Sunday, April 1, 2012

Arab Historian al-Masudi, el-Mas'udi, 10th Century, Meadows of Gold. .


El Mas'udi, al-Mas'udi, Masudi
Historian, Traveler, Narrator, 10th Century
Baghdad and Elsewhere:  The World
I. Overview
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How to reform a culture's history-recording formats.  One al-Masudi, or Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas'udi, or Abu al-Hasan, or el-Mas'udi, did that in the 10th Century Middle East by including stories, anecdotes, details great and small in the chronologies, adding narrative with the provenance.
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Al-Masudi (there are many spellings of the entire and common name spelling, often would be al- or el Mas'udi, perhaps closest; but there are so many possibilities, see http://www.worldaccent.com/blog/2011/02/arabic-transliteration-whats-in-a-name.html) was born (in Baghdad?) in 985 AD, and died in 956 ACE in Cairo.  His narrative compendium of the known world, Meadows of Gold, or Muruj al-Dhabab, represented a shift from a mere chronological litany of events and its provenance, where information came from.  That approach had been the methodology of historian al-Tabari, who also described origins of information, and what happened to it.  It was al-Masudi who initiated narrative. 
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A.  Early historians.
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Go back to 484-425 BCE Herodotus, now a google book at that site. A researcher and storyteller, he is known as the first western historian, see http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodotus/herodotus01.htm.  Historians filled in blanks, made connections, but generally stayed with chronology.  Modern purists can object to the result of including creative, "unverified" items, legend and myth in the mix:  creative insertions, connections, with stories and anecdotes, but the teller's art revived interest preserved matters otherwise possibly lost.
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Al-Masudi was a historical narraator who expanded histories into humanities. Find an overview of Masudi at Aramco World Magazine at March-April 2005, at The Model of the Historians, by Caroline Stone, at http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200502/the.model.of.the.historians.htm.
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Object to the inclusion of interpretation with fact? On the other hand, our "histories" are being rewritten all the time in ways more malignantly ideological: exclusions, spin, putting in too little of a totality rather than too much.
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B.  The Natural Spin vs. Political Agenda
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Read a historical narrative by a real human being of the time, rather than data or agenda.  Al-Mas'udi of course believes his culture to be superior, don't we all, and Middle Ages Europe was in a mess as usual.  Those culture-centric parts are easily discerned. And any victor spins the history to promote the victor's accomplishment, downgrade the loser.
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And this was an era of Arab ascendancy:  some 300 years after Mohammed's birth.  Islam had spread in many directions, including into Al-Andalus, Spain. Music, arts, architecture, medicine, science, ethnic groups after the initial conquest living together, albeit with tax and status restrictions.  No pogroms. And paratge in warfare, with a corresponding effort by Richard the Lionheart, at least at the outset of the Crusades.
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The Arab victor of the era was generous, even in spin. If one behaved even while having a different religion or ethnicity, that could be accommodated.
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C.  Getting a grounding: A westerner looks east.  How to start in unfamiliar territory.
1.  Baghdad in the 10th Century was the Muslim world's center. http://www.cemml.colostate.edu/cultural/09476/iraq05-020.html  The caliph had established a "House of Wisdom" to translate from the Greek into Arabic the many treatises and other written materials.
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2.  How al Masudi broadened historical perspective.
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El-Mas'udi (the spelling in his book, Meadows of Gold), incorporated the minutiae of someone's early life, for example, from stories told about it, enabled perspectives on the later life. Every detail mattered, or could matter, so write it down and incorporate it. 
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The process of al-Masudi also informs us of works now lost.  His notes may well indicate that this work, or that, from another country, is of interest and that he intends to research it further.  Then the original work may disappear, but we have some description of it, a reminder to (perhaps) keep looking. 
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II.  MEADOWS OF GOLD AND MINES OF GEMS
Full title of the work more familiarly known as Meadows of Gold
El-Mas'udi
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A.  Find the entire text online at Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems.  Click on "other formats" to download a PDF, to get away from the typewriter courier typeface.  Google book of this, called a History Encyclopedia, is at Meadows of Gold, Aloys Sprenger Translation, Google Book. Other versions are at  http://www.antiochgate.com/22_masudi_meadows.htm.  The preface or  commentary-summary from 1841 in English, gives the flavor of the work. That will also give ideas for search words for the online version.  In this work are wealths of geography, manners, botany, history, anecdotes, nations, and their creeds and customs.
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Of particular interest:  the comment that what the West knows of Greek culture is incomplete because it does not reach back to the Eastern roots of the Greeks.
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Meadows of Gold is not, not a mere "adventure novel," see http://www.freebase.com/view/en/from_the_meadows_of_gold. I am not finished reading all of it, but this characterization is western-myopic condescending and illiterate.  Go back to AramcoWorld Magazine, http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200502/the.model.of.the.historians.htm
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B.  Topics.  Is anything left out?
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Scroll down the freebase.com site to the literature topics they highlight from Meadows of Gold:  Topics of particular interest:
  • Adam and Eve,cosmogeny of the world (cosmology would be the scientific origins, cosmogeny would be the culture's explained origins, is that so?)
  • the Abbasid Caliphate (later destroyed by the Mongols, we understand)
  • the History of the  World, except for parts of which too little was known, and did this include Morocco, even though Morocco was so near Al-Andalus, or areas of Spain?
Adam and Eve:  Adm, humankind;  and Hawwa, "living one."  Excellent.  Not a literally sexual role of mother of all living nonsense, that the West imposes on the word for "Eve." The West imposes dogma on texts, then tries to use text to support the dogma, see http://martinlutherstove.blogspot.com/#!/2012/03/vetting-lexicons-thayers-joseph-henry.html.  Figurative relationship to "living", as the protector of all living, guide, perhaps.
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C.  The Translation
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The freebase.com site characterizes the 1841 translation of Meadows of  Gold, by Alois Sprenger, and entitled by him as "Historical Encyclopedia," and the author is spelled as el-Masudi. El, Al, apostrophe-forms in the middle of words, all make research difficult, see http://books.google.com/books/about/el_Mas%C5%ABd%C4%AB_s_historical_encyclopaedia_e.html?id=XaVmAAAAMAAJ
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D.  Women of his time, and before
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Al-Masudi's liberal attitude toward women, not unusual for the time [does extremism as to "roles" evolve with dogma there, as well as with us?]
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1.  Naming names
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a.  Zubayda, wife of Harun al-Rashid.  She endowed the road used by pilgrims to Mecca, and the road still carries her name
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Her name is still venerated.  Contemporary, name ongoing:  One Abu Zubayda, or Zubaida, the abu aas father of Zubayda, I think,  is held as a "terrorist" and tortured despite international law -- see Washington Post comment adversely on his harsh treatment, Detainee's Harsh Treatment, Abu Zubaida, waterboarding. See also http://blog.alexanderhiggins.com/2012/04/04/guidebook-false-confessions-torture-manual-released-112911/
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I would like to know more about this; and about his daughter, Zubayda.  I would like to send her the book by Rachel Maddow, is it in translation? Drift -- http://www.amazon.com/Drift-Unmooring-American-Military-Power/dp/0307460983   "Unmooring" -- Moors.  We moved away from what we could have learned from Moors - is there a center where, even in the same culture, individualism and "community" enforcers can meet?
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b.  Layla al-Akhaliyya, poet. We find her work in French at http://www.revues-plurielles.org/_uploads/pdf/9_9_21.pdf. Poet of the ancient Arab world who lost her lover, Touba, also a poet,  She, on camelback, visits his tomb.  Is that a reasonable translation?  See (1974?) google doc Poems of Exile, Poems de l'exil, by Husain Jamil Barghouti, a Palestinian poet, at page 179 for the description in French; and her poems, also in French.

