Top of page

The Rivers Sing to the Emperor: A Hebrew Poem of Victory for Joseph II

(The following is a post by Ann Brener, Hebraic area specialist in the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division.)

Rivers1
“To the God of Strong Places Sing in Thanksgiving” (Mantua, 1789). Title-Page in Hebrew and Italian. African and Middle Eastern Division.

The occasion was apparently too good to miss. After a 3-week siege that ended on October 8, 1789, the armies of Joseph II, Emperor of Habsburg Austria, wrested the stronghold of Belgrade from Ottoman hands and loyal subjects across the Empire were jubilant. Tributes to the victorious Emperor poured in, and in Mantua, a small city in Habsburg Italy, three Jewish poets decided it was time to add their voices to the chorus of praise. The result was a collection of victory odes lauding the Emperor in both Hebrew and Italian — and a unique little gem of a book housed today in the collections of the Library of Congress.

The book is called לאלהי מעוזים רני תודות (To the God of Strong Places Sing in Thanksgiving); the title, like the poetry itself, is a collage of biblical verses. But if the language is biblical, the forms of the poetry are pure Italian. The Jews of Italy had a long tradition of what is called “occasional poetry,” that is, Hebrew poems written for occasions all and sundry: weddings, the publication of a book, the completion of studies (medical or rabbinic), or the death of a great rabbi. These poems were usually printed on separate broadsides and handed out on the appropriate occasion. But there are also a fair number of poems in which Hebrew poets celebrated events in the lives of their princely rulers, and this book is a fine example. It is only unusual in being a collection of poems rather than a single broadside, and also, in being entirely bi-lingual: Hebrew on the left-hand page; Italian on the right. Interestingly, the book opens left-to-right Italian-style: clearly the authors envisioned a goodly number of non-Hebrew readers, and perhaps even dreamed of it reaching the Emperor himself.

Levi ben Gershon, “Commentary on the Pentateuch” (Mantua: Abraham Conat, ca. 1475). One of the earliest printed Hebrew books. African and Middle Eastern Division.

If it did, there was certainly nothing in it to dismay imperial eyes. The praise is fulsome; the language high-flown. There are biblical echoes throughout: one poem has the Austrian commander “rattling his spear to bring down the haughty;” another turns the Emperor into a Gideon chasing the Midianites – and we all know what happened to them. Poetic hyperbole? No doubt. Yet, exaggerations aside, Jewish reverence for the Emperor was genuine and well-documented.

Jews had lived in Mantua for centuries and they had an illustrious past. Rabbi Judah Moscato had preached his famous sermons from Mantua’s synagogue, and it was in Mantua that some of the earliest Hebrew books were ever printed.

Mantua had been home to the pioneering Jewish composer Solomon de’ Rossi, and to generations of Hebrew authors, poets, and commentators. But the Jews of Mantua had also experienced great disabilities as Jews, and, from 1610, the indignities of the ghetto. In 1782, Joseph II abolished many of the traditional restrictions with his Edict of Tolerance, permitting his Jewish subjects to attend state-run schools, purchase real estate, and stop wearing the Jewish badge. One of the poems in this collection even alludes to the edict by which the Emperor established his policy of toleration, but since the reference is predicated on a somewhat abstruse Hebrew pun (נשר as both “eagle” and “edict”), the meaning was spelled out in a footnote – just in case anyone missed it: Tolleranza Generale.

Rivers3a
Detail [of Maria Theresa?] from title-page of “To the God of Strong Places Sing in Thanksgiving” (Mantua, 1789). African and Middle Eastern Division.
The Emperor’s allies also receive mention. In one Hebrew poem Catherine of Russia is called the “Mother of Wisdom;” in the Italian translation she is “wise,” “august,” and “enthroned on the Neva” (che sulla Neva siede). Tepid praise, to be sure, yet even this might be considered a tad much for a queen never regarded as any friend of the Jews – and who in fact instituted the hated Pale of Settlement only two years later. Interestingly, the tiny portrait at the bottom of the title-page also seems to represent another queen not known for being Philo-Semitic, and one imagines that this must be Maria-Theresa, engraved there in regal profile, in courtesy to her son the Emperor.

