Posts Tagged ‘Arabic poetry’

Joseph’s journal: 46

20 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

The Moslem celebration of the birth of a newborn male is very similar to our Jewish custom. The circumcision ceremony is a great celebration, especially so for a monarch. Mutadid’s third wife was only fifteen years old when she gave birth to a son. The kings of Mutadid’s allies, Moron, Arcos, and Ronda, were all invited to the circumcision. All three rulers arrived on the same day, with their entourages. The three processions entering through the main gate into Seville within an hour of each other.

Mutadid welcomed the three as they arrived and suggested they freshen up after their travels by taking a steam bath in his newly renovated sauna. He explained that he was very proud of the work done on the steam bath, although he admitted his stonemasons were still completing some final tasks. He told them that if the construction noise was disturbing they should just say so to the attendants. The workers would cease their labors immediately.

The three kings readily agreed to the steam bath looking forward to the relaxation it would provide. Mutadid made certain they were supplied with the best his palace had to offer in wine and snacks, but cautioned his guests not to eat and drink too much because there was to be a grand banquet that night.

The three paid no notice of the masons working at the entrance to the sauna until one of them noticed that the entrance had been walled shut. Within moments the amount of steam in the room increased, along with the temperature. Their frantic shouts and pleas were not answered. Nobody could say how long it took for the three to die, but Mutadid was in no hurry to check on them. He was too occupied with the murder of their entourages. Not one person, male, female, or child, was left alive. Late the next morning, Mutadid had the sauna reopened and added the parboiled heads of the three kings to the collection of pickled heads he kept in his bedroom.

Mutadid’s next move was to dispatch a regiment of troops to Ronda where they joined forces with the Sevillians already stationed there. The Arab population of Ronda immediately joined the Sevillian forces. The combined Arab forces slaughtered every Berber not wise enough to calculate the odds and flee, including many women and children. The king of Ronda had left one of his sons, the heir-apparent to the throne, in charge while he travelled to Seville for the festivities. The young man made an attempt to escape by rappelling down the cliff on which the Alcazaba perched, but the rope slipped loose and he fell to his death.

Arcos was the next to be to be brutally violated and annexed to Seville. The Berber rulers of that city/state, and their followers, were only able to mount a quickly suppressed token resistance. Mutadid installed his own people to administer the two Taifa he had annexed and his generals took command of their remaining armed forces and mercenaries.

When the king of Moron learned of the fates of the Zenata Berbers of Ronda and Arcos he immediately dispatched emissaries to both Carmona and Granada, pleading for aid from their Berber brothers to fight against the Arabs. Both Berber states responded by dispatching units of their military to support Moron’s army. But Mutadid was again content with his gains. He never exercised his plan to take over Moron. He had made certain that two of his fickle Berber allies would not be able to change sides when next offered the choice.

When I was a teenager, I can remember my father looking forward, with excitement and anticipation, to taking the field each spring for a summer of campaigning. The garnering of more territory and wealth for his king and for the kingdom motivated him. It was a fortuitous incidental that he also acquired more wealth and honor for himself and his people.

The winter of 4795 (1054) my father celebrated his sixty-first birthday quietly, at home. That was the first time I noticed the large, persistent, dark, puffy bags under both of his eyes. His beard and hair, both long and gray, were beginning to become thin and wispy. His shoulders, once square and proud, slumped forward. When at work at his desk he hunched forward squinting and peering to better see the words he wrote or was reading. He seemed to have shrunk at least three centimeters in height.

That spring when he strapped on his armor and took up his weapons, he seemed to struggle from their weight. I selected those servants who most valued and cared about him to accompany him during the spring and summer campaigns. Those loyal people understood they were responsible for his welfare. I also charged them with making certain that every possible creature comfort was provided for him. Aside from the obvious challenges and dangers of fighting battles my father had to endure the added stress of exposure to the elements. Campaigning often required long days of travel under trying and dangerous conditions.

True to his nature, Father worried first about the wellbeing of his troops. He was ultimately responsible for the welfare and supply of the thousands of men who depended on his attention to detail. He had to make certain to provide everything his men needed in the field and on the march. Adding to all this, he had to deal with the arbitrary moods and desires of a capricious king. I can only imagine how much stress these responsibilities put on him.

“Joseph, I am so very happy you have no aptitude nor skill as a general. It has been my curse,” he told me one long spring night before the start of that year’s campaign. “You will be able to function well as a Grand Vizier, but I am pleased you will not become a general. It is too difficult.”

I could see my father was tired, bone weary tired. The same evening he shared that he was pleased with my lack of aptitude for war, he fell ill with a severe cough and fever. He took to his bed. A parade of physicians came, administered their remedies, and departed. After four weeks, he regained strength, but only after my mother sat with him and spoon-fed him bowl after bowl of rich chicken soup, her remedy for all ailments. After he was able to get up and move around on his own, he resumed all of his normal activities, including daily training with his sword. After just five or so minutes of exercise, however, the cough returned and he had to stop, catch his breath, and rest before resuming. Nothing I said was able to convince him to stay home and rest, to let his generals take care of defending the kingdom. He just shook his head and resumed his training. The bags under his eyes grew larger. His shoulders slumped more. His posture did not improve.

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Joseph’s journal: 45

19 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

I am somewhat reluctant to record this next incident in the saga of my father but it is necessary to provide a complete picture of who he was. On numerous occasions King Idris III of Malaga showed himself treacherous and lacking in moral character. During recent times, he was our ally, but only for the moment. Father was acutely aware that Idris was not a man to be trusted. Father understood that Idris was certain to betray Granada the first time it appeared advantageous for him to do so.

Father worried about a multitude of possible threats to the kingdom. One of these constant concerns was the possibility of someone using poison to eliminate him, or worse in his mind, King Badis. A plot could be promulgated by high-ranking Granadian functionaries but this was not a huge concern, although vigilance was essential. Poisoning was the most likely method to avoid exposure for the person actually responsible. For this reason, father made it known to all of the physicians in the city of Granada and its territorial holdings, that if they knew of any new poisonous substances, or if they heard of, or developed antidotes to any poisons, he was to be informed immediately. One day, a physician from Jaen showed up at our door and was admitted to Father’s study.

