Balmes, Abraham ben Meir de

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BALMES, ABRAHAM BEN MEIR DE (c. 1440–1523), physician, philosopher, translator, and grammarian. His grandfather, also called Abraham de Balmes (d. 1489), mentioned repeatedly in the royal records between 1463 and 1480, was court physician to King Ferdinand i of Naples (1472). Balmes was born in Lecce, southern Italy, and obtained doctorates in medicine and philosophy at the University of Naples in 1492 by special permission of Pope Innocent viii. In 1510 when the Jews were expelled from Naples, Balmes appears to have gone to northern Italy. Later he became personal physician to Cardinal Domenico Grimani, who was deeply interested in Hebrew literature. Under Grimani's auspices, Balmes translated the works of a number of medieval Arabic authors from their Hebrew versions into Latin. These included the Liber de Mundo (On the Quadrant) of Ibn al-Hayham (11th century), the Epistola expeditionis based on a philosophical work by Avempace, Geminus' work on astronomy under the title "Introduction to Ptolemy's Almagest," *Averroes' "Epitome of Aristotle's Organon," "Middle Commentary on the Topics," and on "Sophistical Refutation," part of De Substantia Orbis, and logical questions by Averroes and other Arabic authors. The translation of the "Long Commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics" published in Venice about 1520 seems to have been part of a more ambitious project which was to have included, besides other versions, an original philosophical work of his own (Liber de demonstratione Abrami de Balmes), no longer extant. Balmes' Averroistic materials were incorporated in the standard 16th-century edition of Aristotle, published in Venice in 1560. The Christian printer Daniel *Bomberg urged Balmes to write his famous Hebrew grammar Mikneh Avram. This appeared together with a Latin translation entitled Peculium Abramae in Venice at the end of 1523, some months after the author's death. The final chapter (on biblical accent marks) was completed by a fellow physician, Kalonymus b. David. In this work Balmes relied upon the grammarians *Ibn Janaḥ and Profiat *Duran. He mentioned Plato's Cratylus (which deals with semantics) – an indication of his interest in the philological conceptions of the Greek philosophers. His grammatical teachings lean too heavily on the theory of logic, and because of this and his attempt to use Latin philology to explain various aspects of Hebrew grammar, he exerted only limited influence upon Hebrew grammatical literature. Balmes' attempt to codify Hebrew syntax, to which he devoted a special section of his book (Sha'ar ha-Harkavah ve-ha-Shimmush) is, however, of some significance. The work was greatly used by Christian Hebraists of the ensuing period. According to Gedaliah *Ibn Yaḥya, who was present at Balmes' funeral, he had taught officially at the University of Padua, and many of his gentile students followed his bier.


D. Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909), 169–172; Gedaliah b. Joseph Yaḥya, Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (Amsterdam, 1697), 49b–50a; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959), 76; F. Secret, Les Kabbalists chrétiens de la Renaissance (1964), 107; N. Ferorelli, Abramo de Balmes ebreo di Lecce e i suoi parenti (offprint from Archivio Storico per le Province Napoletane, 31 (1906), 632–54); Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, 972–3 and index s.v.Abraham de Balmes.

[Joseph Elijah Heller]