Mallette examines Orientalist philology in southern Europe produced between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. Focusing on Italy, Spain, and Malta, she conducts close comparative readings of a wide range of philological narratives to reveal the influences Arab and Islamic traditions have had on the development of modern European culture.
2010 | 328 pages | Cloth $65.00
Literature / History
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Scheherazade among the Philologists (Paris, 1704)
Chapter 2. Metempsychosis: Dante, Petrarch, and the Arab Middle Ages
Chapter 3. I nostri Saracini: Writing the History of the Arabs of Sicily
Chapter 4. The Ramparts of Europe: The Invention of the Maltese Language
Chapter 5. The Life and Times of Enrico Cerulli
Chapter 6. Amalgams: Emilio García Gómez (s. XX), Alvarus (s. IX), and Philology after the Nation
Chapter 7. Scheherazade at Home (Baghdad, A.D. 803; London and Hollywood, 1939)
Scheherazade among the Philologists (Paris, 1704)
Il giudizio sopra facilità o difficoltà di una lezione sarà tanto più sicura, quanto meglio il giudice conoscerà le consuetudini di linguaggio e di pensiero delle età che l'hanno trasmessa, che può averla coniata. Il miglior critico di un testo greco di tradizione bizantina sarà quello che, oltre a essere un perfetto grecista, sia anche perfetto bizantinista. Il miglior editore di un autore latino trasmesso in codici medievali o postmedievali sarà colui che, quanto il suo autore e la sua lingua e i suoi tempi e la lingua dei suoi tempi, altrettanto bene conosca il Medioevo o l'umanesimo. Un critico siffatto è un ideale che nessuno può incarnare in sè perfettamente, ma al quale ognuno ha il dovere di cercare di avvicinarsi.
—Giorgio Pasquali, Storia della tradizione e critica del testo
[A judgment concerning the facility or difficulty of a reading will be that much surer if the one judging knows the habits of language and of thought of the age that has transmitted the reading, and that may have created it. The best critic of a Greek text transmitted through the Byzantine tradition will be the one who, besides being a perfect Greek scholar, is also a perfect Byzantinist. The best editor of a Latin author transmitted in medieval or postmedieval codices will be the one who, along with his author and his author's language and times and the language of his own times, will know just as well the Middle Ages and humanism. Such a critic is an ideal that no one can incarnate perfectly in himself, but which each has the obligation to try to approach.]
I begin this book by posing a series of questions that I will not attempt to answer until the final chapters. In these pages I will describe the stages by which modern scholars proposed and defended a historical narrative that contradicts accepted histories of the origins of the European nations. The Orientalists whose work I survey traced a modern European national genius to a spark kindled by the Arabs who occupied the territory of the modern nation during the medieval past. They argued that European modernity, in all its splendor, emerged when Christian Europe coaxed this spark into a roaring bonfire: when Christians acquired a rational science from Islamic translations of Aristotle, for instance, or when they learned from the Arabs to sing poetry about the spirit of love between men and women and its carnal celebration. This version of medieval history contains a germ of truth, to be sure; the scholars whose work I read here did a good job of substantiating it, and elements of it are widely accepted today by historians. Yet because it challenges the standard genealogy of the intellectual patrimony of modern Europe—from Greek and Roman antiquity, by way of the Italian Renaissance—it has not won universal acceptance.
The scholars who argued the centrality of the Arab Mediterranean to European modernity used a scholarly methodology that, although it is of ancient vintage, was decanted into sparkling new bottles during the nineteenth century. They produced philology-powered readings of national history—the history of a modern European nation as written by Orientalists, a story that lay unread for centuries because it was hidden in Arabic texts. And their narratives acquired an unprecedented power from the startling claims that philologists began to make about the scientism of their reading practice during the nineteenth century, as philology absorbed the deductive methodologies and the self-assurance of the modern sciences. The philological reading asserted that its scientific standards granted it a unique authority: it and it alone could interpret the truths concealed in historical texts. At the same time, during the nineteenth century, philology came to support and to rely upon historicism. It no longer saw itself as a primarily aesthetic strategy of reading whose purpose was to untangle the linguistic difficulties of the great books of antiquity and reveal their literary genius. Rather it became both handmaiden to and mistress of the science of history. It assumed that only detailed and precise historical knowledge about the era when a text was produced would allow the scholar to interpret the text accurately. And it asserted (with somewhat brazen tautology) that dependable knowledge about the past could be derived only from patient study of the texts that the philologists themselves taught the world to interpret.
In this book I will sketch the outlines of scholarship produced (roughly) between 1850 and 1950 that transformed the way we understand the intellectual history of the medieval Mediterranean and insisted on the relevance of that history to the contemporary actualities and the future of modern Europe. Despite the undeniable brilliance, importance, and beauty of this scholarship, it raises crucial questions about the methods we use to read a history whose extant record is primarily textual: Does the hermeneutic circle compromise the value of the historical conclusions we derive by studying premodern texts? Philologists have long recognized that in the most insightful readings of texts made difficult by their historic or linguistic distance from us, understanding frequently precedes analysis. Brilliant philology begins with a spark of intuition and picks its way through the text seeking confirmation (or refutation) of that insight. This is true of the Orientalist philology I will discuss in this book—the work of historians who traced European modernity to the Arab Mediterranean—as it is of more normative scholarship on textual history. Does the philologist's willingness at times to beg the question, to suspend deductive analysis and advance understanding of the text by means of the inductive leap, undermine the contribution that the philological reading can make to our understanding of history?
This conundrum, of course, calls into play disciplinary distinctions and niceties that we as scholars use to position ourselves professionally within the academy. What has literary scholarship to do with the discipline of history, or Arabic literature to do with the literary history of Europe, or the methodology of comparative literature to do with philology? The three questions may at first blush seem unrelated. Yet the scholarship I examine in this book will reveal their interrelatedness each to the others. The scholars whose work I will read and (in most cases) celebrate negotiated a series of conversion experiences in order to articulate the decisive contributions that the nations of Mediterranean Europe made to European modernity. First, and most dramatically, they learned Arabic in order to read the past of a European nation. And their scholarship was informed by the presupposition that Arabic and Western letters were not alien each to the other, but rather sibling branches of the same parent stock (to jumble the genealogical and botanical metaphors used by nineteenth-century philologists). Thus at times their pursuit of knowledge about the nation's history required them to trample the finer distinctions between the academic disciplines and to produce readings of the textual past that some of their peers denounced as unmotivated (that is, unscientific) or simply outré.
I begin in this first chapter by surveying the developments in philological scholarship most relevant to my concerns, using the peculiar textual history of the work of Arabic literature that has become more familiar than any other to Western audiences—the Thousand and One Nights—to explore the evolution of Orientalism and philology in Europe in general over the last three centuries. And in the next I will move to southern Europe, examining the use of philology to articulate a national history in a region characterized by late development and a local history complicated by medieval Arab occupation. Thus these first two chapters serve as co-introductions, sketching a broad overview of the three terms central to the argument of the book: Orientalism, philology, and nationalism.
The bulk of the book examines the work of philologists and historians who depicted the European Middle Ages as a drama starring not only Christian kings and queens, theologians and minstrels, but also Arab sultans, philosophers and poets, Berber warriors, and an Arab maiden with a Persian name who has had an inordinate influence on European letters over the last millennium and more. The book began (as philological readings frequently do) with a perception that matured into an intuition and inspired the investigation of a textual puzzle. While researching the history of the Arabs in Sicily, I was startled by the unique importance that the Normans held in the work of Sicilian scholar Michele Amari. Amari depicted the Normans of Sicily as antecedents of the Renaissance and thus the inventors of modernity. While this assertion might appear grasping to a casual reader, a medievalist would find it unsurprising; nineteenth-century European scholars frequently made such claims on behalf of the medieval fathers of their respective nations. What made Amari's scholarship striking was the relation between his Normans and the Arabs from whom they won their Sicilian kingdom (and who were the focus of his monumental history, the Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia). The Normans, in his telling, channeled the learning and culture of the Arabs; by translating Arab scholarship and cultural practice into the languages of Europe, they planted the seeds of the Renaissance. That is, Amari implicitly made the Arabs of Sicily into the progenitors of modernity. (On Amari, see Chapter 3 below) And I found a similar embrace of Arab culture as the origin of a modern sensibility in other scholarship on the history of Arab Sicily and Spain and on parallel questions such as the influence of Islamic culture on Dante or Petrarch. Enrico Cerulli affirmed the formative importance of Arab depictions of the afterworld to Dante's vision (see Chapter 5). In so doing he picked up a thread first unspooled by Miguel Asín Palacios, who wrote a bold book arguing the influence on Dante of Ibn 'Arabi—"a Spaniard," according to Asín, "though a Muslim" (see Chapter 2). The nineteenth-century eccentric Pietro Valerga proposed that the soul of medieval Arab poet Ibn al-Farid was reincarnated in the poet who single-handedly invented literary modernity, Petrarch (see Chapter 2); Emilio García Gómez wrote that the genius of Spanish verse was first sung by Arab poets (see Chapter 6). In the most startling version of this narrative I found, a nation negotiating the difficult and intricate process of standardizing its national tongue, Malta, used the Arabic language as a template in order to turn a spoken vernacular into a literary medium (see Chapter 4).