After the physician told my father why he had come, Father sent a servant to tell me to stop whatever I was working on and come immediately to his study. When I arrived Father turned to the physician.

“This is my son Joseph. Joseph, this is the physician David ben Noah of Jaen. Dr. ben Noah has come to us with interesting information. Please, ben Noah, tell us again about what you have discovered.”

“Of course, Ha Nagid. The powder is made from fruit pits, cherries, apples, apricots, any or all of them. The pits are crushed into a fine powder, a very fine powder. When you have a full cup of the powder you add hot water and, while keeping it warm, stir until the powder is in solution. The water must not boil, however. After the powder is completely dissolved, you spread the liquid in a shallow container and allow it to evaporate. It can be put out in the sunlight to hasten evaporation. The powder that remains after the liquid evaporates is the poison. If the poison is mixed with wine or vinegar it will emit a gas that is also poisonous.”

“And you have some of this powder?” asked Father.

“I have it here,” said ben Noah. He extracted a small glass container with a cork stopper from the pocket of his cloak and handed the flask to my father.

“And what is the antidote for this?”

“There is no known antidote, Ha Nagid.”

“No antidote?” My father’s brow furrowed as he rested his chin in his hand. “How fast does it act?”

“That depends on the size of the person and upon the amount consumed or inhaled. One fourth of the powder in the flask you are holding will kill a horse.”

“Thank you, ben Noah. I assume you are doing experiments to find an antidote to this poison?”

“Yes, of course, Nagid, but so far none of the antidotes have an effect, even when given to a test animal prior to exposure.

“Well, I want you to continue to work on the antidote.” Father handed the physician a pouch of gold coins. “This should enable you to continue your research for the antidote. Please keep me informed of your progress on a regular basis. Is there any way to detect this substance so a person would be able to prevent it being used to kill someone?”

“Yes, Ha Nagid, it seems about one of every three persons can smell it. They detect a faint odor similar to the smell of almonds. It would be wise to have someone with that ability available to smell food or beverage offered by someone you do not know or trust.”

“Is it safe to sniff this?”

“Yes, as long as it is still a dry powder.”

Father removed the cork from the flask and sniffed tentatively then again, more strongly. He replaced the cork stopper.

“I smell nothing,” he said and handed me the flask.

I removed the cork, took a sniff and recognized a faint aroma of almonds.

“Yes, I smell almonds, it seems to be a bitter scent, but still of almonds.”

Father smiled broadly. “From now on Joseph you will give the smell test to everything on my plate before I take a bite,” he teased.

“Even food my mother prepares?” I responded, serious.

He laughed. “Especially food prepared by your mother.” He reached over and rubbed my head. “I’m teasing you, Joseph. You take everything so seriously, therefore it amuses me to tease you. Put the flask away in your safe place, Joseph. “

Two weeks later, as we were finishing our evening meeting, my father addressed me.

“Before you retire this evening, Joseph, please bring me the flask the physician ben Noah brought to this house.”

I looked at him, raised my eyebrows and waited.

“Never mind, that is all you need to know for now. I have a plan I must discuss with the king. Just bring me the flask please.”

“Of course, Papa.”

I did as he requested, but even when I withheld the flask for a moment with a questioning look on my face, he told me nothing more about what he wanted the poison for. The evening of the following day he handed the flask back to me. About a third of the powder was gone. Again I looked at him, questioning.

“Badis has agreed to my plan with considerable enthusiasm. He gave me a solid gold wine cup, exquisitely decorated. He also provided a small flask of his very best wine. We are going to send Idris of Malaga the cup and the wine as a special present.”

“And the poison that is missing from the flask?”

“That has been dissolved and all the liquid is being evaporated from the cup. When all is ready I will send the gifts to Idris as a token of our appreciation for all he has done recently as our much valued ally.”

“And who will you send to bring him these presents?”

“Our king has suggested Ishak ibn Mohammed, chief of the Bani tribe.”

“Ishak ibn Mohammed? Isn’t that the same man you told me about a month ago? He has been whispering evil about you to the king.”

“Exactly so.”

I shook my head. “And the king has approved this plan, and even recommended ibn Mohammed for the task?”

“Yes. This is yet another harsh lesson for you, Joseph. Say nothing. Watch events as they develop. You must observe what people say, and more importantly do, as the plan unfolds.”

Late that same winter of 4802 (1053) I learned what happened. As he was instructed, ibn Mohammad delivered the gold cup, and the flask of wine to Idris III. Much later I heard, from a tribal chief who was present, that ibn Mohammad gave Idris his testimony as to the fine quality of the wine.

He said to King Idris, “I was summoned to King Badis and he told me he wanted me to bring to you two very special gifts. He handed me the gold cup you now hold in your hand. I think you must agree it is one of the finest, if not the finest, such drinking cup in existence. The decorations are exquisite. My lord, King Badis also gave me a taste of the wine in this cask I’m holding. He told me it is the finest Granada has to offer. I agree, it is the best I have ever tasted.”

“Well then,” said Idris, extending the gift gold cup he was examining, “let’s have a taste of this jewel of the wine maker’s art.”

Ibn Mohammad poured some wine into the cup. Idris raised the cup to his lips and sniffed, then sniffed again, inhaling deeply.

“It smells of almonds.”

“Yes excellency, I have been told as much but could not detect that smell when I was given a taste.”

Idris became pensive, perhaps thinking back to his own long history of treachery. He took another, longer and deeper, sniff of the cup and wrinkled his brows. Then held out the cup of wine.

“Ibn Mohammad I want you to drink from this cup. Tell me if it is the same fine wine you were given prior to coming to me.”

“Yes, of course, Excellency, as you wish.”

He took a sip of the wine then gazed into the cup.

“Not quite as I remember it but still very good, Excellency.”

“Drink the whole cup. We will fill it again, then I will drink.”

Ibn Mohammad shrugged and finished off the contents of the cup handing it back to Idris. Idris took the cup then turned it slowly again in his hand examining the intricate carvings. He looked inside the cup then studied ibn Mohammad who seemed to be getting dizzy. Idris waited, … smiling.

Ibn Mohammad sank to his knees and bent over. He tried to push himself upright again with both arms. He managed to get up on one knee then collapsed, rolled to his right side in the fetal position and died. Foam came from between his lips. The nobles of Idris’ court who witnessed this charade, rushed to their king.

