The Arabs and the Perception of Ancient Europe
By Daniela Amaldi
Nations and Nationalities in Historical Perspective, edited by Gudmunður Hálfdanarson and Ann Katherine Isaacs (University of Pisa, 2001)
Introduction: Arabic literary expression began in the 6th century A.D. with poems no longer than about a hundred verses, composed and transmitted orally on the Arabian peninsula. The written tradition, which continues up to the present day, first asserted itself with Islam, spreading throughout an area which extends from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean as far as Iraq. We are therefore speaking about a literature which developed for fourteen centuries in a vast territory, and which for several centuries comprised also Spain, Sicily and all of those who, though of other origin, wrote in Arabic in that it was the cultured and official language of a prevalently Muslim empire. Consequently the writers were often not Arabs, while being at times Muslim and at times not. Thus we have news of the peoples inhabiting our Europe in texts written by authors of different origins and interests. References are found, in fact, in historical, geographical, philosophical, and more strictly literary texts. Among the latter is included also modern fiction, in which the “other” as European is present both as a minority living in the Arab world and as an ideological-political antagonist living north of the Mediterranean. It is a very vast area of investigation. We will be dealing here with the vision of ancient Europe that the Arabs of the classical period had.