There were, of course, other scholars who scoffed at the theses these men presented, historians who maintained the exteriority and irrelevance of Arab culture to European modernity (they are discussed especially in Chapter 2). It seemed to me, however, that the story of scholarship on the Arab origins of European culture was one that should be told for two reasons in particular. In the first place, despite expanding interest in the history of Orientalism, too little still is known about the Orientalism of southern Europe. And yet it is in many ways the most interesting of the various schools of Orientalist thought, for southern European Orientalists frequently are writing national history: they often describe the Arab past of their nation. And in the second place the story of this scholarship is an extraordinarily hopeful one. It is the tale of a peculiarly Mediterranean modernity, a model of modernity created by Arabs and Europeans in concert and to which Arabs and Europeans both continue to contribute.
Philology and European Intellectual History
The story begins (as philological stories so often do) with a definition. What precisely does the term philology connote? Edward Said, in a late essay entitled "The Return to Philology," made a bid to revamp philology and burnish the philologist's somewhat dusty reputation. The essay begins by evoking two figures whom Said situates as gatekeepers of the philological tradition. One of them embodies the image of philology as (in Said's words) "sterile, ineffectual, and hopelessly irrelevant to life": he is the Reverend Casaubon, from George Eliot's Middlemarch—the creaky, paradigm-obsessed scholar whom the well-intentioned but misguided Dorothea marries. Said plays Casaubon against a contemporary figure who could be called the poster boy for a fertile, effective, and relevant philology. Nietzsche began as a philologist, and he retained a philological passion for language throughout his life. In "The Return to Philology" Said celebrates the philology symbolized by Nietzsche as a peculiarly engaged and committed reading practice. He defines the philological project as "a detailed, patient scrutiny of and a lifelong attentiveness to the words and rhetorics by which language is used by human beings who exist in history." And Said calls for a return to this Nietzschean philological tradition.
Said's discussion illuminates a tension central to the history of philological practice. Philology can connote the pursuit of knowledge of the text in isolation from—even as distinct from—lived history (this is the branch of philology symbolized, in Said's discussion, by Casaubon). At the same time it can suggest the network of links that bind lived and written reality (represented by Nietzsche). Anthony Grafton, in his elegant scholarship on the philology of the humanists, has identified a similar tension in the work of the Italian intellectuals of the sixteenth century. "One set of humanists," Grafton writes, "seeks to make the ancient world live again, assuming its undimmed relevance and unproblematic accessibility; another set seeks to put the ancient texts back into their own time, admitting that reconstruction of the past is difficult and that success may reveal the irrelevance of ancient experience and precept to modern problems." Grafton depicts the competition as pragmatic: the ends of the scholar's research—in the first case the text as literary model, in the second the text as historical record—will determine to which camp he belongs. Said suggests that the distinction is a measure of personal commitment and personal engagement. Both, however, describe the same paradox: philology can denote a reading strategy that either distances the reader from the text or annuls the distance between text and reader.
Or it might perform both of these operations at once. Grafton writes that certain philologists (both humanists and nineteenth-century European intellectuals) strove "at once to read their texts historically and to treat them as ahistorical classics," and thereby "made their texts yield a meaning directly useful to modern readers," despite the antiquity of those texts. Arguably, this tendency—what Grafton calls an "interpretive schizophrenia"—has been present but marginal throughout the long history of philology. During the nineteenth century it was elevated from scholarly pathology to become the modus operandi of an empowered philology—a transformation that marks the point of departure for this book. Herman Melville began Moby-Dick (first published in 1851) with a philological investigation of the word whale: a handful of dictionary definitions lifted from "old lexicons and grammars"; a short list of the words for "whale" in languages from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon to the Romance languages and the tongues of the South Seas; eighty brief descriptions of whales gleaned from various texts, from the Bible to Rabelais and Shakespeare to Darwin and the popular whaling songs of Melville's own day (compiled, according to the text, by a sub-sub-librarian—stand down, Nietzsche!). The prelude renders the whale visceral and real in the reader's mind—or rather the transhistorical traces that the Leviathan has left in language, a crystalline portrait of literary and linguistic whaleness. And it demonstrates to the twenty-first-century reader the visceral power that philology acquired during the course of the nineteenth century.
Philology, briefly stated, attained the ability to create intimacy between an object located at a limitless distance from the reader—the whales of the open sea; the persons and events described in the texts of scriptural antiquity—and the reading subject, through the medium of textuality. It did not deny the distance of the phenomena described in the text in order to achieve this. On the contrary, philologists affirmed and even emphasized the historical and/or geographical space that separated the composition of the text from its modern, Western readers. However, at the same time the philologist confidently asserted the capacity of modern scientific methods to allow specialists to adjust for historical or geographical difference: to reconstruct the historical and linguistic conditions that would reveal the meaning of the text.
The philological revolution began with the German hermeneutists who in the closing years of the eighteenth century and the opening decades of the nineteenth devised new strategies for studying the texts (both scriptural and secular) of antiquity. The hermeneutists modeled rigorous methods of scrutinizing the letter of the text, drawing on a profound understanding of historical linguistics, grammar, and literary practice. And their readings promised to generate a more dynamic insight into the spirit of the text. The philological revolution would have a profound influence on nineteenth-century scholarship in the humanities, influencing disciplines from literary studies to religious history to social and political history. In this book I am interested in one philological trend in particular: the genesis of a technology of reading designed to describe the formative affiliations that linked modern communities to premodern documents of foundation. There are a thousand and one ways to tell the story of the regenerative philology of the nineteenth century. I have chosen one of the most visible advances (and controversies) of the period, also one of the driest aspects of the philologist's job and most suggestive of the clichéd derogatory descriptions of the philologist: the dispute over appropriate standards for the production of modern editions of premodern texts.
The first technological advance in the science of textual criticism—the first philological discovery—of the nineteenth century came from Italian Jesuit and Orientalist Angelo Mai (1782-1854). Mai pioneered a technique for reading the earlier and nearly eradicated script of medieval palimpsests, which he used in 1814 to reveal a Ciceronian text previously thought lost. Giacomo Leopardi wrote one of his most ardent canzoni in praise of Mai and his marvelous capacity to "svegliar dalle tombe i nostri padri" (or "awaken our fathers from their tombs"). More recent historians of philology—in particular Helmut Müller-Sievers and Sebastiano Timpanaro—have looked on Mai's activities with a more critical eye. The technique that Mai used to expose the lower, earlier hand—bathing the manuscript pages in a noxious chemical bath—brought hidden script to light, but only temporarily, long enough for the philologist to transcribe it. After that not only the earlier writing but also the subsequent hand would be destroyed. And because he typically disassembled manuscripts in order to submit them to this process, Mai sometimes damaged other works as well, or at least made it impossible for subsequent scholars to reconstruct their collation.
There is something ghastly but also enormously suggestive about Mai's contribution to the history of textual criticism. Müller-Sievers has pointed out the parallels between Mai's method and contemporary Romantic notions of artistic creation. The philologist read the text by achieving a spontaneous and temporary union with the manuscript; once this moment passed, no one would read it again. Add the chemical bath in which he submerged the manuscript and the image of the fathers rising from their tombs, and a portrait emerges of Angelo Mai as the Dr. Frankenstein of the Ambrosian Library. That is, more than a Romantic artist, Mai resembled—and, in fact, was—a scientist of the Romantic era. Mai pioneered philology as textual conflagration; he ignited the text and read its meaning by the light of the flames that licked the edge of the page. He produced the results he sought, and by those standards his contemporaries judged him: the intense, almost sacred interaction between philologist and text allowed the dead fathers to speak again, mediating between the present and a distant moment of origin. And once he discovered how to reveal the lower hand in the palimpsests he abandoned his training in the Oriental languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Amharic—so tangential to the discovery that allowed him to channel the voices of the Greek and Latin fathers.
