Blue and Green Eyes in the Islamicate Middle Ages
By Kristina Richardson
Annales Islamologiques, Vol.48:1 (2014)
Abstract: In pre-Islamic Arabia pale, shimmery eyes (zurq al-‘uyūn) were overwhelmingly associated with negative character traits. In this paper I examine usages of classical Arabic words with the z-r-q root to understand how they are differently mobilised in the Qur’ān, Qur’ānic commentaries, hadith, early medical treatises and words of adab. Z R Q could signify “ill-omened”, “deceitful”, “blind”, and I will show how these definitions structured and reproduced rivalries between tribal groups (e.g. the Umayyads and the Abbasids), between Muslims and perceived Others (e.g. Muslims and Christians), and within local Muslim groups (e.g. supporters of Mu’āwiya and ‘Alī, Sunnis and Shiis).
Introduction: William Shakespeare composed his drama The Tempest around 1610, and in this play Sycorax figures as a minor character. She has no spoken lines and she never even appears onstage. We know her through the vitriolic words of Prospero, a stranded inhabitant of the island that serves as the play’s setting. He introduces her early in the play:
This damn’d with Sycorax,
For mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible
To enter human hearing, from Argier,
Thou know’st, was banish’d:
This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child
And here was left by the sailors.
Top Image: Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili / Flickr