An essential history of the greatest love poem ever written The
Song of Songs has been embraced for centuries as the ultimate song
of love. But the kind of love readers have found in this ancient
poem is strikingly varied. Ilana Pardes invites us to explore the
dramatic shift from readings of the Song as a poem on divine love
to celebrations of its exuberant account of human love. With a
refreshingly nuanced approach, she reveals how allegorical and
literal interpretations are inextricably intertwined in the Song's
tumultuous life. The body in all its aspects-pleasure and pain,
even erotic fervor-is key to many allegorical commentaries. And
although the literal, sensual Song thrives in modernity, allegory
has not disappeared. New modes of allegory have emerged in modern
settings, from the literary and the scholarly to the communal.
Offering rare insights into the story of this remarkable poem,
Pardes traces a diverse line of passionate readers. She looks at
Jewish and Christian interpreters of late antiquity who were
engaged in disputes over the Song's allegorical meaning, at
medieval Hebrew poets who introduced it into the opulent world of
courtly banquets, and at kabbalists who used it as a springboard to
the celestial spheres. She shows how feminist critics have marveled
at the Song's egalitarian representation of courtship, and how it
became a song of America for Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and
Toni Morrison. Throughout these explorations of the Song's
reception, Pardes highlights the unparalleled beauty of its
audacious language of love.
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