Ibn Khalfun, Isaac

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IBN KHALFUN, ISAAC (Abu Ibrahim ; late 10th century), poet. Born probably in the last decades of the 10th century, either in Spain or North Africa, according to the Kitāb al-Muhādara wal-Mudhākara of Moses *Ibn Ezra, "He was the only Hebrew poet to make poetry his tool of trade and to turn verse into a source of income, to receive payment for it. He wandered throughout the world for its sake and obtained from his patrons as much as he liked" (ed. A.S. Halkin (1975), 31b). Like other Arabic wandering poets, Ibn Khalfun, on his extensive travels through North Africa and the East, sang the praises of the wealthy, asking for gifts or demanding payment. It seems that he lived some years in Córdoba, where he developed a friendship with *Samuel ha-Nagid, who appreciated his talents and supported him. Of this friendship a poetical correspondence between the two writers has remained, preserved in the diwan of Samuel ha-Nagid. Practically ignored until the 19th century, all of Ibn Khalfun's extant poetry, around 70 poems, was edited and published together with an introduction and commentaries by A. *Mirsky (1961). An English translation has been published by A. Brenner (2003); Spanish versions were also published by M.J. Cano (1988) and C. del Valle (1992). A. Brener believes that the poems sent to North African and Eastern patrons found their way to a diwan in two parts, partially preserved in Genizah fragments, while the poems written for his friends and patrons in Andalusia (except those to Samuel ha-Nagid) have been lost. Besides more than 20 "payment poems" (A. Brener), we know today panegyrics, laments, rebukes, and didactic, farewell and friendship poems, apparently just part of a much richer poetic work. For this reason it is not easy to judge the quality of his poetry, which has been evaluated in very different ways by modern scholars. In any case, he can be seen in certain aspects as a pioneer of Andalusian poetry and as a direct predecessor of the great masters of the golden age.


A. Mirsky, Shirei R. Yizhak ibn Khalfun (1961); Schirmann, Sefarad, 1 (1954), 66–73; 2 (1956), 667; idem, in: Tarbiz, 7 (1935/36), 291–318; 28 (1958/59), 330–42; D. Jarden, Divan Shemu'el ha-Nagid (1966), 172–94; A. Scheiber, in: Sinai, 27 (1950), 217–20; Mann, Egypt, 2 (1922), 14–24. add. bibliography: A. Sáenz-Badillos, in: meah, 33:2 (1984), 21–43; M.J. Cano, Yishaq ibn Jalfun: poeta cortesano cordobés (1988); C. del Valle, Isaac ben Jalfón de Córdoba: poemas (1992); Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (1995), 173–82 (Heb.); A. Brener, Isaac ibn Khalfun: a Wandering Hebrew Poet of the Eleventh Century (2003).

[Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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