As the nineteenth century advanced, scholars made substantial improvements in the methods they used to reconstruct medieval and ancient texts. The "Lachmannian method"—typically evoked today in quotation marks because it didn't really begin with the philologist for whom it was named, Karl Lachmann (1793-1851), and because Lachmann himself didn't consistently practice it—was based on an implicit understanding of the text as an organic phenomenon and therefore subject to the laws of nature. Lachmannian strategies of textual criticism were tooled to reconstruct a literary text produced in a manuscript environment. The vicissitudes (or the felicities) of nonmechanical reproduction generate variance. Because of scribal error and scribal intervention no two copies of the same manuscript are identical. How does the modern editor select between manuscript variants in order to reconstitute the text as the author wrote it? In the Lachmannian model of textual criticism the scholar begins by constructing a stemma codicum: a plausible history of textual transmission, the family tree or genealogy of the text as it has come down to us in its surviving manuscript copies. The textual critic identifies variants that entered the tradition through scribal innovation, each generation producing a new crop of variants and thus marking its increasing distance from the Ur-text—the oldest and purest version of the text. By systematically removing all detected errors the scholar aims to recreate that originary text.
The Lachmannian revolution was decisive in a number of ways, and Lachmannian method is still highly regarded by textual critics. It serves as a superb standard for producing the critical edition: it accounts for the diversity of textual witnesses while not allowing manuscript diversity to threaten the intelligibility of the text. But Lachmannian method is significant in its form no less than its content, in medium as much as in message. Lachmannian textual critics used the language of science to describe what had been seen largely in terms of aesthetics: the textual critic's understanding of the meaning of the text and the intentions of its author. They devised a technical vocabulary, a chorus of plummy Latin words designating phenomena and activities peculiar to the textual critic's work: stemma codicum, textus receptus, editio princeps, recensio. And they applied rigid standards that allowed the textual critic to reconstruct a work as close to the Platonic ideal that existed in the author's mind as humanly possible. Of course, many of the methods adopted by Lachmannian editors during the nineteenth century were not new. However, a sense of furious industry arises from their introductions to their editions and their textual controversies, as if they labored under a terrible urgency, a commandment to fill some Noah's ark with all the literary harvest of antiquity and the Middle Ages before the flood.
The "Lachmannian method" engaged in an emphatic and sincere dialogue with evolving scientific models and therefore possessed at least a veneer of the inductive methods of which Angelo Mai was wholly innocent. For this reason, it is a useful register of the scientific ambitions of philological practice during the nineteenth century. And scientism proved a compelling model for scholars engaged in the "lower criticism" (as textual criticism with the aim of producing the modern edition was known in the English-speaking world) as well as the "higher criticism" (hermeneutics, or textual interpretation). Philologists perceived their discipline as (in the words of Ernest Renan) "an organized science with a serious and elevated object; it is the science of the products of the human spirit." At the same time, some nineteenth-century philological practice combined scientism and sacralization of the text. Philologists used emerging scientific models of reading to charge historically distant texts with dynamic contemporary relevance or to produce revitalized readings of texts already deemed sacred. This philologie engagée was directed at two types of texts in particular: works depicted as founding documents of national identity (for instance, the Chanson de Roland, the Divine Comedy, or El Cid) and religious scripture. It asserted its scientific precision and vaunted the greater accuracy of its readings because of the scientific methodology it used. At the same time it used the lens of a science-assisted reading practice to examine (or, more accurately, to create) the intimate bonds that linked contemporary communities to a distant medieval or ancient moment of origin.
Obviously, such motivated readings of medieval texts might have (and most usually did have) a pressing contemporary relevance. See, for instance, Gaston Paris's reading of the Chanson de Roland at the Collège de France during the 1870 Prussian siege of Paris. It is not remotely surprising to a twenty-first-century reader that Paris evokes the Roland at such a moment as a banner of French identity and French pride: such is the staying power of the engaged philological reading of medieval texts. What we find more startling is that he should pause precisely at such a moment to underscore the scientism of the philological method he uses to illuminate his reading of the medieval text. In a charged, dense, and poetic passage, Paris evokes the rigid discipline that science imposes on its practitioners, while at the same time visibly chafing against disciplinary limits:
But—for all that it is foreign by its very nature to sentiments, even the most elevated, and to passions, even the noblest—science is not bound to restrict itself with a merciless narrowness to the domain of the facts it observes. It re-emerges from the domain of fact into the perspective of the laws that govern the development of humanity in general or nations in particular, of the consequences that it has not only the right but the need to bring to light. If one forbids it this, one reduces it to being nothing more than erudition, a blind and greedy seeker that does not enjoy its own riches and accumulates only for its heirs.
Paris will burst the bonds that science places on the philologist when he proclaims defiantly: "I will not resist the occasion to demonstrate those close ties that bind us to this poem;—that real solidarity that renders this ancient French poem still entirely alive to us, this ancient poem that we had forgotten so completely and that we believed to be good and dead."
Nineteenth-century philologists saw the epics that stood like indestructible monuments at the origins of their national literary traditions as sublime expressions of national identity. At moments of national crisis—these, of course, came thick and fast during the European nineteenth century—the philologist could evoke the medieval epics as touchstones of national identity, national anthems avant la lettre. "Une littérature nationale," Paris would declare at the rousing conclusion of his address to the Collège de France, "est l'élément le plus indestructible de la vie d'un peuple." And in 1844, Giuseppe Mazzini—not a philologist, but (like Paris) an ardent nationalist—wrote, a propos of another nation and another national epic: "The thought that was in Dante is the same as that which is now fermenting in the bosom of our own epoch, and we feel this instinctively; therefore it is that we press around him with fresh ardor…. [His] aim is the national aim—the same desire that vibrates instinctively in the bosoms of twenty-two millions of men, and which is the secret of the immense popularity Dante has in Italy." These readings of medieval texts promoted a palpable and urgent sense of identity between medieval and modern Italians or between medieval and modern Frenchmen, and deployed that identification to an immediate political end. And when conducted by professional readers—by philologists—they frequently underscored at the same time the modernity of their reading methods and the superior precision that scientific reading methods granted their interpretations of the text.
Readers familiar with the contours of nineteenth-century philology will recognize that, mutatis mutandis, Mazzini's and Paris's readings of literary history differ not in nature but in rhetorical degree from typical contemporary philological readings. During the nineteenth century European intellectuals recognized the necessity to construct a horizon for the nations emerging in the foreground, the literary historical equivalent of the swathes of ravishing Tuscan countryside glimpsed through palace windows in Italian Renaissance paintings. This they found in the medieval literatures which expressed a national genius in its oldest and purest form. In Germany the Niebelungenlied; in Britain Beowulf; in France the Chanson de Roland; in Spain El Cid; in Italy the Commedia in the north and the lyrics of the "Scuola Siciliana" in the south: these works came to be recognized during the course of the nineteenth century as the ululations that celebrated the birth of a recognizable national character in a distant medieval terrain.
Much, of course, distinguished this process nation by nation and literary work by literary work. For instance—and to name only one of many historical facts that differentiate one national context from another—Beowulf survives in a single manuscript and was published in a modern edition only in 1815; its language is incomprehensible to a speaker of modern English. Dante's Commedia was among the most-copied of medieval literary works, attested by more than seven hundred manuscript versions, and though it demands a thoughtful reading Dante's Italian is recognizably a grandmother to modern Italian. Yet both Beowulf and the Commedia became objects of scholarly attention during the nineteenth century, when literary historians came to realize the unique contemporary relevance of their scholarship: they gave national cultural identity a history—indeed, they identified its point of origin.
Furthermore, the process of adducing the medieval origins of the nation that began with the nineteenth century continued well into the twentieth. Joseph Bédier, for instance, contributed to it in the French context in the years following World War I; Enrico Cerulli and Emilio García Gómez, whose work I will discuss later in this book, produced scholarship in this spirit during the post-World War II period. Not all philological works produced during the period functioned in this way, of course. Many philologists discussed aspects of distant premodern texts without delineating their relevance to the present; these are the unengaged (and unengaging) studies of the dusty past represented in Edward Said's philological economy by the figure of the unfortunate Reverend Casaubon. (Of course philologists themselves will insist on the importance—indeed the necessity—of such philological research: the Reverend Casaubons of previous generations are the giants on whose shoulders we stand, and their insights provide the foundation for our analyses.) Some, however, used new technologies of reading to study premodern texts for the purpose (sometimes explicitly stated as such, sometimes not) of producing an archaeology of a modern community. By asserting its scientism such philology insists on the distance between the text and the modern reading, a gap that can be bridged only through the sustained effort of trained specialists. And by claiming identity between the sentiments expressed in the text and those felt in the bosoms of modern men it erases that distance.