“How did you know?” asked one of them.

“I didn’t, but I suspected. This is the work of the Jew, I’m certain of it.”

However, Idris was not aware of the deadly toxic fumes released from the poison by the wine. That afternoon he complained of being weak and short of breath. He seemed confused and kept dozing off. He roused with a start, and exploded into a ranting rage at a blameless servant, for no discernable reason. The next morning, he was slow to awaken, and seemed even more confused. His skin was a bright pink. He was breathing very fast, almost panting, while at the same time complaining that he couldn’t catch his breath. That afternoon, despite frantic attempts at treatment by his physicians, he was comatose. One of the physicians reported he smelled bitter almonds on his ruler’s breath. Late the next morning, he died.

Granada’s complete takeover of Malaga was initiated the day after word of Idris’ death reached Granada. I am still attempting to reconcile my father’s role in this.

Meanwhile, King Mutadid of Seville was still plotting and planning. He was finally ready to set in motion his strategy for the coming summer’s military campaign. He instigated the invasion of Granadian territory by the kings of Moron and Arcos, promising them financial, military, and logistical support. They were to attack Granada in early spring, as soon as the weather permitted.

Mutadid anticipated correctly that King Badis would respond to this attack as usual, by retaliating and invading Seville’s lands. Once Granada was committed, Mutadid arranged for the king of Ronda to attack our forces from the rear. This time he followed through on his promises. He sent two regiments of his army to support Moron and Arcos, and three regiments to support Ronda. He also sent considerable gold and silver as well as the promised logistical support in the form of long lines of mule-drawn wagons loaded with provisions, arms, and supplies.

This previously tried and proven strategy of getting Granada to commit, then attacking them from the rear, was once again effective. The Zanhadja were soon fighting on two fronts with significant numbers against them on both. During that summer, both sides managed to avoid any large confrontation, but continuous small encounters occupied both armies. The general outcome of the skirmishes was that Granada’s forces retreated, but they always pulled back disciplined and in good order. During the whole summer’s campaign, neither side was willing to fight a pitched battle so neither side suffered devastating losses.

My father engineered the strategy of orderly retreat by convincing Badis the combined forces of Seville and her allies outnumbered our forces significantly. He explained that Granada could easily lose an all-in confrontation. He also pointed out that any relief coming from Granada was likely to be ambushed along the way. The wisest course was to avoid any significant large-scale clash, abandon those territories they had already lost, and retreat to Granada. They could use what was left of the fall, and the fast approaching winter months, to rebuild their strength, remobilize, and be in a position to exact vengeance early the following spring.

Somewhat surprisingly, Mutadid seemed content with this outcome. He recalled most of his troops, leaving only token forces with his allies. What my father didn’t realize until later, was Mutadid’s grand strategy had never been a final and extremely dangerous confrontation with Granada. His strategic goal was to expand and consolidate Seville’s territories.

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 42

4 Marchehvan, 4794 (October, 1045)

It was the second day of Iyar. King Badis, along for the adventure, joined me leading the army out of Granada. Once again, we were embarking on a campaign against Seville. This time, my strategy was for our attacks to be coordinated from three different directions. Al-Muzaffar, the ruler of Badajoz, agreed to invade Sevillian territory from the north. His army initially met little resistance. They overran villages and towns, capturing fortresses as they moved south. Their successes garnered much plunder and resulted in a continuous column of wagons returning to Badajoz. Carmona’s role was to attack Seville directly from their city’s stronghold, while Badis and I advanced from the southwest. After passing south of Antequera, and north of Malaga, we encountered Mutadid’s forces just south of Utrera.

The Sevillian commander was not much of a strategist. I was able to entice the Sevillians, their army almost exclusively composed of cavalry, into a trap. I deployed our troops in small units, apparently separated from support, while I positioned reinforcements carefully hidden from the Sevillians. This induced the Arabs to attack with their typical, and now familiar abandon of reason. I was able to take advantage of the Arab propensity to satisfy their urge for honor. This machismo behavior reinforced their concept of bravery. The trait is not different amongst the Berbers, but the later have now recognized the success of my strategies. The Arabs charged, oblivious to everything, into my infantry anchored by the Nubians. These stalwarts, after years of experience, training and successes, no longer considered a cavalry charge anything to be feared.

Once the Arab army initiated their charge the hidden reserves moved quickly to join those units used as bait. The Nubians were formed up as I positioned them. Protected behind their mobile fort of shields, undeterred by the screams of the oncoming hoard, the infantry aimed their long spears at the unprotected undersides of the charging horses. After hitting their marks or shattering their spears, the Nubians used their javelins to devastating effect. They were no less effective when they resorted to their swords. Behind the ranks of infantry were three rows of archers, crossbows, and slingers. The first of these ranks fired their missiles then knelt down to reload while the next rank fired, by the time the third rank fired the first was ready with their next round. To my surprise these tactics worked as perfectly this time as they had previously. The Sevillians had learned nothing from their previous defeats. The effect was to rain down barrage after barrage on the attacking Sevillian cavalry before most of them were able to get close enough to engage our infantry.

Once the forces clashed, and the enemy was fully engaged, I unleashed my cavalry, until that time still hidden on each flank. At this point the archers, crossbow soldiers and slingers were able to pick individual targets. Their missiles were even more effective. Swords flashed. javelins, arrows, crossbow bolts, grenades, and stones filled the air. Arms were severed, or nearly so. Terrible wounds were made to the face, neck hands, and legs until torsos were exposed. Then came the killing thrusts. The air filled with the noise, and awful smell, of conflict. The entire battle lasted less than an hour and a half.

The Sevillians were overwhelmed. They lost more than half of their army, killed, wounded or captured. After what was left of the Sevillian forces fled the field, my men gathered the plunder, and dispatched those enemy fighters who were so severely wounded their recovery was doubtful. We moved on to lay siege to the Alcazaba of Utrera.

While Badis lounged with his tribal chiefs in his huge pavilion, partaking of only the best of the local wines, I supervised the placement of the siege machines, and initiated the bombardment of the fortress. When I was satisfied with all the arrangements for the siege, I retired to my tent. I had my books to study, poems to write, and correspondence to attend to. Meanwhile the walls of the Alcazaba were gradually but inevitably weakened as the water supplies of the besieged dwindled. I did take time out from my intellectual pursuits to meet with a unit of engineers. I instructed them to tunnel under the section of wall they thought most vulnerable, undermining that section of wall, and weakening it enough to tumble.

