Monday, April 7, 2008


Today, near the end of class we talked a little about what the Pagans were going to send to King Charles. When I first read that part I couldn't believe it. I thought that it was really weird when Blancandrin said that they would rather their children loose their heads than to forfeit honor and possessions, or being reduced to begging. What is that about? The king and all the higher ranking guys would gladly send their children to die. They have already lived long enough, or long enough to have kids, so wouldn't you want your children to live on for the sake of family?


Steve Backhus said...

I found that comprable to the Lay of Hildebrand, only in that case he was forced to choose between killing his son or personal honor. Although both cases seem wierd in modern times I would have to say sacrificing a child for the safety of a country (and all of its inhabitants) makes more sense than just for personal honor.

On a side note I find the Frankish descriptions of the Muslim rulers somewhat ironic since Umayyad Spain was one of the bright spots in medieval Europe in terms of tolerance and learning.

becky said...

I think the willingness to sacrifice their sons to their enemies shows how immoral- or "unchristian" -the pagans are (excuse the redundancy). They hold their own selfish honor above the continuance of their family- a bit reversed of the honor we have discussed.

Thought: would the pagan's set up of the hostages (where they purposely lie and know their sons will be killed) give them 'reason' to fight in order to avenge their heir's death.

Either way, we as a reader clearly know who we hope wins this battle!

ashley F. said...

I also found this weird, I have always be taught that ind.'s who have kids and start a family do it in order to instill their honor into their children In my family my brother is the last one with my fathers last name, so he is the basically the last one to keep living on the honor of the family. When the pagans basically gave their children to death, in my opinion it is basically saying that they are also giving up part of their honor because I feel that their children represent a portion of their honor.

Tim said...

That's a good point with loosing their family honor with giving up their male heir, specifically if it is their only male heir. I'm not sure exactly how warfare worked from the Spanish Islamic style back then, but they might have captured the younger children, including boys when they fought battles and made them their own children. Just a possibility I guess to keep the name going.

Mike Pilato said...

In response to Steve's comment: Umayyad Spain was not considered a high point from the medieval European perception because those lands were assimilated to Shariah law. The Franks naturally held negative attitudes towards the Andalusian Saracens since the Umayyads attempted an invasion of their kingdom in 732. The "Convivencia" in Spain was a subordinate system with Islam ruling and Christians and Jews treated as second class citizens. I would hardly claim that Umayyad Spain was a tolerant system. The invasion of 711 by Islamic forces created a deep animosity within Christendom towards Muslims. The "reconquista" was an ongoing effort to expell them from Spain. In fact the Muslim presence in Spain was a microcosm of the later events that drove the Christian Kingdoms to wage the First Crusade. The Carolingian Renaissance during Charlemagne's reign was the high point of learning in the early middle ages. Advancements were made in the revival of Roman Law and history, punctuation was created in the Latin alphabet (Carolingian miniscule) by the scholar Alcuin of York, who was commissioned by Charlemagne. Monasteries in the Frankish kingdom also contributed by preserving Greek philosophy.

Steve Backhus said...

Mike, I have to disagree with some of your points. Umayyad Spain was in fact the major center of civilization and learning in Western Europe. Its capital, Cordoba had a population of close to 500,000 at its height compared to 40,000 in Paris at the time. The library there contained over 300,000 works when most western Christian libraries were lucky to have more than a few hundred.

People from all over Europe came to study science, philosophy and medicine in universities there. A great majority of works in these areas were translated into latin from arabic here. Ibn Rushd (Averroes), arguably the greatest medieval Aristotelian lived and studied there along with many other great scholars of the time.

The Carolingian Renaissance was impressive and produced some important thinkers and works, but it was greatly indebted to Spain for the translations produced there.

As for the tolerance aspect, of course it was not as egalitarian as modern western countries, but I would choose to live under muslim rule in Cordoba and pay my tax in a heartbeat than live under the later Christian rulers and the infamous Spanish Inquisition. :)

Anonymous said...

