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Ibn Sasson, Samuel ben Joseph


IBN SASSON, SAMUEL BEN JOSEPH , Castilian poet during the reign of Alfonso xi (1312–50). He lived in Carrión de los Condes and Frómista, small towns in the north of Castile, having modest means and being almost crushed by economic problems. It is possible, but not certain, that he spent some time in Toledo, but in any case he was not an important member of the community. Between 1330 and 1340 he exchanged poems with Shem Tov Ardutiel (*Santob de Carrión), although only those sent by Ibn Sasson are preserved. In addition to the elegies and panegyrics devoted to the notables of the time, the poetry of Samuel ibn Sasson abounds in examples of the poetic correspondence that was usual among Hebrew intellectuals of the time. Thanks to his work we can speak today of the existence of a circle of intellectuals and poets in the area of North Castile during the first half of the 14th century, a time in which poetical activity was almost lacking in Toledo itself. His poems have also some historical importance since they refer to personal matters, current events, and the affairs of his contemporaries. Among them are poems for special occasions. Ibn Sasson reflects in his poetry the situation of the Jewish communities under the pressure of Christian society, alluding to the fate of some of the most important Jewish courtiers of the time. In particular, the conversion of Abner of Burgos (c. 1270–c. 1340), a physician familiar with philosophy and Kabbalah who after a long period of doubt, some time after the age of 50 embraced Christianity and took the name Alfonso de Valladolid, left deep traces in Ibn Sasson's literary production. This creation includes a rhymed prose composition, imitating the structure of the "dream" described by Abner in his Mostradór de Justicia (1330) in which the sufferings of the Jews in that generation are considered as punishment for their many sins, as a divine ordeal before the imminent redemption. This was directed against Abner of Burgos, the apostate, who justified his apostasy by stressing the sins of the Jews. Ibn Sasson dedicated a poem to Isaac ibn Polqar, Abner's adversary. Ibn Sasson's varied verses, in the style and spirit of his contemporary poets, were collected by Ḥ. Ḥamiel in Avnei ha-Shoham, (1962). More a rhetorician than a poet, Ibn Sasson regarded himself as the best poet of his time and boasted in one poem: "The wonders of other tongues compared with my tongue is as the light of a torch to that of the sun." Although in many cases poetic inspiration is almost lacking, Ibn Sasson devoted a great deal of effort to demonstrating his mastery of the technical aspects of Hebrew poetry, in a typical mannerist attitude. He wrote "reversible" verses, poetry with echo, multiple internal rhymes, and used other very sophisticated rhetorical techniques that are almost unique in Hebrew poetry.


Margoliouth, Cat, 3 (1915), 248f.; Baer, in: Minḥah le-David… Yellin (1935), 197–204; Baer, Toledot, 191, 212f., 514 n.23; Ḥ. Ḥamiel (ed.), Avnei ha-Shoham (1962), introd.; idem, in: Sinai, 35 (1954), 45–54, 134–42; Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (1956), 524–8, 697. add. bibliography: D. Esteban, in: wcjs, 9 (1986), 69–76; idem, in: Exile and Diaspora (1991), 98–102; R. Brann, J. Targarona, and A. Sáenz-Badillos, in: Prooftexts, 16 (1996), 75–103; Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (1997), 555–61 (Heb.).

[Abraham Meir Habermann /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]

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