On the road to Utrera the army camped for one night at the ruins of an ancient fortress. I notice that as I gain in years I become more retrospective. That night I felt depressed and was moved to compose a poem I entitled I quartered the troops for the night. The poem gives vent to the emotions I experienced thinking about all the people who dwelt, fought, and died in that place. I wondered what had happened to those people who by now were all long dead. What was the lasting effect of their lives and what would be mine?

While I was occupied with the siege of Utrera, Carmona, still a loyal ally, and the third aspect of my strategic planning, maneuvered towards Seville. The strategy was to use Carmona and Badajoz to draw Mutadid’s resources away from my front. For a while this strategy worked well. Initially, the army of Badajoz met only token resistance and was able to advance, but Mutadid sent reinforcements, led by one of his best generals, and the Sevillians were able to win some confrontations.

Next the wily Mutadid played a different card. He still had great influence with the king of Malaga, that same erstwhile Caliph of Andalusia. Mutadid reminded that false friend that Badis had wanted him dead and told him I had tricked him into believing otherwise. He convinced Idris III that if the truth were to be known, Badis, and his Jew Chief Vizier, had never been his friends. With considerable effort, and the application of appropriate financial incentives, Mutadid convinced Idris III to attack our forces from the rear. A strategy Mutadid used previously when he incited a rear attack by Ronda.

Badis was infuriated by this turnabout. He was the one who made Indris III the Caliph of Andalusia, even if the title was little more than an honorific. To meet the Malagan threat, and to punish the ungrateful Caliph, Badis ordered me to withdraw the army from Sevillian territory. He was determined to confront, and crush his newly crowned Caliph. Idris III had very little time to gloat over his success at relieving Seville. He was confident, fully expecting Mutadid to attack and trap our army between them.

Mutadid cared little, if at all, about the safety, or ambitions of Idris III, or indeed of the fate of Malaga. Malaga’s rear attack and our response made it possible for him to redistribute what remained of his army to confront Badajoz and Carmona. With overwhelming numbers arrayed against them, both Badajoz and Carmona were forced to abandon the war and return home, saving as much face as possible.

Idris III had been deceived. He fully expected Mutadid’s support and counted on that support to reclaim at least some of his lost territories. But Mutadid had achieved his short-term goal. Idris III was still flush with his victory, and still not terribly concerned. Being a Berber himself he knew the Berber nature. He managed to convince himself that although Badis might easily win a few skirmishes, he would stop to allow his troops to pillage and plunder. Badis certainly wanted to follow that scenario, but I managed to convince him otherwise. It was time to deal more permanently with the treachery of Malaga and its king.

One by one, our army of Granada attacked and subdued villages and towns belonging to Malaga. In each conquered location, I was able to identify people I felt could be trusted. Many of these men happened to be Jews. Badis and I installed them in office with the responsibility of representing Granada and administering the conquered territories. Before leaving, we exacted tribute from the conquered peoples. We used those resources to pay our mercenaries, and swell Badis’ coffers, thereby assuaging my king. I also installed tax collectors in each precinct to continue to divert the flow of wealth from Malaga to Granada, providing the King’s personal fifth of everything collected.

The Malagan kingdom was decimated. The erstwhile Caliph of Andalusia was boxed in and sequestered in the formidable Alcazaba of Malaga, three circuits of defensive walls with over a hundred towers, sited on the top of a mountain overlooking the port. After less than a month laying siege to his fortress we discovered that Idris III, the bully, was also a coward. He was not prepared emotionally to withstand a prolonged siege that would inevitably end in his death. He sent emissaries to beg Badis for peace and for his life, ceding everything taken from him. I weighed the cost in resources and manpower to continue the siege of the Alcazaba and convinced Badis revenge, and the complete absorption of Malaga, wasn’t worth the cost of men and resources.

Moreover, I was tired. I was feeling my age. For the last two weeks of the siege I had been troubled by a persistent cough that drained me of energy. The rigors of this particular campaign were no more strenuous than any of those preceding, but this time they exhausted me.

Badis, true to his nature, was bored with the siege. He readily agreed with my assessment of the situation and we returned home with many wagons full of plunder. The economy of Granada was given a huge boost by the infusion of appropriated wealth, and my personal financial situation, if not my physical health, increased significantly. I now possessed additional estates to manage. I put them in the care of my brother-in-law, Rabbi ben Judah.

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Joseph’s journal: 41

15 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)

A simple fact accounted for the amazing amount of academic study, learning, and creative productivity accomplished by my father throughout his life. I never knew him to sleep more than five hours a night.

Even with nineteen hours a day to study, learn, plan, work, think, and write, I know of no other man who could accomplish what he did, especially with the constant strain of palace intrigue. He had to keep an often drunk and unpredictable master happy. Oh yes, he was also a successful general. He could focus and concentrate his attention better and more completely than any man I have ever known.

Because of its importance to all Jews, I must say more about his Hilkhata Gavata. I am thinking about this now because this past week I dispatched eleven more copies of the work to Father’s colleagues throughout the diaspora. More copies are being made for further distribution. In this work, Father emphasized the six principles he considered the basis of belief for all Jews. He expressed thankfulness that our God has no beginning and no end. He expressed his gratefulness that resurrection is certain, and that there is an afterlife. He was grateful that Moses gave us the Torah, and that the Torah is truth and perfection. He believed the words of our sages are just, as is their lore. The study of their works is a pleasure. He thought there are rewards in this world, and whatever comes after, for the pure and the just, and that the dead are recompensed for their sins.

After my father’s death, following his wishes and instructions, I edited three books of his poetry. I named these compilations the Son of Psalms, the Son of Proverbs and the Son of Ecclesiastes.

The Son of Psalms includes his autobiographical poems, two hundred and twenty-two of them. Many of these poems are long, over a hundred lines. I included a preface to provide the historical context for some of the poems but most, I feel, need no introduction or explanation. They tell the story of who he was and how he was thinking at the moment they were completed.

The Son of Proverbs is a collection of aphorisms. Many of these were not original creations of my father, but he often repeated and used them for effect. Frequently, he would add editorial improvements to these old sayings. All of them were commonly repeated during his days, and still are today.

