Santob de Carrión

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SANTOB DE CARRIÓN (Shem Tov ben Isaac Ardutiel ; 13th–14th century), Hebrew and Spanish poet. Nothing is known of his life, except that he lived in Carrión de los Condes. Samuel *Ibn Sasson, who lived in the same town, exchanged some poems with him between 1330 and 1340, although only those sent by Ibn Sasson are preserved. By that time, Santob was already "famous in the kingdom of Spain." Santob was no longer young when he dedicated to Pedro i of Castile his Proverbios morales (known also as the Consejos y documentos al rey don Pedro), a series of poems on ethical and intellectual virtues and defects. The work itself was probably written between 1355 and 1360. This exists in five 15th-century manuscripts, one an aljamiado text (i.e., Spanish written in Hebrew characters), and another copy of one of them. Modern editions include 725 stanzas. The philosophical ideas in this first example of gnomic literature in Castilian are not highly original – the sources were probably Hebrew and Arabic ethical poetry – but the expression is concise and poetic. Its main themes are the golden mean in human conduct and the relativity of existence in this world. A thread of melancholic pessimism runs through the work, but it does not negate the didactic and moral elevation of the verses. Américo Castro described him as the first one who expressed in the Spanish language the bitterness of someone who considers himself worthy, even if society does not recognize him as such. He presented him as a "refined rationalist," a "good islamicized Hispano-Hebrew." With a completely different perspective, C. Sánchez Albornoz saw in Santob a model of a perfectly Castilianized Jew.

Some of the passages of the book are among the most quoted ones in Spanish literature, such as the comparison of the proverbs written by a Jewish author with the rose born on the thornbush. Taking as a literary model the wisdom sayings of the Book of Proverbs, he addresses a moral message to his contemporaries, including traditional ideas and his own perspective. Santob gives a picture of the Jews of the epoch as "loyal to the law of the land, supportive of universalistic ethical and religious codes, actively engaged in commerce, skeptical of the world and perhaps increasingly of their own social ambience, and, in coded messages, longing for final deliverance" (Perry).

The Proverbios enjoyed considerable popularity, both in Jewish and Christian circles. Its maxims were quoted by the kabbalist Abraham ibn Saba and by the Marquis of Santillana, who numbered Santob among the great "trovadores" of his country. Proverbios Morales was published several times, and a critical edition from a manuscript in the Hebrew characters of the 15th century was published by Ig. Gonzalez Llubera (1947); other, more recent editions are that of A. García Calvo (1974), S. Shepard (1986) T.A. Perry (1986) and P. Díaz-Mas and C. Mota (1998). The work has been the object of many commentaries and very different interpretations (Zemke, 1997, mentions more than 160 studies). Though other Jewish poets in Spain wrote poetry in Spanish, Santob de Carrión is the only one whose Spanish verses have survived. Although other Spanish works, such as the Danza de la Muerte, have been attributed to Santob, there is no basis for such attribution. The fact that a Jew wrote in Spanish was not seen with sympathy in the Jewish communities; Ibn Sasson recommended to Santob to abandon "their language" and to write in Hebrew, "the pure language, close to you."

Santob's Hebrew writings include a liturgical poem (the viddui gadol "Ribbono shel olam, bi-re'oti beḥurotai") which has been incorporated into the Sephardi ritual for the Day of Atonement. His bakkashah, "Yam Kohelet," consists of 2,000 words, each beginning with the letter mem; it has not yet been conveniently published. Four pizmonim have also been attributed to him. His rhymed narrative (maqāma-like) called Milḥemet ha-Et ve-ha-Misparayim ("The Struggle between the Pen and the Scissors," 1345), contains a debate on the importance of pen and scissors as instruments of writing (Divrei Ḥakhamim (Metz, 1649), 47a). A critical edition of this rhymed prose was published by Y. Nini and M. Fruchtman (1980). Santob also translated the poetic composition of Israel ha-Israeli, a disciple of Asher b. Jehiel, from Arabic into Hebrew, under the title Mitzvot Zemanniyyot, and wrote an extensive introduction. This work, probably written in Soria, is still in manuscript.


Y. Baer, MinḤah le-David (1935), 200; Baer, Spain, 1 (1966), 358, 447; A. Castro, España en su historia (1948), 561–81; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 476; Gonzalez Llubera, in: Hispanic Review, 8 (1940), 113–24; Schirmann, Sefarad, 2 (1956), 529–40; L. Stein, Untersuchung ueber die Proverbios morales von Santob de Carrion (1900). add. bibliography: A. García Calvo, Glosas de sabiduría o Proverbios morales y otras rimas (1974); idem, in: Raíces hebreas en Extremadura (1996), 419–34; S. Shepard, Shem Tov, His World and His Words (1978); idem, Proverbios morales (1986); C. Colahan, in: Sefarad, 39:1 (1979), 87–107; 39:2, 265–308; Y. Nini and M. Fruchtman, Ma'aseh ha-Rav (Milḥemet ha-Et ve-ha-Misparayim) (1980); T.A. Perry, Santob de Carrión, Proverbios morales (1986); idem, The Moral Proverbs of Santob de Carrión: Jewish Wisdom in Christian Spain (1987); J. Zemke, in: La Corónica, 17:1 (1988), 76–89; idem, Critical Approaches to the "Proverbios morales" of Shem Tov de Carrión: An Annotated Bibliography (1997); S. Einbinder, in: huca, 65 (1994), 261–76; Schirmann-Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (Hebrew; 1997), 562–69; Sem Tob de Carrión, Proverbios morales, P. Díaz-Mas and C. Mota (eds.) (1998); M. Raden, in: Hispanófila, 135 (2002), 1–17.

[Kenneth R. Scholberg and

Abraham Meir Habermann /

Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]