A development parallel to the nationalist philology of the European nineteenth century occurred later in the century and chiefly on another continent—in North America, where religious scholars utilized philological method in order to revitalize readings of Christian scripture. Their readings stressed the intimate connections between ancient texts and modern communities defined not by political but by religious identity. German hermeneutists had kicked off the philological revolution during the late years of the eighteenth century in part by using new, rigorous, scientific strategies of reading to reassess Christian scripture. Hermeneutical research made fantastic progress in revolutionizing the interpretation of scriptural texts and the sorts of information that could be gleaned by studying them in the Christian West. However, by the closing decades of the nineteenth century some Christian scholars decided that the hermeneutists had gone too far. Historians generally point to an article entitled "Inspiration," written by Princeton Theological Seminary professors A. A. Hodge (1823-86) and B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) and published in 1881, as the point of departure for this revolution. Hodge and Warfield wrote out of and in response to the hermeneutical tradition, and they acknowledged that scriptural texts had been authored by human beings and in conditions defined by human history. However, they simultaneously asserted the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Christian scripture, arguing that divine guidance more than human foibles determined the content of scripture. They believed that corruption of the texts was minimal. And they believed that the task of philological criticism was to resolve the few interpretive doubts that still shrouded the meaning of scripture. "Believing criticism," Hodge wrote elsewhere, "by the discovery and collation of more ancient and accurate copies, is constantly advancing the Church to the possession of a more perfect text of the original Scriptures than she has enjoyed since the apostolic age."
The fundamentalist movement would acquire its name from a series of pamphlets published in the United States between 1910 and 1915, The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. These publications promoted the foundational doctrines articulated by conservative Protestant Christians during the second half of the nineteenth century; early issues include articles on the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus, the nature of the Holy Spirit, and the inerrancy of the Bible. Most relevant to the current argument, The Fundamentals accepted the hermeneutists' historical analysis of scripture (or, as it is called in the pages of the publication, the Higher Criticism or simply philology) as the gold standard of biblical analysis. At the same time, the scholars who wrote for the pamphlets (and they were scholars, their names followed by thickets of initials demonstrating their academic credentials) argued forcefully that Bible criticism must approach the text from the perspective of belief. Professor J. J. Reeve states the situation this way, in a testimonial entitled "My Personal Experience with the Higher Criticism":
[The Higher Criticism] is destined to stay and render invaluable aid. To the scholarly mind its appeal is irresistible. Only in the light of the historical occasion upon which it was produced, can the Old Testament be properly understood. A flood of light has already been poured in upon these writings. The scientific spirit which gave rise to it is one of the noblest instincts in the intellectual life of man. It is a thirst for the real and the true, that will be satisfied with nothing else. But, noble as is this scientific spirit, and invaluable as is the historical method, there are subtle dangers in connection with them. Everything depends upon the presuppositions with which we use the method.
Reeve argued that the philological revolution had inaugurated a revolution in the reading habits of believing scholars: "Conservative scholarship is rapidly awakening, and, while it will retain the legitimate use of the invaluable historical method, will sweep from the field most of the speculations of the critics."
From an outsider's perspective, it appears that the first fundamentalists exhibit a remarkable insouciance in the face of the hermeneutic circle. Belief in divine guidance of the authors of the Old and New Testaments is (to use Reeve's terminology) a presupposition for textual criticism. The fundamentalists argue the inerrancy of scripture by citing scripture itself, by citing the practice of the early church, or simply as an article of faith. Doubts concerning the divine inspiration of the Bible, according to Charles Hodge, "have their origin in the state of the heart. The most important of all the evidences of Christianity can never be properly appreciated unless the heart be right in the sight of God."
But it must be said, in defense of the fundamentalists, that in this blithe deployment of a circular argument to establish the legitimacy of its primary thesis, fundamentalist philology does not differ appreciably from nationalist philology. In his address to the Collège de France, Gaston Paris did not pause to prove the "solidarity" that linked the warriors of medieval Gaul to the Parisians of 1870. He might defend the scientism of his method in general; he might defend his reading of difficult lexical or historical points in the text in particular. But he did not turn the bright light of positivism on the kernel of his argument, the fundamental identity of medieval and modern "Frenchmen": for Paris, one senses, that was an article of faith. In each of the arguments I will discuss in this book—scholarly studies that argue an Arab origin for a modern European national identity—we find a similar combination of apparently inimical elements: scientism rubbing shoulders with an intuitive perception that looks unmotivated or misbegotten only to an outsider. Each of the Orientalist philologists whose work I will discuss spoke out of a profound personal conviction that created its own gravitational field. Their scholarship took its point of departure from an "inner click" (to borrow a term used by Leo Spitzer to describe a parallel phenomenon): their perception of their nations' debt to the Arabs who occupied the territory of the nation during the Middle Ages.
The next document I offer in this galloping history of the philological art appeared eighteen years after the first of the Fundamentals pamphlets. It is one of the most extraordinary testimonies in the history of philology; and it turned literary scholars' complacent faith in the efficacy of Lachmannian textual criticism on its head. In 1928 Joseph Bédier (1864-1938) published an article that was in essence a manifesto attacking the "Lachmannian method." Bédier argued that the most fruitful response to the complexities of medieval textuality was a modern edition that did not claim to mediate between variant manuscript versions, as the Lachmannian edition did. Rather the textual critic ought to reproduce a single manuscript in its particularity and peculiarity—leaving intact, that is, its medieval alterity. Bédier's article remains one of the most frequently discussed philological essays of the twentieth century, in part because its provocations remain cogent and in part because of the startling beauty of Bédier's prose. "Il en est," Bédier writes in the opening sentence, "de l'art d'éditer les anciens textes comme de tous les autres arts : il a évolué au gré de modes qui meurent et renaissent." Thus in two lines of text Bédier both summons the shade of Ibn Khaldun (suggesting that human history, like the natural world, obeys an inescapable cyclical rhythm) and evokes the organic metaphors that he will consistently use in this article to describe (and to mock) Lachmannian method.
La Tradition manuscrite du Lai de l'ombre: Réflexions sur l'art d'éditer les anciens textes is an extraordinarily rich text; I will summarize only a couple of points that are directly relevant to the current argument. The story that Bédier tells takes the form of a conversion narrative. Thus he, like so many twentieth- and twenty-first-century philologists, uses biographical data relating to the life of the scholar to elucidate the scholarship (in this case using autobiography to gloss the evolution of his own scholarly practice). Bédier apologizes on the opening page for the necessity to speak of his own life, excusing himself by explaining that he has had a lifelong engagement with the Lai de l'Ombre. In this article, he will present the conclusions of his work on the Lai. His awareness of the complexity and corruption of the manuscript tradition of the Lai brought him to the point of despair when he came to believe that the Lachmannian critical method (applied by his teacher Gaston Paris to the manuscript history of the Lai in an article critical of Bédier's work on the text) could not clarify the convolutions of the manuscript tradition. Lachmannian method requires the scholar to sift manuscript variants, produce a stemma codicum to chart a manuscript genealogy that can account for variant readings, cancel those readings introduced through scribal error, make judgment calls where interpolation is suspected but cannot be positively identified, and use his own understanding of linguistic and literary history to propose readings where the text has been mangled beyond hope of reconstruction. At each of these junctures, however, the scholar's intellectual arrogance might steer him wrong. Bédier mockingly lists the technical vocabulary that is the Lachmannian editor's armor (in French rather than Latin, in deference to twentieth-century sensibilities): "faute," "bonne leçon," "'leçon moins bonne,' ou 'suspecte,' ou 'altérée,' ou 'refaite.'" How can the modern textual critic question the authority of the manuscript on medieval literary or linguistic usage? To do so is to beg the question: to step into the vertiginous eye of the hermeneutic circle.
Bédier argues that rather than seek to reconstruct a lost text, the modern editor ought to reproduce a single manuscript witness. This did not mean that the editor relinquished all intellectual control over the edition, of course. Editorial expertise guided the scholar in selecting the manuscript to be reproduced: he should base the edition on the medieval manuscript that his scholarship reveals to be exemplary. Nor did it suggest that Bédier had relinquished the grand promise of the positivism of the Romantic era—the notion that current scientific scholarship granted the textual critic a substantially more accurate understanding of textual history than the methodologies that predated it. Rather, in the closing lines of the article, Bédier makes a familiar statement: if textual critics will only follow his method, the past will speak for itself, truthfully and accurately, for the first time.
