counter The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain - Free Download Books
Hot Best Seller

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

Availability: Ready to download

Undoing the familiar notion of the Middle Ages as a period of religious persecution and intellectual stagnation, María Menocal now brings us a portrait of a medieval culture where literature, science, and tolerance flourished for 500 years.The story begins as a young prince in exile—the last heir to an Islamic dynasty—founds a new kingdom on the Iberian peninsula: al-Andal Undoing the familiar notion of the Middle Ages as a period of religious persecution and intellectual stagnation, María Menocal now brings us a portrait of a medieval culture where literature, science, and tolerance flourished for 500 years.The story begins as a young prince in exile—the last heir to an Islamic dynasty—founds a new kingdom on the Iberian peninsula: al-Andalus. Combining the best of what Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures had to offer, al-Andalus and its successors influenced the rest of Europe in dramatic ways, from the death of liturgical Latin and the spread of secular poetry, to remarkable feats in architecture, science, and technology. The glory of the Andalusian kingdoms endured until the Renaissance, when Christian monarchs forcibly converted, executed, or expelled non-Catholics from Spain. In this wonderful book, we can finally explore the lost history whose legacy is still with us in countless ways. Author Biography: María Rosa Menocal is R. Selden Rose Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and head of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University. She lives in New Haven, CT.


Compare

Undoing the familiar notion of the Middle Ages as a period of religious persecution and intellectual stagnation, María Menocal now brings us a portrait of a medieval culture where literature, science, and tolerance flourished for 500 years.The story begins as a young prince in exile—the last heir to an Islamic dynasty—founds a new kingdom on the Iberian peninsula: al-Andal Undoing the familiar notion of the Middle Ages as a period of religious persecution and intellectual stagnation, María Menocal now brings us a portrait of a medieval culture where literature, science, and tolerance flourished for 500 years.The story begins as a young prince in exile—the last heir to an Islamic dynasty—founds a new kingdom on the Iberian peninsula: al-Andalus. Combining the best of what Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures had to offer, al-Andalus and its successors influenced the rest of Europe in dramatic ways, from the death of liturgical Latin and the spread of secular poetry, to remarkable feats in architecture, science, and technology. The glory of the Andalusian kingdoms endured until the Renaissance, when Christian monarchs forcibly converted, executed, or expelled non-Catholics from Spain. In this wonderful book, we can finally explore the lost history whose legacy is still with us in countless ways. Author Biography: María Rosa Menocal is R. Selden Rose Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and head of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University. She lives in New Haven, CT.

