10 Things You Need to Know About… Solomon ben Judah Ibn Gabriol

1.  Born in Malaga circa 1021, he was also known as Abu Ayyub Sulaiman Ibn Yahya Ibn Jabirul.

2.  He died in Valencia circa 1058 after a life of wandering. One legend about his death is that he was murdered by a poet jealous of his gifts, then secretly buried beneath a fig tree; that the fruit of the tree was so abundant and so sweet, people investigated, found Gabirol’s remains, and brought the murderer to justice. A second legend about his death is that he was trampled by an Arab horseman.

3.  A legend about his life is that he created a golem.

4.  A poet, he used strict Arabic meter, and his poems are rhymed.  His finest poems are written in praise of wisdom, but he also wrote poetry complaining about his lot in life.

5.  His poetical works in Hebrew are of remarkable complexity involving alphabetic and acrostic formats. He wrote magnificent liturgical verses–hymns and piyyutim for Shabbat and festivals.  One piece, Keter Malkut (Royal Crown) appears in the Yom Kippur prayerbook in many countries.

6.  Also known as Avicebron, he was one of the first in medieval times to promote neoplatonic thought. His Fons Vitae (Fountain of Life) argues that all creation is composed of matter and form, with matter becoming less spiritual the further it is removed from its source, God.

7. His philosophy had less influence on Jewish thought than on Christian thought, particularly the philosophy of Duns Scotus and medieval Scholasticism.

8.  His The Improvement of the Moral Qualities sought to systematize ethics in relation to the senses.  In his thought, each of the senses is an instrument of two virtues and two vices.

9.  For example, sight is associated with pride and meekness, shame and impudence. Touch is associated with liberality and niggardliness, valor and cowardice–liberality because a generous man is called open-handed; niggardliness because the miser is called close-fisted. Kind of ingenious, no?

10.  Here are some proverbs attributed to Ibn Gabriol:

The IbnGabiroltest of a good man is to be patient with bad news.

As long as a word remains unspoken, you are its master; once you utter it, you are its slave.

The beginning of wisdom is to desire it.

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