Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100-1450

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100-1450

Article excerpt

Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100-1450 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009). xii + 323 pp. ISBN 978-0-8014-4807-2. $49-95/£33-95

In this interesting and very wide-ranging study, Suzanne Akbari examines the representations of Islam (as a religion at once close to and utterly distinct from Christianity), of Saracens and Jews (as distinct peoples defined by culture, geography, and bodily features), and of the Orient' itself as both a geographical location and an ideological concept. She addresses a broad time-span, from the First Crusade to the fall of Constantinople, and includes examples from Latin treatises as well as English, French, and Italian literature, with additional brief attention to the Middle High German Parlimi The book is exceedingly ambitious - in some ways too ambitious, as it is impossible to do justice to such a large body of material in a single volume, and many of Akbari's analyses would benefit from development. On the other hand, it is valuable to have such a varied picture of western European views of Islam, the Orient, and the Oriental Other', and the book is sure to stimulate much new research. Chapter ? provides a brief survey of medieval maps and geographical writing, tracing the shift from a conception of the world based on a division between the frigid North and the torrid South to one based on a division between the temperate West and the exotic East. Chapter 2 focuses on the large body of medieval Alexander legends, noting interesting differences between various texts in French and English. Some, for example, stress Alexander's legendary pre-eminence in both military conquest and the search for exotic knowledge, while others focus on the East as a source of commodities and marvels. Chapter 3 turns to an examination of Jews, and particularly the 'Jewish body', in a range of Latin, Middle English, and Anglo-Norman texts. Though the Jews no longer inhabited the geographical space whose climate would have been seen as contributing to their characteristics in medieval humoral theory, Akbari argues that they were depicted as 'taking their climate with them' through dietary restrictions that supposedly gave them a 'melancholic' temperament. …

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