30 review for The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    This book is all about fragmentation. Fragmented are the arguments, fragmented are the contents, fragmented was the society Menocal strives to explore, and fragmented was also the tolerance that the author believes existed in Medieval Spain. Fragmented remains then my Like/Dislike of the book. It does not help that in this mosaic of unequal elements the glue that is supposed to bind them together, Menocal’s language, did not seem to coalesce her pieces. Reading her prose, although it is very clea This book is all about fragmentation. Fragmented are the arguments, fragmented are the contents, fragmented was the society Menocal strives to explore, and fragmented was also the tolerance that the author believes existed in Medieval Spain. Fragmented remains then my Like/Dislike of the book. It does not help that in this mosaic of unequal elements the glue that is supposed to bind them together, Menocal’s language, did not seem to coalesce her pieces. Reading her prose, although it is very clear and flowing, I could not help but quiver in my seat at times. The terms and turns of phrases she uses are too modern. One cannot speak of ‘avant-garde’, or ‘revolution’ or ‘bestsellers’ or ‘going native’ or ‘radical chic’ when dealing with the culture formed in the Iberian Peninsula during the 8th- 15th centuries. No, this language, does not bind tightly her thesis. Fragmented are the arguments. Her aim is to prove that tolerance existed amongst the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews over a long span of time--around seven centuries--, and that it was precisely this tolerance that created a fertile ground in which various cultural activities, mostly literary and architectural, grew and flourished. She detects this tolerance first in the early period of the Muslim side, when the Umayyads controlled most of the peninsula and established their Caliphate in Cordoba. The existence of the shimmies, or communities of non-Muslims with a protected status, is the corner stone of her argument. During this period of great prosperity, the sciences and arts experienced a glorious development that would gradually spread to the rest of Europe. This Caliphate however did not last very long -- around one hundred years. And its last ruler—Al-Mansur, the Vizier who acted as Caliph--, turned out to be a very violent man with a penchant towards tyrannical practices. Even before him there had been some tension amongst the Muslim people: those of Arabic descent were a minority who occupied the upper échelons of the society while the greater numbers of Berbers (North African origin), and the Mozárabes (Christian Iberians and Visigoths) were kept in the lower levels with fewer privileges (view spoiler)[The colonization of the Northern parts of the peninsula, when the Arabs rapidly conquered them, was undertaken by relocating the Berbers; but these people found the cold and wet weather inimical to their preferences and did not stay there long. Their gradual moving back south to sunny Andalucia made the reconquering by the Northern Christians a lot easier (hide spoiler)] . A rebellion ensued and the Caliphate fragmented in various kingdoms—the Taifas. Menocal finds that during this second Muslim period, that of the First Taifas--which lasted almost another hundred years--tolerance continued to exist. Jewish and Christian communities continued to live in their dhimmis and the strong culture that had developed under the Umayyads lingered on. But the Taifas were not left in peace. Neither by the Christians who interfered, nor by the Muslims from North Africa. Invasions ensued. First the Almoravids and then Almohads. Menocal acknowledges that these newer invasions brought greater dogmatism and fanaticism. The Kings of the Taifas felt threatened and entered into agreements with the also fragmented and pugnacious Christian kingdoms (Navarra, Castile, León, Aragon, Portugal). One of such deal resulted in the creation of the Nasrin Kingdom of Granada. The Castilian King Fernando III (1199—1252) granted the lands to the first Nasrid Sultan Mohammed I ibn Nasr (1194-1273) for his help in expelling the Almohads, but Granada would remain in vassal terms to Castile. (view spoiler)[What prompted the invasion of the Granada kingdom in the late 15th century was when the last but one Sultan refused to pay vassalage (hide spoiler)] . We see then that the golden age of tolerance in the Muslim territories lasted around two centuries out of the seven. But I wonder whether we can really understand even this period as tolerant. There are a few oddities. Menocal tells us that in 855 a group of about fifty Christians who had vilified the Prophet were slaughtered publicly. Nor was the period so placid culturally as the greatest destruction of Muslim architecture, the palatial complex of Madinat Al-Zahra that must have been of an excruciating beauty and richness, was utterly wrecked by the Berbers during the civil war that brought down the Caliphate. Menocal then examines the tolerance on the Christian side, focusing mostly on the town of Toledo once it became the new capital of Castile & León after it was conquered back in 1085. This city had already been the capital of the Visigoths before the Muslim invasion. Indeed, one can visit today a couple of Synagogues which generously and beautifully incorporate Muslim architectural decoration. And in the church of Saint Román we find horseshoe arches with the characteristic red and white voussoirs, and, more interestingly, writing on the walls that looks Arabic but which is not. Many elements of the Muslim culture were then kept. Even King Alfonso VI (1047-1109) made his heir the son he had with a Muslim. But I doubt whether, once Toledo was taken over it would not have been rapidly and strongly Christianized. The town had carried a considerable symbolic weight since the Visigoths and was very quickly made into the main See for the Christian Church of the peninsula. Such a choice and the implementation had to be traumatic for the inhabitants. Some aspects of the other cultures would be allowed to survive, but most of their practices must have been violently repressed. And so King Alfonso sent his half-Moorish, and deeply loved, teenager son to fight against the Almoravids. In the battle of Uclés he lost him. It is harder to evaluate the tolerance as exercised by the third vertex of the triangle. The Jewish people had to be accommodating; they could not choose whether to be tolerant or not. They just strove to be. Often they managed to hold fragmented pockets of economic power and would steer into one or another area depending on the constantly varying circumstances. Sometimes they succeeded in gaining political weight and influence as well. For example, Samuel the Nagid became a Vizier in the Taifa of Granada in the early 11th century. But other times, particularly under the Almoravids and the Almohads, they had to leave the land. Occasionally they had to survive through some nasty anti-Jewish riots, such as those in Granada in 1066. No, it was not always easy for them. My impression then is that the society was much more fragmented, agitated and restless than Menocal is willing to admit, and that fragments her main argument. Fragmented are the contents too. After giving an overall historical view of the times, she then explores vignettes that function as proofs of her argument. She follows a chronological order, but there is no unifying thread from episode to episode. She focuses mostly on a series of individuals, such as Petrous Alfonsi, a Jewish Andalusian who moved to London; or Judah Halevi, another Jewish writer who moved to Egypt; or Michael Scot, who having trained his languages in Toledo, moved to the Imperial court in Sicily—to name just a few. Apart from people, she also includes things as proofs. The Astrolabe and the way it travelled to the rest of Europe, in particular the French circles around Cluny--with Peter the Venerable, Bernard de Clairvaux and Peter Abelard--is brought in as a testimony of these fruitful times. All these vignettes are fascinating in themselves, but appear somewhat disorderly and disjointedly in an overall diffuse picture. It is a heterogeneous mosaic composed of brilliant separate pieces, many with a rosy tint. But don’t misunderstand me. All in all, this is a recommended read. There is much one can learn from Menocal about this difficult period. And may be part of the shortcomings of the book are explained because any account in cultural history is fraught with difficulties. We are still looking for models that help to explain how specific political, economic, social and religious structures relate to the culture produced in any given time and place. This is aggravated by the idiosyncrasy of this particular period that requires the scholar to be both an Arabist and a Latinist. To me the main attraction of these times is precisely this fragmentation, and that may be the key for the bouts of cultural richness. I am then trying to keep track of the way the various Christian units linked with the Muslim ones in opposition to their brethren. There were very many instances. For example, when Fernando I (1015-1065) died, a civil war began as his children fought with each other over the territories. García, who had inherited Galicia, took refuge in the Taifa of Seville, while Alfonso, who got León, did the same in the Taifa of Toledo, when their elder brother, Sancho, pushed them out of their reigns (view spoiler)[ This is partly the story in the film El Cid with Charlton Heston (hide spoiler)] . Similarly, and as said above, the Nasrid Kingdom got their Granada, where they built their beautiful palace complex of the Alhambra, as their compensation prize for helping the Christians push out the Muslim invasion from North Africa. I am also very interested in learning more about how the rich Muslim culture—(view spoiler)[ a great part of it originated in the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad when they engaged in the systematic translation into Arabic of the (by then forgotten) Greek thought (hide spoiler)] propagated in the rest of Europe. This was a crucial phenomenon with wide repercussions. For example, just recently I have encountered in other reads more references to some of the vignettes expanded by Menocal, as in Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral. In this cultural dissemination the role of the Sicilian court under the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) and its associations with the Toledo court under Alfonso X the Wise (1221-1284) are fascinating. Sicily was the root for the literary ramifications in South of France with the Provençal lyric and the Still nuovo in Tuscany (think of Dante). Menocal broaches on this with her vignettes, but I wish she had explored the links between these two centres a bit more. For example, she forgot to mention that Alfonso was the son Elisabeth of Swabia--a cousin of the Emperor and who had grown in his court. I enjoyed reading several of the literary issues that Menocal discusses, such as the aljamias , or texts in Romance languages written using the Arabic alphabet. These and the jarchas —poems that combine Arabic verses with a refrain in a Romance language-- testify to the survival of some sort of corrupted Latin and its gradual transformation into various forms of languages out of which Castilian, Leonese, Galician, Portuguese, Aranese, Valencian, Aragonese and Catalan would form. The last group formed a continuum with those spoken in the South of France, the family of the Langue d’Oc (Provençal and Lusitain amongst others), and further on with those other dialects like Piemontese in the North of Italy. This continuum coexisted with Arabic to a greater or lesser degree and during a longer or shorter time, depending on the area. Also fascinating for my current reading programme was Menocal’s discussion of the Chansons de Geste, with the Chanson de Roland and the Cantar de Mio Cid, that sing a couple of the episodes in the history discussed in this book. Menocal expands on the difference between them: the Chanson – written about 250 after the Roncesvalles event— keeps a much more fantastic tone while the Cantar--composed only about 50 years after El Cid died—maintains the veracity tone of a Chronicle. The tension between the two, history and fiction, would maintain the tradition alive and would develop into the Chivalry Novels, with Amadís de Gaula I and the two Orlandos, Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso until Cervantes would mock and thereby conclude them (and thereby beginning a new genre). Menocal remains for me a literary professor and my next read by her is The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage, while for the historical aspects I now plan to read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    .”The ornament of the world” is the famous description of Cordoba given to her readers by the tenth-century Saxon writer Hroswitha, who from her far-off convent at Gandersheim perceived the exceptional qualities and the centrality of the Cordoban caliphate. María Rosa Menocal (1953-2012) Cuban-born scholar of medieval culture and history and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University … degrees from the University of Pennsylvania ... taught Romance philology at the University of Pennsylva .”The ornament of the world” is the famous description of Cordoba given to her readers by the tenth-century Saxon writer Hroswitha, who from her far-off convent at Gandersheim perceived the exceptional qualities and the centrality of the Cordoban caliphate. María Rosa Menocal (1953-2012) Cuban-born scholar of medieval culture and history and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University … degrees from the University of Pennsylvania ... taught Romance philology at the University of Pennsylvania … director of the Yale Whitney Humanities Center for several years … co-editor of The Literature of Al-Andalus in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature series … elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 2011 and inducted into the Fellows of the Medieval Academy in March 2012. (Wiki) The book – Forward & first chapter The book was published in 2002, with the subtitle How Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance in medieval Spain. Ironic, in light of the happenings of the previous September - to say nothing of the religious hatred and intolerance in the Middle East over the past many decades. Harold Bloom, in the Forward, describes the book as “a love song addressed to the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian (mostly troubadour) poets of what once we called the High Middle Ages. He continues:I hesitate to nominate a single hero of the book (Menocal’s heart seems to belong to the warrior-poet Samuel the Nagid, who reinvented Hebrew poetry), but I would vote for Ibn Hazm, also a warrior-poet, but in Arabic, whose The Neck-Ring of the Dove, a handbook on romantic love, is also a monument to devastated Cordoba, its great era forever past. Menocal presents Ibn Hazm as a Don Quixote, holding on to an aesthetics, an erotics, and a cultural tradition unrecoverable but unforgettable. Here I will try to summarize, largely in Menocal’s words, the first chapter of the book, in which she lays out her thesis of the significance of the Iberian peninsula to the history of Europe. ”Beginnings” Menocal begins her tale, “Once upon a time in the mid-eighth century, an intrepid young man named Abd al-Rahman abandoned his home in Damascus, the Near Eastern heartland of Islam, and set out across the North African desert in search of a place of refuge.” Five years later Abd al-Rahman reached today's Morocco, the Maghrib to the Muslims, from whence Abd’s mother had been brought east. There he found that his Berber kinsmen had pushed to the west and then the north, across the Straights of Gibraltar into Iberia. To there al-Rahman followed. Who was al-Rahman, and why did he leave Damascus? He was a prince of the Umayyad branch of the Muslim religion, the Umayyads who had first led the Muslims out of the desert of Arabia into the Fertile Crescent, and who were the direct descendants of the Prophet. In that mid-eighth century, in 750 exactly, the Umayyads had been massacred in Syria by the rival Abbasid branch of the religion, who had thus seized control of the empire called “the House of Islam”. Abd al-Rahman was essentially the sole survivor. When the surviving prince of the Umayyads reached Iberia five years later, he found “a thriving and expansive Islamic settlement” on the banks of the “Big Wadi”, the river now known as the Guadalquivir. The capital of the settlement was the old Roman city of Corduba, renamed by its more recent conquerers, the Visigoths, “Khordoba”. These Arabic settlers were calling the land al-Andalus. Menocal relates how the arrival of this assumed-dead Umayyad prince in the western settlement suddenly threw the politics of the region into turmoil. The local emir offered al-Rahman permanent refuge and his daughter’s hand in marriage, but al-Rahman, “the successor to the Prophet and the supreme temporal and spiritual leader of the Islamic world, could not be so easily bought off.” He assembled forces loyal to him, both Syrians and Berbers of these western lands, and defeated his would-be father-in-law outside the walls of Cordoba in May 756, thus becoming the new governor of the westernmost province of the Islamic world. Menocal, in the book, tells the story “of how this remarkable turn of events … powerfully affected the course of European history and civilization.”Many aspects of the story are largely unknown, and the extent of their continuing effects on the world around us is scarcely understood, for numerous and complex reasons … If we retell this story beginning with the narrative of that intrepid young man who miraculously evaded the annihilation of his line and migrated from Damascus to Cordoba, which he then made over into his new homeland, we end up with an altogether different vision of the fundamental parameters of Europe during the Middle Ages. … (The story) is about a genuine foundational European cultural moment that qualifies as “first rate”, in the sense of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wonderful formula (from his essay “The Crack-Up”) – namely, that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.” … Much that was characteristic of medieval culture was profoundly rooted in the cultivation of complexities, charms, and challenges of contradictions –of the “yes and no”, as it was put by Peter Abelard, the infamous twelfth-century Parisian intellectual and Christian theologian.Finally, her method of telling this story, she says, will not be a “retelling of the history of the Middle Ages, or even that of medieval Spain”. Instead, the book consists of “miniature portraits, that range widely in time and place, and that are focused on cultural rather than political events … they will, it is hoped, lay bare the vast distance between what the conventional histories and other general prejudices would have us expect (that, for example, Christians saw the Muslim infidels as their mortal enemy and spent seven hundred years trying to drive them from Spain) … they highlight stories that point to some of the unknown depths of cultural tolerance and symbiosis in our heritage, and they may begin to suggest a very different overall portrait of this “middle” age. The rest of the book Following “Beginnings” is a chapter called “A Brief History of a First-Rate Place”. This is the longest chapter in the book, and is basically an introductory essay on the history of medieval Spain, which serves as a background upon which Menocal hangs her portraits. The chapter begins with the events that followed upon the death of Muhammad in 632; describes the expansion of Islam across North Africa and, via converted Berbers of Morocco, into Europe (Spain) in 711; and ends with the events of 1492 (see portrait In the Alhambra). Then come Menocal’s portraits, ranging in length from nine to eighteen pages. This main section of the book has been given the title THE PALACES OF MEMORY Each portrait has a name, and below that on the first page, a general setting (place, year). Three of the portraits have more than a single section, in which case each section has its own place setting (but always a common year). The portraits are all listed below, along with a brief description of what’s in them. I’m doing this because I think there are many people I know on Goodreads who might have specific interests in some of these portraits, to say nothing of the entire book. Also, for a couple portraits I’ve added a few personal comments. The Mosque and the Palm Tree Cordoba, 786 Summary of the achievements of Abd al-Rahman … the relationship between the Franks and Islam in these early years … alliances and fraternization between Muslims and Christians … the building and expansion of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which continued until nearly the year 1000 … several pages on poetry and the use of the Arabic language by Islam. Mother Tongues Cordoba, 855 One of the main characters of the portrait is Paul Alvarus, “outspoken and widely respected Christian luminary of Cordoba” … topics include the use of Arabic and Latin at this time … the Arabization of Christians … the many languages used in Cordoba, including both the Romance languages and the development of vernacular (“mother tongue”) languages … and the tale of the fifty so-called “Mozarab martyrs”, who protested the gradual and peaceful conversion of their Christian and Latin world by blaspheming the Prophet, the one thing forbidden by the Islamic ruler - thus losing their heads, and serving the purposes of generations of Christian chroniclers in future centuries. A Grand Vizier, a Grand City Cordoba, 949 The story of the caliph Abd al-Rahman III, the descendant of the original al-Rahman … during his reign (912-961) “the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba made the sweeping and plausible claim to absolute primacy within the House of Islam” … during his reign, a man promoted higher and higher, eventually to the prestigious and powerful office of foreign secretary to the calaiph, a man who identified himself as “Hasdai, the son of Isaac, the son of Ezra, from the sons of the Jerusalem exile who now live in Sefarid” – a man who was the nasi, the prince, of his own Jewish religious community. The Gardens of Memory Madinat al-Zahra, South of Cordoba, 1009 Madinat al-Zahra, the wonder-city of the Umayyad caliphs, built by Abd al-Rahman III as part of his declaration of the caliphate … destroyed in 1009 by Berber mercenaries who resented the claims of the Umayyads. “As a ruin it served for centuries as a romantic and complex touchstone, an image of a once-glorious Umayyad past.” Victorious in Exile The battlefield of Argona, between Cordoba and Granada, 1041 The ascendency of Granada over Cordoba, under the warrior-poet Samuel - Ishmael in Arabic, his native tongue; Shmuel in Hebrew, the language in which he spoke to God – known as Samuel the Najid. … the flight of the Jews of Cordoba, many prosperous, well-educated, from the highest classes of government and scholarship, eventually settling in Granada … Hebrew poetry Love and Its Songs Just West of Seville, on the Road to Huelva August 1064 Ibn Hazm, “an outstanding intellect in Andalusioian history, one of the keenest minds the caliphate had ever produced” … dying in the backwater of Niebla, after a lifetime spent defending the hopeless Umayyad cause … of his four hundred books, few remain … his masterpiece love poem The Neck-Ring of the Dove Barbastro, in the Foothills of the Pyrenees, on the Road to Saragosa August 1064 Norman invasions of that same summer … siege of Barbastro … beginning of the period in which peoples on both sides of the Pyrenees had much more contact, usually of a military nature … vernacular language, singing, Andalusian invention of “ring songs” The Church At the Top of the Hill Toledo, 1085 The Christian Reconquest of Toledo … the church redesigned to commemorate the reconquest pays tribute through its architecture to the supplanted Islamic culture … Toledo becomes the capital of the kingdom of Castile …Ferdinand I … Alfonso VI … the fundamentalist Berber Almoravid dynasty invades the peninsula to aid their Muslim brethren … Toledo “the radiant intellectual capital of Europe, a Christian city where Arabic remained a language of culture and learning” An Andalusian in London Huesca, 1106 Huesca, in Aragon, the foothills of the Pyrenees … Petrus Alfonsi, an Arabized Jewish convert to Christianity, becomes widely known for his book Disciplina clericalis (loosely, Priestly Tales) - the predecessor, in his “framed tale” format, to both Chaucer and Boccaccio … likewise his Dialogue Against the Jews becomes the standard form “for laying out the cases of the competing religions of medieval Europe”. Sailing Away, Riding Away Alexandria, 1140 Judah Halevi, “the revered pillar of the Andalusian Jewish community, and the most celebrated poet of his age” arrives in Alexandria, having chosen to exile himself from al-Andalus … the last of the Golden Age of Andalusian poets, who had redeemed Hebrew from its profound exile, locked inside temples, never speaking about life itself … some of the great works by Halevi - Bookof the Khazars, and his over eight hundred poems, among which “his gorgeous love songs to Jerusalem and Zion”, and his rousing Song of the Cid about Rodrigo Diaz, as he prepares to ride into exile from the court of Alfonso VI. The Abbot and the Quran Cluny, 1142 Cluny, France, its famous abbey dating from the tenth century, in 1142 one of the centers of the Latin Christian world, with the largest church in Christendom … the head abbot Peter the Venerable, and the enfant terrible of the day Peter Abelard … the Abbot’s journey into Iberian Christian territories to find translators to work on the sacred book of the Muslims, the first systematic Christian project to study Islam, and the first translation of the Quran into Latin … Robert of Ketton, Englishman living in Toledo, turned out to be the man he was looking for. Gifts a triple-decker: Sicily, Cordoba, Granada – all in 1236 Frederick II, emperor of Sicily and one of his favorites, Michael Scot, physician, astrologer, necromancer, translator of Arabic and Hebrew texts … translation into Latin from Arabic in Cordoba … (Saint) Ferdinand III, king of Castile strikes a bargain with Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Nasr – Nasr and his people (250 years’ worth of his descendants) get Granada, Ferdinand gets Cordoba. Banned in Paris Paris, 1277 Paris the intellectual center of Europe in the thirteenth century … the story of the commentaries written by the Cordoban Averroes exploding on Europe, banned in Paris in 1210 … but this genie was out of the bottle … the “old” Aristotle, nothing but a few books of the Organon translated by Boethius, challenged by the arrival of the Arabic Aristotle, from Cordoba, where it had arrived many generations previously from Baghdad … and the “detailed, line-by-line, book-by-book, limitless universe of the new Arabic Aristotle” being taught in Paris increasingly as the century wears on, despite prohibitions … I found this portrait to be the most interesting in the book. I had known something about Averroes and his contributions to the European understanding of Aristotle, but to nowhere near the depth that Menocal gives, even in these few (fifteen) pages. Although it is little remembered, and its cultural setting little understood, this moment of intellectual crisis in Paris was a watershed in Western cultural life. At its heart lay the lifework of an Andalusian thinker, Averroes, as well as the whole intellectual and cultural complex of Islamic Spain. Ironically, by 1277, there was very little left of anything one could properly call “Islamic Spain” – only the embattled corner that was Granada. Yet its intellectual and cultural impact on the rest of Europe was in some ways reaching its peak – perhaps nowhere more than in the rooms where Parisian philosophers and theologians talked about what men thought and how men understood, about what was truth and what was revelation. … the entire thrust of Averroes’ efforts – and this was likewise the core of the work of his countryman and contemporary, Maimonides – was to establish a model for the relationship between philosophy, which meant not just speculative thought, on the one hand, and theology, or faith-bound thought, which accepted the teachings of Scripture and its official interpreters, on the other. By the way, the portrait includes several pages on Maimonides (Musa ibn Maymun). Visions of Other Worlds Avila, 1305 Moses of Leon and his almost mythical manuscript Zohar, “the very heart and soul of the Jewish mystical tradition called Kabbalah” … Alfonso X ("the learned") abandons Latin as the language into which the Arabic scientific and philosophical corpus is being translated, in favor of the vernacular Castilian language. Foreign Dignitaries at the Courts of Castile Seville & Toledo, 1364 Ibn Khaldun, the most influential philosopher of history to have written in Arabic … his masterpiece Muqaddimah (Introduction to History) now read alongside writers such as Vico and Gibbon … Islamic architecture … the use of the Great Mosque of Seville as a cathedral, preserving most of it … architecture of the Great Mosque, and the “new vogue” in architecture, arabesques … the extravagantly ornamented buildings of the Alhambra … Arabic writing as ornament and decoration … Jewish as well as Christian incorporation of Islamic architecture and decorative Arabic writing. In the Alhambra Granada 1492 The Agreements of Capitulation secretly arranged between the last of the Granadan Nasrids and the Christian monarchs Ferdinand V and Isabella, king and queen of Castile in the fall of 1491, turning over Granada to the Castilian Christians … within a fairly short time the triumphant monarchs abrogated their pledge to allow Muslims to openly practice their faith … this followed in short order by the edict expelling all Jews from Christian Spain. This portrait, a recounting of what probably every Spanish school child knows, or should know – is I believe known by few people in the U.S. I cannot say that I knew about the suppression and expulsion of both Muslims and Jews from Spain in 1492 … or, at any rate, gave them a choice of leaving, or converting to Christianity. In the U.S. 1492 is, of course, looked on as a landmark year because Columbus discovered the Americas in that year. Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in fourteen hundred ninety-two … Just another example of the shallowness which limits an understanding of history. To think instead how 1492 was, from the point of view of those then inhabiting the Americas, pretty much a disaster – the title of the 1992 film, “1492: Conquest of Paradise” pretty well nails it – but, to think further how masses of people were expelled from Spain because of their religion …………………… well, not a proud moment for Spain, though I suppose many Spanish, for a great number of generations, believed it to be. I have no idea what the view would be in Spain today. Somewhere in La Mancha 1605 Jews and Judaism in Toledo … Cervantes & Don Quixote de la Mancha … libraries, book-burnings … the Muslim “Moriscos” and their Jewish counterparts, the “Conversos” … Cervantes’ masterpiece as it relates to this lamentable end to the Ornament of the World. Last Words Other stuff in the book; a Postscript concerning 9/11; 9 pages of suggestions for further reading; a very useful Index; three full page maps; & 8 pages of black and white photographs. I reread parts of the book to construct the review, and find that now I really wish to read again the entire book. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Previous review: Young Lonigan James T. Farrell Random review: Consciousness a Very Short Introduction Next review: The Periodic Table Previous library review: Iberia Spanish Travels & Reflections Next library review: Spain 1808-1975 Raymond Carr