Rivers4a
“Responsa of the Geonim” by Solomon ben Samuel Norsi (Mantua, 1597). African and Middle Eastern Division.

Surely the most unique poem in the collection is the one entitled “The Rivers Clap their Hands” (and on the facing page in Latin: Flumina plaudent manu), a phrase taken from Psalm 98:8. In point of fact, however, the rivers do more than clap their hands for the Emperor; indeed, they serenade him with their voices. The poem was written by “Maestro R[abbi] Solomon Norsa,” a namesake, no doubt, of the Jewish scholar who published a collection of rabbinic responsa some two centuries earlier in Mantua.

The poem is constructed as a dialogue between the Mincio and the Po, two rivers that in fact shape the landscape near Mantua, home to our three poets. But it was also the home of Virgil, the great Latin poet whose “Eclogues” celebrate “the verdant banks of the Mincio” (herboso flumine), and whose Aeneid crowns the river with “tender rushes” like a river-god. No doubt it was these ancient traditions of poetry that inspired our own poet, Solomon Norsa, to personify the two rivers and write his poem in dialogue-form.

Rivers5a1
Opening pages of the poem by Solomon Norsa “The Rivers Clap their Hands,” showing the Hebrew poem on the left and the Italian version on the right. From: “To the God of Strong Places Sing in Thanksgiving” (Mantua, 1789). African and Middle Eastern Division.

Like two river-gods out of the Classical past, the Mincio and the Po speak to each other across the valley, each marveling at the unusual brilliance of the day. The Mincio opens the poem, declaring that the Muses are singing from the cliffs; the honey simply dripping from the fruit. The Po observes that the very fish in the river sing psalms of praise. “What makes this day so special?” they both wonder. The answer arrives, four mellifluous stanzas later, in the form of a messenger – a personified “Martial Voice” in the Hebrew version (Exodus 32: 18); “Hercules” himself in the Italian – who announces the great victory of the Austrian host over Belgrade. The fortress has been stormed, the gates flung open, the Emperor’s eagle-standard planted “for all eternity.” And in the final chorus, the Po and the Mincio mingle their voices, just as in real life they ultimately mingle their waters, to proclaim that all creation delights in the great victory of Joseph II.

A paean of praise fit for an Emperor indeed.

4 Corners: International Collections Program Calendar 6/24/2016

Gidde_Chalamanda_flyer_1Tuesday, July 5, 2016, noon – 1 p.m.
The African and Middle Eastern Division Presents Giddes Chalamanda in Appreciation for His Lifelong Contribution to Music in Malawi

Location: Whittall Pavilion, Ground Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street SE, Washington, DC. Metro stop: Capitol South
Event free and open to all.
Please allow time to clear security.
Contact: Laverne Page, [email protected], (202) 707-1979
Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at (202) 707-6362 or [email protected]

 

kovacicWednesday, July 20, 2016, 1 p.m.
The European Division, in partnership with the Embassy of Slovenia, presents Michael Biggins discussing his most recent translation, Lojze Kovačič’s Newcomers.

Newcomers (Prišleki, in Slovenian) is often regarded as one of the most important Slovenian novels of the 20th century, and has been translated into several languages. It provides an intricate vision of how groups and societies descend into tribalism, and of how individuals resist. Michael Biggins has translated over 15 book-length literary works, and has been awarded the Janko Lavrin Diploma of the Society of Slovene Literary Translators.
Location: Pickford Theater (3rd floor, James Madison Building)
Metro stop: Capitol South
Free and open to the public.
Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

An Interview with Award-Winning Novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez

(The following is a repost of an interview conducted by Catalina Gómez, Reference Librarian, Hispanic Division. This interview originally appeared as part of the Interview Series of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.)

