Immanuel the Roman

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Immanuel ben Solomon ben Jekuthiel of Rome (Immanuel of Rome, Immanuel Romano, Manoello Giudeo) (1261, Rome – 1328, Fermo, Italy) was an Italian-Jewish scholar and satirical poet. He was a member of a prominent, wealthy family and occupied an important position in Rome, possibly secretary or treasurer of the Jewish community there. He preached on Yom Kippur and delivered discourses on special occasions. In 1325 he lost his entire fortune and was obliged to leave his home. All his friends deserted him and, "bowed by poverty and the double burden of age," he wandered through Italy until he found refuge in 1328 in Fermo in the march of Ancona at the home of a patron named Daniel, who provided for his old age and enabled him to devote himself to poetry.

Immanuel's studies consisted not only of biblical and talmudic literature, but also mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and Islamic and Christian philosophy. He had an excellent memory and spoke Italian, Arabic, Latin and perhaps some Greek. He especially devoted himself to writing verse, encouraged in this by his cousin Judah Romano, one of the foremost Jewish philosophers of his time. Immanuel, whose poetic gifts appeared at an early age, devoted himself to the study of rhyme, took lessons in versification, and read the works of the foremost Jewish and Christian poets. Among his teachers he mentions Benjamin ben Joab and his cousin Daniel. He may also have been a pupil of Zerahiah ben Shealtiel Hen.

Immanuel's varied scientific activity corresponded with his wide scholarship, though he confined his activity exclusively to Jewish subjects. With the exception of an introductory poem, his first work, dealing with the letter symbolism (see Hebrew alphabet) popular at that time, is lost. A second work, Even Bohan ("Touchstone") concerns biblical hermeneutics, dealing with the different meaning of verbs in different constructions, with the addition, omission, and interchange of letters, and with other linguistic questions. More important are his biblical commentaries, which cover all the books of the Bible, though some have since been lost. Following his Jewish and Christian contemporaries, he interpreted the Bible allegorically, symbolically, and mystically, endeavoring to find in it his own philosophical and religious views, though not disregarding the simple, literal meaning, which he placed above the symbolic. The sole value of his commentaries lies in the fact that his wide range of reading enabled him to make the works of other exegetes and philosophers accessible to his contemporaries and countrymen.

The originality that Immanuel lacked as a scholar, he possessed as a poet. In his verse this is given free play, and his poems assured him a place in history. A product of his time, in sympathy with the social and intellectual life of medieval Italy, he had acquired the then-prevalent pleasing, easy, humorous, harmlessly flippant tone and the art of treating questionable subjects wittily and elegantly. He composed in both Hebrew and Italian, but only a few of his Italian poems have survived. In a truly national spirit, they portray and satirize the political and religious conditions of that time. Immanuel was held in high regard by his contemporaneous Italian poets. Two Italian sonnets referring to his death have been preserved, which place him as a poet beside Dante. In fact, Immanuel knew Dante's works and drew upon them. His Italian and Hebrew poems are both full of traces of Dante's style and themes.

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