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The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain Paperback – Apr 2 2003

3.5 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (April 2 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316168718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316168717
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 2.5 x 14 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #119,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

María Rosa Menocal's wafting, ineffably sad The Ornament of the World tells of a time and place--from 786 to 1492, in Andalucía, Spain--that is largely and unjustly overshadowed in most historical chronicles. It was a time when three cultures--Judaic, Islamic, and Christian--forged a relatively stable (though occasionally contentious) coexistence. Such was this period that there remains in Toledo a church with an "homage to Arabic writing on its walls [and] a sumptuous 14th-century synagogue built to look like Granada's Alhambra." Long gone, however, is the Córdoba library--a thousand times larger than any other in Christian Europe. Menocal's history is one of palatine cities, of philosophers, of poets whose work inspired Chaucer and Boccaccio, of weeping fountains, breezy courtyards, and a long-running tolerance "profoundly rooted in the cultivation of the complexities, charms and challenges of contradictions," which ended with the repression of Judaism and Islam the same year Columbus sailed to the New World. --H. O'Billovich --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Menocal (R. Selden Rose Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and director of Special Programs in the Humanities, Yale Univ.) has previously published The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage, as well as other books on the role of the vernacular in medieval cultures. This book certainly reflects her deep scholarship. Menocal offers persuasive evidence that the Renaissance was strongly foreshadowed by the intellectual climate of Spain in the preceding centuries, starting in 783 with the founding of Andalusia by Abd al-Rahman, an Umayyad from Syria. The culture created was receptive to intellectual pursuits not allowed in the rest of Europe for several centuries, including the creation of impressive libraries and the study and translation of Classical authors. Menocal claims that this environment was largely a result of the tolerance shown by this ruler and his successors toward Christians and Jews and their cultures. Menocal has not given us a history book so much as a demonstration that puritanical cultures of any ilk are detrimental to the development of science, art, and literature. Her arguments are convincing even without the dark background of September 11. Recommended for all libraries.
Clay Williams, Hunter Coll. Lib., New York
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Format: Paperback
Many of the reviewers seem not to be familiar with the history of Christian intolerance -- to which the author of this book contrasts the comparative tolerance of medieval Spain. Even before Constantine, Christian bishops were setting their mobs on other Christians who did not agree with them. After they achieved political power with Constantine, Christians set themselves to destroy all they could of pagan culture, including the works of the classical authors such as Aristotle and Plato. For 500 years, Christians made murder an instrument of policy to force people to accept baptism. In the 11th century, the popes called for the Crusades, causing more bloodbaths, not only of Jews and Muslims, but also Christians. In the 14th century, the storm troops of the Inquisition caused the deaths of thousands and ruined European commerce. The bloody battles between Protestant and Catholics took no quarter and devastated Europe, killing half the population. The Spaniards invading South American in a hundred years killed 150 million natives and expropriated their lands. The Catholic Church's support of slavery and execution of heretics lasted right up to the 20th Century. These atrocities were not incidental. They were approved by the highest authorities of the Church, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and almost every pope who had the power. Muhammad instructed Muslims in the Quran to not only respect but also to protect the "Peoples of the Book," Christians and Jews who shared an ancestor in Abraham and believed in the same God. For the most part, Muslims carried out this command. Muhammad also prescribed rules of war, often causing Muslims to be shocked with the barbarities and atrocities of Christian armies.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This book gives a rudimentary yet enriching knowledge of the history and key players of Al-Andalus, the Moorish emirate (and later caliphate) that, far from being a backwater frontier of the Islamic world, became a vibrant contender with Damascus and Baghdad for the cultural center of this great empire.
New and fascinating historical figures, including the last Umayyad prince and refugee Abd al-Rahman, appear and are wonderfully brought to life, and better known figures like Dante, El Cid (Al Sayeed), Chaucer and Cervantes suddenly appear and take their place in the story. I found it a fascinating and rewarding read and there were portions I would call genuine page-turners. I was also reminded that Islam has always had its cosmopolitans as well as its backward and violent zealots and that these two 'branches' have often been in mortal conflict, as they are again in our time. In fact, as the story unfolds, we learn that it was not Christians north of the Pyrenees who initiated the eventual destruction of this 'ornament of the world' but fundamentalist Berber Muslims from North Africa who could not bear the tolerance and forward thinking of their Iberian co-religionists.
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Format: Hardcover
A resonant and timely case study of a time when followers of the three monotheisms set aside their differences and tried to get along. Golden ages always turn out to have their rotten linings, but the centuries when a tolerant Muslim dynasty ruled over most of Spain were uncommonly free of nastiness. So writes historian Menocal (Humanities/Yale Univ.) in this unusually graceful study, a sturdy and eminently readable exploration of the "unknown depths of cultural tolerance and symbiosis in our heritage" that may help revise our view of the Middle Ages. Ruling from 756 until 1492, the Ummayads and their political descendants took a broad view of life, according equal status to their fellow "peoples of the Book," the Christians and the Jews of Spain. In time, these peoples blended and became nearly indistinguishable, a troubling matter to those powerful Christian regimes elsewhere in Europe who branded their Spanish brethren as Mozarabs, or, in Menocal's translation, "wanna-be Arabs." This equality, or dhimma, led to great things, including the flourishing of scholarship and the arts, to say nothing of "virtually unlimited opportunities in a booming commercial environment" brought on by the absence of ethnic strife. The era's monuments, the great towers and mosques of southern Spain, still endure, as does its great literary testament, Don Quixote, "a postscript to the history of a first-rate place." Alas, writes Menocal, this wonderland came crashing down with the late medieval clash of Inquisitorial Christian armies and fundamentalist Muslims, when purity of blood and of faith became the ideals of a Spain determined to root out its Islamic heritage, intolerant ideals that were soon to be transported to the New World. Contemporary Israeli poets and Arab intellectuals pine for the glories of al-Andalus, as did Federico Garcia Lorca and Antonio Machado. So, too, does Menocal.
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Format: Hardcover
Occasionally an author/philosopher appears who is able to transcend contemporary groupthink and present a logical, rational, orderly, new vision of history. Alvin Tofler, whose analogy of the three waves of civilization presented an ordered view of human progress outside the usual names/dates/nation pedagogy, comes immediately to mind. Robin McNeil, in the Story of English, likewise showed how the democraticization of language, and the free "immigration" of words from other languages, made English the natural choice to become the international language. Maria Rosa Menocal presents a similar fresh approach to Western / Mediterranean / North African history by forcefully presenting Arabic as the primary language of cultural preservation and progress during the 7th through 13th centuries. While Hebrew and Latin were important clerical languages, Arabic was both clerical and the language of poetry and prose. Many of the scholars translating original Greek books were Jews - privileged members of Muslim courts - who were fluent in Arabic, the predominant Mediterranean language of commerce of the era. I never knew that. In my three years of studying Latin, I believed that Latin was the language of the middle ages, carefully preserved by hermetic monks laboriously copying parchment manuscripts. Menocal reveals the startling fact -to me,at least- that the califal library in Islamic Cordoba alone held 4000 books -the librarian's catalog held information on some 600,000 volumes - while the largest library in Christian Europe at the time was some 400 books!

I saw the book review in the Wall Street Journal and took the book on a just-finished trip to Spain.
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