Subsequent scholars have revealed the extent to which Bédier's political commitments informed his scholarly work. Alain Corbellari has argued that anti-German sentiment led Bédier to resist the tendency of German scholars (who were also, of course, Lachmannian text editors) to claim the French literary tradition as their own. Per Nykrog has suggested that what motivated Bédier was less anti-German contrarianism (or oedipal competition with his German-trained mentor, Gaston Paris) than the impulse simply to be aggressively, quintessentially, chauvinistically French. Michele Warren saw Bédier's intervention in the context of his colonial origins (Bédier was born and grew up in Réunion, a French possession in the Indian Ocean). The political investments of Bédier's thought alert us to the location of his Achilles' heel, the political presuppositions that inform his scholarship. At the same time the practitioners of a North American "New Philology" consistently use Bédier's scholarship as a touchstone (perhaps inspired by his stylistic brilliance and his suggestive biography as much as the intellectual content of his scholarship). Indeed Bédier's passionate attentiveness to the material peculiarity of the individual manuscript meshes well with the materialism of the New Philology. Thus subsequent investigations of Bédier's contribution to the discipline have acknowledged both the elegance of his argument and its political and historical interestedness.
It is interesting to note that in the seminal essay on the Lai de l'Ombre, Bédier consistently uses the word philologue with a visible curl of the lip. It is a term of contempt for him; philologues are those who read with no sensitivity to the text, who do violence to textual traditions by imposing their own modern sensibilities on premodern manuscript history. Late twentieth-century scholarship has to some extent rehabilitated the image of the philologist (particularly in the United States). Now philological scholarship frequently connotes what might be termed thick philology: reading with an eye to the historical constitution of the text, but also with an awareness of the tradition of scholarship on the text. The finest contemporary philology is a textured history of the readings that have (in the case of many, if not most, medieval texts) become fused with the substance of the text itself, like the iridescent layers that form the pearl.
Nowhere is this more true, it seems, than in the field of Orientalist philology. Of course the word Orientalism is not any longer used, for excellent reasons. Scholars in the field (as distinct from medievalists and classicists) also avoid the word philologist except in a pejorative sense: it has been tainted by association. For this reason it seems inappropriate to apply the term philology to the investigations of disciplinary history that have become so important in the field of Arabic and Islamic studies in particular. Yet to some extent the impulse that guides scholarship in both cases is roughly equivalent: scholars have looked back at the history of their discipline in order to diagnose intellectual errors and, in some notable cases, to redress historical misjudgments of earlier scholars. The Orientalist philologist is one who willfully chooses to stand outside of the culture which generated the texts that he studies for his livelihood (perhaps with the aim of manipulating that culture for personal gain). The good scholar of the Islamic "Orient," however—and the most powerful insight of recent studies of disciplinary history is that there is such a thing as a good "Orientalist"—pays close attention to the historical and cultural constitution of the texts which are our witness to the past and in large part to contemporary history.
Of course, one stark difference distinguishes Orientalist philology from medieval philology: its perceived incapacity to generate philologies engagées like the nationalist and fundamentalist scholarship discussed above. The familiar Saidian definition of the Orientalist describes a scholar whose object of analysis could not be more distant from himself (and in Said's work the scholar most emphatically is a him). The dis-identity of the Orient with the West and the constitution of the Orient as an object of colonial interest characterize Saidian Orientalism. More recent scholarship has pushed gently at the Manichean boundaries of this theoretical formulation. Todd Kontje's work on German Orientalism, Billie Melman's on women travelers in the Orient, and Lisa Lowe's on French and German Orientalism—for all their disciplinary breadth—have a common denominator: they argue the rich diversity of northern European Orientalisms between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries and the central importance of Orientalist formations to the intellectual history of the period in general.
However, the radical identification of a modern community with a distant textual history brought close to the present through the modern technology of philological reading—the foundation of an engaged philology—seems altogether lacking in the field of Orientalist philology. The Orientalist does not identify himself with a community that traces its origin to the texts he studies. At best he appropriates Oriental culture for Western use (think of the manipulations of Sanskrit described by Percy Schwab, or Goethe's West-östlicher Divan); at worst he reveals another community's destiny to be dominated by his own in the pages of Oriental texts (think of Renan's famous cry, "L'avenir, Messieurs, est donc à l'Europe et à l'Europe seule"). The dis-identification of the scholar with the texts he studies may allow Orientalism to escape the most embarrassing excesses of an aggressively nationalizing reading of the premodern past, for instance, but it may also vitiate the Orientalist reading—if one allows that the identification of a modern community with a premodern text grants the philological reading a palpable power.
Yet recent scholarship has sensitized Western scholars to two truisms—the one historical, the other geographical—that have typically flown under the radar not only of the general public but also of professional observers of the past. Even though Westerners may not in general identify personally with the Orient, still communication and exchange (sometimes, but not always, hostile) between the Islamic East and the Christian West have remained a historical constant for the last millennium and a half. And this engagement has not always and not merely taken the form of an asymmetrical aggression on the one side and passivity on the other. From the Middle Ages through early modernity and into the late modern period, the Mediterranean has served as a lens that has focused attentive glances from one shore to the other. This engagement may pass through periods of intensification and abatement; the Mediterranean at times functions less as a conductive mechanism and more as a barrier. But at no time has communication across it ceased. Furthermore scholars outside the region have not generally acknowledged developments in the European south, where a history of Arab occupation has produced a starkly different intellectual terrain. Here modern Orientalist scholarship has had to accommodate a fact of regional history: the object of the (distancing) Orientalist gaze is the history of the nation.
Orientalism and European Intellectual History
It might be possible to find a better text to compare the relative strengths of the various models of textual criticism and to trace the development of academic and popular Orientalism during the modern period than the Thousand and One Nights. But one would be hard pressed to find one more engaging, more central to both popular and intellectual history and, in all honesty, more fun. The Thousand and One Nights is among the most famous examples of a framed narrative in world literature. In framed narratives, stories are captured within stories, when a character in a tale begins relating another tale. The frame story typically has a hermeneutic function: it serves as a key to interpreting the stories within the frame. Edgar Allan Poe—in his extraordinary and outrageously mendacious essay, "The Philosophy of Composition"—describes such literary devices thus: "it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention." So does the tale of Scheherazade in the case of the Thousand and One Nights. The story of the valiant vizier's daughter become sultaness, who saves her city by enmeshing the murderous sultan in a net of tales, insinuates itself into the fabric of the stories within the frame. They are seen by modern readers (and modern writers) as celebrations of the capacity of narrative to vanquish abuses of power in the sphere of politics or of psychology. Scheherazade has been canonized as the patron saint of literary invention in successive generations of Western works that riff on the Nights, from novels to movies to even translations of the Nights, which in a handful of noteworthy cases depart from the text so radically as to constitute independent literary works themselves.
The Nights, that is, is itself enmeshed in the Western tradition in a metaliterary frame. We see it irresistibly within the context of the European and, later, American riffs on the text. Furthermore, recent philological research has shown that the work as it has become known in the West, a groaning board of fantastic tales from the most various sources, is largely the product of Western Orientalists (and Arab philologists living in the West). For this reason—because the Nights, a framed tale, has itself been captured within an interpretive frame which has become perversely difficult to separate from the text itself—the work suggests a series of hermeneutic questions that scholarship has only recently begun to address: Where do we draw the line between the provinces of the premodern author and the modern textual critic, particularly in the case of a work whose proximity to the oral tradition makes it peculiarly fluid and therefore peculiarly vulnerable to modern manipulation? Is it possible to filter the Western interventions out of the text and to see it as a work of Arabic literature, in the context of the Arabic literary tradition? If not, can the Western imitations serve as an interpretive lens for the text? Should they serve a hermeneutic function, or would that denature and destabilize the text? Is it possible to produce a coherent reading—using either the Lachmannian or the Bédierist method—of a text so radically contaminated (to use the technical philological term) by innovations and exterior interpolations?
