Don Quixote Among the Saracens: A Clash of Civilizations and Literary Genres

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De Armas, Frederick A. [WorldCat Identities]

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Toy Soldiers 1. Format see all Format. All listings filter applied. Buy it now. This is particularly true with regard to the indispensable role of fashioning, consolidating, and perpetuating a predominately pagan image of Islam and its Prophet. Hence, Cervantes can be said to be holding up his own mirror to medieval myths of Muhammad which he internalized through reading medieval Spanish romances. Hodges is again on the mark when he reaches the conclusion: Although his personal experience as a slave to Muslims may have offered him opportunity to form a more complex view of that religion, and though he may have felt empathy toward particular Muslims, Cervantes would appear unlikely to have had any great sympathy for Islam itself.

Given the strong Catholic views that Cervantes held, therefore, one might also suspect him of harboring a less-than-entirely-positive view of Muhammad as putative prophet and thus.

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It is to be stressed here that although, relatively speaking, there is no dearth of scholars who have explored the complex phenomenon of cross-conversion between Christians and Muslims during the early modern period, to my knowledge, very few have shed light on the points that would seem culturally nave from the perspective of the Moorish Other in Don Quixote, and there is perhaps no more egregious example of this than Zoraidas conversion in The Captives Tale, which we will discuss in more detail soon.

As Metlitzki once eloquently phrased it, a Saracen, in the literary imagination of medieval Europe is inherently an evil creature, and can only be turned into an acceptable figure with the fanfare of conversion The conversion of the Moor amounts to a wish- fulfillment theme bequeathed to the literature of the early modern period by medieval Saracen romances in the first place and the Arthurian tradition in the second. With Cervantes, in my view, it could amount to a literary attempt to contain the early modern subversive issue of the Christians of Allah.

Garcs points out that conversion to Islam was common among European captives in Algiers and other North African cities Between romance and history, the reality of conversion was so different that Cervantes close Portuguese friend Antonio De Sosaa cleric from the Order of Malta known for his Topographia, e historia general de Argel Valodalid which he reportedly wrote in an Algerian prisondeplored the fact that the majority of Turks living in Algiers during his captivity were Turks by profession, who deserted their faith because they were either tempted by the pleasures of the flesh, or because they were afraid of slavery Garcs De Sosas apologeticism, according to Garcs, translates the seriousness of the religious threat Islam presented for early modern Christendom.

Evidently, the captives, soldiers, or mercenaries who converted to Islam, Garcs observes, were thorns in the sides of the Christians, particularly the Spaniards, who saw them as the most blatant representatives of accommodating and pliable morals Islam held for many Christians as a possible reason behind the phenomenon. The confessions of many renegades, and the depositions of the witnesses who testified in their cases, Garcs observes, clearly express the attraction exerted by Islam on numerous Christians in early modern times, even if they did not apostatize Garcs makes the astute observation that the phenomenon of early modern conversion to Islam is very complex and subsumes different theosophical, socio- cultural and economic reasons Cervantes, one may similarly postulate, while fully conscious of the subversive phenomenon of the Christians of Allah, as he witnessed it historically in Algiers, is much more interested in The Moors of Mary.

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As shown by Rodenbeck and others, it was the Albanian Deli Memi who captured the ship El Sol on which Cervantes was a passenger before taking him to Algiers There he was, like all other Christian captives, under the ultimate supervision of beglerbegs governors Ramadan the Sardinian and Hasan the Venetian, who governed Algiers during Cervantes captivity The medieval encounter between Islam and the West, one must not forget, did not only influence western literature but also, although to a lesser degree, Islamic literature i. This, as I hope to argue, does legitimize, at least theoretically, our call for a more serious, and certainly less ideological, re-investigation of a possible Arabic influence on Don Quixote.

Briefly speaking, the core Moorish theme of the tale is the conversion and escape of the young Muslim woman Zoraida after she falls in love with the Christian captive Rui Perez. Zoraida encounters and contacts Rui Perez while he is living in the Algerian bagnio prison-house of her father, Hajji Moratto. Zoraida connives with her Christian lover to escape from Algiers. They finally make it to Spain after experiencing a concatenation of mishaps and dangers, most notably their kidnapping and robbery by French pirates. Like the Frankish father in the forthcoming Arabic tale, Hajji Moratto is completely infuriated by his daughters action and does all he could to regain her.

Zoraida, who changes her name to Maria, refuses to return home and opts instead to marry her lover and live in Spain. By doing this, Zoraida-Maria exemplifies a female figure who is half Moor the body and half Christian the soul enters into self-imposed exile from her home culture in order to actualize a hidden and purportedly European self, to quote Erin Webster Garrett ; see de Castro; Guarino; and Garca.