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    First, some words of warning: do not approach this particular book as a historical documentation of a period, lest you be very frustrated within a few chapters. The Decline and Fall: The Moorish Way this is not. While Menocal does provide an outline of the events, rulers, and major actors of the era in the first chapter, it is nothing more than a quick sketch, intended to explain the backdrop of what she really wishes to talk about. Elsewhere, the historical information is presented in a very sh First, some words of warning: do not approach this particular book as a historical documentation of a period, lest you be very frustrated within a few chapters. The Decline and Fall: The Moorish Way this is not. While Menocal does provide an outline of the events, rulers, and major actors of the era in the first chapter, it is nothing more than a quick sketch, intended to explain the backdrop of what she really wishes to talk about. Elsewhere, the historical information is presented in a very short, incoherent, incomplete, and confusing way- for example- she often chooses to get halfway through a story before she explains why it is significant, where it fits and the reasons behind it. She deals with tiny aspects of larger stories, which often makes it appear as if she is either a) withholding information that would be useful to us to judge her arguement or b) has forgotten that the majority of people reading this book do not have her extensive background in Moorish history. It does at times necessitate re-readings and references back to the opening chapter in order to provide something solid to hold on to. The better way to approach this book, which I discovered about halfway through when futzing and slurring my way through a passage that seemed to be suspended in mid-air, is as a recounting of precious cultural gems from a fascinating period of history. It is Menocal's loving elegy for a dead empire, her passionate conjuring of the "memory palaces" (a term she is fond of using throughout) that helped to construct Western society in ways many of us were not aware of, her indignant correction of the idea that the Middle Ages were universally a time of darkness and intolerance. If it is evident that she is biased towards the enlightened, civilized Muslims and the Arabized Jews and Christians that lived within their empire, and inclined to romanticize the Umyyadd lineage's rule in Andalusia, it is often hard to blame her, given the comparison to the surrounding areas. (I will say that her writing style at times is ass-kissing and extreme enough that I wonder why exactly she is playing courtier to the ghosts of dead kings.) However, a number of points made are entirely valid and important to remember: - We owe a good deal of our knowledge to this lost empire, and the Arabic translations of Greek philosophers, as well as technological advantages, mathematical works, and learned religious and philsophical commentaries. Some of the most important commentaries on Aristotle, for instance, were written in Arabic by Muslims. The vast libraries of Toledo could not have been translated without the work of Arabic speakers. We also owe a good deal to Muslim style architecture, which still survives in Spain today. Modern Western culture would have been entirely different were it not for the presence of this empire in Spain. I don't think that's an overestimation. And what's interesting is that the greater Muslim world apparently treats this era as nothing more than a failure for its eventual military defeat. - Andalusian Muslims were, for their time, remarkably tolerant of other religions, and those who lived there at the time did often voluntarily convert to Islam. Arabic was the language of civilized people, and everyone spoke it. To the point that Christians used it in their services, and felt that they were protecting an older tradition when the Church tried to push the Roman Latin on them. The extremist Muslims who helped bring dowm the empire came from elsewhere, invited to stave off the advancing, often intolerant Christians. And by the by, the Andalusian Muslims eventually asked for help from Christians in driving out the extremist elements. Religion was really not always a primary concern in who you worked with on the Peninsula, at least until 1492. - Many of the legends passed down got it completely wrong, in terms of all the battles being Muslim v. Christian, etc: For instance, 1)The Song of Roland records the retreat of Charlemagne's troops across the mountains after their defeated seige of Saragossa, a Muslim city. Supposedly, they were ambushed from the rear by Muslims during their retreat and slaughtered wholesale. A) Muslims invited Charlemagne to come in the first place, upset with the rule of the new Umyyadd rulers, and so Christians and Muslims worked together on that particular seige and B) the attackers were actually the Basques, who even back there were really touchy about uninvited outsiders in their terrirtory. Muslims had nothing to do with it. 2) The Cid, the famous Spanish hero, was not at all loyal to his Christian patron. "Cid," in fact, is an Arabic word meaning "lord." He fought with Alfonso constantly, the Christian monarch he had lead armies for for a time, and eventually left him to lead Muslim armies against both Christians (including Alfonso) and other Muslims. One of the cities he served in, by the by, was Saragossa. 3) There are countless instances of Christian and Muslim kings working together, and of culture being absorbed one way and the other. ie, the Normans invaded a Muslim city and ended up going native enough to speak Arabic and convert to Islam. - There's a good long middle section that deals with a lot of linguistics, and the importance of a language that is both the everyday language and the holy language, and how Arabic helped advance Hebrew poets, how the use of the vernacular as a written language came about, and the real importance of the melding of languages that took place. Some of the commentary on poetry and translation can get a bit dull, but you do see the endless cultural exchange that was taking place very clearly. We see the many literary, kingly, courtly, and military heroes of this period who take advantage of the diverse culture available to become incredibly learned men and advance their religious subculture within the larger Andalusian society. Right, so, anyway, I'll stop now. But do approach it as a cultural exploration, where you're likely to come away with a renewed appreciation for cultural diversity, some good facts to pull out at dorky cocktail parties, and some corrected misconceptions on the origin of modern culture. Its also a taste, that at least for me, made me that much more interested in learning the actual history of this "first rate place." All in all, then, it did its job.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Idealism—what we call quixotic idealism, so vividly is it depicted by Cervantes—is an act of the imagination, and perhaps a doomed one, and the question on the table becomes whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. This is a book about nostalgia, and nostalgia is a dangerous thing. It’s one of the tricks of our memory to filter the past through a sentimental lens, forgetting all the bad and magnifying the good. And when thinking about a time before we lived, we run the risk not only of tw Idealism—what we call quixotic idealism, so vividly is it depicted by Cervantes—is an act of the imagination, and perhaps a doomed one, and the question on the table becomes whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. This is a book about nostalgia, and nostalgia is a dangerous thing. It’s one of the tricks of our memory to filter the past through a sentimental lens, forgetting all the bad and magnifying the good. And when thinking about a time before we lived, we run the risk not only of twisting the truth but of inventing it. Ostensibly the book is about Al-Andalus, Muslim Spain—from 711 to 1492—and specifically about the culture of tolerance that flourished during this period. Menocal takes her title from a remark of Hroswitha, the German canoness, who called Córdoba the “Ornament of the World” after meeting with an ambassador. Menocal does not, however, write a conventional, chronological history, but instead a series of vignettes from the time-period. Indeed, her approach is much closer to that of a journalist than a historian, picking out the most captivating personalities and focusing exclusively on them. And even though these vignettes often contain lots of interesting information, their primary aim is not to inform, but to evoke. Menocal writes in a dreamy, wistful tone, a style that is often seductive enough to deactivate the reader’s critical facility. The land and the people she describes sound so fantastic that you want to believe her. And this, as well as the lack of almost any scholarly apparatus, makes me very suspicious. It is hard to believe the book was written by a professor at Yale, for it is quite explicitly propagandistic, trying to counter the conventional view of the Middle Ages as backward and intolerant with a vivid portrait of an advanced, integrated civilization. Personally, I agree with both her ideals of tolerance and her desire to acknowledge the accomplishments of Muslim Spain; but this does not excuse a professor from the commitment to scholarship. All the repression and barbarism that existed during the time period is waved away by Menocal’s insistence that it was the work of foreigners, either Berbers from the south or Christians from the north; and everything positive is credited to Andalusian culture. It would be hard to be more partisan. In short, I have many reservations about recommending this book, because I believe it wasn’t written in good faith, with scrupulous attention to facts, but rather in the effort to influence the public’s perception of Al-Andalus through storytelling. True, all scholarship is somewhat biased; but to paraphrase Stephen Jay Gould, using this fact to excuse extreme bias is like saying that, since a perfectly antiseptic operating room is impossible, we should just perform surgeries in the sewer. Keeping the bias in mind, however, this book can be profitably read. There is a lot of fascinating information in these pages. Indeed, I recently revisited Toledo to see some of the things Menocal mentioned, such as Santa Maria la Blanca, a beautiful synagogue built in a Moorish style. And I do think that the story of syncretism, tolerance, and collaboration in Muslim Spain should be told, especially during this era of Islamophobia. It is too easy to forget how crucial the history of Islam is to the history of the “West,” if the two histories can indeed be separated at all. Menocal’s emphasis on the architecture, the poetry, and especially the translations of the Greek philosophers by Muslim and Jewish scholars, counters the common stereotypes of the Muslims as intolerant destroyers. What's more, I fully understand how Menocal could be swept away in nostalgic awe after seeing the Mezquita in Córdoba or the Alhambra in Granada; that the people who made those amazing structures could disappear is hard to fathom. Still, even though I agree with Menocal’s goals, I don’t agree with her means. The bright, rosy structure is built on too flimsy a foundation. Propaganda is a bad long-term strategy, because when people realize they are being manipulated they grow resentful. Much better would have been a balanced, sourced, and footnoted book, acknowledging both the good and the bad. The society Menocal so effusively praised was undeniably great; the best way to praise is simply to describe it. The worst aspect of Menocal’s approach is that it didn’t allow her to say anything insightful about how tolerance arose. And this is important to know, since creating a tolerant society is one of the omnipresent challenges of the modern world.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan Porter

