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This review is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

MARVELLOUS PRINCE SHMUEL HANAGID, Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid, translated by Peter Cole (Princeton University Press) $39.95; $14.95, pb.

In 1926 Haim Nachman Bialik, the leading poet of the modern Hebrew revival, wrote from New York about the astounding discovery of a manuscript of Hebrew poems that had been lost for close to a millennium. 'It is an incomparable treasure,' Bialik wrote excitedly to his co-editor and friend Y.H. Ravnitzky in Tel Aviv, 'a discovery that will cause a sensation! Woe to our scholars, and woe unto us, that a pearl such as this has long been thrown about in the trash while no one saw fit to bring it out into the world… A kind of light shines on the marvellous prince -upon him and his period and the poets of his day… The man is unrivalled in our history. See for yourself and decide.'

The 'marvellous prince' was Shmuel Ben Yosef Ha-Levi HaNagid, also known in his day as Isma'il Ibn Nagrela, the eleventh-century Hebrew Andalusian poet, who had been the first governor (or Nagid) of Spain's Jewish community, as well as grand vizier of the city state of Granada and commander of its Moslem army.

Shmuel HaNagid's political position, his straddling of two worlds, was highly unusual and not without danger, even unique, if one considers his achievement as a military commander, a position he held for nineteen years.

With the subsequent publication, between 1946 and 1963, of the annotated edition of HaNagid's diwan (comprising some 1,830 poems), the modern Hebrew reader was finally introduced to the first of ...


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