asunder. An epithalamiurn (Koi 
'Ugab, No. 18) written by his son, the brilliant young 
physician Joseph Castello who died so prematurely, (in a 
sonnet form with a double sestet), shows that he inherited 
his father's gift of song. 

While all these minor poets, with more or less talent 
and inspiration sing only on special occasions, sing, as it 
were, to order, though their poems bear the stamp of mod-^ 
ernity and they enlarged the scope of Hebrew poetry, the 
first truly modern lyric poet is Ephraim Luzzatto. Born 
at San Danieli, Friuli, in 1729, studying medicine at the 
University of Padua where he took his degree in 1751, 
he settled in London in 1763 to practise his profession in 
the hospital of the Portuguese Congregation. In 1792, 
on his way to Italy, he died in Lausanne, Switzerland. 
His poems, under the title of Eixeh Bene Ha-Ne'urim 
(These are the Offspring of Youth, first edition, London 
1766; second edition, Vienna 1839), were all written in 
Italy, the closing poem in Padua. A highly gifted youth, 
possessed of a sensitive nature, and endowed with the 
power of imagination and of delicate, artistic expression, 
Ephraim Luzzatto lent a new note to the severe and 



48 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

strictly moralizing and didactic Hebrew muse by intro- 
ducing the romantic lyric into Italian Hebrew poetry. 
As a Jewish poet he does not, indeed, neglect to sing of 
themes sacred to the Jewish heart. Thus, in 'Ae Har 
Zion She-Shamem (Mount Zion, Ruined) he bewails 
in lines stately, dignified, yet soft and tender, the ruins of 
the Holy City. He addresses himself to all nature, to the 
stars in their courses, to the sun, the moon, the earth, 
the sea, the mountains, to arrest their natural functions, 
and intercede with God in behalf of Zion; when a terrific 
storm breaks out, and above the din and confusion an 
angel admonishes him that the cause of Zion's ruin is 
to be sought in Jewish sinfulness. Equally beautiful are 
his sonnets (35, 36) on the same subject. His didactic 
sonnets, teeming with lofty moral and ethical thoughts, are 
couched in such graceful diction that the severity of their 
tone is softened by the beauty of the expression. His 
elegies are free from the extravagances of fancy and the 
exaggeration of praise so characteristic of most of his con- 
temporaries. He is the first to introduce Metastasio to 
Hebrew readers, and his translation of La Primavera, fol- 
lowing the rime and meter of the canzonette, is a work 
of art in itself. But it is in his romantic sonnets that he 
is at his best. Here he gives his poetic fancy free scope. 
For the first time Cupid and his arrows are introduced to 
the Jewish reading public in Hebrew (Sonnet 3, p. 9, Let- 
teris' edition) ; and he treats the subject with the levity, 
though not with the license so characteristic of Italian 
poets. Love with him, is not the sacred, divine spark it 
is with his kinsman Moses Hayyim Luzzatto. With 
Ephraim Luzzatto it is rather human, all too human. In 
sentiment his exquisite love sonnets remind one of Pe- 
trarch and of the best in Italian literature, and in the delicacy 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OF ITALY — RHINE 49 

of diction, beauty of style, and perfection of rime and 
meter of the best in Hebrew literature. The Orient and 
the Occident thus meet in the friendliest fashion in this 
child of sunny Italy. It is to be regretted that his poetic 
work ceased upon his leaving his native soil. His prosaic 
duties at the London hospital proved fatal to his poetic 
inspiration. 

Great as was the influence of the spirit of the classic 
literature upon Ephraim Luzzatto, it is slight compared 
with the paramount influence of classicism on his yOunger 
contemporary, the dramatist Samuel Aaron Romanelli 
(Sept. 19, 1757— Oct. 17, 1814). 55 A man of unsteady 
habits, of a restless, roving nature, he left his native city 
Mantua at an early age, and gave himself up to his 
Wanderlust. He spent four years in Morocco; returning 
to Europe, he lived for a time in Berlin (1791), Vienna 
(1793), London (1799), Lille in France, and returned to 
Italy about 1800. In the course of his wandering he mas- 
tered several foreign languages, and wrote Hebrew and 
Italian with equal facility. Erratic in his temperament, 
tactless, and free and outspoken in his religious opinions 
which were not always orthodox, he made many enemies 
and but few friends. He eked out a scanty livelihood by 
teaching, and by writing poems in Hebrew and Italian 
for special occasions such as weddings, patriotic feasts, 
and the like. Owing to his roaming propensities and to 
his inability to make or to hold friends, so that his patrons 
soon tired of him, his existence was a rather precarious 
one. He was, perhaps, the first modern Jewish man of 

55 On Romanelli see della Torre in Ben Chananiah, V (1862), p. 27 ff.; 
Moise Soave in Vessitlo Israelitico, 1878, pp. 151-2, and note 2, p. 152; and 
Dr. Weikert, Preface to Romanelli's translation of Maffei's "La Merope" 
(Rome, 1904). 



50 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

letters to live by his pen, if one may call his scant earnings 
a living. He reminds one strongly of that erratic genius 
of our clay, Naphtali Herz Imber, and of the un- 
happy career of that other unfortunate master, Solomon 
Maimon. 