    "The fact that Ferdinand and Isabella did not choose the path of tolerance is seen as an example of the intractability and inevitability of intolerance, especially in the premodern era. But their actions may be far better understood as the failure to make the more difficult decision, to have the courage to cultivate a society that can live with its own flagrant contradictions. They chose instead to go down the modern path, the one defined by an ethic of unity and harmony, and which is largely in "The fact that Ferdinand and Isabella did not choose the path of tolerance is seen as an example of the intractability and inevitability of intolerance, especially in the premodern era. But their actions may be far better understood as the failure to make the more difficult decision, to have the courage to cultivate a society that can live with its own flagrant contradictions. They chose instead to go down the modern path, the one defined by an ethic of unity and harmony, and which is largely intolerant of contradiction." Although specifically related to the act that was the final nail in the coffin of a culture of tolerance that had existed to greater or lesser degrees for hundreds of years on the Iberian peninsula, this passage from the epilogue is an excellent summary of Menocal's book as well as of the place and period which are its subject matter. This book should be required reading for leaders at all levels in every organization and for anyone naive enough to demand tolerance of others or to believe that worldwide tolerance can be achieved by the unilateral desires of individuals. While this is a well-researched and well-written history, the underlying theme is that a culture of tolerance requires that individuals and institutions of all types embrace contradiction and the "yes and no" worldview rather than the "yes or no" that so limit science, philosophy, and fundamentalist religions of all types. Menocal puts it best when she asks in another passage from the epilogue, "Does poetry - or language or philosophy or music or architecture, even that of our temples - really need to dance to the same tune as our political befiefs or our religious convictions? Is the strict harmony of our cultural identities a virtue to be valued above others that may come from the accommodation of contradictions?"

