The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History

The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage

Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History
    Book Description:

    Arabic culture was a central and shaping phenomenon in medieval Europe, yet its influence on medieval literature has been ignored or marginalized for the last two centuries. In this ground-breaking book, now returned to print with a new afterword by the author, María Rosa Menocal argues that major modifications of the medieval canon and its literary history are necessary. Menocal reviews the Arabic cultural presence in a variety of key settings, including the courts of William of Aquitaine and Frederick II, the universities in London, Paris, and Bologna, and Cluny under Peter the Venerable, and she examines how our perception of specific texts including the courtly love lyric and the works of Dante and Boccaccio would be altered by an acknowledgment of the Arabic cultural component.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0071-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Myth of Westernness in Medieval Literary Historiography
    (pp. 1-26)

    Modern civilization’s myriad pretensions to objectivity have unfortunately tended to obscure the fact that much of our writing of history is as much a myth-making activity as that of more primitive societies. We often regard tribal histories or ancient myths that do not cloak themselves in such pretensions as less objective than our own. We are prone to forget that history is written by the victors and serves to ratify and glorify their ascendancy—and we forget how many tracks are covered in that process. The writing of literary history, the close and often indispensable ancillary of general history, is...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Rethinking the Background
    (pp. 27-70)

    A half dozen years before the birth of William IX, duke of Aquitaine, who was to become one of the most powerful men of his time in both political and cultural affairs, there occurred one of the most famous and well-documented examples of the taking of Arabic cultural “booty” by southern French Christians.¹ This was the taking of Barbastro by Guillaume de Montreuil in 1064, during which he is said to have taken a thousand slave girls, captured women, back to Provence. Even if this were an apocryphal and gross exaggeration serving to emphasize the barbarity of the Christians from...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Oldest Issue: Courtly Love
    (pp. 71-90)

    Perhaps no area of medieval Romance literary studies so well illustrates the decisive effects of a preconceived image upon scholarship as does the problem of the origins and formal characteristics of the vernacular lyric. At the very center of this wide-ranging subfield is the lyric poetry written in southern France and variously referred to as “troubadour,” “Provençal,” “Occitan,” or “courtly love” poetry. Its centrality for scholars derives directly from its assumed centrality in the history of vernacular European poetry itself. For most of its students it has been the oldest, the most exemplary, the most central flower in the history...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Newest “Discovery”: The Muwashshaḥāt
    (pp. 91-114)

    The first and principal benefit of the reorientation of our scholarship should be to enable us to bring to fruition a new type of comparative textual analysis, an analysis not focused on the question of origins as this question has previously been profitably and legitimately carried out in the study of the medieval lyric. What is altered in reshaping our view of the medieval cultural ambience is that it becomes as potentially valuable and revealing (and as legitimate) to compare Hispano-Arabic poetry with Provençal or Sicilian poetry as it has always been to compare Sicilian and Provençal texts, for example....

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Italy, Dante, and the Anxieties of Influence
    (pp. 115-136)

    There can be little question that Dante Alighieri and his diverse works, both fiction and nonfiction, stood at a significant crossroads in the development of European artistic and intellectual life. Over the succeeding centuries, the vast power of his magnum opus alone has earned him a virtually unrivaled place in the hearts and minds of Europeans. Rumor has it that, after the Bible, no text is more studied in our tradition than the Divine Comedy, and its centrality to literature in a number of languages, English among them, is difficult to ignore. Fortunately, the seemingly endless richness of that text...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Other Readers, Other Readings
    (pp. 137-154)

    There is at least one reader of Dante, Boccaccio, who in his own reworking and interpretation of Dante in the Decameron is intrigued by the complexity and problematic nature of literary and philosophical relations with the European-Arabic world—and by Dante’s perceptions of them. It is a fortunate coincidence that some of the most exciting work currently being done in Boccaccio scholarship is in the area of its intertextual relations with the Commedia.¹ To add to the context of what is already being done, our perceptions of the influential and, for Dante, menacing Arabic world could perhaps help to reshape...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 155-160)

    I write this afterword nearly twenty years after writing The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History. Although the book bears an original copyright date of 1987, most of it was in fact written between 1983 and 1985, while I was an assistant professor in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. But it is not those two decades that separate us so decisively from the universe in which this, a book about our vexed relationship with what can fairly be described as the Arabic chapter in western culture, was written. Although some of the ways in which...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-178)
  12. Index
    (pp. 179-184)