Sephardic Tid-Bits: Poetry of Shmuel ha Nagid

Sephardic Tid-Bits

Shmuel ha Nagid, also known as Samuel the Nagid, born in 993 and died 1055, rose from obscurity to become Vizier of the ruler of Granada, Spain. Granada, like most of the great cities of Muslim Spain was an independent state through most of the eleventh century. He was therefore the most powerful Jew of the Middle Ages. In addition to his responsibilities at court, he found time to manage the affairs of the Jewish community and to engage in a wide range of literary activities. He was author of a Hebrew grammar book, treatises on the Talmud, and three volumes of secular poetry.

In addition to all of that he was a General in the Caliph’s army. His poetry was about his friends, death, war, and work ethic, among many other subjects.

He always wrote in Hebrew. Here is one on “work ethics”:

Your debt to God is righteously to live,

And His to you, your recompense to give.

Do not wear out your days in serving God;

Some time devote to Him, some to yourself.

To Him give half your day, to work the rest;

But give the jug no rest throughout the night.

Put out your lamps! Use crystal cups to light.

Away with singers! Bottles are better than Lutes.

No song, nor wine, nor friend beneath the sword-

These three, O fools, are all of life’s reward.