Monday, November 22, 2010
edited by Olivia Remie Constable
from Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources
Account of Abd Allah ibn Buluggin
from The Tibyan
Poem by Abu Ishaq of Elvira
Account of Abraham ibn Daud
from The Book of Tradition
On December 30, 1066 (9 Tevet 4827), a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, which was at that time in Muslim-ruled al-Andalus, assassinated Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred many of the Jewish population of the city.
Joseph ibn Naghrela, or Joseph ha-Nagid (September 15, 1035 - December 30, 1066), was a vizier to the Berber king Badis al-Muzaffar of Granada, during the Moorish rule of Andalusia, and the leader of the Jewish community there.
Joseph was born in Granada, the eldest son of Rabbi Sh'muel ha-Nagid (Samuel ibn Naghrela).
Some information about his childhood and upbringing is preserved in the collection of his father's Hebrew poetry, which Joseph writes that he began copying at the age of eight and a half. For example, he tells how once (aged nine and a half, in the spring of 1045) he accompanied his father to battlefield, only to suffer from severe homesickness, about which he wrote a short poem.
His primary teacher was his father. On the basis of a letter to Rabbi Nissim Gaon attributed to him, in which Joseph refers to himself as R' Nissim's disciple, some claim that he also studied under R' Nissim at Kairwan. Joseph later married R' Nissim's daughter.
Born in Mérida, his main poetic works include "Ben Tehillim" (Son of Psalms), "Ben Qoheleth" (Son of Ecclesiastes), and "Ben Mishlei" (Son of Proverbs), each of which imitates the "father work". His choice of poetic themes reflected his myriad occupations and personal world-view, including poems describing the battlefield using the analogy of a game of chess, poems speaking of the great beauty of nature, of which there are numerous, etc. His power in word choice of poetic portrayal of nature rivals that of the other great Jewish poets, namely ibn Saruk. He founded the Yeshiva that produced such brilliant scholars as R' Yitzhaq ibn Ghiath and R' Maimon ben Yosef (father of Maimonides).
He fled Córdoba when the Berbers took the city in 1013. For a while he ran a spice shop in Málaga, but eventually he moved to Granada, where he was first tax collector, then a secretary, and finally an assistant vizier to the Berber king Habbus al-Muzaffar.
When Habbus died in 1038, Samuel HaNagid made sure that his son Badis succeeded him. In return, Badis made Hanagid his vizier and top general, two posts which he held for the next seventeen years.
HaNagid's son Joseph ibn Naghrela inherited those jobs. Some Muslims accused Joseph of using his office to benefit Jewish friends, assassinated him, and launched a massacre of Granada's Jews the next day (December 31, 1066).
Friday, November 19, 2010
Widely regarded as the first true masterpiece of English literature, Beowulf describes the thrilling adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. Its lyric intensity and imaginative vitality are unparalleled, and the poem has greatly influenced many important modern novelists and poets, most notably J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings.
Part history and part mythology, Beowulf opens in the court of the Danish king where a horrible demon named Grendel devours men in their sleep every night. The hero Beowulf arrives and kills the monster, but joy turns to horror when Grendel’s mother attacks the hall to avenge the death of her son. Ultimately triumphant, Beowulf becomes king himself and rules peacefully for fifty years until, one dark day, a foe more powerful than any he has yet faced is aroused—an ancient dragon guarding a horde of treasure. Once again, Beowulf must summon all his strength and courage to face the beast, but this time victory exacts a terrible price.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
by Gaius Petronius Arbiter
Unconventional and unique, the Satyricon stands almost alone in literature. It touches on everything, especially small-town life and ordinary people. Its characters are mostly of Greek or Near Eastern origin and are probably based on real people; Trimalchio's house has a lot in common with Nero's court. Some of the characters' names have given rise to much interesting etymological speculation: the name of Encolpius, our narrator, means "in the fold," or more explicitly here, "in the crotch"; his friend is named Ascyltos, or "unwearied," and they fight over the affections of the boy Giton ("neighbor").
The Satyricon was probably written around 61 A.D.and first printed in 1664. It is a very long work, of which we only have fragments. Petronius probably read it in installments to his friends, and possibly to the court of Nero. The Cena is one of the longer fragments; its survival in its entirety suggests that people have been enjoying it as a separable story for a long time. A banquet is the traditional setting for the kind of light conversation that is featured in the Cena.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Who has looked on the ancient Maya or classical Mediterranean cities and not wondered why they were abandoned? Or whether they hold a message for us? In this fascinating book, Jared Diamond seeks to understand the fates of past societies that collapsed for ecological reasons, combining the most important policy debate of our generation with the romance and mystery of lost worlds. Citizens of first world societies look around and tend not to see signs of imminent ecological collapse: the supermarkets are full of food; water gushes from our faucets; we live amidst trees and green grass. Actually, though, many past civilizations — with far smaller populations and less potent destructive technologies than those of today — have inadvertently committed ecological suicide: the Polynesian societies on Easter Island and other Pacific islands or the Anasazi civiliation, for example.
Ecocide asks why some societies make disastrous decisions, and how can we in the modern world learn better problem solving? Ecocide is an ecological history of human societies that considers why societies in some regions have been more vulnerable than those in other regions, and also compares the trajectories of pastcivilizations with likely trajectories of our own. Why did Greenland fail where Iceland succeeded? What links Rwanda and Australia? What can contemporary Montana learn from the ancient Mayans and modern Chinese?
Monday, November 1, 2010
"Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without peril."
For more than two thousand years the words of Sun Tzu, the founder of military science in ancient China, have exerted a powerful influence on the history and development of Eastern and Western philosophical thought, military strategy, and warfare. As a result, The Art of War has long been studied, analyzed, and adapted by scholars, battlefield commanders, and corporate CEOs.
The Art of War is also a profoundly nuanced and intimately revealing work of literature. Although often misunderstood as a selection of koans or idiomatic expressions, The Art of War, like the writings of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, in reality forms one of the founding pillars of Chinese philosophical thought and is one of the finest examples of the "Golden Age" of Chinese classical prose.
The Art of War was written during a time of great social and political upheaval in China. Although it is concerned with warfare, it repeatedly emphasizes the use of restraint, careful analysis, and, most importantly, introspection and cultivation of one's inner self.
The Art of War continues to offer lessons for those in all walks of life. It is one of those rare texts which will continue to influence the course of human civilization for centuries to come.