Juan Gabriel Vásquez was born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1973. He is the author of seven novels, including “Los informantes” (The Informers), “Historia secreta de Costaguana” (The Secret History of Costaguana), “El ruido de las cosas al caer (The Sound of Things Falling), and “Las reputaciones” (Reputations), which will come out in English in September of 2016. He has also written short stories, essays, a biography, and a weekly column for the Colombian newspaper, El Espectador. His books have been published in twenty-seven languages. Vasquez’s honors include the Alfaguara Novel Prize in Spain, the English PEN award, the International Dublin Award, the Prix Roger Caillois in France, and the Royal Academy Prize in Spain. He has translated major literary works into Spanish, including some by John Dos Passos, E.M. Forster and Victor Hugo. He lived in France, Belgium, and Spain for 16 years before returning to Bogotá, where he currently resides. His most recent novel, “La forma de las ruinas,” was published in 2015.

Interview

At the Hay Festival (Cartagena, 2016), you talked about the transgressive power of literature. What do your novels offer us in that respect, especially in their salvaging of Colombian history?

Well, I’ve always believed that literature is, among many other things, the place where we can confront the official versions of our history, and maybe rebel against them. My very last novel deals with two political murders that shook the 20th century in Colombia. They have this in common: the accepted truth about them, the official version, is very different from what most likely happened — what we think really happened. But we don’t have to talk about conspiracies. Every event in history has another side, a version that has been ignored, hidden away or consciously suppressed. Literature is subversive in that it penetrates history through its cracks and lets us know about these hidden places. ”Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history”, is the way Novalis put it. I’ve always believed this.

A lot of your characters are obsessed with uncovering past truths—can you talk about the importance of that work in your own writing?

All my novels are, in one way or another, investigations. My characters have that kind of relationship with reality: it is a mystery, it hides secrets, and their task is to dive into those dark waters and come up again with something new in their hands. Perhaps this is because I have the same relationship with my writing. The process of writing a novel, for me, involves a feeling of uncertainty, of going into places (usually dark places) that I had never visited before. The Colombian hotels turned into prisons for Nazi propagandists in “The Informers;” the first years of the drug trade in “The Sound of Things Falling.” Or mysteries of the private past: what did really happen during that strange night, many years ago? This is what bothers the political cartoonist of “Reputations,” and he sets out to try to uncover that secret.

In what ways do you think that your work can speak to readers who are not part of, or aware of, the specific historical and political realities that you deal with in your novels?

In the same ways, I suppose, as Latin American readers of Philip Roth can read “I Married a Communist” without being aware of McCarthyism. Or in the way readers of “Blood Meridian” can enjoy (if that is the word) the novel without knowing about the Glanton gang of 1850. This is what literature does: it finds in our historical experience or in our clash with historical events that which is common to all humanity. My novels don’t talk about Colombian history; they talk about violence, fear, memory, the weight of the past. To do that, they take a moment of reality – something that actually happened and makes part of my experience, directly or indirectly.

When you recorded here in the Library of Congress for the Archive of Literature on Tape in 2013, you talked about disowning your early work. Can you talk about what your later work is able to accomplish that your early work did not?

I was discussing my first two novels, published when I was 23 and 25 years old. These are works that I value because of the things I learned while writing them, but they are full of mistakes that I’m not about to impose on readers. They are, so to speak, rehearsals, and we don’t go to the theater to look at rehearsals: we want to see the finished product. That is why they are not translated and I haven’t allowed any reprints. Now, you ask what my later work is able to accomplish that those two novels did not. It’s very simple: I found my subject. In those first attempts, if I’m not terribly wrong, I became a decent maker of sentences. But those sentences didn’t speak about anything. It took me several years to discover what my obsessions were and how to turn them into literature.

Your next novel coming out in English is “Reputations” (to be published in September). Can you tell us a little bit about this book?

It’s a very different book from the ones my American readers know. For one thing, it is much shorter: it was written in the spirit of the short novels I love, those concentrated studies of one character in his predicament. Secondly, there is no Colombian history in the book. It deals with the past, but it is a private past. It is the story of a very powerful political cartoonist who, as he is celebrated for his life’s work, is paid a visit by a young woman. She asks him to remember one night, 28 years before, and that act of investigation into his memory leads to questionings and reconsiderations of everything that matters to him. So all my interests are there, but in their most intimate form.

