Come join your fellow HFSD members for a hearty and delicious breakfast and a discussion of a fascinating book about a remarkable era of history that sadly is very little known--an era in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony in Spain for over 700 years.
A portrait of the vibrant civilization of medieval Spain, The Ornament of the World by Professor Maria Rosa Menocal is the story of an extraordinary place and time. Both history and literature often depict the Middle Ages as a dark and barbaric period, characterized by intellectual backwardness and religious persecution. Now María Rosa Menocal brings us an altogether different vision of medieval Europe, where tolerance was often the rule and literature, science, and art flourished in a climate of cultural openness.
The story begins as a young prince in exile—the last heir to a glorious Islamic dynasty—flees the massacre of his family and founds a new kingdom on the Iberian peninsula: al-Andalus. Combining the best of what Muslims, Jews, and Christians had to offer, al-Andalus and its successors influenced the rest of Europe in dramatic ways, giving it the first translations of Plato and Aristotle, the tradition of love songs and secular poetry, advances in mathematics, and outstanding feats of architecture and technology.
In a series of captivating vignettes, Menocal travels through time and space to reveal the often paradoxical events that shaped the Andalusian world and continue to affect our own. Along the way, we meet a host of intriguing characters: the brilliant and dedicated Jewish vizier of a powerful Muslim city-state; the Christian abbot who commissions the first translation of the Quran; the converted Jew who, under a Christian name, brings a first taste of Arabic scholarship and storytelling to northern Europe.
This rich and complex culture shared by the three faiths thrived, sometimes in the face of enmity and bigotry, for nearly seven hundred years. Ironically, it was on the eve of the Renaissance that puritanical forces finally triumphed over Spain's long-standing traditions of tolerance, ushering in a period of religious repression. In the centuries since, even the memory of the vital and sophisticated culture in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians once lived and worked side by side has largely been overlooked or obscured.
In this remarkable book, we can at last uncover and explore the lost history whose legacy is still with us in countless ways and whose lessons—both inspirational and cautionary-have a powerful resonance in today's world.
About Maria Rosa Menocal
María Rosa Menocal [masked]) was a Cuban-born scholar of medieval culture and history and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. Menocal earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1986, she taught Romance philology at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2002, Menocal wrote the book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, which has been translated into many languages, and includes an introduction by fellow Yale Sterling Professor in the Humanities Harold Bloom. The book focuses on tolerance in Medieval Spain within the Muslim and Christian kingdoms through political examples as well as cultural examples.
Menocal was director of the Yale Whitney Humanities Center for several years and was the co-editor of The Literature of Al-Andalus in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literatureseries.
Menocal was elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 2011 and inducted into the Fellows of the Medieval Academy in March 2012. She died on October 15, 2012, of cancer.