In addition to her beauty, she is highly educated and known for her chastity and piety. After recovering from a deadly malady, the pious princess decides to take a sea voyage to a monastery located on an island in order to fulfill her religious vows. The tale mentions that Muslim warriors of the sea captured her and took her to the city of Qayrawan, the medieval capital of Ifriqiyya modern Tunisia. The narrative goes on to recount that in the city of Qayrawan, a rich and pious Muslim merchant of Persian origin bought her and treated her extremely well.

This encourages her to enquire about his faith and ultimately leads to her willing conversion to Islam. After her conversion, the Frankish princess changes her name to Mariam the same name that Zoraida chose after her baptism in The Captives Tale.


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  7. Mariam, we are told, becomes an avid learner of the Quran and the Sunna Prophetic tradition and is depicted as fully enjoying her new life. One day, she travels with her master to Alexandria in Egypt. Expectedly, Ali Nur al-Din buys her from her old master, frees and marries her. In the meantime, the Frankish king misses his daughter and exhausts all the means at his disposal to rescue and bring her home. Ultimately, he decides to send his cunning one-eyed and one-legged wazr advisor in disguise to search for her through all the Muslim lands.

    After a hectic journey, the Frankish officer receives reports that the princess is living in Alexandria. There, and after many attempts, he succeeds in gaining the friendship of her gullible husband Ali Nur al- Din, whom he easily manipulates and nearly convinces him to sell him his Frankish wife to pay back a big debt. In the meantime, Mariam discovers the real identity The Comparatist 38 : The French spy succeeds in kidnapping Mariam and in taking her back to France.

    Ali Nur al-Din finds himself in an unbearable state because of the loss of his beloved wife, and takes it upon himself to make the sea voyage to France and regain his beloved wife by any possible means. His journey is certainly not safe. Indeed, we are informed that he and his companions are soon captured by a squadron of Frankish pirates note again the discursive differentiation between mujhidn of the sea and French pirates , who take them to the king of France.

    The king orders the killing of all the Muslim captives with the miraculous exception of Ali Nur al-Din, who is presented to an old nun to be her slave and help her in taking care of the church where the king and his family used to attend mass. The two lovers finally reunite and quickly plot their escape.

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    After a number of dramatic events, which are too many to be mentioned here, Mariam goes so far as to kill her three brothers in order to escape with her Muslim lover and flee back to Muslim land The Arabian Nights This action is taken without giving any consideration for her supplicating father, who, evocative, if not predictive, of Hajji Moratto of Cervantes, is particularly sickened by her choice of an infidel and his religion over her family and religion of birth. Such an investigation would make sense if one considers the biographical work done throughout the years by scholars such as Fitzmaurice-Kelly, Emilio Sola, Jose F.

    Through his daily walks in the medina, Cervantes must have had not only some chances to listen to the then extremely popular tales of Alf Layla wa-Layla which were told daily in the suqs of Algiers, but also, as Lopez-Barlat contends he could have familiarized himself with expert Arabic raconteurs Fitzmaurice-Kellys referential statement is worth quoting in this regard: While his captors found their pleasure in watching two tattooed Moors oiled from head to foot wrestle amid the clash of cymbals and of drums, he [Cervantes] may have stolen down to the market-place with his brother Rodrigo, and with Luis de Pedrosa native of Osuna, whose father had been a friend of Cervantes grandfather, the old-time Corregidor of Osunato hear the rw, the Arab trouvre.

    Indeed, and briefly stated, I strongly see in Don Quixote a generic resemblance to the Arabic genre of the maqma Pl: maqmt. The titles of some do serendipitously conjure up some of Don Quixotes adventures. Whether Cervantes was familiar with this Arabic genre is definitely unknown. Nevertheless, and as mentioned earlier, one can speculate that he could have been introduced to this Arabic genre during his captivity in Algiers. This, of course at least theoretically speaking. It is a fact that during the sixteenth-century the tales of al-Hamadani and al-Hariri, of course in addition to Alf Layla wa- Layla and other folk tales such as Sirat Antar, were highly popular among the market-place ruwt sing.

    I would go so far as to suggest that the maqmt could lead us to more comparative fruition than Sirat Antar, which Antonio Medina has quite recently proposed as a possible comparative trail to be followed for a more serious investigation of a possible relation between Don Quixote and the medieval Arabic literary heritage. In fact, it is not conclusively impossible that Cervantes could have familiarized himself with the Arabic maqma while in captivity in Algiers. It is also possible that he had already done so earlier in Spain itself. It is accepted that the maqma was so very popular in al-Andalus prior to the Reconquista not only among Andalusian Muslims after al-Saraqusti d.