4 Corners: International Collections Program Calendar 6/17/2016

millerFriday, June 17, 2016, noon – 1 p.m.
Lecture: “Warn the Duke”: The Sarajevo Assassination in History, Memory, and Myth
Paul Miller, Associate Professor, McDaniel College

The European Division presents a talk, “‘Warn the Duke’: The Sarajevo Assassination in History, Memory, and Myth,” by Paul Miller, Associate Professor at McDaniel College.  Miller earned his Ph.D. in modern European history at Yale University (1995). His dissertation, From Revolutionaries to Citizens: Antimilitarism in France, 1870–1914, was published by Duke University Press in 2002. In 2004–05, he was a Fulbright fellow at the University of Sarajevo, where he wrote on, and taught, genocide issues. From 2011 to 2013, Miller was a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Birmingham (UK), where he researched, and later published his work on, the memory of the Sarajevo assassination.
Location: European Division conference room, LJ-250, (2nd floor, Thomas Jefferson Building)
Metro stop: Capitol South
Free and open to the public. Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016, noon – 1 p.m.
Research Orientation: A Research Guide to the Pre-1958 Chinese Collection in the Asian Division of the Library of Congress
Jeffrey Wang, Reference Specialist, Asian Division

This research orientation is organized by the Asian Division.  It is free and open to the public.  No registration is required.
Location: Asian Division Reading Room Foyer, LJ-150, first floor of the Jefferson Building, 10 First Street SE, Washington, DC. Metro strop: Capitol South.
Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected].
Contact: Jeffrey Wang, (202) 2932 or [email protected].

 

AMED-RR
African and Middle Eastern Reading Room. Carol Highsmith, 1946-, photographer. 2007.

Thursday, June 23, 2016, noon – 1 p.m.
Lecture: From Bomberg to the Beit Midrash: Page Layout in Venice Hebrew Printing and the Experience of Rabbinic Learning
Yoel Finkelman, Ph.D., Judaica Curator, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem

This lecture is organized by the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division, The Library of Congress in cooperation with The Hebrew Language Table. Free and open to the public.
Location:  The African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room, LJ-220 Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC 20540
Metro stop: Capitol South
For additional information contact:  Sharon Horowitz (202)707-3780
Please allow time to clear security
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected].
Click here for more information.

 

kovacicWednesday, July 20, 2016, 1 p.m.
The European Division, in partnership with the Embassy of Slovenia, presents Michael Biggins discussing his most recent translation, Lojze Kovačič’s Newcomers.

Newcomers (Prišleki, in Slovenian) is often regarded as one of the most important Slovenian novels of the 20th century, and has been translated into several languages. It provides an intricate vision of how groups and societies descend into tribalism, and of how individuals resist. Michael Biggins has translated over 15 book-length literary works, and has been awarded the Janko Lavrin Diploma of the Society of Slovene Literary Translators.
Location: Pickford Theater (3rd floor, James Madison Building)
Metro stop: Capitol South
Free and open to the public.
Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

An Ingathering of the Exiles, Digital Style: Previous Blogs from the Hebraic Section

The Hebraic Section is delighted to take part in the recently-launched “4 Corners of the World,” a blog that focuses on the Library of Congress’ international collections. Thanks to this wonderful web-initiative we will now be able to bring treasures from the Hebraic Section to the attention of the wider public and, indeed, have already begun doing so.

But for the sake of gathering in the exiles, so to speak, and making all our blogs available in one place, we are listing here the earlier posts from our “wandering” period, as it were; the months before we had the “4 Corners of the World” to call home:

*     *     *

Image 1Gathered Around the Seder Table: Images from the Passover Haggadah
April 25, 2016
Exodus 23:15 tells us that Passover should be celebrated in the spring. The rabbis understood this to mean it was their job to maintain the holiday in the spring, which required some […]

 

A Tale of Two Hebrew Patronesses
March 14, 2016
Every age has its own image of the “woman of valor,” and in the crumbling Jewish world of post-exilic Spain, that image was embodied in the persons of two unique women: Doña Gracia Nasi and Signora Benvenida […]

 

Songs3A Valentine for the Ages: The Biblical “Song of Songs”
February 11, 2016
With its rich nature imagery and enigmatic dream-like sequences, the “Song of Songs” (also known as the “Songs of Solomon”) is surely one of the world’s great love poems and one of the most popular books in […]

 

