The goal of my paper is to outline the relationship and the differences between the crusader contingent and the Muslims in the Chanson de Jérusalem, chanson de geste on the first crusade. The influence of Cistercian spirituality depicts the Crusaders as men with humble customs, who reject every luxury, and suffer from the thirst and dryness of the Holy Land, including the Tafurs, poor cannibals who fight half-naked, armed with agricultural tools. The Saracen field, on the other hand, is an exotic and luxurious world, led by the Sultan of Persia, who lives in a very rich tent stitched by Muhammad and inherited by Alexander the Great.
Among medieval historians, the Byzantine historian Laonikos Chalkondyles is unique. This paper will argue that, writing after the fall of Constantinople, Laonikos saw liberty through history, envisioning the study of foreign customs and practices as the key to freeing the Byzantines from Turkish dominion. Believing the Byzantines had devolved from virtuous ancient Romans into belligerent Greeks, Laonikos believed Greeks could reclaim their liberty by mixing their customs with practices ‘superior over others’ (1.3). By scrutinizing foreign practices in his Histories, Laonikos laid out these superior customs. Through an analysis of which customs Laonikos approved such as the Mamelukes’ meritocratic promotion of slaves (3.39) and Muslims’ salutary religious practices (3.13-4), this paper describes Laonikos’s ideal Hellenic state: a meritocratic, pious oligarchy.
For Muslim readers, Dante’s encounter with a grotesquely disfigured Mohammed in Canto 28 of Inferno is shocking and blasphemous. The Prophet is depicted as ‘opened wide from chin to groin’ (‘rotto dal mento infin dove si trulla’ [28.24]). As critics have recently argued, the ‘othering’ of Muslim figures as proposed by Edward Said must be complicated by Dante’s tremendous debt to Arab thinkers, as well as what Karla Mallette calls the ‘thoroughly hybridized environment’ in which Dante lived and wrote. This paper proposes that anamorphism, a visual art concept, is useful in conceptualizing the extent to which Mohammed – an object of fear and desire to Western thinkers like Dante – stares back at us through the text. This framework enables us to acknowledge and explore the still-immediate material offensiveness of Dante’s Mohammed, while bringing into view the agency wielded by the Prophet.
This paper will present a comparative sociology of two sets of symbolic objects found in medieval narratives, the first associated with the knight or warrior-king and continuous with his person, including swords and other knightly accoutrement, and the second associated with sovereigns and emblematic of their imperial authority, including the mantles, parasols, and tents associated with eastern Mediterranean and Islamic realms. I will first map out and integrate these disparate studies drawn from European and Islamic contexts, demarcating overlap and differences in the objects’ functions, meanings, and realms of association. My recent work has put such object studies to literary study, to show how tracing the representation and movement of ‘objects of imperium’ like swords in Old French epics forces reassessment of the operation of translatio imperii in medieval narratives and the place of the Saracens or medieval Islamic empires within them (2017). Objects, I argue, make visible inter-imperial transfers of authority (translatio imperii) from Islamic to European realms, and illuminate patterns of European imperial self-fashioning in relation to Islamic imperium – postures of ambivalence, desire, and ‘imperial envy’ (Maclean 2007) toward Islamic authority and prestige – that have gone largely unnoticed. Here, I wish to extend this work further, to examine the symbolic operation of imperial tents in a number of late medieval Old French and Middle English epics and chronicles.