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Frances, Jacob ben David


FRANCES, JACOB BEN DAVID (1615–1667), poet; elder brother of Immanuel *Frances. Born in Mantua, Jacob, a highly educated man, mastered not only Hebrew and Aramaic, but Latin, Italian, and Portuguese as well. The two brothers collaborated in their literary work, and in his book of poetics Metek Sefatayim Immanuel shows great esteem for his elder brother's talent, quoting his verses and calling him by the surname Ha-harif, "the sharp one." After Jacob's death, Immanuel corrected and completed some of his poems, to which he occasionally even attached additions of his own. Copyists inserted these additions into the poems without always noting that they were composed by Immanuel. At times they also attributed Immanuel's poems to Jacob, and vice-versa, because of the similarity in style, form, and content. There is still no definitive means of determining the true authorship of some of the poems; 54 sonnets, however, can almost certainly be ascribed to Jacob. In the manner of his contemporary poets, Jacob wrote on all subjects, including friendship, polemics, ethics, love, and marriage. As was customary in poetry at that time, some of his poems have a flavor of eroticism. Jacob quarreled fiercely with members of his community, chiefly attacking the sect of Shabbetai *Ẓevi that arose during his time, as well as the kabbalists who were closely associated with it. He and his brother regarded them as detrimental to Judaism and considered themselves duty-bound to stop them. In this struggle he aroused the opposition of Mantua's rabbis, who condemned a poem he published in 1660 or 1661 against the vulgarization of kabbalistic studies and destroyed almost all the copies of it (the poem was reprinted in 1704 by Samson Morpurgo at the end of his book Eẓ ha-Da'at, and again provoked the opposition of kabbalists like Solomon Aviad Basilea, who many years later condemned Morpurgo for having published it). Unlike his brother, Jacob held no communal post but engaged in business. He died in Florence, after having left Mantua because of his quarrel with the kabbalists. Only isolated poems were published during his lifetime. A collection of all his poems from manuscripts and printed works was published by Peninah Naveh (see bibliography). This publication has considerably changed the critical evaluation of his work, and Jacob is now considered by many scholars as one of the very outstanding Hebrew poets of his time, if not the greatest of them. D. *Pagis wrote that he is one of the most interesting poets in the entire Hebrew-Italian school of poetry, and that his work is rich in forms, genres, and psychological moods, and fascinating by virtue of its rhythmical flexibility and stylistic innovations; T. *Carmi defined him "the last major poet before the modern period" and translated some poems into English. Jacob's poetry clearly reveals his mastery of both the Hebrew language and Hebrew literary tradition, as well as his acquaintance with contemporary European literature. As some scholars have remarked, his poems (especially the love poems) are sometimes influenced by the style, the imagery, and the themes of Baroque poetry, and in a long poem written in ottava rima he anticipates the pastoral theme that later became very popular in both Italian and Hebrew literature of the 18th century.


P. Naveh (ed.), Kol Shirei Ya'akov Frances (1969), incl. bibl.; A.M. Habermann, in: Moznayim, 29 (1969), 66–69; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 415; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, 2 (1957), 425–8; E. Fleischer, in: ks, 45 (1969/70), 177–87. add. bibliography: A. Rathaus, "Ahavah le-Diokan," in: Italia 2, 1-2 (1980), 30-47; T. Carmi, The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981), 129-30, 493-500; M. Falk, "Jacob Frances, Two Love Sonnets," in: Prooftexts 1, 2 (1981), 153–57; D. Pagis, Hebrew Poetry of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (1991), 60-61; D. Bregman, A Bundle of Gold (1997), 305-62 (Heb.).

[Abraham Meir Habermann /

Ariel Rathaus (2nd ed.)]

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