    This ushered in the rise of Andalusian Hebrew maqma just before its development at the hands of Joseph ibn Zabara b. Now, it is widely believed that the maqmt of al-Harizi and Ibn Zabara influenced the rise and development of the Spanish picaresque tradition, especially through foundational texts such as Libro de buen amor and El Spill, Llibre de les dones , as well as later sixteenth century examples, notably Lazarillo de Tormes and Guzmn de Alfarache Spanish picaro to the Arabic maqma.

    Although very briefly, Pelayo in his classic Origines de la novela , declared that the rogues of the early picaro, a central genre in the later rise and development of European novel including Don Quixote, were modeled on the anti heroes of the Arabic maqma. Pelayos comparative view was later espoused by ngel Gonzlez Palencia, perhaps Spains most influential Arabist, who in his seminal Historia de la literatura arbigo-espaola expressed his amazement at the striking similarities between the maqma and the picaro.

    Palencia reiterated his view in the introduction to his edition of Lazarillo de Tormes wherein he stressed also his unease at accepting the possibility of an abrupt emergence of the picaro without previous models Abu Haidar 1. Both Spanish scholars, as quite recently remarked by al-Dabbagh in his much welcome essay The Oriental Roots of the Picaresque, called for more serious investigations on the influences of the Arabic maqma on the picaro and indirectly on the European novel in general Related to the above, the question that imposes itself here is the following: Who would doubt Cervantes familiarity with, say, Libro de buen amor, Lazarillo de Tormes, and Guzmn de Alfarache?

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    As much as I am distancing myself from any conclusive statement regarding the possibility that Cervantes could have come across the maqma in original Arabic, I give myself the freedom of positing that he could have been indirectly influenced by the maqma through the picaro. I may even go as far as fancying that he [Cervantes] could have read translations, adaptations, and imitations of the Arabic genre, namely through the huge corpus of Hebrew Andalusian maqma.

    In other words, the fact that there is no proof Cervantes knew Arabic or that the Arabic maqma was available in European languages during his lifetime tempts one to suggest that Cervantes could have been influenced indirectly by the maqma through the Hebrew maqmas impact on the Spanish picaresque tradition. Perhaps most pertinently, Jaakko Hmeen-Anttila in his Maqma: A History of a Genre has astutely maintained that the universe of the Arabic picaresque maqma hovers around three main figures: the narrator, the hero, and the author. While the latter is, of course, well known, the identities of the first two, and especially the narrator, are always intriguing.

    The medieval scholars, Hmeen-Anttila comments, were fond of speculating on their true identities Fascinatingly, scholars past and present have been equally fond of speculating on the true identities of Don Quixote and the Arabian narrator of his adventures. This is in addition to the fact that through observing the isnd chain of narration , the maqma in its emphasis on their truthfulness does everything to relate or chain the adventures of the main character to a presumably and, many times mockingly, reliable narrator.

    Here I must stop to posit that this is largely suggestive of the narratological relationship between Cervantes and his Arabic isnd i. Cide Hamete Benengeli. The erudite Raymond S. Willis, in spite of the continuous opposition of many, including Parr himself, was among the pioneers to suggest in his classic The Phantom Chapters of the Quijote that the recurrence of the use of the phrase the history relates could very well be a vestigial form of the Arabic-Islamic tradition of isnd Abu Haidar and Victorio Ageras strong belief in the influence of the Arabic maqma on the rise and development of the Spanish picaro tradition and the European picaresque novel in general, a view which was once met with a fierce resistance, to say the least.

    Relevant in this context is the fact that Don Quixote is presented, regardless of the veracity or even the absurdity of this, by Cervantes as a translation of an Arabic history book called the Ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. The original writer, we are told, is the Arabian Historian, also described as filsofo mahomtico, Cide Hamete Benengeli.

    These are the opening words of chapter XXII: It is recounted by Cide Hamete Benegeli, the Arabic and Manchegan author, in this most serious, high sounding, detailed, sweet, and inventive history, that following the conversation between the famous Don Quixote and his squire. DQ looked up and saw coming toward him on the same road he was traveling approximately twelve men on foot, strung together by their necks, like beads on a great iron chain, and all of them wearing manacles.

    It is the narrators depiction of Cide Hamete Benengeli throughout the book that seems to be the most ambiguous example of Cervantes ultimately complex views of Islam. Although at many times, as I will try to show, Cervantes projects many of his cultural prejudices onto this character, at many other times, however, he seems to be so un consciously captivated by Cide Hametes Arabian tales that it can never be a theoretical absurdity, as many want us to believe, to discern Cervantes positive interaction with the Arabic culture to which he was exposed during his five-year captivity in Algiers, as well as during his early years in his own hometown Alcal de Henares.