Oh. Right. Technically, this website is supposed to be a repository for the vast treasury of Hebrew poems, translated into a broadly understood world language, not the other way around.
Anyway, here we return to my beloved Italians, with the early and obscure Hillel ben Shmuel. This is actually the first blatantly satirical poem I could find in what is, unfortunately, still the most complete collection of Italian Hebrew poetry, Jefim Schirmann’s Mivḥar ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit be-Italiyah, published by Schocken in 1934 in Berlin, during the strange and brief golden age of Hebrew publishing when the runaway inflation of the reichsmark allowed for ultra-cheap printing of high-quality Hebrew manuscripts, many of which are still in circulation (the several centuries’ worth of poems in the book before this one are chiefly devotional in nature). Schirmann’s book, sadly, is full of errors and contains minimal commentary on the poets and none on the poems themselves (unlike his collections of Spanish poetry), but hey, you work with what you’ve got.
Of course, as you may notice, Hillel ben Shmuel’s heyday was right before Immanuel of Rome’s, when Hebrew satire would truly blossom (and unless I’m reading with 21st century smut goggles, this poem also contains an early hint of the bawdiness that Immanuel would make the trademark of Italian Hebrew poetry). Ben Shmuel himself, like many of the Jews of Italy, seemed to have been a well-traveled fellow, living in Barcelona, Rome, Capua and Forlì. Fittingly, this early example of Hebrew satire in Italy is directed against doctors, who would remain the target of poetic barbs for centuries.
To Ev’ry Man Give Word
To ev’ry man give word to serve most faithful
With all your wisdom — do not swear to cure him!
Request your right to leave,1 and daily wages,
No matter if he dies or you secure him!
Eat not and do not sleep within his dwelling
And then your very visage should restore him.
And when he’s up, then ask to be paid double;
Rely on pledges — promises, ignore them.
So serve good lords with cures or with panaceas
And their largesse you’ll see like spring rains pouring;
The day you rise to treat the highborn ladies
With jewels of gold your clothes you’ll be adorning.
לכל אדם היה נודר לשרת
לְכָל אָדָם הֱיֵה נוֹדֵר לְשָׁרֵת
בְּחָכְמָתְךָ וְאַל תִּדֹּר לְרַפֵּא
הֲלִיכַתְךָ שְׁאַל וּשְׂכַר עֲבוֹדָה
וְאִם יָמוּת וְאִם רֻפֹּא יְרֻפֵּא
וְאַל תֹּאכַל וְאַל תִּשְׁכַּב בְּבֵיתוֹ
וּמַרְאִיתְךָ יְהִי אֵלָיו לְמַרְפֵּא
וְתִשְׁאַל פִּי־שְׁנַיִם לוֹ בְּקוּמוֹ
וְתִשָּׁעֵן בְּמַשְׁכּוֹן לֹא בְעַל־פֶּה
עֲבוֹד שָֹרִים לְמָזוֹר אוֹ לְמַרְפֵּא
וְנִדְבָתָם כְּמוֹ מַלְקושׁ תְּצַפֶּה
וְיוֹם תִּתְעַל לְרַפֵּא הַגְּבִירוֹת
אֲזַי תַּעְדֶּה עֲדִי זָהָב וְיָשְׁפֵה.
Le-khól ‘adám heyéih nodéir lesharéit
Be-ḥokhmatkhá ve-‘ál tidór lerapéi
Halikhatkhá she’ál uskhár ʕavodáh
Ve-‘ím yamút ve-‘ím rupó yerúpei
Ve-‘ál tokhál ve-‘ál tishkáv be-veitó
U-mar’itkhá yehí ‘eiláv le-marpéi
Ve-tish’ál pi-shenáyim lo be-kumó
Ve-tishaʕéin be-mashkón lo veʕál-peh
ʕavód sarím le-mazór ‘o le-marpéi
Ve-nidvatám kemó malqósh tetzapéh
Ve-yóm titʕál lerapéi ha-gevirót
‘Azái taʕdéh ʕadí zaháv ve-yashféih.
- This line is unclear in Hebrew. Literally, it’s “request your going.” I’m no expert in medieval Italian medicine, but from reading the rest of the poem, it seems like doctors were hired (presumably by the wealthy) as “live-in” doctors, both to ensure the doctor’s proximity to the patient and as a form of, ah, “insurance.” The poet is then saying (satirically) that doctors should insist on their right to come and go as they please, in addition to their regular wage. ↩