  6. 4 out of 5

    Quo

    María Rosa Menocal's The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews & Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain is an extraordinary work that combines personal aspiration with serious scholarship, held together via a series of linked essays or history-laden segments that resemble pieces of a puzzle, or perhaps better-put, a colorful, cross-cultural mosaic. The rather glowing foreword to Menocal's book was written by the late Harold Bloom, like Menocal, a professor at Yale Univers María Rosa Menocal's The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews & Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain is an extraordinary work that combines personal aspiration with serious scholarship, held together via a series of linked essays or history-laden segments that resemble pieces of a puzzle, or perhaps better-put, a colorful, cross-cultural mosaic. The rather glowing foreword to Menocal's book was written by the late Harold Bloom, like Menocal, a professor at Yale University. It should be mentioned that I have been reading the component parts of this book over a period of years, some sections more than once but just finished reading it from cover to cover. Ornament of the World seems a work that takes on aspects of a reference book while at the same time being a rather fascinating cultural & literary narrative. After walking a pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, NW Spain, I made a different kind of pilgrimage, visiting Toledo, site of some of story detailed in Prof. Menocal's book. Having taken an excellent Western Civilization ages ago & having traveled within Spain, most of what I read represented an exploration into new realms & some of the material was initially well beyond my imagination, in part due to the frequent overlapping of cultures, hence the need to reread some chapters. The Ornament of the World is in fact a series of vignettes illuminating the manner in which ideas, language and culture were influenced through contact with those who had a different religion, philosophy & set of cultural traditions. It presents a portrait of approximately 800 years of history that began in Baghdad, moved to Damascus, both centers of learning at the time and traveled via Morocco to an extended exile in the Andalusian area of medieval Spain. All of this begins in 750 when an Umayyad Muslim prince in Damascus, Abd al-Rahman, fleeing the slaughter of his family by opposing Abbasid forces, eventually alights on southern Spain, bringing with him books that harken back to Greco-Roman times. Andalusia thus became a medieval center of learning, with books in Arabic as the vehicle, with contrasting ideas merging over many centuries & almost constantly creating regional ferment along the way. And just by way of a caveat, the author does make clear that purist (fundamentalist) Almoravid Muslims from Morocco at various times took issue with the tolerance & amity among the various cultural & religious groups resident in Andalusian Spain. There is no case made by the author of either an implied or a fully-articulated "perpetual paradise" during the long period of time when Jews & Christians were forced to live under Islamic rule in Spain. Rather, these three Abrahamic religious traditions did for extended periods of time somehow adapt to & even substantially influence each other. Menocal does illustrate how there was a fusion of language, architecture & cultural traditions in places like Cordoba, Toledo & Seville, a multi-ethnic & religiously pluralistic sharing of ideas. The 12th century was the beginning of the end of hundreds of years of open Islamic & Jewish participation in medieval European culture. At times, books were burned, including “a classic work by al-Ghazali, a legendary Muslim theologian whose more humane approach to Islamic orthodoxy was considered too liberal for the fanatical Almoravids”. Although intolerance became heightened at such points, a cross-fertilization continued to occur nonetheless as people protested against harsh rule. Eventually, there also was a rebellion against the prescribed use of Latin within Christianity, according to Prof. Menocal eventually “leading to new vernacular languages, which led by many twists & turns to Dante & Cervantes & Shakespeare.” Menocal pays particular attention to literary traditions that benefited from cross-fertilization as various Muslim regimes replaced territory that had previously been held by Visigoths. The fact that the Qur'an is very often poetically recited, influenced the way in which Christian as well as Jewish writers expressed themselves in verse. Thus the military exploits of Rodrigo Diaz, better known as "El Cid", were chronicled admiringly by Muslim as well as Christian writers, just as he had fought in service to both Muslim & Christian monarchs alike. Muslim cities at times paid tribute to more powerful Christian neighbors, just as Christian kings at times found their most loyal allies among Muslim princes or emirs. Similarly, fraternal infighting within various taifa (Muslim city states) often caused Muslim leaders & their retinue to seek sanctuary in Christian-held provinces to the north. Previously, the author comments that areas not far removed geographically might as well have been different planets but gradually "fraternizations produced familiarity" with the sounds, smells & colors of every kind of neighbor causing hybrid groups of Arabized Christians & Jews. “The comingling of languages, religions & styles of every sort--food, clothes, songs, buildings--took place not only within the Iberian Peninsula, although most vigorously there, but with increasing intensity far beyond the Pyrenees.” Just one example of the overlay of cultures, languages & traditions occurred as the Christians became increasingly victorious in the reconquest of Andalusian Spain whenlike dominoes, the once grand old Moorish cities fell one-by-one to the Christians: Cordoba in 1236, Valencia in 1238 & finally Seville in 1248, the lovely orange-tree-filled city the Almohads had made their capital. When Ferdinand III, the first of many Castilian monarchs died, his son Alfonso, a great patron of translations of classic books & thus the transfer of the Arabo-Islamic fortune into the treasury of Christendom--built for his father a tomb to sit in the Great Mosque of Seville, reconsecrated as a splendid cathedral in the new Castilian capital. In the spirit of the age, Alfonso had the tomb inscribed with the 3 venerable languages of the realm--Arabic, Hebrew & Latin--as well as the upstart Castilian that only poets & other revolutionaries were writing in at that point. Among the scholars’ names we encounter in reading Ornament of the World are: Musa ibn Maymun, best known as Maimonides; Ibn Rushd, often called by his Latin name “Averroes”, a man who wrote classic commentaries on Aristotle; Judah Halevi, author of Book of the Khazars; and Peter Abelard, author of Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew & a Christian. Each of these men sought to deal with existing orthodoxy & “to make philosophy commensurate with religion.”One of the fundamental stories of the medieval West, one where the Latin Christian world, the Arabic Muslim & Arabic Jewish universes are felicitously intertwined, is of the noble effort to produce & maintain a 1st rate culture, one that could hold together at the same time & in the same place, the two contradictory modes of thought.For Prof. Menocal, the Middle Ages ended with the expulsion of Jews & Muslims from Spain in 1492. At that time, Ferdinand & Isabella signed a covenant with the leader of the last remaining Muslim palace-stronghold at Alhambra in Granada guaranteeing perpetual freedom of religion for those non-Christians who remained, very soon rescinding the signed document, prior to quickly persecuting & later expelling both the Jews & the Muslims. Nevertheless, some Jews & Muslims did choose to stay, agreeing to convert to Christianity rather than to flee, with the result that there were Moriscos, or Muslims/Moors pretending to be Christians and Conversos, Jews pretending to be Christians (often called Moranos, a vulgar word for hog), just as there had long been Mozarabs, Christians or "pretend Arabs" who professed to be Muslims under Moorish rule. All of this led to a great many pretending to be what they were not, a "world of fun-house mirrors" according to the author. Each of these groups spoke Arabic, the definitive language in Andalusian Spain for hundreds of years, while attempting to also preserve their own language, as well as at least a semblance of their inherited religious tradition. Often this ended up by accretion becoming a hybrid language that blurred their true nature, an example being Ladino, spoken only within their homes by Jewish families & still spoken by Sephardic Jews many centuries after they fled from Spain. My favorite chapter is quite likely the one titled "Somewhere in LaMancha", which in a way stands as a distillation of what Andalusian Spain was for so very many years, with Miguel de Cervantes encountering a man in an old, formerly Jewish quarter of a town who offered him some Arabic fragments of a book, said to have been written by Cide Hamete Benengeli, a Muslim historian, with Cervantes' interpreter translating the passages from Arabic into Castilian, including the story that would in 1605 become Don Quixote, featuring characters like Sancho Panza & Dulcinea del Tobaso, this happening just as old books written in both Arabic & Hebrew were being burned & otherwise destroyed. It seemed a memorable case of an epic novel replicating reality, complete with Don Quixote's books being incinerated, while on the surface a novel in a manner that seemed entirely fanciful or metaphorical, or as we now put it "quixotic".The figure of Don Quixote comes straight out of the universe that Cervantes tells us is the crux of fiction, harder to read than any fantasy-history itself. Who is that translator after all, but a crypto-Muslim beneath a Christian veneer, decipherer of a language that is crypto-Castilian underneath an Arabic veneer? Ironically, prophetically, tragically, or all of these, by the time Cervantes publishes the 2nd part of Quixote, the Moriscos with their pseudo-Arabic writings in which they wrote apocalyptic stories, survive only inside the singular work of fiction that is Cervantes novel. In reading some of the Goodreads reviews of the The Ornament of the World, I find myself taken aback by those who quickly declare that Menocal's book does not represent "standard history", something the late author attests to in her preface. Rather it is what professors & others who stress critical thinking often strive to do, i.e. to present a thesis and then attempt to buttress it with commentary, research, prevailing & even countering ideas, with the end result that the reader makes a determination as to how well the author's case or thesis has been presented & then defended. Again, Prof. Menocal explains her intention early on, though some seem to have failed to notice it or perhaps even chosen to disregard it. Beyond that, Menocal's proposition, her research & her book based on it have betokened the accusation of "political correctness", as well as books that represent a kind of backlash against her work. Ornament of the World & similar books seem to have invited what should be called Islamophobic reactions by those who find the concept of tolerance among otherwise dissimilar people somehow offensive. Curiously, by emphasizing a period of tolerance in medieval Spain, while clearly emphasizing that the periods of harmony were hardly universally observed & not always long-lasting, The Ornament of the World has seemingly encouraged the antithesis of tolerance on the part of some. Particularly in light of our increasingly divisive, contentious world, there is an important need for global tolerance and I recommend Ornament of the World to those with the time & patience to devote to María Rosa Menocal’s very evocative book about tolerance in medieval Spain. *In my edition of Ornament Of The World, there is a "Conversation with the Author", included as an appendix to the book. **Among the photo images included within my review is one of the author, an example of Moorish architecture in Andalusian Spain, the tomb of Ferdinand III with inscriptions in 4 languages, the mosque/cathedral at Cordoba, a medieval painting illustrating scholarly dialogue in medieval Spain and the figure of Don Quixote with Sancho Panza.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    I have to say this book has awoken a thirst to learn much more Medieval history of Spain and Europe as a whole. I enjoyed this book so much because of the history it provides and how it piqued my interest in learning more about Medieval times in Al-Andalus, Spain, as well as the rest of Europe and Middle East, the development of vernacular languages and developing literature via such authors as Dante, Boccaccio and at the end of the era, Cervantes. I also want to sample some of the books on poet I have to say this book has awoken a thirst to learn much more Medieval history of Spain and Europe as a whole. I enjoyed this book so much because of the history it provides and how it piqued my interest in learning more about Medieval times in Al-Andalus, Spain, as well as the rest of Europe and Middle East, the development of vernacular languages and developing literature via such authors as Dante, Boccaccio and at the end of the era, Cervantes. I also want to sample some of the books on poetry and history of the era whose titles are provided in "Suggested Reading" at the end of the book. All in all, this has been one of the most intellectually stimulating reads I've had in quite a long time. Menocal ties together life in Al-Andalus through language. While we don't see the nitty-gritty of daily life for the average person, we do see what events and processes are taking place that will ultimately affect everyone living in the Iberian Peninsula (and eventually beyond the Pyrenees into the rest of Europe). While the ruling Muslims worked out their system which allowed Christians and Jews to remain in Spain and practice their faiths, with restrictions, major cultural changes were taking place largely due to the influx of the Arabic language and the history of translated and learned knowledge that came with it. With it also came poetry and accessible, as opposed to ecclesiastical, music. As I read, I found myself remembering bits and pieces from college and wanting to know more. Of course this period of relative calm and tolerance did end completely, though traces remain. I plan to look for more information to supplement this reading.! Addendum: Any historical errors in this review are mine, not the author's and are undoubtedly due to over-exuberance or fatigue or a combination thereof. I definitely recommend this to those interested in history but warn you---you will want more after reading this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cynda

    Menocal refers to her work as being "a series of miniature portraits," less political and more cultural. Recently I read Islamic Arts from Spain where I learned that Spanish Art is Islamic Art. In this book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, I learn that Arabic Language was the Spanish Language until Alonso's reign (1252 - 1284) when several contributing elements converged, including sientists/doctors/scholars teaching th Menocal refers to her work as being "a series of miniature portraits," less political and more cultural. Recently I read Islamic Arts from Spain where I learned that Spanish Art is Islamic Art. In this book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, I learn that Arabic Language was the Spanish Language until Alonso's reign (1252 - 1284) when several contributing elements converged, including sientists/doctors/scholars teaching themselves and their students the works of ancient masters, translating the Arabic arcana into Castillian--not Latin. The Islamic, Christians, and Jews all knew Arabic--Arabicized Christians and Arabicized Jews along with the Mediterrean Arabs (those arriving from the East and those arriving from North Africa). The generation previous to mine still used/use Arabicisms. Long Arm of Language/Culture. Good Book for all those who have basic information and confidence who want to know how the culture exchange worked not only in physical culture, but between three main cultures if the Iberian Peninsula in the most telling way of cultural transmission--language.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ayse_

    Ornament of the World is a book about medieval era in Iberian peninsula. Menocal starts the time at 750, right after the Abbasid massacre of the Umayyad dynasty in Syria and ends it around 1500 after the exile of Jews, Muslims and 'convertos' from the peninsula. In the epilogue the timeline even stretches to the WWII and deliberate destruction of National Library in Sarajevo by Serbian Army. During the 750 years of time studied, we see the linguistic and cultural development in this part of euro Ornament of the World is a book about medieval era in Iberian peninsula. Menocal starts the time at 750, right after the Abbasid massacre of the Umayyad dynasty in Syria and ends it around 1500 after the exile of Jews, Muslims and 'convertos' from the peninsula. In the epilogue the timeline even stretches to the WWII and deliberate destruction of National Library in Sarajevo by Serbian Army. During the 750 years of time studied, we see the linguistic and cultural development in this part of europe. As Al-Andalus became the cultural melting pot of christians, jews and muslims during the Umayyad rule starting with Abd-al-Rahman, the cultural tolerance and dialectic created the right environment for the arts and sciences and philosophy to emerge and prosper. The writer states 'The complex problem at the heart of the cultural history of medieval Europe was first and foremost how the great monotheistic religions of the Children of Abraham—faiths that all have powerful strains of ferocity within them—struggled to define what they were and what they might become. When they managed to find it within themselves to be truly first-rate, admirable achievements followed, and men like Samuel the Nagid rode the land and churches like San Roman were built and philosophers like Ibd Rushd were honored. But when, instead, the centers of such tolerance did not hold, irreparable destruction often followed, from the eleventh-century sacking of Madinat al-Zahra by fundamentalist Berber troops to the fifteenth-century tearing down of the old Almohad mosque that had served for so long as the cathedral of the Castilian monarchs in Seville.” What I enjoyed a lot in this book were information such as why we use OK, the reason there are so many arabic words (mostly related with sciences) in English and latin (Romance) languages; why masterpieces like the Spanish synagogue in Prague, many gothic and medieval churches and cathedrals have these horseshoe shaped structures and have an exotic air to them.. Most impressively how a functional language can shape people's lives and thinking pattern and evolution..From Ibn Hazm to Bocaccio to Cervantes... There are so many take home messages in this book, especially the last 2 chapters and the epilogue are thought provoking..

