In «The Legacy of Islam» Professor Gibb wrote a very interesting
chapter on the influence of the Arabs on European literature. He quoted
some excerpts from the lectures of Professor Mackail on poetry. He said
«Europe is indebted to Arabia for her «Romance» movement
and to Judea for her faith.»... «And we - Europeans - are
indebted to the Arabs in Arabia and Syria for most of the driving forces
- or all those forces - which turned the Middle Ages into a different world
in spirit and imagination from that by Rome».
Professor Gibb does not admit this generalization; neither does he negate
it completely. However, he does not deny the influence of the Arabs on
European poetry and prose from the 13th century up to modern times. He
believes that Arab influence infiltrated into European literature through
the inspiration and tales told by Muslims who spoke Arabic and some other
European languages as well as by some poets of Southern France whose knowledge
of Arabic has not been ascertained.
believe that the flourishing of Arabic literature in Andalusia and its
legacy could not he ignored by the history of Europe. Arabic literature
has directly influenced the tastes, thoughts, topics, psychological motives,
and linguistic construction of the Europeans.
This belief is confirmed by the fact that there were three inroads which
carried Arab culture to Europe in the Middle Ages. First of all, there
were the commercial convoys which used to ply between Asia, and Eastern
and Northern Europe by the Caspian Sea and through Constantinople. Perhaps,
by that route, news of the Muslims had reached Scandinavia.
Secondly, the Crusaders' long occupation of some land between Syria, Egypt
and other Islamic countries. Thirdly, the rise of Islamic states in Andalusia
and Sicily and other countries, and the spread of the Arabic language there.
Arabic poems were linked with names of some gifted poets of Europe who
lived in the fourteenth century and after. Their connection with Arab
culture cannot be doubted or denied. We mention in particular Boccacio,
Dante and Patrarch the Italians, the English poet Chaucer, and the Spanish
Cervantes, who had the credit of revitalizing the ancient arts of those
In 1349 Boccacio wrote his «Decameron» in which he adopted
the pattern of «Arabian Nights» or «One thousand and
one nights» which was then in circulation in Egypt and Syria. He
compiled one hundred stories on the lines of «One thousand and one
Nights», and ascribed them to seven ladies and three men who had
fled from the town and took refuge in the suburbs for fear of being overtaken
by plague. Each was called upon to narrate a story every morning to pass
the time. These stories spread all over Europe. Shakespeare derived from them the subject of his comedy «ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL»;
similarly Lessing, the German poet, derived NATHAN THE WISE».
In English Poetry, Chaucer was the greatest plagiarist in his age. After
he returned from Italy, he compiled his Canterbury tales on the lines followed
by Boccacio in his (Decameron), of which one is the story of (the Kinght)
which was borrowed from «One thousand and one Nights». He began
his tale with the description of a court belonging to one of the Khans
of the Tartars or Moguls. The Western Poets continued spinning their stories
on those lines until Longfellow author of the bock (Tales of Khan at the
turning of the Road».
Perhaps Dante's connection with Arab culture is more pronounced than Bocaccio's
and Chaucer's. He lived in Sicily during the reign of King Frederick II
who was given to the study of Arabic references on Islamic culture.
Dante and the King used to debate Aristotel's School. Some of those debates
were taken from Arabic sources and were written in manuscripts which are
still kept in the library of Sir Thomas Bodley in Oxford. More than one
Orientalist has noticed the close similarity between the description of
Paradise by «Mohiuddin Ibn Arabi» and in Dante's «Divine
Comedy». Dante knew much about the Prophet Muhammad, and must have
read the chapter about The Night Journey, the Prophet's trip across the
seven heavens. He also might have read the «Message of Absolution»
by Abu El-Ala. From all those readings he derived his Journey To The Next
World as described in «The Divine Comedy». Professor Asin Palacios,
a Spanish Scholar devoted to Arab Studies, is an authority on derivation
Petrarch lived during the age of Arab culture in France and Italy. He learnt
at the Universities of Montpellier and Paris, which where founded by disciples
of the Arabs that had graduated from the Andalusia Universities. Cervantes
lived in Algeria for some years and wrote his «Don Quixote».
Those who read «Don Quixote» will never doubt the wide-reading
of Cervantes in Arabic and his borrowing of Arabic sayings and proverbs
which are still current among the Arabs. Prescott, a wide-read scholar
in Spanish history, affirms that the comedy of «Don Quixote»
is wholly Andalusian in its core.
But the influence, which surpasses the effects of all those individual
borrowings and derivations, is that comprehensive one which had had the
credit of reviving modern European languages and promoting them to the
ranks of literature and science, after they had been ignored by scientists,
and scholars, whose literary and scientific works used to be written in
Latin and Greek. Authorship of those work was restricted to theologians
and their life, who arrogated learning to themselves alone to the exclusion
of the masses of the people.