Omanut1From Russia With Love: Illustrated Children’s Books in Hebrew
December 9, 2015
Imagine that some brightly plumed bird-of-paradise has flown in amongst your backyard warblers, and you’ll probably know how I felt upon discovering a beautifully illustrated book in the vaults of the Library of Congress. Nestled between […]

A New Perspective on the Short Stories of Lu Xun to Be Discussed on June 15

lu-xun-flyer-3Probably best known for his short stories and novellas such as “A Madman’s Diary” (狂人日记) in 1918 and “The True Story of Ah Q” (阿Q正传) in 1921, Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936) is considered one of the most significant authors of modern Chinese literature. His leftist and liberal works first gained influence following the 1919 May Fourth Movement, a cultural and political movement. Later revered by Mao Zedong and highly praised during the formative years of the People’s Republic of China, Lu Xun’s leftist writing has influenced subsequent generations and continues to be read and analyzed by many. On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, at noon – 1 p.m., the Asian Division of the Library of Congress and the Asian Division Friends Society will jointly host a talk by Dr. Carolyn Brown on “The Short Stories of Lu Xun (1881-1936): A New Perspective.” This presentation will take place in the Asian Reading Room Foyer, LJ-150, first floor of the Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC. Metro stop: Capitol South.

Dr. Brown is the former director of the Office of Scholarly Programs and the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. Prior to that, she served as Director of Collections and Services and Director of Area Studies Collections, with oversight of the Asian Division. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Fetzer Institute of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University, and M.A. in Chinese Literature, also from Cornell, and a Ph.D. in Literature from the American University, Washington, D.C.

This event is free and open to the public. Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (voice/TTY) or email [email protected].

For additional information, contact: Yuwu Song at (202) 707-3683 or [email protected].


Subscribe to 4 Corners of the World – it’s free! – and the world’s largest library will send you cool stories about its collections from around the world!

Who Were the First Japanese to Visit Washington?

(The following is a post by Eiichi Ito, reference specialist in the Asian Division.)

Book over
Front cover of “Meriken Kokai Nikki Ryakuzu,” [Japan, not before 1860], Japanese Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress, Asian Division.
Every year some 700,000 visitors come to Washington, D.C. to view the famous sakura, the cherry blossoms (a gift from the city of Tokyo in 1912), and to enjoy the events organized throughout the city as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Many among this large number of tourists are from Japan, as sakura-viewing is a much cherished Japanese tradition. Watching these visitors recently, I couldn’t help but wonder: who were the first Japanese visitors to Washington, D.C. and when did they come? In search for an answer, I turned to the Japanese rare book collection of over 5,500 items, housed in the Library’s Asian Division, and in that collection I found a unique item which could offer a clue.

It is a pictorial journal of the first Japanese delegation to the United States in 1860. What story does this item tell us?

 [Commodore Perry in Japan], Still image, [between 1850 and 1900], Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress.
[Commodore Perry in Japan], Still image, [between 1850 and 1900], Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress.
In 1854, under mounting Western pressure, Japan decided to abandon its two-hundred-year-old national seclusion policy when Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States Navy returned to Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay). He had come a year earlier to deliver the United States President Millard Fillmore’s letter, requesting that Japan open its ports to American trade. Following Commodore Perry’s second visit, the two countries signed the Treaty of Peace and Amity, also known as the “Kanagawa Treaty,” in Kanagawa (now Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture) on March 31, 1854.

Townsend Harris, still image, Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress
Townsend Harris, still image, Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress

Subsequently, in 1858 Townsend Harris (1804-1878), the first U.S. Consul General to Japan, successfully negotiated The Treaty of Amity and Commerce, or the “Harris Treaty of 1858.” This was the first trade agreement between the two countries. It set a model for Japan’s similar agreements with other Western countries, including Britain, France, the Netherlands and Russia, all signed in 1858.

Ratification of the Harris Treaty in Washington resulted in the first Japanese diplomatic visit to Washington in 1860. Led by three principal Ambassadors to the U.S. — Masaoki Shinmi, Norimasa Muragaki and Tadamasa Oguri, the first Japanese delegation, after making stops in Hawaii, San Francisco and Panama, landed at the Washington Navy Yard on the Anacostia River on May 14, 1860. Subsequent to Washington, they also visited Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York before setting off the home-bound-voyage across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. A member of this delegation most likely documented this visit in a journal with a series of sketches. By just looking at those illustrations, one can feel the curiosity and eagerness of the delegation to see and learn from everything they encountered.

