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13.09.15, Lambert & Nicholson, eds., Languages of Love and Hate

13.09.15, Lambert & Nicholson, eds., Languages of Love and Hate

This volume is part of Brepols' International Medieval Research series, which brings together papers presented at the International Medieval Congress of Leeds. This volume contains fourteen loosely-related essays pertaining to the overall theme of the 2004 Congress, "Clash of Cultures."

Part I consists of five articles on the theme of "Western Depiction of Saracens and Others Latin and French Vernacular Writing." Marianne Ailes ("Tolerated Otherness: the 'Unconverted' Saracen in the Chansons de Geste") examines the portrayal of Saracen adversaries in a series of fourteen chansons de geste dating from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Summarizing the plots of various chansons, she shows how some prominent Saracen leaders convert to Christianity while others are killed and still others live on in the Saracen religion. This is fairly well-trod ground, and it is unclear how Ailes might be furthering our understanding of these issues compared to other recent work (for example, Sharon Kinoshita's and Siobhain Bly Calkin's recent essay, "Saracens as Idolators in European Vernacular Literatures," in Volume 4 of Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History). Her chosen lens, "tolerance," seems ill-adapted to her task, all the more so since she never defines what she means by it; nor does she refer to the abundant literature on the subject. Tolerance is an anachronistic term: tolerantia was rather a negative trait in Medieval Latin; to use our post-enlightenment notion of tolerance as a tool to analyze medieval chansons de geste tells us little about the authors' intent or their readers' perceptions.

While Ailes compares a large number of epics, the following two articles are more in-depth analyses of individual French epics: Susan Edgington ("'Pagans' and 'Others' in the Chanson de Jérusalem") analyzes the portrayal of Crusaders' adversaries in one thirteenth-century epic, the third of what scholars call the "First Crusade Cycle," while Helen Nicholson ("Love in a Hot Climate: Gender Relations in Florent et Octavien") concentrates on one long French verse romance from the second half of the fourteenth century. In this romance, as she shows, military conflict between Christians and Saracens is more or less a backdrop for the adventures and misadventures, both military and amorous, of brothers Florent and Octavien. The virtuous Saracen sultan and the beautiful Saracen princess ready to convert to Christianity out of love for her Christian prince are present, and they clearly have already become stock characters. Nicholson's close and careful analysis (in particular of gender relations in the poem) leads her to conclude that for the poet "religious difference is of little importance, and is used mainly to reveal the weaknesses of the Christians" (35). Unfortunately, Nicholson's article is also marred by sloppy use of terminology. She speaks repeatedly of "Muslims" when referring to the Saracen characters in the epic, whereas there is little if anything "Muslim" about them. The term "Muslim" did not exist in Old French and the term "sarrasin" was not its simple equivalent, as a raft of recent scholarship has shown.

Carol Sweetenham focuses on the portrayal of Saracens by a twelfth-century Latin chronicler, Robert the Monk, whose Historia iherosolimitana was the most popular (to judge by extant manuscript copies) of the First Crusade chronicles. Robert gives vivid images of Saracen idolatry; Sweetenham attributes this to the influence of chansons de geste, but in fact his text is contemporary with the writing down of the earliest chansons, so the influence may in fact be in either direction (or for that matter in both). Of particular interest is her speculation concerning why Robert chooses to give the name "Clemens" to the Saracen king of Jerusalem: for Sweetenham, this is a reference to antipope Clemens III, rival of Urban II. Robert thus celebrates Urban's victory over the forces of the Devil in the persons of two of his chief officers, the anti-pope Clemens and his (fictitious) namesake in Jerusalem.

Sarah Lambert explores allusions to crusading in the Roman de Renart. In one episode, the eponymous wily fox is on trial before the Lion King Noble, who sentences him to death for having raped the Hersant the wolf. Yet Renart manages to escape the death sentence by taking the cross as a crusader/pilgrim to Jerusalem; he subsequently rips the cloth cross off his shoulder and mocks Noble and the whole project of crusade, which, he says sarcastically, must have Nur al-Din and his "pagans" running away in fear. Through close and subtle analysis of this and other references to crusading in the Renart corpus, Lambert shows how the poet satirizes crusading, lampooning in particular the propaganda of crusading preachers and kings—and those gullible enough to believe them.

Part II focuses on relations between the West and Byzantium, a welcome inclusion, since Byzantium is often left out of the equation in books concerning East-West relations. Shaun Tougher ("Eyeing up Eunuchs: Western Perceptions of Byzantine Cultural Difference"), examines how Latin authors depict the presence of eunuchs in Byzantine society as a marker of cultural difference. Particularly interesting is his analysis of Liutprand of Cremona's treatment of the subject in his accounts of his two visits to Constantinople (in 949-50 and in 968). On the first occasion, he not only mentions Eunuchs without any aversion, he even explains that he brought four Eunuchs as "gifts" for Emperor Constantine VII. But in the better-known account of his second mission, colored by hostilities between Otto I and Nikephoras II, he expresses his revulsion for eunuchs and criticizes their presence in the court and in the church (in particular as bishops), all the better to paint Nikephoras's court in the most somber colors. Tougher uses Said and orientalism as a lens through which to view Latin representations of Byzantium, but at times it is a deforming lens, when for example he says that "the west did not approve of this feature of Byzantine culture [eunuchs]" (95), clearly an oversimplification.

