11 June 2009

Biblia Hebraica & Constantinople

Everytime I think I’m out, they pull me back in! I refer of course to the Jews. As Justin has pointed out in his comment here, I must indeed point out the book with which he kindly gifted me yesterday (for an early feast of St Justin Martyr): the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, ed. K. Elliger and (or should I say et?) W. Rudolph (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1983). My Hebrew is, of course, almost entirely nil (I’m even fuzzy on parts of the alphabet), but that doesn’t make it any less cool to get it. In fact, it makes it a little cooler I think.

The other piece of Judaica I came across is more apropos for today specifically. A simple Google search turned up this pdf of an English translation of a wonderful poem called ‘A Hebrew Lament from Venetian Crete on the Fall of Constantinople’, by Michael ben Shabbetai Cohen Balbo (1420?-1484), and trans. Avi Sharon:

Behold the noise of the bruit is come,
A great commotion out of the North Country,
Between Migdol and the sea,
A great captivity;
The daughter of my people of my ban.
They have destroyed my vineyard
And the multitude of my people.

The day star, son of the morning,
Has fallen from heaven
Like a thing of no light,
The quiver rattles against it,
For He dissolves the bonds of kings.
They made long their furrows,
The glittering spear and shield
While those brought up in scarlet
Are now at their wits end,
Their souls slung out like the pouch of a sling.
And Bela died.

In the desolate valleys
They are embracing dunghills,
As the earth herself laments.
There shall be a consumption in the midst of the land,
For the earth is utterly broken down.

There went a proclamation throughout the host:
‘Woe unto us! For the day goeth away.’
And the voice said: ‘Cry!’
And he said: ‘What shall I cry? All flesh is grass
As the gleaming grapes when the vintage is done.’
The heavens above are black.
He has drunk at the hand of the Lord
A cup of trembling,
And the stars of heaven and night’s constellations
Shall not give their light,
Their visage is blacker than coal.
The sun shall be darkened
And the moon as black
As the tents of Kedar,
With neither form nor comeliness.

Behold their valiant ones cry without!
Behold you fast for strife and debate!
The ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly,
They shall set up a great sign beside him.

Therefore I said—‘Look away from me
For I shall weep bitterly,
Labor not to comfort me,
For with the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt.
I am black.’

Astonishment has taken hold of me
And trembling there
Like the pangs of a woman that travails,
And my knees strike one against the other,
Therefore are my loins filled with pain.
He has trodden under foot my mighty men
In the midst of me,
For it is a day of trouble and of treading down and
of perplexity.
Who has given Israel up to the robbers,
Whose height was like the height of cedars,
A great eagle, with great wings, long-winged,
Full of feathers of many colours.
Riphat and Togarmah,
Those that dwell on high, the lofty city,
the host and the stars, now cast down to the ground,
Unto those that peep and mutter.

Woe is me now, for my soul is made weary by

Be sure to read the interesting ‘Translator’s Note’ in the original pdf, where Sharon points out its ‘curiously “modernist” method of quotation and allusion’, and calls it ‘a pastiche of scripture drawn largely from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentation’.

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