ABRABANEL, JUDAH (called Leone Ebreo or Leo Hebraeus ; c. 1460–after 1523), physician, poet, and one of the foremost philosophers of the Renaissance. Abrabanel was born in Lisbon, the eldest son of Don Isaac *Abrabanel and was instructed by his father in Jewish studies and in Jewish and Arabic philosophy. He also studied medicine and is mentioned in the register of Lisbon physicians of 1483. When his father was forced to flee from Portugal, in 1483, Judah followed him. At the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492), he secretly sent his one-year-old son to Portugal with his nurse, but King John ii had the infant seized and baptized. This tragedy weighed heavily on Abrabanel for many years, as is evident from his frequently published poem "Telunah al ha-Zeman" ("Complaint against the Time"), composed in 1503. There is, however, reason to believe that the son ultimately returned to the religion of his people and to his family. Abrabanel later settled in Naples where he continued to practice medicine. The physician *Amatus Lusitanus reports that in 1566 he saw in Salonica a philosophical work on the harmony of the heavens which Abrabanel had composed for *Pico della Mirandola (d. 1494). This work is no longer extant. This indicates that he visited Florence (where Pico lived) at that time. His spiritual affinity with the circle of scholars of the Platonic Academy in Florence, particularly with its leading exponents Pico and Marsilio Ficino, may have originated in this visit. Some scholars, however, believe that the person for whom the book was meant was Pico's nephew (d. 1533).
Abrabanel was back in Naples in 1494. When the city was captured by the French in 1495, he went to Genoa, but he returned to Naples and in 1501 was teaching medicine and "astrology" at the university there. From then on, his name occurs in various documents as physician to the Spanish viceroy, Don Gonsalvo de Córdoba. On the title pages of the second (1541) and third (1545) editions of his Dialoghi di Amore, he is described as a convert to Christianity. This statement is lacking, however, in the first edition as well as in those subsequent to the third, even in the Latin version of 1564 with its elaborate dedication to a church dignitary. It is very likely, therefore, that it has no foundation in fact, and may have been added merely to stimulate the sale of the work or to emphasize its orthodoxy from the Christian standpoint. There are in fact some passages in the text in which the author speaks of himself as a Jew.
Judah Abrabanel was a skillful versifier, and apart from the elegy on his son's disappearance, he composed three short poems (c. 1504) commending his father's works, and another of 52 stanzas in memory of his father and extolling his commentary on the Latter Prophets (c. 1520). These were included in the printed editions. His reputation rests on his Dialoghi di Amore, first published in Rome in 1535. Mariano Lenzi, the editor, claims to have rescued the work "from the obscurity in which it was buried" after the author's death. The precise date of composition is uncertain. According to the author's statement in the text he had reached the middle of the Third Dialogue in 1502, but it is not known when he completed it. The Fourth Dialogue which Abrabanel intended to write never reached Lenzi, and it may never have been written. Almost certainly the book was written in Italian (the conjectures that it was composed in Hebrew or in Spanish are untenable). A Hebrew translation was made after 1660 by Joseph Baruch of Urbino; its style is cumbersome and difficult.
Following Plato's example, Abrabanel presented his ideas in the form of dialogues, of which there are three. The names of the dialogists, Philone and Sophia, who are depicted as platonic lovers, reflect Abrabanel's belief that love elevates to the pinnacle of wisdom. In the character of Sophia we find here the first female in Jewish and non-Jewish literature that is described as an active philosopher. The principal and central theme of the work, from which the discussion branches out in a number of directions, is love, which he regards as the source, the dominating and motivating force, and the loftiest goal of the universe. He investigates and expounds the nature of love and its operation in God, in matter and form, in the four elements, in the spheres, in the constellations, in the terrestrial world and all that it contains from man, his soul, his intellect, and senses, to animals, plants, and inanimate things. Thus, Abrabanel's discourse in the Dialoghi rises stage by stage to the bold concept which rounds out his theory, that the goal of love is not "possession," but the pleasure of the lover in his union with the idea of the beautiful and the good, embodied in the beloved. Hence, the sublime end of love, which fills the entire world as a supernal force, is the union of the creation and all creatures with that sublime beauty (which is at the same time sublime goodness and sublime intellect) which exists in God. Such a union, which constitutes an act of both will and intellect, the intellectual love of God (amore intellettuale di Dio), is desired and enjoyed also by God. This covenant of mutual love between the universe and its creator forges a mighty "circle of love" which sustains all components of the cosmos, from the outermost sphere to the rock within the earth, in one living, blessed movement, from God and to God. Out of this central theme there flows a remarkable stream of thoughts on many diverse subjects – reflections on religion, metaphysics, mysticism, ethics, aesthetics (especially valuable), logic, psychology, mythology, cosmology, astrology, and astronomy – a vision embracing the spiritual and material universe and its metaphysical goal. Original interpretations of biblical and rabbinic traditions as well as of Greek myths occupy a considerable place in these speculations. Abrabanel always endeavors to reconcile Jewish and Greek teachings, and the revered Plato and his school with Aristotle and his Arab commentators. Among the philosophers by whom he was influenced were *Maimonides and Ibn *Gabirol. The wealth and profundity of the ideas make the Dialoghi one of the most important works in metaphysics produced by the European Renaissance. The work had a widespread influence in its time. Twenty-five editions and printings (12 in Italian and 13 in various translations) appeared between 1535 and 1607, and between 1551 and about 1660 it was translated seven times into four languages (French, Latin, Spanish, and Hebrew). In its wake there appeared, especially in 16th century Italy, a large number of essays and dialogues on love, almost all of which borrowed basic ideas from Abrabanel's work. At the same time his unique concept of love permeated the lyrical poetry of the epoch in Italy, France, and Spain. His influence is discernible also in Michelangelo's Sonnets and Torquato Tasso's Minturno. Among the philosophers who were influenced by Abrabanel, mention should be made of Giordano Bruno and *Spinoza, whose small library contained the Dialoghi. But by the end of the 16th century the influence of the work had dwindled. R. Isaac *Alatrini of Modena incorporated various passages in his commentary on the Song of Songs, entitled Kenaf Renanim, preserved in manuscript in Oxford and elsewhere. Modern editions include a facsimile edited by C. Gebhardt with elaborate introduction and bibliography (Bibliotheca Spinozana, 3, 1929); an edition by Caramella in the series of Italian classics Scrittori d'Italia (1929); an anonymous early translation into Hebrew, sometimes ascribed to Leone *Modena (Lyck, 1871); and an English translation by F. Friedeberg-Seeley and Jean H. Barnes (1937). A new Hebrew translation, with an extensive introduction and notes, was published in Jerusalem in 1983 by M. Dorman.
Y. Klausner, in: Tarbiz, 3 (1931/32), 67–98; B. Zimmels, Leo Hebraeus (Ger., 1886); H. Pflaum, Die Idee der Liebe: Leone Ebreo (1926). add. bibliography: M. Dorman and Z. Levi (eds.), The Philosophy of Leone Ebreo, Four Lectures (Heb., 1985); Sh. Pines, in: B.D. Cooperman (ed.), Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (1983), 369–98; A. Melamed, in: Jewish Studies, 40 (2000), 113–30; B. Gavin, in: Italia, 13–15 (2001), 181–210; A. Lesley, in: M. Fishbane (ed.), The Midrashic Imagination (1993), 204–25.
[Hiram Peri /
Avraham Melamed (2nd ed.)]
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