Category: Persons

Judah Leo Abravanel

Judah Leo Abravanel (c. 1465-1525) developed a multifaceted philosophical system grounded in the concept of love. He combined themes from a Renaissance syncretic Platonism with patterns deriving from the Jewish and Arabic traditions.

Judah Leo Abravanel or Abrabanel (c. 1465-1525), known also as Leo Hebraeus, was one of the most important figures of Renaissance philosophy. He was born in Lisbon and came from a family of preeminent scholars and state officials. He then lived in Spain for a period of time and eventually settled in Naples as a result of the Jewish persecution in the Iberian peninsula.

His main work is the Dialoghi d’amore. Most probably, it was written in Italian and met with a huge success all over Europe. The work assumes the form of a dialogue between the characters Philo and Sophia. Philo defends positions that are in essence Aristotelian whereas Sophia's views reflect those of Plato. Abranavel mainly seeks to point out that the differences between Plato and Aristotle are differences of terminology and emphasis rather than content. Abranavel draws upon a wide variety of sources. Despite the fact that his philosophical outlook is justifiably regarded as falling within the tradition of the great thinkers of Renaissance Platonism, especially Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, Abranavel looks equally to the Jewish (Maimonidian and Cabalistic) and Arabic traditions (mostly the thinkers Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes). At the same time, in his work patterns of Greek mythology are interwoven with biblical themes in a way that signals the transition to the Modern Era world spirit.

The Dialoghi d'amore start with Philo confessing his love and desire for Sophia. Sophia, drawing upon arguments from Plato's Symposium, recoils from the idea arguing for the impossibility of simultaneous love and desire. One can only desire what one lacks, the argument goes, whereas one can only love what one possesses. Desire is related to deprivation and poverty whereas love to perfection and fulfillment. The discussion moves to the concepts of will, friendship and the good with Abranavel reconstituting the entire stock of concepts deriving from the Peripatetic practical philosophy and returning to the notion that human happiness consists in the agapetic intellectual union with God, whom he perceives in terms of the morphic, poetic and ultimate cause of love.

Abranavel seeks to conciliate the Platonic view of the souls as substance mediating between the intellectual and physical realms with the Aristotelian perception of the soul as physical entelechy capable of both sensory and intellectual faculties. Love is elevated to a cosmic principle that coheres the universe. The higher essences desire the completion of the lower ones, which are seen as the former's offspring. The latter seek union with their progenitor. The entire universe is a "circle of love." This essentially neo-Platonic idea allows Abranavel to reject Aristotle's perception of a self-enclosed divinity. It is not only the inferior created substances that love the divine but the divine as well that seeks for the inferior substances, and does so with infinite love.

Author: Thanos Samartzis
  • Guidi, A. Amour et Sagesse. Les Dialogues d'amour de Juda Abravanel dans la tradition salomonienne. Leiden, 2011.
  • Damiens, S. Amour et intellect chez Leon I΄Hébreu. Toulouse, 1971.
  • Kodera, S. Filone und Sofia in Leone Ebreos Dialoghi d'amore: Platonische Liebesphilosophie der Renaissance und Judentum. Frankfurt, 1995.
  • Abrabanel, JCaramella, S. ed. . Dialoghi d'amore. Bari, 1929.
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