Samuel ha’Nagid was born into a privileged family that settled in Cordoba. He received a classical education, studying Arabic and the Koran in addition to Torah and halacha*. Samuel fled Cordoba for Malaga in 1013 when the Berbers attacked. He opened a spice shop in the port city and resumed his career. Before long he was approached by a maid servant to the vizier of Granada and asked if he would write letters on behalf of her master. He agreed, and his work was so impressive that soon he was promoted to the staff of the King of Granada, where he advanced from tax collector, to secretary, to assistant vizier, to vizier. The Jewish community responded to his success by giving him the title, Nagid, or Prince of Israel. Samuel's responsibilities as vizier involved leading the army of Granada, a task he performed for eighteen years. He's also known for his poetry and a compilation on the halacha entitled Hilchot ha'Nagid. Samuel ha'Nagid died while leading a military campaign circa 1055-56.
* Jewish Religious Law
Poems and Writing
War at first is like a beautiful girl with whom every man wants to play,
but in the end like a repulsive hag whose suitors all weep and ache.
The Multiple Troubles of Man
The multiple troubles of man,
my brother, like slander and pain,
amaze you? Consider the heart
which holds them all
in strangeness, and doesn't break.
I'd Suck Bitter Poison from the Viper's Mouth
I'd suck bitter poison from the viper's mouth
and live by the basilisk's hole forever,
rather than suffer through evenings with boors,
fighting for crumbs from their table.
The Ruined Citadel
I billeted a strong force overnight in a citadel laid waste in former days by other generals. There we slept upon its back and flanks, while under us its landlords slept. And I said to my heart: Where are the many people who once lived here? Where are the builders and vandals, the rulers and paupers, the slaves and masters? Where are the begetters and the bereaved, the fathers and the sons, the mourners and the bridegrooms? And where are the many people born after the others had died, in days gone by, after other days and years? Once they lodged upon the earth; now they are lodged within it. They passed from their palaces to the grave, from pleasant courts to dust. Translated by T. Carmi from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi (Allen Lane, 1981). Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.
The Mountain of Sand
Do you remember the mountain pass of sand which I crossed alone while fleeing from you and afraid?
Even today I am in transit over you,—but behind me are tens of thousands who obey me like their father
And wait for my utterances as for the rain and attend to my wisdom as to prophecy. Because of this bless them for me my God,—may they follow after me willingly today. Translated by Leon J. Weinberger from Leon J. Weinberger, trans., Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela. (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997). Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press
The Monarch's Favors
A monarch will not favor you unless he hopes to be
At ease while you labor and exert yourself in his service.
You are caught in his tongs: With one hand he brings you into
The flames,—while protecting you from the fire which with both hands he sets against you. Translated by Leon J. Weinberger from Leon J. Weinberger, trans., Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela. (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997). Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.