The Son of Ecclesiastes includes four hundred and eleven poems. All of them original works of my father. Some of the poems I included in this volume only because they did not seem to fit into the first two volumes. There are poems about solar and lunar eclipses, and earthquakes. There are a number of poems that discuss various aspects of aging and death. Not surprisingly, these latter topics came to the forefront of his thinking after he turned sixty.

Throughout his life, Father was an active correspondent. He regularly exchanged letters with Jewish community leaders, institutions, and scholars wherever they could be found, as well as with dignitaries of other Andalusian, and a few Christian kingdoms. He frequently corresponded with Jewish scholars living in Kairouan in Tunisia. That city, founded by the Umayyads over four hundred years ago, is still flourishing and still is home to a significant Jewish population today.

He also corresponded with scholars in Babylonia, Palestine, Sicily, and in several persecuted Jewish communities throughout Christian Europe. He sent and received letters from as far away as England and India. When Rabbi Hushiel of Kairouan died, blessed be his memory, Father sent requests for a memorial service to be held in his honor in Cordoba, Jaen and other Jewish communities in Andalusia. He personally organized memorial services for this man, whom he admired greatly, in Granada and Lucena.

His Jewish identity defined him. From it, he derived his own relationship to the will of God, the history of our people as well as our prehistory. He celebrated the fact of our own special language, literature, wisdom, philosophy, laws, morals, and even our own astronomy and mathematics. Since our calendar is based on the phases of the moon, Rabbis had to be experts at mathematics and astronomy to establish the proper times and dates of our holidays and holy days. He was a master of those subjects.


In my father’s home and mine, our cuisine is kosher, traditionally Jewish. The Shabbat meal is usually chamin, a hot stew with beans and other vegetables, and often includes chunks of lamb. We also often have pestelas, a pastry topped with sesame seeds filled with pine nuts, a small bit of meat, and onion. Sambusak, a pastry filled with mashed chickpeas, fried onions and several spices is regularly served. Everything has to be prepared ahead. Those foods that are to be consumed hot are left on the coals of Friday’s fire. They simmer slowly until it is time for the dish to be eaten. I mention this because it is almost time for our Shabbat meal. The aroma of cooking fills house and filters into my study. My mouth is full of saliva.


When he was at the Palace, or on a military expedition, Father underwent a self-induced metamorphosis. It was a requirement of his position as Grand Vizier to attend, and sometimes host, both social and formal gatherings. At these functions, he became a fully acclimated Berber, and a participant in all their vices. Most of those vices were contrary to the teachings of Islam. Some of them ignored the teachings of Moses. I struggle with these same issues in my current role.

Father wrote many poems praising wine, and its effects, both in Hebrew and Arabic. However, he took special care to warn me about the dangers of overindulgence. He wrote poetry praising the beauty of both the young boys, and young girls, who were servants at the orgies of food and drink. He also wrote of the children and women who were brought to these functions to entertain the men with other favors. To ameliorate this behavior, he and I had many discussions, or rather I listened to many lectures, about the Torah’s strictures against homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. Today I am still obliged to attend functions of this nature. I struggle with my own morality. Thankfully, as King Badis ages he is less inclined to these pursuits than he was previously.

Predictably, Father’s relationship with my mother was as traditionally Jewish as the meals we ate. Father rarely demonstrated any annoyance with my mother, never anger. I never saw him argue with her. In my presence, at least, he spoke to her with respect, and on rare occasions with tenderness and love. Once or twice I saw him lay his hand gently on her shoulder, the only sign of affection I was witness to.

I clearly remember one evening, about a year after my marriage, he told me he wanted to give me advice about how to treat my wife. Without saying anything more he handed me a poem, that I included in Son of Ecclesiastes. The poem is entitled Advice to a Husband and suggests not to let your wife dominate you and rule you as a husband is supposed to, she is your woman.

He was, apparently determined to provide me with all sorts of helpful advice that night. After I finished reading this poem, for a second time, I stared at him, not knowing how to respond. Saying nothing he handed me a second poem whose advice was do not take a woman into your confidence, do nothing to harm or disgrace a friend, and to not take drugs that alter your mind.

I still struggle trying to understand the context of these two poems, and what it was he expected from me. When I was still a child, he was adamant that I was to fear and respect my mother, and to always obey her. The result of all this advice and admonitions is that I am still, and probably always will be, confused about how I should relate to women.


I must continue this history by writing of how Father made an ally of the Taifa of Badajoz. Badajoz is a Berber controlled city/state at least eighteen days of hard travel from Granada. It is about two and a half days directly west of Merida and over ten days, northwest of Cordoba. Most importantly to Father, and to King Badis, it’s only about a week of easy travel north and slightly west of Seville. As our ally, Badajoz provided another front from which we could attack our enemy.

The king of Badajoz, Muhammad ibn Abd Allah Al-Muzaffar, held the normal antipathy of all Berbers against the Arabs of Seville, and felt and understood the threat of Sevillian hegemony. Nevertheless, my father had to use all of his diplomatic skills, as well as buying the friendship of several highly-placed notables in Al-Muzaffar’s court, to bring him into the alliance. Despite his diplomatic skills, Ha Nagid was still ambivalent, and distrustful of allies.

The Zanhadja and Zenata Berbers were once again unified. All proudly flew the Amazigh flag. The design of this flag holds many special meanings. Its blue horizontal stripe represents the Berber tribes who originally lived by the sea, the green stripe represents those Berbers originating from the Rif and Atlas mountain ranges, and the yellow stripe recalls the desert dwellers. The red Amazigh symbol in the center of the flag represents the very human yearning for freedom of all peoples, arms open, reaching for the sky. It is sad that the trust and family the flag represents was so easily put aside when the Berber tribes, for whatever reasons, fail to remain unified.

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 38

15 Shevat 4796 (January, 1048)

I knew General Muhktar was confident, I hoped, over-confident. My spies informed me he commanded five regiments, all cavalry, except for one company of mounted archers, and two companies of infantry. I also knew he would be determined to fight on open ground. He would want the cavalry battle so loved by both his Berber and Arab troops. After Badis’ failure at Malaga, and the constant pressure of our having to respond to raids on our territories, he no doubt believed we were weary of fighting. The Zanhadja were no longer invincible.