Who did these illustrations? Unfortunately, there is no indication in the journal.

Washington, D. C. Washington Navy Yard. First Japanese Treaty Commission to the U. S., 1860. Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a20654. According to a journal by Ambassador Norimasa Muragaki, published in 1918 [https://lccn.loc.gov/86218476], this photo most likely was taken during the delegation’s visit to the Washington Navy Yard on May 24 or 25, not on May 14 when they first arrived. The delegation was invited to observe operations of the blast furnace and other facilities at the Navy Yard.
Washington, D. C. Washington Navy Yard. First Japanese Treaty Commission to the U. S., 1860. Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress. According to a journal by Ambassador Norimasa Muragaki, published in 1918, this photo most likely was taken during the delegation’s visit to the Washington Navy Yard on May 24 or 25, not on May 14 when they first arrived. The delegation was invited to observe operations of the blast furnace and other facilities at the Navy Yard.
In November 2015, the Asian Division hosted a talk on this pictorial journal by Kristi B. Jamrisko, a Ph.D. student of art history at the University Maryland, College Park. Jamrisko believes that the sketches could be the work of Toshichi Sato, attendant to Ambassador Oguri. Sato’s diary, which contained drawings along with notes of records and impressions throughout the journey, had been kept privately until it was published in 2001 under the title, “Bakumatsu Kenbei Shisetsu Oguri Tadamasa Jusha No Kiroku: Nanushi Sato Toshichi No Sekai Isshu.” All the illustrations in the Library’s copy closely resemble those included in the published journal.

If the Library’s pictorial journal were truly the work of Sato, it could be a valuable record of the first visit of the Japanese delegation.

Illustrations - Washington
A guest room in the Willard Hotel in Washington, where the delegates stayed (left), and a view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument (right).
A bird’s-eye view of an avenue in New York City (left) and the Port of New York City (right).

4 Corners: International Collections Program Calendar 6/9/2016

Assyrian 7
Ewangeliyon (The Assyrian Gospel). Urmia, Iran, late 18th century. Manuscript. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

Friday, June 10, 2016, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Conference: Assyrian Legacy – From Ancient Civilization to Today’s Cultural Revival

The African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress invites you to a conference, “Assyrian Legacy: From Ancient Civilization to Today’s Cultural Revival,” on Friday, June 10, 2016, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., in room LJ-119, first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building. Nine prominent scholars and experts will present their talks on three main subjects: the Assyrian Legacy in the Cradle of Civilization, the Assyrian Christian Past & Present, and Assyrian Culture in the Middle East and in Diaspora. The conference will be accompanied by a rare exhibit of Assyrian related materials held at the Library of Congress and a special music performance of Syriac liturgical chants. Light lunch will be served.
Free and open to the public.  No registration is required.
Metro stop: Capitol South
Contact: Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb, (202) 707-1221
Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

 

Friday, June 10, 2016, 1:30pm
THE 24th POETRY MARATHON OF THE TEATRO DE LA LUNA
El XXIV Maratón de Poesía del Teatro de la Luna

El Maratón de Poesía is a Spanish-language poetry marathon in the country, gathering poets together from Latin America. This event is hosted on a yearly basis both by the Teatro de la Luna in Arlington, VA, and here at the Library of Congress. The event will be moderated by poet and literary critic Rei Berroa (George Mason University). The event is free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the LC Hispanic Cultural Society.
Location: Mary Pickford Theater, James Madison Building, 6th floor
Book sales will follow / Event is free and open to the public.
Contact: [email protected]
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

 

millerFriday, June 17, 2016, noon – 1 p.m.
Lecture: “Warn the Duke”: The Sarajevo Assassination in History, Memory, and Myth
Paul Miller, Associate Professor, McDaniel College

