An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munqidh (Kitab Al-I'tibar)

An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munqidh (Kitab Al-I'tibar)

An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munqidh (Kitab Al-I'tibar)

An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munqidh (Kitab Al-I'tibar)

Synopsis

The life of Usamah ibn-Munqidh epitomized the height of Arab civilization as it flourished in the period of the early Crusades. His memoirs present an uncommon non-European perspective and understanding of the military and cultural contact between East and West, Muslim and Christian. His writing is remarkable for its narrative clarity, its humanity, and its wealth of perceptive details.

Excerpt

Richard W. Bulliet

First-person accounts of dramatic events and stirring anecdotes of a historical figures life arouse a historian’s suspicions almost as much as his eagerness to use the stories in his own narrative. Nothing enthralls the reader like a vivid description of events told by someone who was on the scene. Unfortunately, historians have known of the appeal of this kind of storytelling since the time of Herodotus and Thucydides; and far too many have yielded to the temptation to liven up their narratives by inventing such stories, just as later writers, using these narratives as sources, have repeated fictions as though they were eyewitness reports.

Islamic history is filled with first-person tales, but nearly all of them appear in works penned decades, if not centuries, after the purported events by chroniclers whose means of accessing genuine memoirs remain dubious. Many such anecdotes are historically implausible, many others are plausible at first glance but unlikely to have been preserved, and still others appear in more than one version or come from more than one source and thus give the appearance of literary invention.

Earlier generations of historians of the medieval Middle East freely used anecdotal material to substantiate their scholarship. Today, however, that trend has been reversed, and scrupulous historians more often than not deny the historical reality of direct quotations from, say, the midst of battle, a ruler’s deathbed, or the secret counsels of ministers of state. To be sure, they make good use of suspect tales as indicators of the tenor of the times, as clues to a writer’s literary background, or as references to the writer’s— not the speaker’s—personal point of view. That said, it would be so much more satisfying to be able to simply write, “This is what happened in the words of so-and-so, who was an eyewitness.”

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