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    I just couldn't get in to the writing style of this author: One has to wonder which among the many fantasies-come-to-life of the palatine city of Madinat al-Zahra would have most stupified the army troops that breached its walls one day in 1009. I felt intensely on edge all the way to page 91, where I gave up. I think Kelly's review really nailed my frustration: . . . do not approach this particular book as a historical documentation of a period, lest you be very frustrated within a few chapters . I just couldn't get in to the writing style of this author: One has to wonder which among the many fantasies-come-to-life of the palatine city of Madinat al-Zahra would have most stupified the army troops that breached its walls one day in 1009. I felt intensely on edge all the way to page 91, where I gave up. I think Kelly's review really nailed my frustration: . . . do not approach this particular book as a historical documentation of a period, lest you be very frustrated within a few chapters . . . the historical information is presented in a very short, incoherent, incomplete, and confusing way- for example- she often chooses to get halfway through a story before she explains why it is significant, where it fits and the reasons behind it. She deals with tiny aspects of larger stories, which often makes it appear as if she is either a) withholding information that would be useful to us to judge her arguement or b) has forgotten that the majority of people reading this book do not have her extensive background in Moorish history. Yup; this. NMB.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robert Morris

    What a fantastic book. Menocal was a specialist in Medieval history and Literature who chose to distill her deep knowledge of Muslim Spain into this book for popular audiences. She has done a great service. The book is a bit controversial. The Muslim period in Spain, dating from the early 700s to 1492 is an incredibly diverse period, involving separate conquests, kingdoms, and the slow Spanish Christian reconquest of the peninsula. This Reconquista happened in fits and starts over 700 years. Men What a fantastic book. Menocal was a specialist in Medieval history and Literature who chose to distill her deep knowledge of Muslim Spain into this book for popular audiences. She has done a great service. The book is a bit controversial. The Muslim period in Spain, dating from the early 700s to 1492 is an incredibly diverse period, involving separate conquests, kingdoms, and the slow Spanish Christian reconquest of the peninsula. This Reconquista happened in fits and starts over 700 years. Menocal convincingly argues that while there was a good deal of religious intolerance and war in certain periods, the larger and more important story was one of tolerance and the development of an extraordinary hybrid culture that had a lot more influence on Western Culture than is commonly recognized. She is quite clearly "in the tank" for the early Muslim leaders, and this has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Some choices she makes in the book make it easier for her largely Islamophobic critics. She starts in 750 from the start of the quasi-independent Ummayad period, which allows her to avoid the Muslim conquest itself from 711. This conquest, like any, was no doubt brutal and destructive. Leaving it out makes her argument weaker. Her characterizations of the Roman-Visigothic period that was supplanted also strike me as a bit unfair. I've been to the extraordinary Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, where the remnants of the previous Visigothic church are preserved. Portraying this culture as being without value, which I feel she comes close to doing, is unfair. That said, I think she wins the argument. Al-Andalus, which is the name that Muslims use for Spain to this day was truly an extraordinary culture, well worth celebrating and acknowledging. The many take-downs you can find on-line, some of which I have sampled, only make a valid point if you ignore the rest of history. They point out that the much praised practice of Dhimmitude, where Christians and Jews were allowed to exist as second class citizens, subject to taxes and restrictions, is still a form of subjection. Christians and Jews who insulted Islam in a public forum were subject to execution, and many chose martyrdom in this way. The conquest itself, which Menocal avoids, had all the brutality and waste of any other conquest. This is all true, but who did it better? The Crusaders? Christians exterminated and expelled Muslims where they found them, with the exception of the early phases of the Reconquista in Spain. Jews lived a horrific and circumscribed life throughout Christian Europe. The Jews of "Christendom" didn't reach the opportunities present for their co-religionists in Andalusia until industrialization. The Mongols took a more civilized line on religion, but they also eradicated entire cities with glee. I don't need to review the horrors of European and US imperialism here. We are animals, us human beings. Al-Andalus really was better. The culture that was formed allowed each faith community to reach new heights. Contrary to legend, the initial phases of the Christian conquest were carried out by Christian kings that had a deep appreciation for Muslim culture, and allowed Muslims and Jews to continue to practice their religions. This initial Christian tolerance was replaced by horrific repression of Muslims, and even those who had converted but were unable to fully establish their religious bona fides. There's also that small matter of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. But before all this could happen, the cultural richness of Muslim Spain was handed down to European civilization more broadly and Spanish culture in particular. Even now, in Southern California, iconic buildings like the LA and San Diego city halls look to me to be strikingly like Andalusian and Moroccan mosques. Menocal convincingly argues that many of the early landmarks of Western civilization, from science, to the rediscovery of the ancient Greeks, to the structure of the tales of Bocaccio and Chaucer were drawn from Andalusia. This book is incredibly illuminating, and everyone should read it. One more observation struck me forcefully. The historiographies of Ummayad Andalusia and Greek Constantinople are mirrors of each other. They are situated at opposite ends of the Mediterranean and they occupy very similar mental spaces in the historical imagination of their religious descendants. The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople was an extraordinarily rich culture. It was the capital of Europe for 1,000 years while much of Northern Europe's business was still dirt farming. Al-Andalus, the subject of this book, is also remembered as a lost Muslim paradise. In the 15th century both of these civilizations came to an end. The Ottoman Turks finally conquered Constantinople in 1453, and the king and queen of Spain conquered the last Spanish Muslim emirate of Granada in 1492. For elements of both religions, these "falls" are seen as reasons to gripe about the other religion. "If it wasn't for those dastardly (Christians/Muslims) the glories of (Al-Andalus/Constantinople) would still be here today!" If you look at what actually happened though, that's not it at all. It was actually the choice to run with religious war and fundamentalism that killed both those societies. Christians killed the Christian Empire, and Muslims killed the Muslim one. I already knew the story with Constantinople. Menocal lays out the Andalusian story with sad clarity. The stories are strikingly similar. The Byzantine empire in Constantinople was rapidly losing its Anatolian hinterland to Muslim Turkish tribes following the battle of Manzikert in 1071. They chose to appeal to Christian fanatics in Western Europe to save them. This was the launch of the Crusades. The Anatolia problem never got solved. Jerusalem and parts of modern Syria were held by Western Europeans for a century or so. By 1202, Constantinople still held the legacy of thousands of years of Greek culture, and was safe from Muslim invaders behind its walls, as it had been since the 600s. What killed it was a sack by the Fourth Crusade in 1203. This force of Venetians and Franks destroyed and stole the city's cultural legacy. The magnificent classical sculptures of horses that grace the Venetian Cathedral of St. Marks were stolen at this time. For over half a century, the Byzantine heartland was held by warring Western European kingdoms. The Byzantines did manage to take back the city in the 1260s, but the territory was never again unified. By the time the Ottoman Turks finally captured the city in 1453, it was a collection of fields of villages behind ancient Roman walls. The Muslims didn't kill Constantinople. Christian fanatics did. As Menocal documents, the great caliphate of Andalusian Cordoba fell to civil war in the 1000s. The many Muslim successor "Taifa kingdoms" managed to preserve and enrich Andalusian culture for a while. But in 1086 some of them were losing ground to the Christian Aragonese and Castilian armies. One Muslim king made the fateful decision to invite the fanatical Almoravid dynasty from Morocco to "protect" him. The Almoravids defeated the Christian armies, but they imposed a rigid, xenophobic version of Islam that ended the culture of relative tolerance that made Muslim Andalusia so great. The Almoravids, and the even more fanatical Almohad dynasty that replaced them were able to hold territory for a while but they were completely defeated in 1212. The small Muslim kingdom of Granada survived for most of three more centuries. But the Al-Andalus snuffed out by Spanish Christians in 1492 was a pale shadow of what it once was. Christians didn't kill Muslim Spain. Muslim fundamentalists did. Fascinating stuff. Read this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    Menocal's objective is clear from the subtitle of her book: she sets out to demonstrate to a popular audience the culture of convivencia, religious and ethnic co-existence, which predominated in medieval Iberia. There's certainly much to back up her argument, with the presence of Arabic-speaking and writing Christians and Jews; Jewish officials reaching high ranks in Christian governments; the preservation, transmission and transformation of classical knowledge by Muslim translators and scholars Menocal's objective is clear from the subtitle of her book: she sets out to demonstrate to a popular audience the culture of convivencia, religious and ethnic co-existence, which predominated in medieval Iberia. There's certainly much to back up her argument, with the presence of Arabic-speaking and writing Christians and Jews; Jewish officials reaching high ranks in Christian governments; the preservation, transmission and transformation of classical knowledge by Muslim translators and scholars; a tremendous artistic, architectural and literary history. It's certainly true that al-Andalus reached a level of cultural sophistication and syncretism which great swathes of northern Europe couldn't even have imagined at the time—the great library at Cordoba contained hundreds of thousands of manuscripts at a time when the greatest libraries of northern Europe would have boasted barely a couple of hundred. Yet because this book consists mostly of a series of case studies or vignettes rather than a sustained narrative, Menocal often ignores evidence which would support a different interpretation of medieval Iberian societies. Convivencia is a pretty controversial topic amongst medieval scholars, but you wouldn't really know that just from reading this book. I do admire Menocal's goal in pushing back against the popular conception of "medieval" as a synonym for "barbaric" and "primitive", and of Islam as a wholly non-European phenomenon, I just thought a more balanced approach would have strengthened her overall argument. (As, to be honest, could the deletion of at least half the adjectives she uses here. This is a book of great erudition and passion, but not one of great prose.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Halldór Thorgeirsson

    It was a pleasure reading this book. The author paints pictures of key individuals shaping this period of cross-fertilization between the three religions and their associated cultures. It is refreshing to come accross a history book that goes below the surface of events and commings and goings of rulers and provides insights into what motivated the key actors and trends. How this culture of tolerance came to an end and what followed fills one with sadness but at the same time demonstrates what i It was a pleasure reading this book. The author paints pictures of key individuals shaping this period of cross-fertilization between the three religions and their associated cultures. It is refreshing to come accross a history book that goes below the surface of events and commings and goings of rulers and provides insights into what motivated the key actors and trends. How this culture of tolerance came to an end and what followed fills one with sadness but at the same time demonstrates what is possible if only we manage to look beyond superficial differences at what unites people of different faiths. Reading about the Umayyads feelings for the Syria they left behind I could not help thinking about the thousands that now have been uprooted from that same country for no good reason. This book is written in a pleasant style. The author is kind to the reader and reminds him of connections to what has come before. I appreciate that. I don't have the knowledge to judge its historical accuracy or if the author is selective to make a point. If she is, i forgive her. So many books have been writted about division and strive and it it refreshing to read about something positive.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    This is a must read for any one interested in Spanish history, and in particular the interconnections between Christian, Muslim and Jewish culture in Southern Spain. I read it a few years ago just before we travelled to Andalucia and was profoundly influenced by it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    A poorly written, dangerously biased account of a place and time in history which could very well have been fabricated by the author.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mike Histand

    This book provided the foundation for a 3 week trip to Sicily and Andalusa (Spain) from which I have just returned. It focuses on the period 756-1492 when this part of the world contributed substantially to saving civilization. (more on that below) Furthermore it is a unique period when Jews, Christians and Arabs lived together in a mutually beneficial and reasonably harmonious relationship. It is a period that was called the dark ages when I studied western civ in college. The book and subseque This book provided the foundation for a 3 week trip to Sicily and Andalusa (Spain) from which I have just returned. It focuses on the period 756-1492 when this part of the world contributed substantially to saving civilization. (more on that below) Furthermore it is a unique period when Jews, Christians and Arabs lived together in a mutually beneficial and reasonably harmonious relationship. It is a period that was called the dark ages when I studied western civ in college. The book and subsequent trip turned my apprehension of this period on its head! I read it three times because it is recondite, densely written and full of characters whom I have never heard of before, but primarly because it was super germane to my recent travel. It probably is not for everyone, but should be. A most important point: if it were not for the Arab diaspora in the early 700's in Sicily, north Africa and Andalusa, most Greek (Classical) knowledge would have been lost for us. Cordoba had 400,000 volumes in its libraries when Europe had only 4000. And the al Andalusians were ardent readers as was apparent from the sizes of their libraries. We can only guess how much better off we are for the translators and translations (mostly Greek into Arabic) who made our "western" civilization what it is.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marieke

