Ibn-Gabirol, Solomon ben-Judah

(c. 1020–c. 1057)
   Spanish philosopher and poet. Ibn-Gabirol was born in Moslem Spain, probably in Malaga, and as a child moved with his family to Saragossa. Consumptive and ill-tempered, he was an avid student, and was soon well versed in the Bible and the Talmud, Hebrew and Arabic. He also studied astronomy, mathematics and logic, and wrote his first poems when he was sixteen.
   The date and circumstances of his death are obscure. Later legend recounted his murder at the hands of a Turk who coveted his wisdom. After killing him, he buried the body under a fig tree in an orchard. The tree immediately blossomed although it was mid-winter. This came to the notice of the caliph, who had the tree uprooted to investigate the miracle. The body was then discovered and the murderer executed.
   Solomon’s great philosophical work, ‘The Fountain of Life’, was originally written in Arabic, but only a few fragments of the original remain. It survived in a medieval Latin version made around the middle of the 12 century and entitled Fons Vitae, and in a Hebrew version made about a century later. His system conceives the universe as a product of the Divine Will and he is clearly in line with the Arab and Jewish Neoplatonist group of metaphysicians. ‘The Fountain of Life’ had considerable influence on medieval Christian scholars, such as Albert Magnus, Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, who did not know that the author was Jewish but simply described him as ‘an Arab’. It was generally felt by Jewish scholars that his system came too close to pantheism; MAIMONIDES in fact was firmly opposed to the work.
   However, Solomon ibn-Gabirol was deeply revered by Jews as a poet, and his religious and secular poems were preserved throughout the ages. His secular verses, written in Hebrew and Arabic, consist of panegyrics in honour of patrons, and ethical, introspective works. They reveal his evident scientific knowledge and yet show undoubted mystical leanings. Messianic fervour is evident in many of his religious poems, which are written in Hebrew in the metre of Arabic verse. Many of them were incorporated into prayer books. His philosophical poem, Keter Malchut (The Kingly Crown, 1961), based on similar ideas to the ‘Fountain of Life’, was in some rites included in the prayer book for the Day of Atonement.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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