Jonathan Harris ("Collusion with the Infidel as a Pretext for Western Military Action against Byzantium") does an excellent job of putting Byzantine-Crusader relations in a broader context of Imperial diplomatic strategy. The principal goal of the emperors was to protect Constantinople, often by using the forces of potential allies against those of potential enemies. The call of Alexis I to Rome, which launched the First Crusade, was one good example of this strategy. Yet Alexis and his successors eyed their Latin allies with understandable (and often justified) mistrust and apprehension. Hence Latin authors often portray Greeks as perfidious or as allies of the Muslim enemies in order to justify military actions against them. As Harris shows, these accusations cannot be taken at face value (as some Crusade historians have done), yet nor should one accept Byzantine Emperors protestations of good will (as some Byzantinists tend to do). The crusaders were one variable among many in Constantinople's diplomatic chess game.

The following three articles present case studies in Byzantine-Latin relations. Linda Paterson unravels the meaning of a reference to Patriarch John X Kamateros in an early thirteenth-century troubadour tenso. Teresa Shawcross analyzes the Chronicle of Morea, which relates the history of the Frankish kingdom of Morea under the rule of the Vilhardouin dynasty. She shows how the chronicler presents stereotypically negative portrayals of shiftless and untrustworthy "Greeks" (even in the Greek version of the chronicle) when discussing the kingdom's enemies, yet shows close alliance and cooperation between Greeks and Franks within the kingdom. Her point is well-taken and her analysis sound, although referring to this as "a primitive sense of nationhood" (157) is anachronistic. Judith Ryder looks at the career and writings of Demetrios Kynodes, fourteenth-century theologian and advisor to two emperors. Kynodes was a Latinophile; his Apologia I, largely autobiographical, describes with enthusiasm his learning of Latin and discovery of the work of Aquinas; he also presents the filioque controversy and other issues that divided Latin and Greek churches in ways that were unusually open towards the Latin point of view. While earlier historians had seen Kynodes as a "Catholic convert" and as such estranged from the Byzantine mainstream, Ryder shows how his positions fit the rapprochement sought by emperor John V with Rome: indeed Apologia I can best be understood as a propaganda for John's position.

Part III brings together four very loosely-related articles under the rubric, "Western Confrontation with Islam and Judaism in Iberia and the East." Karen Rose Mathews studies the architectural appropriation of crusader spolia in Mamluk architecture. She shows how the use and appreciation of Crusader art is in disconnect with Mamluk texts (particularly at the time of Baybars) which portray Ifranj ("Franks") as crude Barbarians. She also shows the evolution from the earlier Mamluk period, when spolia were used to celebrate victories of the sultans over the infidels, to the fourteenth century, when the new (and much more threatening) enemy was the Mongols and the art of the erstwhile enemy, the Ifranj, could be appreciated with perhaps some nostalgia. This otherwise excellent article is marred with some linguistic imprecision, as Rose tends to use "Christian" and "Frankish" as interchangeable. Most Christians in Syria and Egypt were not Frankish, and there is nothing specifically "Christian" about some of the architecture copied (e.g., fortifications): it is certainly different to copy (or incorporate elements of) a Frankish castle than to reuse parts of a Christian church.

Matthias Tischler gives an interesting and well-documented reflection on two well-known twelfth-century texts and their portrayal of Islam: the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle and the Contra sectam Sarracenorum of Peter of Cluny. Specialists will find little new here, but it is a well-crafted and thoughtful contrast of these two very different approaches to Islamic religious difference. Matthias Maser discusses Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada's thirteenth-century Historia Arabum, a chronicle rare in its use of Arabic sources. Maser shows how Rodrigo is interested particularly in what he sees as the history of the "Spanish" Muslim polities (the emirate and caliphate of Cordoba, the taifas) and not that of "foreign" dynasties in the peninsula (Almoravids, Almohads). Rodrigo also traces the early history of Islam and the Muslim conquests, using Arabic sources (rather than polemical Latin ones) in his narration of the life of Muhammad, again rare for the time. Maser puts his reader on his guard against seeing this attitude as "tolerance"; a point well-taken, of course, but it would have been better if Maser had grounded his discussion in the considerable recent literature on what "tolerance" means: like Marianne Ailes, he uses the term without contextualizing it. In the final article of the collection, Wolfram Drews addresses Ramon Llull's shifting apologetic strategies towards Judaism. Llull's work is complex and prolific, and the scholarship around him copious, and Drews does a good job of tracing the meanders of Llull's approach towards Jews over his career, though here too specialists of Llull will learn little new.

In the introduction to the volume, Sarah Lambert and Helen Nicholson summarize the various articles and attempt to pull them together thematically; difficult to do given the mixed quality and the divergent themes of the articles here. They observe that "modern scholarship has lacked theoretical reflection on the multiple contexts of medieval texts, their development, revisions, functions and various audiences" (xxii). True enough, but unfortunately these same flaws mar several of the articles in these pages. There are however some very good articles, which make the volume worthwhile.