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Reviews377 Menocal, María Rosa. The Ornament of the World. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002. 330 pp. ISBN 0-316-56688-8 Menocal's stylish treatment of medieval Iberian history and culture for the non-specialist will do a great deal to increase the visibility of Medieval Iberian Studies, and is a highly accessible introduction to the field for the general reading public. With this book, she has synthesized some of the most important historical and literary studies by Hispanists, Hebraists, and Arabists, and delivered it to the general reader in a series of revealing, highly readable personal narratives. Each of these centers on a portrait of one of medieval Iberia's more interesting intellectual figures such as Judah Halevi, Petrus Alfonsi, or Ibn Hazm, and an exploration of their defining characteristic or experience (exile, conversion, atavism). Each of Ornament's, chapters comprises a portrait of a particular person, time, place, and idea. "Beginnings" (5-13) covers the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate by Abd al-Rahman I in the eighth century CE. According to Menocal, medieval Iberian culture's most defining characteristic is the ability to thrive on contradiction. In "A Brief History of a First-Rate Place" (17-49), she quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald's idea that the "first-rate" mind is able simultaneously to hold two different truths. The story of medieval Iberia she tells is an overview of this Andalusi love affair with contradictory values. Her al-Andalus is a place populated at once by frontier dwellers, courtiers, bilinguals and alliance forgers, but also by stiff-necked atavists, conservative imperialists, rabid fundamentalists, and tyrants. She sketches early Islam and the cultural porosity that facilitated its rapid growth, the rise and fall of the Cordovan Umayyad Caliphate, the turmoil of the Taifa era, and the struggle between Muslim and Christian polities which led to the late eleventh-century invasion by the North African Almoravids. In this chapter, the author's al-Andalus is a conduit of classical learning during a time of political crisis, the Reconquest. Finally, she describes the cultural solipsism of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada and its eventual conquest by the Catholic Monarchs. "The Mosque and the Palm Tree" (53-65) details the establishment of the Umayyad Dynasty in Córdoba by the Syrian exile Abd al-Rahman I, and explores the trope of displacement. Menocal describes the integration of Syrian, Berber and Visigothic ethnic groups in the development of a new, uniquely Andalusi identity, and touches on the importance of the Arabic language as a cultural bond that unites these Islamicized ethnic groups with Christian and Jewish minorities. La corónica 32.1 (Fall, 2003): 377-80 378ReviewsLa corónica 32.1, 2003 In "Mother Tongues" (66-78) Menocal addresses the thorny problem of language in al-Andalus. Under the Umayyads, even as Classical Arabic became the prestige language of government and literature, other languages such as Latin, Hebrew, and Andalusi Arabic strived to maintain their positions . Here Menocal novelizes the well-worn lament for the demise of Latin learning of the Bishop of Cordoba, Paul Alvarus, and tells the story of the Martyrs of Cordoba, disparate responses to the powerful lure of Arabic and Islamic culture felt by the Christian community. During this time, the Islamic laws ofDhimma (protected minorities) allowed for the survival of Hebrew and Latin, but their legacies, and particularly that of Latin, buckled under the strain of marginalization. Meanwhile, Andalusi Romance is described as being widely spoken alongside Arabic by members of all three religions. "A Grand Vizier, A Grand City" (79-90), describes the creation of a uniquely Andalusi culture during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III, a tenthcentury Caliph who declared himself politically and culturally independent from the Caliphate in Baghdad. Menocal paints the powerful Jewish vizier Hasdai ibn Shaprut as the prototypical Andalusi Jewish intellectual who would thrive in both worlds and would revive Hebrew poetry by infusing it with Classical Arabic poetics. "The Gardens of Memory" (91-100) deals with construction of the Madinat az-Zahra, south of Cordoba, as an icon of a lost Andalusi Golden Age which was fast receding during the reign of the tyrannical Almansur in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 377-380
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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