So embedded is the Nights in the Western tradition that it is hard to imagine Western literature without it. Yet Scheherazade entered Western letters at a precise moment, and not in the foggy distance of the Middle Ages but at the cusp of modernity: in the translation produced by Antoine Galland, an editor of the Bibliothèque Orientale, and published in serial volumes between 1704 and 1717. The tale of Galland's translation and manipulation of the text, and the influence that this publication history had on both Western and Arabic letters, is among the most familiar stories in the history of Orientalism. I will merely sketch it here and refer the interested reader to the superb, detailed accounts of an extraordinarily convoluted history available elsewhere. Galland's translation took as its point of departure a Syrian manuscript produced some time between the fourteenth century and the second half of the fifteenth century C.E. This manuscript was incomplete—it ended in the middle of a story, and less than a third of the way to the promised thousand and first night. Between 1704 and 1706 Galland translated and published the core manuscript, inserting into it the tales of Sindbad the sailor, which he believed formed part of the Nights tradition (although we now know that the Sindbad stories existed as an independent cycle and had not historically been associated with the Thousand and One Nights). He then stopped, having run out of stories to translate. In 1709, without alerting Galland, his unscrupulous publisher released the next volume of the Nights. This volume included a tale ("Ghanim") that Galland either had translated earlier or invented himself—no manuscript has ever been found—and two that a colleague of his had translated from the Turkish (the tales of Prince Zeyn Alasnam and Codadad). In that same year, at a dinner party, Galland met a skilled storyteller from Syria by the name of Hanna. Ultimately he would overcome his reluctance to publish tales without a legitimate affiliation with the Nights and would fill out the balance of required nights by developing the brief notes he received from Hanna into full-length tales. This is the source of Aladdin and Ali Baba and indeed of a full one-third of the pages of the Thousand and One Nights; only nine of the twenty-one story cycles in Galland's translation come from the Syrian manuscript that provided the seed of his Nights. The tales that Galland heard from Hanna have no known manuscript versions that predate Galland's "translation" of them; even the notes that Hanna provided have disappeared. And because Galland's extant notes on the progress of the text are sketchy, it has proved difficult or impossible for scholars to reconstruct the tales Hanna told him (and hence to understand the extent of Galland's embroidering).
Galland's translation made an extraordinary splash, in part because it responded neatly to a number of discrete popular and intellectual interests. It served as an antidote to the Enlightenment: Galland's Baghdad—where genies popped from bottles, willow-waisted maidens were transformed into moon-faced cows, and monarchs in disguise went on nocturnal rambles to get acquainted with the populace—was a wonderland marvelously exterior to the chill light of reason that suffused the eighteenth century. Historians generally point out the similarity in spirit between Galland's Nuits and the contes des fées, or fairy tales, that enjoyed an immense vogue in the salon culture of late seventeenth-century France. Galland's translation of the Nights was addressed to and first circulated among the same crowd that had eagerly consumed those homegrown tales of the fantastic. At the same time, it made a substantial contribution to the Orientalist vogue that arose roughly at the moment when the Ottoman threat to European shipping interests and European cities abated (Vienna had successfully repelled the last Ottoman siege in 1683). A Grub Street English translation of Galland's French version appeared almost instantly and was in its fourth edition by 1713; by the end of the eighteenth century, retranslations of Galland's translation had appeared in German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Russian, Flemish, and Yiddish. And Galland's translation inspired a cottage industry of independent pseudo-Oriental tales, sold by the yard in English and French.
In addition, the elusiveness of manuscripts acted as a tease to scholars and collectors whose appetite for manuscripts of all kinds grew exponentially through the course of the century. Galland was never entirely forthcoming about his manuscript sources; after his death scholars sought the manuscript he had translated among his books, without success. The search expanded as collectors sent word to their Middle East contacts to scour the book markets for manuscripts of the work. Here too they found little; for the Thousand and One Nights, so warmly received in the West, had enjoyed scant popularity in the Arab world. Or more precisely it seems to have been enjoyed as oral literature but did not generate a substantial textual tradition. This is why Galland's efforts to find a "complete" manuscript of the Nights failed (and why he was obliged to write his way to the thousand and first night himself); this is why, when Western Orientalists sought manuscripts of the work for the public and private libraries of Europe, they came up empty-handed. And so the Nights gave occasion for another activity to which eighteenth-century scholars devoted prodigious amounts of energy: literary forgery. Two independent transcripts of "complete" manuscripts of the Nights were produced between 1780 and 1810, both by scholars with access to the Bibliothèque du Roi, to which Galland had left his papers and manuscripts (including the Syrian manuscript of the Nights). In both cases the scholars claimed that they worked from a newly discovered manuscript; in fact they simply transcribed from Galland's papers. When the craftsmen faced the task of producing an Arabic version of the stories known in Western criticism as "orphan tales"—those for which no Arabic originals predating Galland's "translation" have been found—they found an expedient way around the difficulty: they translated Galland's French into Arabic.
By the last decade of the eighteenth century a new kind of interest in the Nights emerged: a technical or philological interest on the part of scholars who had expertise in the Arabic language or simply a broadly defined interest in Oriental and/or ancient literatures. A series of letters in the British Gentleman's Magazine which appeared between 1794 and 1799 posed questions about manuscripts of tales found in Galland's Nights that had recently surfaced in England: are they genuine? If they indeed are authentic witnesses to the Thousand and One Nights tradition, how do they compare to Galland's translation? Can they authenticate Galland's work—now almost a century old? Patrick Russell (co-author of the Natural History of Aleppo) mentions that he has compared manuscript versions of the work—in Aleppo and at the Vatican—with Galland's translation and found a number of differences, chief among them the absence of the Sindbad cycle from the manuscripts he has inspected. He notes, with consummate discernment (and gentlemanly disdain), that "M. Galland is sometimes exuberant far beyond the original, and inserts in the narrative what is rather a commentary for the European reader than suitable to the characters of the drama." We are at the dawn of European Orientalism: study of the Arabic language, Arabic literature, and Arab customs allows specialists to begin to question the authority of the Galland translation.
Others who discussed the Arabian tales did not have the capacity to read them in the original; a vivid interest in the use and value of fantastic tales in general compensated for the lack. Thus James Beattie, a Scottish scholar and author of many moral, religious, and poetic works, expressed his general distrust of Galland's translation on the basis not of his inspection of manuscripts or consideration of Arabic stylistics (he notes that the Thousand and One Nights is "the greatest, indeed the only, collection, that I am acquainted with, of Oriental fables"), but rather of his impression of the Oriental tale: "whether the tales be really Arabick, or invented by Mons. Galland, I have never been able to learn with certainty. If they be Oriental, they are translated with unwarrantable latitude; for the whole tenor of the style is in the French mode." Beattie draws a stern judgment of the work as literature: "There is in it great luxury of description, without any elegance; and great variety of invention, but nothing that elevates the mind, or touches the heart. All is wonderful and incredible; and the astonishment of the reader is more aimed at, than his improvement either in morality, or in the knowledge of nature." But he allows that the work does offer something of moral value (a "pretty just idea" of the government and the customs of "those eastern nations") and of pleasure. As an example of the latter—astonishingly, given the lofty moral tenor of his discussion—he cites the outstanding example of the story of the barber and his brothers, a tale that reads like a particularly frenetic Monty Python sketch.
Finally, Western readers studied the Nights in order to learn about the history of the Arabs, and in particular about a period of Arab history that would prove to have an irresistible hold on the Western imagination: Abbasid Baghdad. Nathan Drake, in a work that recollects and reflects on his extensive readings, castigated the Galland translation—the only translation available to Europeans, since it still constituted the basis for all translations into European languages—for its historical infidelities.
To the Arabian Nights' Entertainment, though in general merely considered as a work of extravagant fiction, their reader will be indebted for much genuine information relative to the domestic habits of the court and people of Baghdad, as they are now fully ascertained to convey a just picture of the manners and customs of the Caliphate during this splendid portion of its existence; and had the translation been more faithful to the idiom of the original, had better supported its peculiar spirit and strong features, and not mutilated a production of undoubted genius, these tales had still further merited the attention of the philosopher and historian.
During the course of the nineteenth century general dissatisfaction with Galland's translation was answered by three new retranslations of the mammoth whole of the text, as defined by Galland's translation, from Arabic into English. Edward Lane, Victorian adventurer par excellence, produced the first of these translations, published in 1839-40. John Payne's translation appeared next, in 1884-85, followed swiftly by Richard Burton's (1885-88, taking in the translation of the Nights proper as well as the Supplemental Nights). Each of these productions had its own distinct character. Lane introduced a more scholarly element to translations of the Nights; his notes on the text would be republished in an independent volume, Arabian Society in the Middle Ages. At the same time he expurgated the racy passages from the text, the erotic scenes that might fluster a Victorian readership. Payne included notes on the customs of the Arabs as illuminated by the text (as Lane had done); he didn't translate the poetry, fearing that it would weary his readers. However, he did not excise the erotic episodes. His decision not to expurgate the text obliged him to publish it through a private subscription society. Burton, finally, relied extensively (most observers would say unscrupulously) on Payne's translation. He not only included but exaggerated the erotic content of the text (his translation, like Payne's, was sold by subscription). His remains the most popular of the nineteenth-century translations, in part because of the rambunctious lexical quality of the translation itself (he seems to have looked upon the thesaurus somewhat as pirates of yore did the Spanish galleon), and in part because of the quirky, kinky, at times surreal nature of his annotations. If Lane and Payne viewed the notes that accompanied their text as an occasion to educate the reading public on the customs of the Oriental nations, Burton took the notes to another level, including not only accounts of Arab customs but also autobiographical anecdotes and moral and speculative reflections. John Barth, an ardent fan of the Nights, wrote: "It would be a more splendid destiny to have cooked up Burton's version of The Thousand and One Nights—footnotes, Terminal Essay, and all—than to have written the original." By the end of the nineteenth century the Nights had traveled a long way from their Western invention by Galland, whose salon-ready fairies and princesses look quaint in comparison to Burton's rampaging blackamoors and glowering genies. In the English-speaking world the text had now become more than an entertainment (as its original English title, Arabian Nights Entertainments, advertised it): it both entertained and educated the reading public in the customs and manners of the Arab and greater Islamic world.
