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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 36 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 36 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #121,902 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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It took me awhile to get going on this book but when I did, it was hugely worthwhile. A real eye opener. Pretty much everything I thought was Spanish in terms of architectural style turns out to be Arab. And who knew that everyone in Spain -- Jews, Christians and Muslims -- spoke Arabic for centuries? Made me hungry for more. Would love to see a deluxe edition with glossy coloured illustrations.
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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: Paperback
"The Ornament of the World" is an artistic and intellectual history of Islamic Spain. It's also a treatise on how a multi-cultural, tolerant society can not only flourish, but also serve as the incubator for world-wide advancement in the Arts, Mathematics, Philosophy, and Architecture. Maria Rosa Menocal's book provides a resonant political history of the region. It can serve as one the most unique travel guides to Southern Spain in the catalog. And, for better or worse, it has the now obligatory Harold Bloom Introduction.
Preparatory chapters review the region's history in fairly traditional fashion. Beginning in the year 711, Islamic armies from Northern Africa began a steady conquest of Spain that eventually reached the Pyrenees. Although achieved primarily through military means, the conquest ushered in an era of remarkable open-mindedness (measured against the standards of the day) that lasted until Ferdinand & Isabella completed the Catholic Reconquista in 1492 and immediately embarked on their own perversely-reciprocal campaign of unicultural dominance.
The book's core sections then deal with the intervening years, a period that the author describes as "the chapter of Europe's culture when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side ... and nourished a complex culture of tolerance." She tells not a political story, but instead employs a series of biographical vignettes that focus on the intellectual and cultural achievers of the era: thinkers and explorers such as Paul Alvarus (a Cordoban Christian), Ibn Khaldun (a Tunisian Muslim traveler to al-Andalus), and Maimonides (a Jewish refugee from Cordoba to Egypt).
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A reader's own sense of polital correctness will more likely influence one's response to this book than any parochialism offered by Menocal. The first chapter gives the uninitiated reader a capsule summary of the 700-odd year history of Arabized Spain. The chapters that follow are almost historical mood pieces that focus on a particular influential person or intellectual movement or historical incident that occurred within the greater time period. We find Charlemagne in Spain allied in battle with one Muslim territory against another. We find 400,000 volumes in ONE library in Toledo at a time when the complete works of Aristotle were lost to Western Europe (including the Irish monks). Here are the Normans invading Northern Spain and arabized Sicily, and soon after occupation culturally acclimatizing to a very different and more advanced civilization than they found in England. Now the great movement of scientific, medical, philosophical, and political science into Western Europe as Catholic bishops set up translaltion centers in Spain and supply an information-starved North with the intellectual tools that fire the engine of Western Civilization just as the works of ancient Greece and Persia fired the civilization of an arabized Mediterranian basin in the years following the Arab conquests. Oh-and there is a lot of killing and backstabbing and decadence and decline at the same time there is wonderful culture and architecture. Almost all of Spain was Christian by the time the Alhambra is built-and the Granada area remained arabized until 1492 because the Muslim rulers had Christian allies until then. Of interest, only the postscript to the book was written after 9/11.Read more ›
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