Platonic Eros and Biblical Love: Plato's Symposium in Johanan Alemanno's Interpretation of Song of Songs

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Abstract

When Pico della Mirandola turned to Johanan Alemanno for help understanding the Song of Songs and Levi Gersonides' Hebrew commentary on it, Alemanno informed him that he had been working on his own commentary on the work for some years. Alemanno's commentary, Ḥesheq Shelomo (“Solomon's Eros”), which he completed with Pico's encouragement, sought to provide a Jewish alternative to the primarily Christian renaissance neo-Platonism. Like other works of renaissance neo-Platonism, Ḥesheq Shelomo is an eclectic assortment not only of Platonic notions, but of magic, medicine, astrology, Aristotelian science, religious ritual, and Kabbalah. In fact, scholars have been interested in the work primarily for its mystical content and even its approach to practical magic. Yet, like Pico, Marsilio Ficino, and other renaissance neo-Platonists, Alemanno saw himself as a philosopher and understood what we take to be non-philosophic interests as part of his Platonic approach. Accordingly, if he is to be understood on his own terms, he must be read as a reader of Plato and Platonic works. Alemanno's chief interest in his works, especially in Ḥesheq Shelomo, is love and eros, particularly of God. His accounts of love and eros build explicitly on Platonic works, which he must have accessed through newly available translations into Latin. Indeed, he even explains many Arabic works which he read in Hebrew translation as derived from Plato, e.g., Batalyawsi's Imaginary Circles and Ibn Ṭufayl's Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓan. In fact, Plato's Symposium provided Alemanno with the central locus for accounts of Eros which he then read into the Song of Songs. All other accounts of love and eros in Ḥesheq Shelomo are derived from Aristophanes' speech, Socrates' speech, and to some extent Alcibiades' comments as presented in the Symposium. In this paper, we shall examine Alemanno's explicit references to the Symposium in Ḥesheq Shelomo and how these references frame and define his account of ideal Jewish love of God.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2017
Event15th Annual Conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies - International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, Olomouc, Czech Republic
Duration: 14 Jun 201717 Jun 2017
http://isns.upol.cz/index.php/conference-programme/ (Website)

Conference

Conference15th Annual Conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
CityOlomouc
Period14/06/1717/06/17
Internet address

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