The European Division presents a talk, “‘Warn the Duke’: The Sarajevo Assassination in History, Memory, and Myth,” by Paul Miller, Associate Professor at McDaniel College.  Miller earned his Ph.D. in modern European history at Yale University (1995). His dissertation, From Revolutionaries to Citizens: Antimilitarism in France, 1870–1914, was published by Duke University Press in 2002. In 2004–05, he was a Fulbright fellow at the University of Sarajevo, where he wrote on, and taught, genocide issues. From 2011 to 2013, Miller was a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Birmingham (UK), where he researched, and later published his work on, the memory of the Sarajevo assassination.
Location: European Division conference room, LJ-250, (2nd floor, Thomas Jefferson Building)
Metro stop: Capitol South
Free and open to the public.
Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

 

Thursday, June 23, 2016, noon – 1 p.m.
Lecture: From Bomberg to the Beit Midrash: Page Layout in Venice Hebrew Printing and the Experience of Rabbinic Learning
By Yoel Finkelman, Ph.D., Judaica Curator, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem

This lecture is organized by the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division, The Library of Congress in cooperation with The Hebrew Language Table. Free and open to the public.
Location:  The African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room, LJ-220 Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC 20540
Metro stop: Capitol South
For additional information contact:  Sharon Horowitz (202)707-3780
Please allow time to clear security
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email
Click here for more information.

 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 1 p.m.
The European Division, in partnership with the Embassy of Slovenia, presents Michael Biggins discussing his most recent translation, Lojze Kovačič’s Newcomers.

Newcomers (Prišleki, in Slovenian) is often regarded as one of the most important Slovenian novels of the 20th century, and has been translated into several languages. It provides an intricate vision of how groups and societies descend into tribalism, and of how individuals resist. Michael Biggins has translated over 15 book-length literary works, and has been awarded the Janko Lavrin Diploma of the Society of Slovene Literary Translators.
Location: Pickford Theater (3rd floor, James Madison Building)
Metro stop: Capitol South
Free and open to the public.
Please allow time to clear security.
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 (Voice/TTY) or email [email protected]
Click here for more information.

Amid the Alien Corn: Scrolls of Ruth at the Library of Congress

(The Following is a post by Ann Brener, Hebraic area specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division.)

Midrash Rabba. Pesaro, 1519: Gershom Soncino. First printed edition of this classic work. African and Middle Eastern Division.

The Scroll of Ruth is one of the five biblical scrolls, and with its pastoral beauty and idyllic-like quality is surely one of the most popular books in the Hebrew Bible. The story, which unfolds in the fields of Bethlehem and takes its characters from famine to plenty, and from bereavement to marriage, revolves around the steadfast relationship between Ruth, a young Moabite widow, and Naomi, her widowed Israelite mother-in-law. Even if you have not read the Scroll of Ruth, Ruth the Moabite is an archetypal figure in the Western imagination; a symbol of that complicated space between grief and resilience best caught, perhaps, in Keats’ immortal image of Ruth “amid the alien corn.”

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn

– John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”

Solomon ben Moses Alkabetz, “Shoresh Yishai” Constantinople, 1561. African and Middle Eastern Division.

But Ruth is more than a single image frozen in time, beautiful as that image may be. In Jewish tradition she is also associated with a host of principles ranging from acceptance of the “other” to the value of human empathy and social justice. These and other readings of the scroll arose over the centuries as rabbis and sages wrestled with the question of why the book was written in the first place, and even more important, why was it included in the Hebrew Bible? The ostensible answer, of course, is that the scroll provides King David with a praise-worthy genealogy since Ruth was the proselyte ancestress of David (4:22); a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism. A good reason, surely, to include the Scroll of Ruth in the biblical canon, yet not quite enough for the inquiring rabbinic mind, which sought deeper truths. One opinion, first recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, suggests that the Scroll was written to show “how greatly God loves proselytes” (BT Yebamot 47:1). Another opinion, recorded in a classic work apparently from the eighth century quotes a third-century sage, Rabbi Zeira, as stating that the purpose of the Scroll of Ruth was “To teach you of the magnificent reward to those who practice and dispense lovingkindness” (Midrash Rabba on Ruth, 2:15).

Moses Alshekh, “Eynei Moshe” Venice, 1601. African and Middle Eastern Division.