This literary Ishmael, however, was a darling child 
of the muses ; and, with the two Luzzatto's, makes eigh- 
teenth century Hebrew poetry memorable. While he has 
not the softness, the tenderness, the delicacy and the 
naivete which makes the older Luzzatto's dramas so con- 
spicuous, he possesses a more vigorous, more incisive 
style ; and what he lacks in sweetness he makes up in power 
and strength. Of a similar poetic temperament both, their 
sources of inspiration vary; Luzzatto is ideal, Jewish, and 
mystic ; Romanelli is Greek and classic ; the form is 
Italian in both. Luzzatto's symbolisms are ethical and 
philosophic; Romanelli's are mythological. Luzzatto's 
La-Yesharim Tehileah is, perhaps, the more original 
of the two, since Luzzatto had to clothe in flesh and blood 
the abstract virtues, and make them live before his read- 
ers; whereas the mythological characters Romanelli em- 
ploys were ready made for him in classic literature. 
Still, Romanelli's interpretation of the Olympian deities are 
original, and there is no conflict in this meeting of Jew 
and Greek. 

Romanelli's great melodramatic allegory under the 
name of Ha-I£oeoT Yehdaeun (Let the Strife Cease), 
was written as an epithalamium (Berlin, 1791). Two 
forces are arrayed against each other in apparently 
deadly conflict; Venus (Nogah), Cupid (Heshek), and 
Fortune (Osher) on the one hand are arrayed against 
Jupiter (Zedek), Constance (Hosen), and Glory (Tiferet) 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITAEY — RHINE 5 1 

on the other. Venus, and Jupiter as Justice, are the hero- 
ine and hero respectively of this allegory. Venus com- 
plains that the intelligent, the followers of Justice, are 
treating her with contempt because they maintain that 
Beauty is only a snare to capture the weak-minded. She 
rebels at the fact that her following has been reduced to 
the licentious, the foolish, and the fops. Where is the 
satisfaction in being worshipped by such a class? Jupiter, 
as the god of Justice, on the other hand, blames Venus for 
enticing every one away from him, so that people seek 
only pleasure and not justice and righteousness. Venus, 
in her contention, is ardently supported by Cupid and 
Fortune, while the cause of Justice is as ardently embraced 
by Constance and Glory. The two forces are about to en- 
gage in internecine conflict, both supported by Hope, when 
Peace (Shalom) descends from the heavens to settle the 
controversy. She declares that Justice and Venus are not 
incompatible. Both are indispensable for the happiness 
of mankind, and proves the possibility of their union by 
pointing to the union of the couple in whose honor the 
drama was written, as models respectively of wisdom and 
beauty united. Thereupon the clash of battle ceases (Ha- 
I£olot Yehdalun) and peace reigns supreme. 

Such is the theme of this strange drama. The battle 
is really a battle of words, but in what lofty strain, and in 
what magnificent diction this conflict of the gods is waged ! 
It is, indeed, a battle worthy of the Olympians. The 
monologues are stately, dignified, eloquent, and poetic. The 
arias accompanying the monologues, intended for singing, 
add a lyric charm to the epic beauty of the drama itself, 
and serve as a summary of the thought of the preceding 



52 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

speech. Thus after a lengthy monologue, Cupid sums up 
his power: 

The rustle of each falling leaf, 
The cooing of the gentle dove, 
The roaring of the angry sea, 
They, each and all betoken — love. 

(Act I, Scene 7). The monologue of Hope (Act III, 
Scene 1) and of Peace (ibid.), are particularly striking 
and forcible. Romanelli, in this poem, shows himself 
master of style and diction, and the inspiration is sus- 
tained from beginning to end. M 

Romanelli also wrote a number of other poems of 
which, however, I have not been able to obtain a copy. As 
a translator he showed great skill in rendering into He- 
brew Maffei's tragedy (La Merope) (published by Dr. 
Weikert, Rome 1904) — a translation which retains all the 
grace and vigor of the original. 

Of Romanelli's contemporaries, Elijah Levi and 
Mattathias Levi son of Moses Zacuto Levi, chief rabbi of 
Monferrato (died 1833), both of Alessandria, are medi- 
ocre. The former is the author of an epithalamium 
)"tn rO"U in 31 stanzas which is rather crude and uncouth 
in thought, while the epithalamium of the latter nun 71313 
though not quite so crude is an imitation of the work of 
his older kinsman. The two poems were published to- 
gether in Leghorn in 1803. Hananiah Elhanan Vita Coen 
(died 29th of March, 1834), a teacher at Reggio, and later 
rabbi of Florence, while not a great poet is a master of 

" Romanelli also wrote [133 nil (Berlin 1792); nruOPI ni^J? (Vienna 
I793)> HP i*ITHD , and 2H? niBH, I<etteris in Bikkurim, II; Zeitlin, 
Bibl. Heb. post-Mend. I have not been able to obtain a copy of any of these. 



SECULAR HEBREW POETRY OE ITAEY RHINE 53 

versification. As the author of ZEmirot Israee and Ruaii 
Hadashah, two works on prosody, he contributed not a 
little towards the modernization of Hebrew poetry in Italy. 
In his Ruah Hadashah especially he advocates the abo- 
lition of the mediaeval meter in which the Yated plays 
such a prominent part and speaks boldly in behalf of the 
adoption of a thoroughly modern Italian meter based on 
the number of vowels in each line without regard to the 
Shewa. The specimens of his poems with which he illus- 
trates the varieties of the stanza show his thorough mas- 
tery of Hebrew verse and a fine sense of poetic apprecia- 
tion; 57 while his elegy (l£ol 'Ugab, No. 24), though some- 
what exaggerated, shows him capable of deep feeling. 

67 See Ruafi Ifadashah, Reggio 1822.