My army travelled the hundred kilometers from Granada to Antequera in four easy stages. From there, we moved southwest, through a valley, following the river to the village of Valle de Abdalajis.

Valle de Abdalajis is situated at the western edge of a broad plain stretching over fifteen kilometers long and six kilometers wide. I moved my forces east from Valle de Abdalajis to the opposite end of the valley. I wanted Muhktar’s forces to be forced to attack us looking into the morning sun.

My spies reported that Abu Nun recalled all of his raiding parties and marched northeast from Ronda. Muhktar, with his regiments from Seville, were augmented by regiments from Moron and Carmona. This combined army travelled south from Osuna to join forces with Abu Nun, just west of El Chorro. They camped that night, held a strategy session, and the next day circled south through a low pass in the mountains and arrived at Valle de Abdalajis in the early afternoon, the day after we left that place, where they set up a base camp. I received almost hourly updates from my spies about all these movements. It was the 28th of Elul, 4796 (early September, 1047).

I stood outside my tent early the next morning. The morning air was clear and crisp. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky. The hills and mountains surrounding the broad valley were the color of a ripe lime, verdant green, covered by dense forests. Those forests, and the animals within, would be soon be non-participating witnesses to the clash of arms and cries of the wounded.

The previous evening I met with my generals and gave all the necessary orders for positioning our troops. The only discord during that planning session was the desire by each of the generals to have their regiment at the forefront of the battle. I placed the Nubian infantry in the center front, three ranks deep. Mounted Mamluks were on the right and left flanks of the infantry. Our own and the Almoravid archers and slingers were in the fourth and fifth ranks behind the Nubians, six ranks of Almoravids behind them. We split the Zanhadja cavalry units, both heavy and light, half on the far-right, and the other on the far-left flank, behind hills, hidden from sight. Each company, unit, and platoon were given explicit instructions for the part they were to play in the battle, and the drum signals that would tell them when to execute their role.

My horse was brought to me. I rode to the top of the highest nearby hill with my ten- member bodyguard, four drummers, and ten messengers mounted on fast horses. The hill I had chosen the previous day provided a panoramic view of the battlefield. The messengers were needed to relay instructions to my generals and colonels as the battle unfolded.

Muhktar advanced with the sun in his face, his cavalry spread across the entire width of the valley, three ranks deep. The air shimmered with the banging and clattering sounds of the equipment of war. Horses snorted, straining at the bits holding them back. These were warhorses, anxious to begin the charge that would fill the crisp air with battle cries, drums, men and horses screaming in pain, and the smell of blood, feces, urine, and fear. Dust kicked up from the iron-shod hooves of the sweating, armored horses of the heavy cavalry, additionally burdened with their armored riders. The leather-backed chain mail of horses and riders was soon hot enough to sear the skin. A slight breeze coming off the eastern hills carried only a small wisp of the dust rising from the horses hooves as they were spurred into a trot.

When Muhktar’s forces were five hundred meters away from our lines I raised my right hand. The drummers’ beat out the appropriate signal, repeated five times. The Mamluks charged forward from both flanks, galloping directly at the center of the approaching line, but when they were just out of range of Muhktar’s archers they whirled their horses, retreated and reformed, now in front of the Nubian infantry.

Muhktar, his Arab blood pounding in his ears, could not control himself. He screamed the command to charge and spurred his horse forward. The Mamluks executed a perfect retreat to their original positions on the flanks, allowing the Nubian infantry to take the brunt of the charge from the oncoming cavalry. They planted the butts of their large teardrop shields, next to the butts of their spears, into the ground. When anyone fell from the onslaught, another Nubian jumped forward to fill his place.

The charging horsemen were also met with barrage after barrage of arrows, slung rocks, and Greek fire grenades coming from the Almoravids aligned behind the ranks of infantry. The missals struck the charging cavalry before most of them could engage with the infantry units. Many fell wounded from the steady barrage, but the rest continued forward. The thunder of clashing lances and shields rose like a huge wave to engulf me.

On my order, the Mamluks charged into the melee from both flanks. Within minutes the fighting was hand-to-hand. Once the enemy was fully engaged I ordered half of the Zanhadja cavalry from each hidden flank to circle around and attack from the rear, the remaining Zanhadja were held in reserve, much to their disgust.

The superiority of the Mamluk and Almoravids was soon apparent. This made the Nubians fight even harder, determined to not be outdone. The regiments of Zanhadja Berbers who had circled around to attack from the rear were doubly motivated to match the intensity and determination of the mercenaries.

Muhktar went down and a tall Mamluk soon held his severed head high in the air. During the next hour of intense fighting, scattered but sizable units of Muhktar’s forces were able to gather themselves and fight their way free. Only those units with brave and competent commanders, maintaining control of their men, escaped the slaughter. I released the reserves to participate in the mop up.

The enemy dead were counted at five hundred and twelve, including those wounded so severely they were dispatched as an act of mercy. The enemy wounded, those who were still able to walk, were brought back to Grenada as captives, along with the many unwounded who surrendered. The walking-wounded and captured enemy soldiers totaled just over three hundred. I lost only seventy-two men killed. All of our wounded were well cared for, but another twenty subsequently died from their wounds. Our wounded survivors were transported home by wagon.

The enemy’s abandoned arms, armor, horses, wagons, and all their supplies were gathered as booty, along with anything of value taken from the dead and captured. All the victors shared in the prizes except me. I donated my share to our wounded, and to the families of those killed in the battle.

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Joseph’s journal: 37

10 Kislev, 4808 (November, 1059)


Over the years, I have often thought about my father’s relationship with King Badis and their arch enemy, King Mutadid of Seville. I will endeavor to provide more insight into Badis’ and my father’s characters and personalities as this history progresses.

I believe the kings Badis and Mutadid had more in common than differences between them. Both had the ultimate goal of making their kingdom pre-eminent. Both enjoyed the support of their citizens in their efforts to achieve that goal. Neither would ever acknowledge that any constraints could be imposed on their whims, or indeed any aspect of their behavior. Both were both free to exercise any desire or passion. There was no one who could, or would, dare to prevent them from doing anything they wanted to do.

