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Lot 67: BENJAMIN OF TUDELA
November 14, 2013
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Masa'oth shel Rabbi Benyamin ["The Travels of Rabbi Benjamin."] Second edition. Printer's mark on title (armillary sphere, verse from Psalms, anchor and initials "A.U.") ff. 32. Upper corner of few leaves expertly repaired, slight staining, censor's signature on title. Modern calf. 12mo. Vinograd, Ferrara 42 (JNUL copy incomplete); St. Cat. Bodl. 4570:2; not in Adams.
• OF EXCEPTIONAL RARITY.
Though hardly anything is known concerning the person of this Spanish Jew of the second half of the twelfth century, Benjamin of Tudela's travels are an historical source of paramount importance. "There is no general account of the Mediterranean world or of the Middle East in this period which approaches that of Benjamin of Tudela in importance, whether for Jewish or for general history." (EJ, Vol. IV, col. 537.)
The author set forth in 1159 from Tudela, Spain to traverse across Europe, Asia Minor, and Upper Egypt. He notes in this travelogue the manners and commerce of the various nations he came into contact with, and made detailed reports of the political situation of his fellow Jews, particularly in Constantinople. Furthermore, Benjamin supplies the names of the principal Jews of each city visited, and surveys the activities of communal organizations. He exhibited a keen interest in prevailing political, social and economic conditions and possessed a clear insight into the conditions and history of the countries he visited during the course of his thirteen year trip. This celebrated work of his has been republished many times and translated into many languages since the first edition of Constantinople, 1543.
The printer of this rare second edition, Abraham Usque (aka Duarte Pinel), was a Marranno who escaped from Portugal to Italy. According to David Amram, his printer's mark reflects his past: "The motto that is entwined around his printer's mark, taken from the 130th Psalm, might well express his thought when he was abiding in Portugal, waiting for the happy day when he might publicly avow the faith of his fathers: 'I wait for the Lord; my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope."... He preserved the memory of the seafaring prowess of his native Portugal in his printer's mark, where a globe encircled by the ecliptic and zodiacal marks is supported by an anchor. His initials A.U. defiantly seem to proclaim his release from the tyranny of the personality of Duarte Pinel, whom he had shaken off." See Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1963) p. 282.
Ferrara, Abraham ibn Usque, 1555.