Many rabbis ascribed the Scroll of Ruth to Samuel the Prophet, though there is no basis for this in the Bible itself, apart from chronological possibility. Solomon ben Moses Alkabetz, for example, the famed Kabbalist best known today for his beautiful Sabbath hymn “Lekha Dodi,” was certainly of this opinion. Writing from the great Kabbalistic center of 16th-century Safed, Alkabetz begins his “Shoresh Yishai” (The Root of Yishai), a lengthy commentary on the Scroll of Ruth, by noting that it was written “by Samuel the Prophet because he saw Ruth’s greatness and nobility.”

Rabbinic literature also saw the Scroll of Ruth as a good opportunity to wax eloquent on the virtues of female modesty. Rashi, for example, the classic commentator from 11th-century France, assures us that Ruth scrupulously avoided bending over as she gleaned out in the fields, stating with great authority that “she would glean the standing ears while standing and the ones on the ground while sitting.” Four centuries later, again from Safed, noted Kabbalist Moses Alshekh developed the theme in his “Eynei Moshe” (The Eyes of Moses) with an almost novelist-like approach, using a kind of inner monologue in which Ruth gives voice to all her concerns about gleaning amongst the young men, imagining every worst-case scenario.

Ha-Tekufah. Tel-Aviv, 1921. The Art Nouveau cover and first page of the poem “Ruth” by Jacob Fichman. African and Middle Eastern Division.

Nor was modern Hebrew literature indifferent to the appeal of Ruth the Moabite, though here the focus was less on her presumed modesty and more on her (also presumed) grace and beauty. In a number of Hebrew poems from the modern period, Ruth is equated with bounteous nature in general and with ripe fields of grain in particular. So, for example, in one poem Ruth is “the sunlit sheaf of wheat” for whom the fields ripen (Eliyahu Meitos, 1916); in another she is the “honey of the grain ready for the sickle” (Yitzhak Shalev, 1972). And in his sweeping poem “Ruth,” Jacob Fichman (1881-1958) created a heroine who was synonymous with the burgeoning land in his own day and age; a metaphor for the young Jewish pioneers laboring in the fields of their ancient homeland.

Megillat Rut / Scroll of Ruth, Maty Grünberg. London: Osbend Press, 1996. 125 of 180 signed and numbered copies. Hebrew and English. African and Middle Eastern Division.

First published in 1921 in the pages of Ha-Tekufah (The Season), a Hebrew periodical printed in various European capitals before finally settling in Tel-Aviv, Fichman was later to give a moving account of the way in which the poem took shape in his mind, writing that it first occurred to him as he was riding a donkey one evening on his way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and imagined Ruth and Naomi stepping out of the shadows shrouding the hills of Moab. The poem, as he further tells us, was written a few years later on the deck of a ship taking him from Italy to Palestine, and then eagerly demanded for publication by Ha-Tekufah’s energetic editor.

Today, the shelves of the Hebraic Section at the Library of Congress bear witness to the ongoing dialogue with the Scroll of Ruth not only through the words of rabbis, poets, and authors, but also through the work of gifted artists and publishers in the form of limited-edition artist’s books. Here, for example, is an artist’s book by Maty Grünberg, published in London in 1996.

Megillat Rut / Scroll of Ruth, Lynne Avadenka. Landmarks Press, MI, 2004. 12 of 25 signed and numbered copies. Hebrew and English. African and Middle Eastern Division.

With silk-screen prints in bold, primal colors, the book is a powerful example of the way in which an artist creates his or her own visual commentary on the biblical story. In the image shown here, Grünberg’s unerring sense of color imbues the sheaf of barley which Ruth gives Naomi with all the beauty, and all the love, of a bouquet of flowers.

In striking contrast with Grünberg’s bold images is this limited-edition scroll by book-artist Lynne Avadenka.

With colors of soft green and gold echoing the ripe fields of the harvest and its subtle use of relief printmaking techniques, Avadenka’s Scroll of Ruth captures the delicate quality of the scroll as a whole, and the special, muted grace of Ruth in particular. Particularly striking is the use of handmade paper reminiscent of sheaves of barley, making the story unfold as naturally as the seasons of the agricultural cycle themselves.