Translate, here a few lines from revues-plurielles. Will an Arabic linguist check?
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"Au creux d'une nuit au creux d'une chambre au creux d'un hiver,
tu étais endormie
entre mes mains, comme des fleurs de braises qui me sont chères,
j'ai dépêché mon âme auprès de tes braises.""The hollow of a night in a hollow chamber in the hollow of a winter
you were asleep
my hands, like flowers of embers that are dear to me,
I sent my soul to thy embers."  From google translate.
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c.  Khayzuran (name means "the reed").  She had been a slave girl, and became a wife of the caliph and a "power behind the throne", see http://www.wisemuslimwomen.org/muslimwomen/bio/al-khayzuran_bint_atta/. See book by Jennifer Heath 2004, The Scimitar and the Veil, Extraordinary Women of Islam,
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d.  Um al-Banin, "warlike". Part of the difficulty in research is the variations in spelling, and the components of naming.  She is also known as Nazar al-Qatari, see a video with further links at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPiKpryvqlo; and possibly also Jaleel Al-Karbalai -- Um Al Benin. Or is that the film maker? This site, however, only mentions her motherhood and bereavement at the loss of a prominent son, see http://www.imamreza.net/eng/imamreza.php?id=5834; as does, in effect, http://www.shiachat.com/forum/index.php?/topic/234964731-death-anniversary-of-hadhrat-umm-al-banin-sa/.s  That is enough. Um or Umm:  mother of several sons, brave and martyred sons.  Mother of al-Banin. See http://www.tebyan.net/Islam_Features/Prophet/Companions/2006/7/9/27730.html
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Overall:  she appears to be a devout, militant poet who supports the martyrdom of her sons, and is greatly esteemed, see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Shia-Islam/message/971
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Is this so:  that it was not unheard-of in pre-Islamic and early Islamic times for women to be fighters, see Women in War, Pre-Islamic, Islamic
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e.  Others, by occupation:  "dancers, singing girls, slaves, market vendors, poets, mystics and even Christian nuns"  See AramcoWorld site.
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Conclusion:  Meadows of Gold is worth reading, and easily downloaded.  Do a search for any topic, person's name, and see how that was viewed in the 19th Century.  And Saudi Aramco World is a magazine worth checking monthly online for all the Middle Eastern and other culture is presents so aesthetically.  If your children are not getting Middle Eastern Studies at school, do it at home.
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