    This was a group read that I missed out on. While the group members read and discussed it, they decided to read Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf together at a later date. The later date came, and I wanted to join them. I started reading Leo Africanus and 20 pages in, decided to set it aside to read this first. I'm glad I did, although I did feel a bit out of my depth with so much of this history unfamiliar to me. I was unable to read this book with any kind of critical eye, but it did succeed in mak This was a group read that I missed out on. While the group members read and discussed it, they decided to read Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf together at a later date. The later date came, and I wanted to join them. I started reading Leo Africanus and 20 pages in, decided to set it aside to read this first. I'm glad I did, although I did feel a bit out of my depth with so much of this history unfamiliar to me. I was unable to read this book with any kind of critical eye, but it did succeed in making me want to read more about this time and place, particularly how it relates to Islamic history in general. I'm very appreciative of the author's short essay on books worth reading on this subject and I'm eager to get my hands on some of them. In the meantime, I have taken Leo Africanus back up and I'm so glad I read this book first. Later, after I have read more about medieval Europe and inter-faith history, especially the key figures whose biographies Menocal drew heavily on, I will likely return to this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Wolfson

    An important and enjoyable book, it asks vexing questions of history and contemporary life. Can environments of cultural and religious tolerance obtain, or are they destined to fall apart? Is tolerance even an ideal worth striving for, or are we better to focus on merely avoiding violence and tyranny? The experiences of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians of medieval al-Andalus provide some answers, but, inevitably, even more questions, about the struggle for tolerance and peace in our own times.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rindis

    Medieval Spain is one of those subjects I would like to know more about, so a used copy of Menocal's book on al-Andalus was an attractive purchase for me. It's a little more limited than I would like, being more about literary culture than anything else (though there is plenty of architecture, and other high cultural objects as well). But the 'how' (as seen in the subtitle) is generally left out. There is some discussion of how tolerance was built into a lot of early Muslim culture, but nothing o Medieval Spain is one of those subjects I would like to know more about, so a used copy of Menocal's book on al-Andalus was an attractive purchase for me. It's a little more limited than I would like, being more about literary culture than anything else (though there is plenty of architecture, and other high cultural objects as well). But the 'how' (as seen in the subtitle) is generally left out. There is some discussion of how tolerance was built into a lot of early Muslim culture, but nothing on the day-to-day functioning of that tolerance, and nothing really about how it broke down. Most notably, the book largely ends with the fall of Granada, and the promise of religious toleration which is broken mere months later. There's no real look at the pressures that lead to this final violent end of tolerance. In the meantime, we are treated to shapshots of what happened in Iberia over ~700 years, taking particular scenes and persons, and exploring them and what they did, and who they knew, what they wrote, and how it was written. Some very interesting things come to light this way. Menocal promotes the idea that languages only have (by custom) certain uses. A language may be so identified with religious uses, that it stops being a language of poetry or storytelling. She identifies Arabic as a language that was used for religion, and yet never lost its non-religious (and religiously prohibited) uses. Jews and Christians living in al-Andalus learned Arabic, and then transmitted this freedom into the post-Latin vernaculars and Hebrew, creating a flowering of literature in those languages. According to Ornament of the World, this is the start of the various Romance vernaculars being taken seriously, and the start of the popular songs that started the 'courtly love' tradition in Aquitaine, and I'd like to see a book that traces this in more detail. It's a decent book, and if you're interested, I do recommend it, though I would like to see a more rigorous look at most of the subjects Menocal brings up.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    The Ornament of the World disappointed me mainly because it was mostly 'tell' instead of 'show'. I often felt bombarded into the idea of a tolerant Andalusia during the Middle Ages. Instead I would love to be soothingly convinced by structured evidence. The central thesis suffers because Menocal's direct interaction with the contents of medieval books, or clear explanations thereof, are pretty sparse. Ironically, she does mention a ton of medieval books that were translated from Arabic into vers The Ornament of the World disappointed me mainly because it was mostly 'tell' instead of 'show'. I often felt bombarded into the idea of a tolerant Andalusia during the Middle Ages. Instead I would love to be soothingly convinced by structured evidence. The central thesis suffers because Menocal's direct interaction with the contents of medieval books, or clear explanations thereof, are pretty sparse. Ironically, she does mention a ton of medieval books that were translated from Arabic into versions of Latin, or known in western and central Europe because Andalusians batted them on. Tolerance, then, boils down to a love for knowledge someone else provides. It is indeed a good thing to see this side of a time that stereotypically is seen as an overly religious dark age. But, for instance in the realm of war and politics, the absence of zealous religious war still left Christians, Muslims and sometimes Jews to fight, well, other Christians, Muslims and sometimes Jews. Divisions were easily found over other issues. Menocal does recognise this. Yet she shines a rather blinding light of tolerance into the reader's face, which quite frankly left me quite happy that I have finished her book now.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    It is only half-right to call this a history book; it is a eulogy, a panegyric, and a bit of a fable. Menocal writes her history of al-Andalus with a particular purpose: to change the way we view the Middle Ages, or at least part of it. In place of grimy savagery she finds noble enlightenment; instead of blinkered intolerance she portrays a generous commitment to coexistence. The catch is that this portrait does not apply to the entire medieval landscape, only to one shining city on a hill, Córd It is only half-right to call this a history book; it is a eulogy, a panegyric, and a bit of a fable. Menocal writes her history of al-Andalus with a particular purpose: to change the way we view the Middle Ages, or at least part of it. In place of grimy savagery she finds noble enlightenment; instead of blinkered intolerance she portrays a generous commitment to coexistence. The catch is that this portrait does not apply to the entire medieval landscape, only to one shining city on a hill, Córdoba, and its immediate surroundings, al-Andalus. Her story of the rise of Córdoba is tinged with epic. It begins not with the actual founding of the city in Roman times or with its Muslim occupation, but with the "Aeneas-like" arrival of Abd Al-Rahman, last scion of the Umayyad dynasty. In his and his successor's hands, over the next three centuries Córdoba grew to become perhaps the largest city in Europe and one of its cultural centers. Menocal credits Córdoba's rise to an allegedly uniquely Umayyad trait, embracing ethnic diversity and incorporating the best cultural elements of other civilizations into its own. Menocal stresses the fair treatment and high standard of living of the Jews of Córdoba in contrast to the squalor and persecution they faced in many other parts of the medieval Mediterranean. An overview of Andalusian history is provided at the beginning of the book, but the work as a whole is not a chronological narrative. Rather, it consists of a number of scenes that depict what Menocal considers gems from Andalusian culture. Some even carry the story outside the boundaries of al-Andalus, and this is essential for Menocal's goal. She does not merely wish to pain al-Andalus as an isolated bastion of civilization against the near-barbarous hordes to the North and South; rather, Córdoba diffuses many of its cultural accomplishments into Christian Europe. For example, Córdoban love poetry was taken into several vernacular Christian languages, thus forming a basis for the literature of chivalry. The Ornament of the World was published in 2002. The memory of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the consequent backlash against Islamic culture lie behind this book. As such, it intentionally stresses the contributions of Muslims to Western civilization and offers a vision of productive cultural coexistence. She presents Muslims, Jews, and Christians who were willing to work together for the greater good, as well as plenty who were not. Thus, the book is also a plea: if you want an enlightened, tolerant culture, won't you be the kind of person that can sustain one? Menocal is an absolutely gorgeous writer. I can't imagine anyone with even a slight interest not thoroughly enjoying her work. Her introduction to al-Andalus is gentle enough that even people with no background in the period will feel at home in these pages. The episodic chapters can easily be read or skipped depending on reader interest. If the reader does not mind a bit of romanticizing in the account and some exaggerated comparisons between this jewel of the world and the squalor of surrounding civilizations, there is much to appreciate here. [Read 100-some pages for medieval Mediterranean seminar.]

  22. 5 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    Please read my complete review here. A sample:Again, Menocal was not a historian and this book is not a history: it’s a kind of nonfiction fabulism for the general reader, intended to make a point, and my sense is that professional historians have accused its author of oversimplification and romanticism. Historians may deplore Menocal’s novelization-by-other-means, but then non-historians, even ones highly educated in other fields, are hardly going to comb through the records themselves to extra Please read my complete review here. A sample:Again, Menocal was not a historian and this book is not a history: it’s a kind of nonfiction fabulism for the general reader, intended to make a point, and my sense is that professional historians have accused its author of oversimplification and romanticism. Historians may deplore Menocal’s novelization-by-other-means, but then non-historians, even ones highly educated in other fields, are hardly going to comb through the records themselves to extract sense from our omni-chaotic past. Writing and reading popular history as fiction may be regrettable, but, like many regrettable things, it is also inevitable. The question is what moral Menocal expects us to take from her story and what we can do with it in our own time. Her main thesis is that almost all the cultural achievements we tend to think of as modern and western came through al-Andalus. It was from the love songs of pre-Islamic Arabia, transformed into popular Andalusian song and then brought in the form of singing girls to the court of Aquitaine, that the Troubadours learned the art of the lyric that became modern European poetry; it was the popular oral storytelling of Persia, Baghdad, and Cordoba, later assembled into written collections with narrative frames such as Petrus Alfonsi’s 12th-century Priestly Tales, that birthed the modern secular fiction of Boccaccio and Chaucer. The idea of vernacular literature itself, so important to the later development of the European nations, was given impetus by the clash of languages on the Iberian Peninsula and the development of modern forms of Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin.Read more...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    Maria Rosa Menocal's episodic history of medieval Spain is well organized, erudite, and romantic. The book starts with a long chapter that surveys the period, roughly 780 through 1360. Shorter chapters then provide vignettes lifted out of the larger history, focusing on scenes or people whose lives illustrate the broader trends and turning points. Overall, the story consists of three periods: the initial caliphate, which brought Arab and Muslim culture to Spain; the taifa era, in which the fusio Maria Rosa Menocal's episodic history of medieval Spain is well organized, erudite, and romantic. The book starts with a long chapter that surveys the period, roughly 780 through 1360. Shorter chapters then provide vignettes lifted out of the larger history, focusing on scenes or people whose lives illustrate the broader trends and turning points. Overall, the story consists of three periods: the initial caliphate, which brought Arab and Muslim culture to Spain; the taifa era, in which the fusion of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultures flourished among a bunch of city states; and a final era in which the Christian kingdom of Castile transmitted texts and culture from the fusion culture to western and northern Europe. Throughout, Menocal celebrates cultures of tolerance and blames religious conservatives - both Muslims and Christians, at different points -- for shattering the economic and political context that made the Andalusian melange possible. Menocal's writing brings the historical figures to life, and offers plenty of jumping-off points for further reading. At the same time, while the scholarship underpinning the book is objectively of high quality, the mood is deeply personal. Menocal loves this period, and she doesn't spend much effort discussing how difficult or brutal life remained, even in the tolerant times. Consistent with her academic interests, the book emphasizes thinkers and writers; this is a history of elite culture, with occasional glimpses of popular culture and very little economic analysis. As an introduction to the period, I found it far more interesting and memorable than David Levering Lewis' 2008 book, God's Crucible.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Max