The retranslations from the Arabic had been made possible by a series of printed editions of the text that appeared during the first half of the century: four versions were published between 1814 and 1842. These editions, rather than correcting the difficulties introduced into the manuscript tradition by the Galland translation, rather aided and abetted them. Each of them (with the exception of the 1835 Bulaq edition, printed in Cairo) was initiated and financed by Europeans, and each accepted the contours of the work as established by Galland's translation. The nineteenth-century printed editions also continued the theme of forgery. The Habicht or Breslau edition (published in 1825-28), which claimed to reproduce a nonexistent Tunisian manuscript, was in fact a compilation of stories from a variety of sources. And the last of the nineteenth-century editions to be produced (Calcutta II, or MacNaghten, which appeared in 1839-42) was supposedly based on an Egyptian manuscript; again, the manuscript was never found. Subsequent scholarship has shown that the text incorporates details that appeared first in the Habicht edition (which itself claimed to reproduce a phantom manuscript).
If the new editions of the text made the new translations possible, the new translations in turn informed an explosion of literary and cinematic works inspired by the Nights during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Filmmakers celebrated the Nights as a bottomless well of narrative: some of the earliest films of the new century drew on narratives from the Nights (a French Aladdin appeared in 1906, a French Ali Baba in 1908); the work inspired the famous Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films and a delightful Bollywood version of Ali Baba, along with such notable works as a World War II-era film that makes Ali Baba into a freedom fighter, and the recent DreamWorks version of Sinbad in which the lead character appears, unaccountably, to be Greek.
At the same time, writers of serious literary fiction depicted Scheherazade as a patroness of creativity and literary invention. Already during the nineteenth century a number of writers had honored the Nights as a fountain of narrative invention and paid due homage to Scheherazade. Edgar Allan Poe wrote the mischievous "Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade," in which Scheherazade relates wonders that are no fictions but recountings of recent scientific advances and discoveries; the sultan becomes so exasperated at her preposterous inventions that he orders her execution at last. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre modeled her behavior toward the brute Rochester on Scheherazade's toward her sultan; Tennyson composed the "Recollections of the Arabian Nights"; and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the New Arabian Nights. During the twentieth century Western writers widely recognized Scheherazade as a symbol of the power of the literary imagination: see not only John Barth but also Proust, E. M. Forster, Jorge Luis Borges, A. S. Byatt, and Salman Rushdie. "Never in any other book, perhaps," wrote G. K. Chesterton, "has such a splendid tribute been offered to the pride and omnipotence of art."
And at last, following her long Babylonian captivity in the West, Scheherazade would return to the lands of her birth. With the nineteenth-century renaissance of Arabic imaginative fiction, Arab writers turned to the Nights as a homegrown source of inspiration to set against their myriad Western models. The Nights, not surprisingly, has proved particularly useful to Arab expatriate writers who live in the West: Rafik Schami, a Syrian who lives in Berlin, wrote a modern riff on the Nights, Erzähler der Nacht (which appeared in English as Damascus Nights). Assia Djebar's Ombre sultan (translated into English as A Sister to Scheherazade) presents a feminist reading of Scheherazade's gambit. Most interesting, a recent novel by Libyan British author Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men, emphasizes the sinister undercurrents of Scheherazade's tale. The main character's grandmother is a devotee of Scheherazade, but his mother isn't so sure; living under Qaddafi, she finds much to distrust in the story of a woman who manipulates narrative in order to survive a life under occupation.
Finally, during the twentieth century and into the opening years of the twenty-first scholarly Orientalists would engage in the painstaking project of sorting out the origins and development of the text. This process, of course, began with the first eighteenth-century attempts to understand what Antoine Galland had translated, what he interpolated, and what the text would look like once Western interventions were teased out. Given the complications of the tradition, of course—the translations of texts that don't exist and counterfeit transcriptions of phantom manuscripts that characterize the history of the work—the task has not been a particularly easy one. In 1984 Muhsin Mahdi, a professor of Arabic literature at Harvard University, published a scholarly edition of the Nights which will shape the course of subsequent scholarship on the Arabic text. It is one of the ironies of the manuscript history of the Nights that the Syrian manuscript with which Galland began his translation remained for three centuries following his translation both the oldest manuscript we possess and the only substantial version of it that predates his translation. A single page from a ninth-century manuscript and two earlier references to it in Arabic bibliographical sources demonstrate the antiquity of the tradition. But because the Nights is a popular rather than a learned work of literature, it did not generate a significant manuscript tradition. Mahdi, judging the Galland manuscript to be the most authoritative exemplar of the tradition, based his edition on it, introducing corrections from eight other manuscripts. His work makes it possible for the first time for scholars to study one manifestation of the Nights tradition as it existed in the Arab world before the European interventions of the early modern period. Of course modern audiences are reluctant to relinquish the Nights as they have come to know and love it, including the fantastic geographies of Sindbad's voyages and Sindbad's merchant savvy; Aladdin's pluck and Ali Baba's sangfroid; and the whole portmanteau-esque plenitude of the work. Still, thanks to the exemplary quality of philological research into the manuscript tradition of the Nights like Mahdi's and the scholarship on which Mahdi's work built, we now understand the extent to which Western "readings" of the Nights have defined the constitution not only of Western variations on and appropriations of the work, but even of the Arabic text itself. As in quantum physics, though perhaps in a less disinterested way, in the case of the Thousand and One Nights the act of observing phenomena fundamentally alters the nature of the phenomena observed.
The Thousand and One Nights is often characterized as a literary work composed across the divide between the Arab world and the West; neither can claim sole authorship. The text as it has become familiar to Western readers—a complex web of tale that encompasses the compendious nineteenth-century English translations, themselves based on the nineteenth-century editions published (in most cases) under European supervision, emerging from the translation which Galland teased from the seed of a late medieval Syrian manuscript, laced with tales from the oral tradition, themselves novelized by a man immersed in the salon culture of early modern France—this complex manuscript tradition has become the scaffolding for both scholarship and new literary and cinematic composition in the East and the West. Both Payne and Burton based their English translations on the Calcutta II edition, selecting it in large part because of its rich detail and narrative abundance. The literary appeal of that edition is undeniable but is apparently of nineteenth-century vintage: it was one of the editions allegedly based on a manuscript that has never been retrieved. Nevertheless its literary qualities made it the text of choice for scholars as well as popularizers.
The decision to use this edition as a foundation for scholarship in particular implies a judgment about the polyvalence of the work that has sweeping implications. Such a reading assumes a robust Lachmannian understanding of the polygenesis of the text, its multiple births across a multitude of cultural boundaries. "The original author of the Arabian Nights is unknown," wrote an obscure literary observer of the early twentieth century, "but the book has become a household possession in every civilized country in the world." It has no nation; its homeland is nowhere and everywhere. It is a vast, raucous, transnational celebration of the messy and exhilarating power of narrative. Under the sign of Galland's translation-without-originals, not only literary authors but also scholars have come to celebrate the Nights as a work that is equally "original" in each of its incarnations—the various modern and premodern manuscript versions, the modern editions, the translations, films, and literary imitations.