Both Badis and Mutadid faced the constant threat of assassination. The most significant danger often came from people closest to them. Their courtiers were suspicious of everything and everyone, particularly their colleagues. The same courtiers were fearful for their own safety, while much occupied with intrigue. All were insecure about their position at court, and constantly worrying about their influence, or lack thereof, with their king. Both kings knew that if they failed to completely humiliate and kill their enemies, often in the most gruesome way possible, they would be seen as weak and unable to act with decisiveness. Indecisiveness is a fatal flaw for a king, in any time. I think this knowledge was instinctive in both of them.

Both kings were isolated, alone even while amongst many. All governments require an organization of people capable and willing to effectively implement the decisions made by higher-ranking officials. This is especially necessary when, as it is in most cases, those making decisions are unable or incapable of performing the tasks and completing the work necessary themselves. Other hands are required to assume the workload in order to reach the desired policy outcome. Worker bees make the honey. No King can rule without a cadre of people willing to make certain the king’s desires and decisions are carried out.

My father, may he rest in peace, had many extraordinary skills. Perhaps the most important was his ability to convince King Badis to modify a contemplated action, or decision, that might be harmful to the kingdom. Another of my father’s great strengths was his ability to discover where, along the chain of command, a problem existed and either repair or remove the weak link. He also had a well-developed intuition that enabled him to identify and appoint men of intelligence and skill. Men who understood how to make things happen. Under his administration things got done.

So far, I have been fortunate. For the most part I am able to match Father’s administrative abilities, although I clearly lack many other of his skills.

Because of his long service and constant loyalty my father was, without question, the most trusted man in King Badis’ court. Never-the-less both he, and now I, have had to be constantly on guard against any offense, real or imagined. We have had to contend with the tribal chiefs, cronies, and hangers-on of the king, who all resent the fact that a Jew has more power than they do. I face these challenges on a daily basis.

King Badis, aside from his drunkenness, frequently displays signs of paranoia and inexplicable behavior, sometimes just for effect. These paranoid-induced, or calculated decisions, as well as decisions made without apparent thought or consideration, seem to have increased since my father died. Despite this, I believe Badis trusts me. I continue to do my best to serve him, and the best interests of the kingdom. By doing so I also protect the Jewish community.

Mutadid’s paranoia, on the other hand, is clearly a manifestation of mental illness. I recently learned from a man, a former member of Mutadid’s court, a troubling story. Mutadid’s own son feared his father was going to have him killed, so he hatched a plot to kill Mutadid first. Unfortunately for the son, Mutadid learned of the plot. He slit the son’s throat himself. But he didn’t stop with that horrific act. He proceeded to kill all of his son’s friends, his son’s servants, all four of his daughters-in-law, and all of their children, including two infants. When some of his viziers, including the man who told me of these events, fearfully entered the palace room full of slaughtered family members, they found Mutadid standing with a knife still held in his right hand, drops of blood sliding off the blade and splashing on the tile floor. Their Ruler stared at them from red-rimmed eyes, his pupils wide, dark, holes in his head. His clothing, his arms, and both hands were covered with the blood of his victims. The room shuddered in oppressive silence.

Mutadid screamed at the men huddled at the doorway.

“Wretches! Wherefore are you silent? You gloat in your hearts over my misfortune! Be gone from my sight!”

My father now realized that Granada would never be at peace unless it achieved dominance throughout all of Andalusia. This fit exactly with King Badis’ ambitions. The Zanhadja had no argument with the Zenata king of Ronda, prior to his attempt on my father. Now it was clear to both Badis and to my father that Mutadid was the instigator of the Rondan act of aggression.

During the winter of 4794 (1045 and 1046) the Zenata rulers of Carmona and Moron joined forces and began initiating raids on Granadian holdings. Father was convinced Mutadid had a hand in this as well. Father’s response was two-fold. He organized and conducted counter raids into the territories of Carmona and Moron. His troops took plunder, annexed territory, and exacted tribute from the inhabitants of those areas ruled by the Zenata Berber al-Birzali and Dammon families, who ruled Carmona and Moron respectively. At the same time, Father raised the funds to recruit a whole regiment, a thousand, Mamluk mercenaries.

Only purchased slaves could become members of the Mamluk. An extremely wealthy Berber family from Jaen owned the particular regiment Father hired. All physical needs of these men were taken care of by their owners, who provided exceptionally good living conditions and a reward system so generous it enticed many freeborn, but poor youngsters, to volunteer themselves for sale in order to gain membership to the elite organization. Forty-man units were divided into four, ten man platoons. Five units formed a company and five companies a regiment. The same organizational system was used by almost all Andalusian armies.

The Mamluks spend all of their time together. They are indoctrinated into the dictates of the code of fursiyya. That code emphasizes courage, generosity, fraternity, and obedience. Every new recruit is trained with extreme vigor and intensity in; cavalry tactics, horsemanship, archery, hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and in the treatment of wounds. Only after they are proficient in all of these skills are they formally initiated into a unit, and assigned to a platoon. They continue to train daily for the rest of their careers.

They are cared for, even if they are wounded severely enough to no longer be fit for service. They are retired from active duty at the age of fifty-five. After retirement, many stay on and continue to be cared for. If they have saved enough, from the shares of loot they received as rewards, if they have family, and if they want to live with that family, they are provided with a modest stipend, and allowed to live independently. However, most retirees continue to live with their platoon, where they train the next generation of Mamluks. The Mamluks are the most elite and feared fighters today, but few regimes are wealthy enough to hire, and keep them on the payroll for prolonged periods of time.

Father also recruited a regiment of Almoravids. The Almoravids, also fanatical mercenary fighters, are organized and under the command of the Jazula Berber, Abd Allah ibn Yassin. This entrepreneur was able to convert whole captured North African Berber and Negro tribes into his warrior Islamic culture.

The two hired regiments bolstered Granada’s regular army. We had a full regiment of infantry that included six-hundred Nubians, bolstered by four-hundred conscripts. Our regular army also included three regiments of light and heavy cavalry, and another regiment of mounted archers and slingers. These last four regiments were tribal Zanhadja Berbers, actually militia, commanded by their own chiefs, and called upon whenever Badis needed them. When not in service to King Badis, these tribal warriors often occupied themselves by stealing sheep and horses from neighboring tribes or conducting raids on the holdings of their Arab or Zenata Berber neighbors.

