By Karla Mallette
PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 1998
Abstract: During the twelfth century, a group of poets at the Norman court in Sicily composed traditional Arabic panegyrics in praise of the kingdoms Christian monarchs. Less than a century later, at the court of Frederick II, Sicilian poets wrote the first lyric love poetry in an Italian vernacular. This study traces the literary history of Sicily during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and engages the modern scholarly formulation known as the “Arabic theory” (the notion that Arabic literature had a formative influence on early Romance vernacular lyric), in order to refine the methodology used to read and compare Arabic and Romance love lyrics written in the colonial states of southern Europe during the Middle Ages.
The introductory chapter, “Remembering Norman Sicily,” sketches the fundamental issues that will inform subsequent readings of Sicilian literature: the changing relation between Sicilian culture and the mainland cultures of the Mediterranean; and the evolution of Muslim-Christian cultural communication within Sicily. “Al-Atrâbanishî and the Court Poets of the Norman Era” uses a close reading of a poem written in praise of Roger II and his Sicily to explore the Siculo-Norman cultural project. “Vernacular Culture in Sicily, ss. XII-XIII” parallels the revolutionary vernacular poetic traditions emerging in the Arabic- and Romance-speaking worlds, and examines the innovative use of the Sicilian vernaculars on coinage produced in twelfth and thirteenth century Sicily.
“Giacomo da Lentini and Siculo-Italian Poetics” considers the realignment of Sicilian culture that occurred when Sicily began to be viewed as an extension of the European mainland, and Sicilian culture was reconceived as a variant of Latinate Christianity. The concluding chapter, “The ‘Arabic Theory’ and the Poetries of Sicily,” uses the methodological interrogations of the foregoing chapters to comment on the traditional scholarly approach to conceptualizing and categorizing literary influence in the Muslim/Christian colonial states of southern Europe during the Middle Ages.