Feb 072013

I thought initially that this might be one of the very few Hebrew poems about white wine, since it refers to wine as “waters of gold,” but then he mentions “rubies” (‘odem). But then again, now that I think about it, Yehuda ha-Levi refers to ‘odem as something apparently golden (tzahov ke-`ein ‘odem – “golden as a likeness of ‘odem“). I translated it as “topaz” in that poem, but even though the identity of precious stones is pretty flexible throughout the various stages of Hebrew’s development, ‘odem does literally mean “redness.” It’s right there in the root. In any case: red wine, white wine, whatever — we can all agree that wine is rad. Right?

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993 – 1056?)
They Took in Exchange

They1 took in exchange for waters of gold
  mere silver, knowing not what they had sold.
They told me: “You mock us!”2 And so I replied:
  ”So said the fawns3 when your wine they beheld!
They saw in it rubies, the fragrance of myrrh,
  honey’s sweet flavor in goblets combined.
They made me drunk with the juice of their lips,
  which drunken they poured out and mixed with my wine!”

שמואל הנגיד / إسماعيل بن النغريلة
לקחו במי זהב

לָקְחוּ בְמֵי זָהָב אֲשֶׁר יָקְרוּ
 כֶּסֶף, וְלֹא יָדְעוּ אֲשֶׁר מָכְרוּ.
אָמְרוּ: תְּפַתֵּנוּ! עֲנִיתִים: כֵּן
 בִּרְאוֹת עֳפָרִים יֵינְכֶם אָמְרוּ.
רָאוּ דְמוּת אֹדֶם, וְטַעַם צוּף
 נֹפֶת, וְרֵיחַ מֹר בְּכוֹס חָבְרוּ,
הֵם שִׁכְּרוּנִי מֵעֲסִיס חִכָּם
 מָזוּג בְּיֵינִי אַחֲרֵי שָׁכְרוּ.


Lakḥú ve-méi zaháv ‘ashér yakrú
késef, ve-ló yadʕú ‘ashér makhrú.
‘Amrú: tefatéinu! ʕanitím: kein
bir’ót ʕofarím yeinkhém ‘amrú.
Ra’ú demút ‘ódem, ve-táʕam tzuf
nófet, ve-réiaḥ mor be-khós ḥavrú,
Heim shikrúni mei-ʕasís ḥikám
mazúg be-yeiní ‘aḥaréi shakhrú.

  1. Wine merchants.
  2. The wine merchants are skeptical when the speaker tells them that they’ve been “cheated,” so to speak – they’ve sold something worth as much as gold for silver (as in, regular money).
  3. Attractive young men, ephebes, whatever you want to call them. A common subject in medieval poetry.

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