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Abravanel, Judah Leon

Category: Philosopher

Judah Leon Abravanel otherwise known as: in Latin, Leo Hebraeus;  in Italian, Leone Ebreo; in English, Leo the Hebrew [Yehuda ben Yitzhak Abravanel]) (c. 1465 Lisbon- c. 1523 Naples) was a  Jewish Portugeuse physician, poet, philosopher and Kabbalist. 

His work Dialoghi d'amore (Dialogues of Love) was one of the most important philosophical works of his time. It was originally written in Italian then translated into Latin, Spanish, French, Hebrew and as you can see from the references eventually English.  It was included in Pistorius's Artus Cabalisticae Scriptore.

Dismissed by A E Waite as being 'highly sexual' and not anywhere near philosophical, serious or doctrinal enough,  it describes allegorically how the love of someone can be converted to divine love using sexual energy so that 'love, the lover and the beloved are all one in God'.

Anyone reading the work will immediately see the similarities between this and all the sexually based approaches to spiritual experience – the Sufi approach, the Greek approach, and so on.

Historical background

 Judah (or Leon, as he is known in Spanish) was the son of  Isaac Abravanel who was “the last great commentator of the Bible of Medieval Jewry”. He had had to flee from Portugal to Seville in Spain, which is where Judah was born.   In 1492  Isabel and Fernando ordered the conversion or expulsion  of all Jews in Spain. The Abravanel family chose exile over conversion, and settled in Naples. After this Judah lived in Venice,  where he dedicated himself the study of philosophy until 1507.  Dialoghi d'amore, appears to have been written around 1501-02. In 1535,  after his death, his friend Mariano Lenzi discovered the manuscript and had it published.

Leon was not alone in writing about love as the key to spiritual experience. Girolamo Benivieni had composed his Canzone d’amore (1486),  Equicola had written  Libro della natura d’amore (1495),  and Francesco Cattani da Diacceto’s had produced De amore – all  published while Judah was writing. Abravanel’s Dialoghi , however, is regarded as the finest of these works.

References

  • Dialoghi d'amore.  -  Leone Ebreo. Caramella, Santino, Ed, 1929.
  • Dialogues of Love.  - Leone Ebreo.Trans. Damian Bacich and Rossella Pescatori. Ed. Rosella Pescatori.  2009.
  • The Philosophy of Love.  - Leone Ebreo.; Trans. F. Friedeberg-Seeley and Jean H. Barnes.  1937.

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