But despite the exhilarating openness of the text seen through a Lachmannian lens, it remains possible to celebrate the philological insights that allow us to see the historical outlines of the text with more precision: to perceive the contours of the work at each stage in its development, and to understand the historical factors that shaped its evolution. The unique manuscript history of the text invites a Bédierist intervention. This was, indeed, Mahdi's accomplishment: to prune away the profusion of manuscript embellishments, the ramifications grafted onto the core manuscript tradition during the course of its history in the West, and to reconstruct the work as it existed at a single moment in its complex textual history. What can we say about the text as a work of Arabic literature, in the Arabic tradition? How does it respond to Arab history? The version of the work edited by Mahdi seems to have been written during the late Middle Ages, but it looks back with a particular urgency at the Abbasid past, and especially at the caliphate of Harun al-Rashid. How does the text comment on the Abbasid past from the perspective of the late Middle Ages? Despite the limitations of our knowledge about the work—we still do not understand well the audience for whom the work was composed or the motivations of the authors who created the manuscripts we possess—scholars have begun to produce sophisticated, compelling, and important readings of it based on the evidence produced by philological scholarship. Thus the history of scholarship on the Nights demonstrates the efficaciousness and the ongoing relevance of philological analysis. Only the dogged pursuit of philological insights has enabled us to tease out the preposterously complex manuscript history of the work; today the fundamental milestones in the constitution of the text are understood with appreciably more clarity than they were in the past.
Finally, the curious tale of the Nights caught between its Eastern origin and its adopted home in the West serves as a useful gauge of interactions between the Arab- Islamic world and the West during the modern era. The story begins with a potent cocktail of naïve admiration and capitalist calculation at the beginning of the eighteenth century. A confluence of diverse interests accounts for the extraordinary success of the Nights in Europe. French salonnières seeking divertissement, manuscript bounty hunters trawling the book stalls of Levantine cities, Englishmen seeking an outlet for their lexical erudition: these compose only a small fraction of the public that contributed to the work's immense popularity during the eighteenth century. Western colonial interest in the Arab shores of the Mediterranean quickened at the dawn of the nineteenth century; the foundation for British rule in India was laid during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, but the British Raj was consolidated and expanded during the nineteenth. The new tenor of relations between Europe and the Arab and Islamic world helps to account for the existence of the multiple printed editions of the work: the first of the nineteenth-century editions (Calcutta I, 1814-18) was published in British India and intended as a primer for British colonial officials. And colonial interests explain in part the curiosity concerning the customs of the Arab and Islamic world on the part of Western readers that was answered by the copiously annotated nineteenth-century English translations of the Thousand and One Nights (although it is abundantly clear that to see Edward Lane, John Payne, and Richard Burton merely as fulfilling the interests of a colonizing state would oversimplify their lives and work unconscionably).
During the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first Western and Arab writers have transfigured Scheherazade, illuminating her power and, in the most striking departure from traditional readings of the text, her ambiguity. It is perhaps unsurprising that Arab writers (and non-Arabs from Islamic nations) view the self-proclaimed sultana with more ambivalence than Westerners. For every writer who celebrates her as a liberator (see, for instance, Azar Nafisi: "Scheherazade breaks the cycle of violence by choosing to embrace different terms of engagement") there are others who see something vaguely insidious in her ("Scheherazade," Hisham Matar's protagonist's mother tells her son, "was a coward who accepted slavery over death"). Westerners, whose distance from the tradition she represents allows them to make freer use of her, are more likely to see her as an undiluted heroine. Thus A. S. Byatt—explaining her choice of the Thousand and One Nights as the best book of the millennium—wrote that "Though it appears to be a story against women, it actually marks the creation of one of the strongest and cleverest heroines in world literature." European and American writers have naturalized Scheherazade as a transnational symbol of the power of literary invention. Their affection for her, their familial embrace of her, says many things about the way that writers view their craft. In the current context, most importantly, it belies the notion that the divide between the Orient and the West constitutes a kind of harem wall that Westerners cannot breach. More striking is Westerners' passionate curiosity, their eagerness to embrace (albeit selectively) the artifacts that reach them from across the divide, their capacity to write their way to the world that produced Scheherazade and back again. This affective connection, of course, is not sufficient to undo all the harm done by rogues and politicians in the ongoing war, hot and cold, between East and West. Nevertheless it substantiates the perception that emerges from recent scholarship on communications between the Islamic Orient and the Christian West: the fates of East and West have never disentangled themselves the one from the other, and will remain locked in engagement with each other—whether a fruitful or a fatal embrace, only time will tell—for the foreseeable future.
The scholars whose work I will survey in this book provide another testimony to the continuing textual connections between Europe and the Arab-Islamic world. These historians use philological method to read textual history. Like the philologists who identify the origins of the French nation, for instance, in the Old French epic, they use the medieval past to evoke a distant, originary moment of cultural identity. However, they ground a European national culture in the Arab past. Such a narrative may startle readers who expect a more adversarial relation between Europe and its Arab "other." At the very least, the reader is likely to characterize such scholarship as counterintuitive. As will become apparent, however, this reading of European history is motivated by a number of factors. It accounts for the realities of regional history: the Arabs occupied Spain, Sicily, and Malta for extended periods of their medieval history; immigration and trade patterns have kept those regions in contact with the Arab world beyond that era of occupation.
At the same time, the narrative of Arab origins is to some extent a by-product of the power of the philological model. During the nineteenth century philology emerged as a technology for reading textual history as the origin of a modern sense of identity. Readers learned to view the relation between the Chanson de Roland and modern France or between Beowulf and modern England in terms of consanguinity: Frenchmen wrote the Roland and Englishmen wrote Beowulf, despite the fact that the language they used in the text would not be comprehensible to a speaker of modern French or modern English. They owed this belief to the labor of philologists who articulated nationalist readings of the epics, who catalogued the differences but at the same time stressed the continuities between a distant historical age and the present.
That is, considerable mental effort must be expended to produce a reading of an "Old French" or "Old English" text like the Roland or Beowulf as the origin of a modern national linguistic and literary tradition. Scholarship that seeks in medieval Arabic texts the gleam in a distant father's eye marking the origin of a national cultural identity differs not in kind but in degree from these readings. The medieval Arabic literary tradition poses considerable challenges for a Western scholar. Once the languages have been mastered, however, philological technique seems almost to generate narratives of filiation of its own accord. Like the Romance philologist, the Orientalist—while not denying the alterity of the Arab past—yet might stress the identity of past and present, at once acknowledging the difference and distance of the world witnessed by medieval textuality and asserting its proximity and identity. Most intriguingly, we will see that some narratives of Arab origins are informed by a sense of Mediterranean exceptionalism. In some cases scholars offer a regional history as a way to challenge northern European primacy, to situate their nation not at the fringe of the grand adventure of modernity but rather at its center.
In the next chapter, I will present an overview of two dominant threads in scholarship exploring the relation between the European nations and the Arab past—investigations conducted both by scholars who denied and others who affirmed the links between European modernity and the Arab past. Then I will introduce a gallery of southern European scholars who identify the Arab past as constitutive of a European modernity. I aim to write the history of an idea, not a comprehensive survey of southern European Orientalism: this book has been conceptualized as a picaresque rather than an epic. My readings emphasize the Italian contribution; I present a perspective that has had very little presence in European scholarship—the Maltese; I include a relatively small sliver of Spanish history. This emphasis reflects my own expertise and interests. At the same time, I am eager to present material that may be less familiar to an English-speaking audience. The Spanish context has received more attention than the Italian, because of the comparative length and intensity of its involvement with the Arab world and because of the relative familiarity of the Spanish language to readers both in Britain and in North America. Those who wish to learn about Spanish Orientalism in depth can refer to James Monroe's authoritative and compulsively readable monograph, Islam and the Arabs in Spanish Scholarship (or for those who read Spanish, Manuela Marín's more recent, article-length, lively summary, "Arabistas en España: Un asunto de familia"). About Malta the English-speaking world tends to know little or nothing, despite England's long involvement with the tiny nation. And while English readers might be familiar with certain chapters of Italian intellectual history—in particular humanism—Italian Orientalism has been underreported in English scholarship.
Finally, in the closing chapter of the book I will return to the Scheherazade perplex, tracing one of the circuitous paths the text followed from its medieval genesis to modernity. This coda is intended to demonstrate again the power of the philological reading, its capacity to produce answers to antique problems and to generate new readings of familiar texts. It articulates the ongoing, intimate links between the Arab world and the West. And it also responds to current literary styles. In the frenetic recycling of the modes of the past that we postmoderns have grown accustomed to, it seems that at the present moment the Gothic is in the ascendant. We feel most comfortable with chiaroscuro narratives that emphasize the scuro. Scheherazade herself, in my reading of her, is turned resolutely toward her own past; or perhaps she is herself the face of the past, staring down the present. She is a bit of a siren. Perched on the shoals of Abbasid Baghdad, enticing the latter-day Sinbad toward shipwreck in a city known both for its vibrant multilingual literary tradition and its frightful political history, she is as veritable a portrait of Philology in the twenty-first century as we could hope to find.