08 June 2019

Jewish women’s role in
intellectual life brought to
life in Córdoba museum

The wife of Dunas ben Labrat depicted by the Cordovan artist Jose Luis Munoz … her given name is forgotten, but her poetry is being recovered (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

An exhibition in the Sephardic museum in Córdoba, Casa de Sefarad, highlights the role Jewish women played in the intellectual and cultural life of Andalucia and mediaeval Córdoba.

They forgotten women whose place has been restored in cultural life include librarians, intellectuals, poets and doctors, and their images have been recreated by the Cordovan artist Jose Luis Munoz.

A tenth century woman named Lubna had extensive knowledge of calculus and mathematics. Fatima bint al-Mutanna and Sams Umm al Faqara were counted among his teachers by the Sufi scholar ibn Arabi. Wallada the Omayyad and Hafsa al Rakuyyina were outstanding poets and teachers.

Dunas ben Labrat was a celebrated poet and philologist. But recent research has shown that the wife of Dunas ben Labrat was a poet in her own right too, although her personal name is no longer known.

Research by E Fletcher, a lecturer in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has tried to piece together her life in mediaeval Córdoba, unearthing a manuscript that is now regarded as the oldest preserved sample of poetry written by a woman in mediaeval Spain.

Two researchers, Ángel Sáenz-Badillos and Judit Taragona, have written that it is ‘an exceptional achievement, considering the social and cultural role given to women in traditional Jewish education.

The poem by the wife of Dunas ben Labrat evokes the exile and suffering that divided and haunted Jewish families in Córdoba for centuries.

Will her beloved remember the gracious deer
the day of his departure, with his only child in her arms?
He put the ring from his right hand on her left hand,
on his arm she put her bracelet;
when she took his veil as a keepsake,
he took hers so as not to forget her.
He will not stay in Sephard
even if he were given half his master’s kingdom.

Hafsa al Rakuyyina depicted by the Cordovan artist Jose Luis Munoz … she was an outstanding poet and teacher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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