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  • The Gardens at San Lorenzo in Piacenza, 1656-1665: A Manuscript Planting Notebook with a Study, Transcription, and Translation
  • Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto
Ada D. Segre . The Gardens at San Lorenzo in Piacenza, 1656-1665: A Manuscript Planting Notebook with a Study, Transcription, and Translation. 2 vols. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. 194 pp. append. illus. bibl. $95. ISBN: 0-88402-302-8.

Hebrew-Italian poetry is one of the least known fields of literary production both within Hebrew literature and within European literature as a whole. And yet, there is no lack of grounds for interest in it. Firstly, there is the vastness of its corpus, which extends from the age of Dante to the unification of Italy, covering six centuries of literary history. Secondly, there is the fact that this poetry is the expression of a cultural minority that possesses ancient traditions and which is constantly balancing the acquisition of elements pertaining to the culture that surrounds it with the fidelity to its own characteristics. Finally, there is the level of excellence which this poetry attained in various cases, which attracts not only the historical curiosity of the scholar, but also the aesthetic appreciation of the reader.

Placing herself within a small circle of highly respected researchers, such as Hayyim Schirmann, Dan Pagis, and a few others, Dvora Bregman brings to fruition an extremely valuable enterprise, both as editor and scholar of the history and the theory of this school of poetry. With this book, which is the updated English translation of the 1995 Hebrew version, Bregman makes this important work available to the Anglophone reader, and provides a useful introduction to this little known literature.

What exactly is meant by "Hebrew-Italian poetry"? This term encompasses poetry written in Hebrew by Jewish-Italian authors, from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century. It is both liturgical and secular in nature, and it passes through periods parallel to those of Italian literature (from the dolce stil novo to the Renaissance, from the Baroque to classicism), adapting various poetic forms that are essentially Italian, such as the sonnet or the "Dantesque" terzina, and also drawing upon the Hebrew poetic tradition, which flourished essentially in the [End Page 619] Arabic-speaking Spain of the tenth to the twelfth centuries. As Bregman demonstrates with precise and subtle analysis, Hebrew-Italian poetry grew out of the synthesis of these two poetic cultures, adopting the metrical, rhythmic, and phonetic constrictions of both traditions. From a formal point of view, the history of this poetry can be understood as a constant oscillation between these two poles. The same goes for genre and theme, which undergo innovations with respect to the Jewish tradition, such as the idea of the donna angelicata ("angelic lady") as a means of spiritual elevation in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, or the turbid sensibility of bodily decay typical of the Baroque. However, these thematic innovations are always placed within the realm of Jewish culture through a series of linguistic and textual references which "Hebraize" them, making them appear as if they pertained legitimately and "naturally" to Hebrew literature.

In this study, Dvora Bregman concentrates on the sonnet. Actually, in opting for this form, Bregman deals essentially with Hebrew-Italian poetry: in her edition of all the Hebrew sonnets of the medieval and premodern era (Ts'ror Zehuvim, "A Bundle of Gold," Jerusalem and Beer-Sheva [1997]) — which should be read in parallel to this study — the compositions of the Italian school represent practically all of the texts: only a few of them were written by Dutch or North African authors. The success of the sonnet, first in Italian poetry, and subsequently throughout Europe, is well known, and the sonnet occupies a central role in Hebrew poetry, as well. Immanuel of Rome, a contemporary of Dante to whom Bregman devotes the first part of her book, holds the honor of having made Hebrew the second language — after Italian — in which this poetic form was composed. Thanks to her extremely precise and thoroughly innovative analysis of Immanuel's sonnets, Bregman demonstrates how this poet successfully adapts the Italian hendecasyllable to traditional Hebrew prosody, thus creating...


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Archived 2009
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