The Zanhadja are masterful horsemen. They breed and raise Andalusian horses originally bred from Arabian stock, and renowned for their speed and endurance. When mobilized, each regiment was commanded by a general, who reported directly to my father. My father, as General-in-Chief of the army, reported only to King Badis. At the peak of his power and influence, my father commanded six thousand fighters. All were well-trained, well-equipped, well-supplied and well-paid. He was formidable.

Early in 4795 (1046) the weak and ineffective King Indris II of Malaga ceded more portions of his kingdom to both Granada and to her slippery, and fickle ally, Ronda. Abu Nun, encouraged again by the bribes of Mutadid of Seville, renounced his treaty with Granada, and initiated raids into Granadian territory. My father responded to these incursions with only minimal retaliatory efforts. He was not yet ready for an all-encompassing war with Seville. But, he understood that Mutadid was working to build his army and his resources, while encouraging the small-scale irritants by Ronda and other Taifa. All through 4795, Abu Nun continued his scattered raiding, but he was careful to avoid any significant battles with the forces my father deployed to retaliate. The inevitable result was that the only people to suffer were those occupants of the towns, villages, and farms plundered by the respective sides.

In 4796 (1047), Abu Nun opened a second front of attack. This time from his southern holdings, new territories acquired from Malaga. This was made possible because of the unstable situation in Malaga when King Idris II was overthrown and sent into exile. King Badis responded by personally taking a regiment of Zanhadja to Malaga with the intention of returning Idris II to the throne.

My father was in the north with his Mamluk and Almoravid regiments, retaliating against the raiding Rondans. Badis was on his own facing Abu Nun, managing without the wisdom, tactics, and strategies of my father. Abu Nun was able to outmaneuver Badis. He mounted a superior force to meet Badis in the type of mounted fighting the Berbers loved. The resulting battle was indecisive. Both sides lost many fighters, but neither could be said to be victorious. Badis lost heart for the endeavor. He returned to Granada, and his jug of wine.

The newly crowned King of Malaga, who took the name Idris III, was as cruel and aggressive as Abu Nun could hope for. He resented Badis’ effort to remove him, and recognized the advantages of being an ally of Ronda, and thereby Seville. Mutadid was now finally ready to act directly. He formalized alliances with both Ronda and Moron. He sent emissaries to several other Taifa states seeking an even stronger coalition against Granada.

Granada was facing a multi-front defensive war. Its enemies were able to pick the time and place of attack. My father recognized Seville was the real enemy, but a direct attack on Seville was not a viable option. Seville was now too strong, and too far away. If he did move against it he would be vulnerable to an attack from the rear by Ronda, Malaga and other states that would quickly recognize his vulnerability.

Father explained his predicament to me. If he attacked Malaga, his army would be isolated from home by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, leaving Ronda and Seville an easy route into Granada itself.

Ronda was a formidable fortress perched on a sheer cliff, but the route to this fortress was not difficult. Leaving a single regiment to protect Granada, Father led the Zanhadja regulars and his mercenaries into Rondan territory. When he learned the magnitude of the threat, Abu Nun dispatched an urgent request for support to Seville. Mutadid made the decision to finally confront Granada directly. He responded to the Rondan plea by ordering General Muhktar, with two regiments of cavalry, to join forces with the armies of Moron, Carmona, and Ronda. He anticipated these combined armies would be able to crush the Granadans.

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Ha Nagid’s journal26

21 Tishrei, 4788 (September, 1039)


After three hard days in the Sierra Nevada we came down from the mountains to the city of Guadix. The route was filled with steep accents, and descents. The trails were rocky, thick with brush, thistles, and scrub oak. We lost three horses, and six mules, on the dangerous passage. They stumbled, twisted their legs, and were too lame to be used. We abandoned them to fend for themselves. We also lost two horses, and one mule that fell off the steep edge of a cliff and were dashed against rocks as they fell. A man riding one of the horses managed to kick loose and jump off, but broke his leg when he landed. The other horse was a packhorse. It lost its balance when the load it was carrying shifted. The mule we lost was shoved to the side by another mule trying to squeeze past on a very narrow portion of the trail. The shoved mule lost his balance and went over the side.

Although the route was difficult, we made it through with almost all of our troops, animals, and supplies in good condition. We came down from the mountains to Guadix where we rested for a day and resupplied with fresh food. Then we crossed the valley, skirted the Sierra de Baza over hills that were sometimes very rocky and steep, but lacked those yawning precipices threatening to swallow us. We rested again for a day in the town of Baza, then, entered the long valley between the Sierra de las Estancias and Sierra de Maria. The valley broadens out before climbing into mountains again to arrive at the ancient city of Valez Rubio. From there, we planned to unite with the forces of Abdal Ma’n. Our combined forces were to descend to the hill country, then circle around and approach Lorca from the southeast.

During this time, Abdal aziz learned about our progress. His army, joined by the army of Denia, stopped their advances on the other cities who had instituted the revolt. He concentrated his resources, quickly subdued the revolutionary forces in Murcia then established his forces in the stronghold of Lorca. I had anticipated this response.

It was increasingly obvious to the king of Denia that Abdal aziz’ long term goal was to not only gain control of all of Valencia. He wanted Almeria as well. It was not in Denia’s best interest for Valencia to be that strong. The king of Denia was only fighting in order to keep an independent Almeria. He knew if Almeria and Valencia were combined they would be so strong it would threaten the wellbeing of an independent Denia. He decided to demand immediate payment of the fee Abdal aziz had agreed to when Denia joined him. As he, no doubt, anticipated Abdal aziz was strapped for cash after paying his Catalan mercenaries. He was unable to pay.

The king of Denia took his army and went home. Word of our imminent arrival reached Lorca by way to spies I sent into that place, with inflated reports of our size and strength. Abdal aziz’ Catalan mercenaries decided the odds of defeating us, thereby collecting booty and reward, were not in their favor. They also went home.

Abdal aziz’ regular army consisted of many conscripts who had been fighting all summer long. Fall was looming and many of these conscripts were anxious to return home for the harvest season. Abdal aziz was out of options. He abandoned Lorca. We entered two days later in triumph. We also secured a strong ally for the future, Almeria’s new king Abu l-Ahmas Ma’n.


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