    Stunning in the world it opens and the portrait it paints. The chapter on Don Quixote moved me to tears, and showed me a new side of a novel I've lived in and through since childhood. (I don't have time to re-read Don Quixote. I really don't. And yet...) Menocal's lessons are vital and chilling in equal measure—how a culture of art, philosophy, music, poetry, and—not tolerance, but something bigger, perhaps mutual enrichment?—thrives, how it falls by our own hands, how quickly we forget what's c Stunning in the world it opens and the portrait it paints. The chapter on Don Quixote moved me to tears, and showed me a new side of a novel I've lived in and through since childhood. (I don't have time to re-read Don Quixote. I really don't. And yet...) Menocal's lessons are vital and chilling in equal measure—how a culture of art, philosophy, music, poetry, and—not tolerance, but something bigger, perhaps mutual enrichment?—thrives, how it falls by our own hands, how quickly we forget what's come before, and ignore the roots of our languages and ourselves. The style isn't without speed bumps. We're dealing with a collection of short essays here, so some key concepts are frequently repeated. I found myself raising an eyebrow at the expansive use of the term 'memory palace,' which to my mind refers to the classical technique of memory and magic which Frances Yates explores in The Art of Memory; Menocal uses the term in reference to mental/architectural hybrids—real physical architecture that embodies or represents memory, frequently containing books that are themselves memory. The notion gets a touch muddled. But these are tiny quibbles for a grand gift of book. (Be careful with the postscript, written in the weeks after September 11, 2001. If I read it right, I think, by virtue of the postscript's nearness in time to the events which prompted its composition, those two pages fail to anticipate in just what way Menocal's tale of the fall of al-Andalus would seem eerily relevant to millennial, and I use that word with at least three meanings in mind, America and Europe.)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Clark

    Very interesting book, well written, accessible to the general reader. Especially in the wake of 9/11/01 it's important to know about a different face of Islam. It was through the Muslims in Spain, for example, that much of the writings of the ancient Greeks came down to us. It's also relevant for the history of the New World, which I think is where most GoodReads readers live. Southern Spain was the source of much of the migration to the New World, including likely a lot of Jews who had convert Very interesting book, well written, accessible to the general reader. Especially in the wake of 9/11/01 it's important to know about a different face of Islam. It was through the Muslims in Spain, for example, that much of the writings of the ancient Greeks came down to us. It's also relevant for the history of the New World, which I think is where most GoodReads readers live. Southern Spain was the source of much of the migration to the New World, including likely a lot of Jews who had converted to Christianity so protect their lives. And do we all know that the last practicing Jews fled Spain for the Ottoman Empire on the same tide that started Columbus's journey to the New World. Here's another fact - earlier this year (2010) there was a survey of the general religious knowledge of Americans. I was surprised that even many well-educated Jews did not know who Maimonides was. Maimonides (Musa ibn Maymun) born in Cordoba in 1135 - great philosopher and physician, leader of the Jewish community, also sometimes known as "the second Moses."

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ha Li

    To the linguistic and historical scholars, or better yet a combination of both, this piece of literature would be as much a treasure to read as its title implies of Medieval Spain when it was dominated by an Islamic world. Those studying Spanish or Arabic as a language or those wanting to know another side that lead up to and during the Reconquista will not be left empty handed. Menocal's vignette-style of the historical events in this area of history transcends in a movie-like showcase highlight To the linguistic and historical scholars, or better yet a combination of both, this piece of literature would be as much a treasure to read as its title implies of Medieval Spain when it was dominated by an Islamic world. Those studying Spanish or Arabic as a language or those wanting to know another side that lead up to and during the Reconquista will not be left empty handed. Menocal's vignette-style of the historical events in this area of history transcends in a movie-like showcase highlighting different events and implying their domino effect and possible causes and reactions that lead to the downfall of a once great empire that managed to last for centuries. How the Umayyad Caliphate and the culture that has been titled "the ornament of the world" since the 10th century collapsed over time is a mysterious oddity, but it does not go down without leaving a grand impression on the world.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

    Since I was slow on the draw, I didn't read this until I was already in Andalucia, and didn't finish until I got back from the trip. Menocal's basic thesis, that we are pretty much totally used to considering that period from a Northern European perspective and are probably totally ignorant of the Andalucian renaissance, was completely correct for me, so it was pretty much mind=blown. Makes you nostalgic for that caliphate. I was psyched to return my copy to Brooklyn Public Library with my ticke Since I was slow on the draw, I didn't read this until I was already in Andalucia, and didn't finish until I got back from the trip. Menocal's basic thesis, that we are pretty much totally used to considering that period from a Northern European perspective and are probably totally ignorant of the Andalucian renaissance, was completely correct for me, so it was pretty much mind=blown. Makes you nostalgic for that caliphate. I was psyched to return my copy to Brooklyn Public Library with my ticket to Madinat Al-Zahra still stuck in the pages--hopefully someone will actually find that when reading it someday.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Pretentiously assembled. This is the sort of highfalutin academy prose I detest - it is not intended to clarify or enlighten its audience; but rather to illustrate the author's superior grasp of the subject. This is my second attempt to slog it through - life's too short to waste my time. Pretentiously assembled. This is the sort of highfalutin academy prose I detest - it is not intended to clarify or enlighten its audience; but rather to illustrate the author's superior grasp of the subject. This is my second attempt to slog it through - life's too short to waste my time.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    This book is not history per se, as it focuses more on literature than events, but it is a marvelous story of cultural transmission. Menocal, a former professor at Yale (she died in 2012), specialized in Romance philology and medieval culture, and had such deep insight into Medieval Iberia. I absolutely loved this book, and learned so much about what makes Spain so unique. Passing through periods of Roman, Visigothic, Umayyad (Muslim), and Christian dominance, the country absorbed so much from e This book is not history per se, as it focuses more on literature than events, but it is a marvelous story of cultural transmission. Menocal, a former professor at Yale (she died in 2012), specialized in Romance philology and medieval culture, and had such deep insight into Medieval Iberia. I absolutely loved this book, and learned so much about what makes Spain so unique. Passing through periods of Roman, Visigothic, Umayyad (Muslim), and Christian dominance, the country absorbed so much from every culture. Medieval Spain is touted as the most tolerant time and place in history, and it arguably was, but the reality is complex. No one religious tradition controlled the entire peninsula until 1492, and the societies of each city varied in their make-up. The three different "Peoples of the Book" were not social equals, but did manage to live side-by-side for centuries. Because of the widespread use of Arabic among the entire population, the translated corpus of Ancient Greek knowledge became available to Jews and Christians, who then translated these works again into Hebrew, Latin, and many of the developing vernacular literary languages. Without this process, there would have been no 14th-16th century Renaissance in Europe. I learned so many details about the character, cultural history, and architecture of many Andalusian cities that I will soon be visiting. I jotted down lots of notes in my guidebook so I can reflect again on what I've learned when I'm on-site. I absolutely recommend this book for anyone who will be visiting Spain, or is just interested in this remarkable and unique country. Menocal writes on a high level, and her literary background shows in the quality of her language. I repeatedly hovered over her well-turned phrases, just appreciating that this woman could write! 4.5 stars for The Ornament of the World.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin

    It was almost amazing but for the postscript. I generally try and write an opinion piece on a book as soon as I finish it, because once I move onto another book I'm wrapped into that one and the impetus for a review for a past read book is gone. To continue...Unfortunately the late Professor Menocal didn't go to another edition explaining how a culture of tolerance in this period of times went straight into ever more time of intolerance. This may surprise a lot of people but religion was not com It was almost amazing but for the postscript. I generally try and write an opinion piece on a book as soon as I finish it, because once I move onto another book I'm wrapped into that one and the impetus for a review for a past read book is gone. To continue...Unfortunately the late Professor Menocal didn't go to another edition explaining how a culture of tolerance in this period of times went straight into ever more time of intolerance. This may surprise a lot of people but religion was not completely to blame. Now for those that is surprised take a deep breath and hold your immediate arguments for you to continue reading. What else I will say next is also surprising perhaps shocking and more than likely disagreeable. It has been apparent to me for many years, and Professor Menocal has backed up my thinking, that people through out history has used religion/faith and non-religion/faith for their own blind justifications. Here in this book and in Sea of Faith religion, science, philosophy and intellectuals have been recognised and celebrated altogether. Religion and science do not have to preclude the other. Science has been welcomed by men and women of the faith in God with absolutely no restrictions, and why should there be? Science isn't on the very foundation that a God cannot or will not exist because science says so. No science is to explore the very workings of our planet and the universe and what lies beyond and by people of faith it was allowed to stretch out as far as the technology of the time allowed not because they said you could or could not probe life. Simiarily in philosophy you could debate and discuss any topic under the sun, you could find arguments in the theories of theology and discuss them but that didn't turn you automatically into a heretic, by many theologians it was welcomed. Indeed as pointed out you could be a scientist, a philosopher, a believer, an intellectual all at the same time and not have to be completely in conflict with your way of life. But what really brought about the end of the times of tolerance? It mostly seemed to me to be kingdoms, empires-kings. There were men who were kings who would be patrons of literary men, scientists and philosophers, but then a son or a brother would kill that king and the replacement was far from being as generous and seemingly noble hearted. However, what all these people forgot while they were enjoying a peaceful period of tolerance was who made the country tick along. And who were they then? The same ones as now. They were farmers, slaves, street cleaners and those that worked a lot for very little in return (to ease our consciences they are given much nicer names now)and then eventually these people who were uneducated and not given the same chances rose up while the kings and queens sought more land and power and became destructive against the things they could not understand or conceive to understand. Yes there were as now people in society that are left in ignorance in order to keep the strength of power, now instead of kings and queens it is "democratically" elected governments that leave apart of society's people in willful ignorance but the people now that do the most destruction are the people that chose to be ignorant and arrogant and we have now no opportunities to be tolerant of each other. The majority believe that religion, science and philosophy have no basis together. The majority believe when a small minority acts violently in the name of God that everyone in that religion is criminal or suspect. The postscript to this book is November 2001. If at the time you or even now you were to ask any poor person or aboriginal person did they or do they feel their universe was destroyed when their country was attacked-what would they say? Most likely they would look at you as if you were mad and leave silently or they may tell you if they are bold that nothing before or after affected their lives from this attack. How would that make the questioner feel? What bubble of patriotism have those people made? That they cannot see how intolerant and ignorant their own little world is? But at one time we could have lived even now in a utopia (no not the impossible of dreams, they improbable perhaps, but not the impossible)where tolerance is possible for all religions and non religious persons of any background, yes it wouldn't be picture perfect, it wasn't then, but we had a time to find out more about ourselves and each other. I wouldn't call it a Golden Era because if it had been that there would have been more attempts at republics and the end of monarchy, an institution I solely hold responsible for all the wrongs throughout history. When literature, science, art and philosophy was at the forefront of human progress we didn't have such a thing as reducing wages for competition, there was hardly a thing called competition, and when it was said it was for amusements not to ruin lives and whole families like big corporations do now. But when royalty demanded more they demanded harder and faster for less always. Columbus sought to find the Great Khan in what is now North/South America to bring back trinkets for the whims of an arrogant king and queen and then came an early form of competition as to which country could rape and pillage an unknown land first and fastest. What followed was destruction and death, the end of another opportunity to learn, for enlightenment, tolerance and understanding. There is so much to be awed from in this book so much we could learn and understand about ourselves as a whole and seek to be tolerant again and to understand religion, science and philosophy do not have to be alien from each other. We still have a world of possibilities and it is not too late to be tolerant and explore the workings of the world and that everyone now should be given a chance. It has been easy to look back at history and to scoff at our ancestors and say they exaggerate and many achievements were impossible as evidence is lost or not written down, there is another form of intolerance. Human beings are capable of so much and indeed have created and formulated so many great and wondrous things. But some how we have always allowed ourselves to stump our own initiatives. It comes back to what Oscar Wilde said "We are afraid of ourselves". The question is why? From this book and others like it we can see what we were once capable of, the impossible now was possible then and they had so much less than we do.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.