The adoption of Arabic as a means of education resulted in the neglect
of Latin and Greek, and revival of the Popular language and the leanings of poetry rhetorics and science from sources other than priests and monks
who were devoted to theology. Dozy quotes in his book, «Andalusian
Islam», the message of the Spanish writer Al-Farro, who was greatly
embittered at the neglect of Latin and Greek and the enthusiasm for learning
the Muslim language. Al-Farm said, «Our intellectual class have been
transported by the charm of the Arabic language, and have consequently
neglected Latin and written solely in the language of their conquerors».
Another more patriotic contemporary was embittered at that state of things
and wrote. «My Christian brothers are enchanted by the Arabs' poems
and narrative. They therefore study the works written by the Muslim Philosophers
and Scholars. They learn, not to rebut and refute, but to imitate the style
of classical Arabic. Who else other than theologians that read interpretations
of the Gospel and Bible? Who reads these days the testaments and prophets'
scriptures? Alas, the rising generation of intelligent Christians master
no other literature and language than Arabic. They voraciously read Arabic
books and heap up stocks of these books in their libraries at the highest
prices. They chant everywhere the praises of the Arabic treasures, whereas
they refuse to hear of Christian works when they are mentioned. They allege
that Christian works are worthless and do not deserve to be given attention.
How sad The Christians have forgotten their language. You seldom find one
among a thousand Christians who writes to a friend in Christian language.
As to Arabic, how innumerable are those who can give its best expression
and excel the Arabs themselves in the composition of poems.
Dante said that the Italian poetry had been born in Sicily, that poems
were greatly composed in vernacular in Provence where the Latin peoples
of the South met. Wandering poets spread from that territory. They were
known by the name «Troubador». The Europeans derived that name
from the original word «Trobar», which Orientalists believe
to be taken from Arabic word «Tarab or Tarob» meaning ecstasy).
The name of their poem «tenson» is derived from the Arabic
word «Tanazo» meaning (competition) They used to compete with
each other in the composition of poems wherein they boasted of their glories
and made pretensions as today's glib tongued Bedouins do. It is noticeable
that there is close similarity between the meters of their poems and those
of Andalusiverses. Verse had appeared before them; it was sung by singers
at homes and in fairs. In the European poems of North Andalusia, there
have been found Arabic words and reference to customs that had existed
among Muslims alone, namely allotment of the fifth of cattle to the ruling
The relationship between Arabic Literature rather Islamic Literature as
a whole and Modern European Literature has continued since the 17th century.
Suffice it as an evidence of the influence of Islamic literature on European
literature that we scarcely find a man of letters whose poetry and prose
is devoid of an Islamic hero or anecdote. Of these literary people are
Shakespeare, Addison, Byron, Southey, Coleridge, Shelley from England;
Goethe, Herder, Lessing, Henine from Germany, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Hugo
and La Fontaine from France. La Fontaine said that he had spun his fables
on the lines of «Kalila and Demna» which was introduced to
the Europeans by the Muslims.
The European story was influenced during its rise by the technique of the
Arabic novel of the Middle Ages namely, the ballad, epic, adventures of
knights for romance and glory, etc. Some European critics believe that
Gulliver's Traveis by Swift, and Robinson Crusoe by Defoe are indebted
to Arabian Nights and «Message from Hai Ben Yakzan» which was
written by the philosopher Ibn Tofail. The «Arabian Nights»
exerted a stronger influence after its translation at the beginning of
the 12th century, that had surpassed all effects it had by reputation before
the publication of its translation. That was paralleled by the Translation
of similar literary works. This tendency to turn to the East become as
familiar in literature as it was in politics and colonization.
The School of Romantic chivalry of Medieval Europe is the offshoot of the
chivalrous life of the Arab and Muslim conquerors who had introduced it
to the West. This life prevailed in the West as a result of the practical
lead the Arab and Muslim conquerors had inevitably taken. «Abanese»
the Spanish writer believes, as mentioned in another part of this book
- that Europe had not known knighthood, its, arts and enthusiastic drive
before the arrival of Arabs in Andalusia, and the spread of their knights
and heroes in the Southern regions. The belief of Abanese had much evidence
to support it. The strongest evidences endorsing it is that a new military
pattern which was not known to the heroes of Roman and Greek battles before,
the burning love which had no match in the erotic poetry of the Northern
and Southern peoples, the chivalrous edification of the sweetheart in the
same way as that followed by Muslim ascetics who combine worship with chanting
the grace of love. Although the love poetry did not rise in European literature
to that plane.
The Spanish and Portuguese people drew from the Arabs quite a number of
Arabic words that could make up a fairly big glossary. However it is not
a question of compiling a glossary of words; what counts is the currency
of these new words as an instrument in social life and expressing one's
purpose and intent. However these words were not assimilated in the languages
until their instrumentality in catering for living, and thinking had been
established. Hence, much more credit must go to the sources of its inscription
and orientation than to those who copied and inculcated them.