Both Mike and Steve make good points. The Franks felt a deep animosity for Muslim's in general(if you want a description of Frankish knights from a Muslim perspective, read Usamah ibn Munqidh's account of the crusades. It is obvious the Frankish knights looked down on Muslims).

Although, that does not nullify the fact that Umayyad Spain was a center of high learning in Medevial times. In fact, it was mostly Muslim scholars who preserved the works of ancient Greece and Rome, which were later found by travelers from Europe and used in the humanist schooling system. So, yes, it is true that the Franks looked down on the Muslims, but probably only because of their differences. Much as some would look down on people of a certian subset even if those people are more intellegent than themselves.

Mike Pilato said...

In response to Steve's rebuttal: Arguably yes there were advancements made in Umayyad Spain. However, it is an inaccurate statement to claim that western civilization owes her achievements to Islamic civilization. Alcuin of York was not influenced by Islamic learning. He was trained in England as well as Rome for his education and vast knowledge. Furthermore, I would argue that Albertus Magnus was the greatest Aristotelian, who came from the University of Bologna (the oldest university in Europe), and later trained St.Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Christian philosopher known. Yes much of Greek philosophy was translated into latin from arabic, but you seem to ignore that much of it was also translated into latin from the greek by western scholars, such as Albertus Magnus who came later.

Cordoba from a political standpoint was a staging area for Islamic civilization to assimilate and conquer the rest of Europe. Without the effort of Charles Martel in stifling the Umayyad invasion at Poitiers/Tours, western civilization would have been lost and Christianity reduced to a social expression without any contribution to our modern society.

In regard to the Spanish Inquisition: This was a rare effort put forth primarily by the King of Spain in order to make the country homogeneously Christian. It was not a Papal order in any way. I would much rather of lived in a society where I could practice my faith in a communal sense of unification, rather than as a subordinate of Islam to which I must pay tribute. At the very heart of that society was conversion and indoctrination through social oppression. The medieval person viewed religious unity synonymous with political unity. In the medieval worldview, several different faiths living in the same polity was seen as chaotic and in opposition to natural order. It is very easy for us in our post-modernistic, secularized society to make value judgments on events in medieval Europe, but understanding them according to their values (in other words context), gives us a clearer picture of historicity.

Steve Backhus said...

Mike, I feel we have strayed a bit from the original point, but what the heck... I'm game.

I never meant to imply that western civilization was completely dependent on Islamic society for all of its advances, but it is a pretty much undisputed fact that the majority of the material that survives today from Greek and early Roman sources came from Islamic scholars. Not only did they preserve ancient knowledge, but expanded on it as well. In the area of mathematics, medicine, and chemistry they absolutely provided Europeans with knowledge that on their own would have taken centuries to acquire. This is undisputed by historians. If you have evidence to the contrary please let me know.

As a former Philosophy major I can tell you that In the case of Aristotlte, most of his works survive due to Islamic scholars. These were translated into Arabic from Greek, and then from Arabic into Latin. The same is true for the majority of Greek works that we have today.

As for Cordoba as a staging area for conquest, it was. But that is hardly a strike against the Islamic culture there. As we have seen in class just about everyone was preparing for, or carrying out plans for conquering their neighbor. The Carolingians were as guilty of this as anyone else.

In your final paragraph I do agree with some of what you say, but once again the Christian kingdoms of the time were just as, if not more, intolerant towards other faiths living in their lands. Sure the ultimate goal of any religion is to convert everyone, but the methods did differ. Convert or pay taxes is not the same as convert or die. The Christians generally took the later route. I'll gladly provide you an example of three Christians or Jews who held positions of influence in Muslim Kingdoms for every one instance that you can give of Muslims or Jews doing the same in Christian kingdoms of the time.

Just to let you know, no hard feelings. I think this is a great debate, although I do think you are wrong. :)