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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ummah (1)

At this point, the Gerusalemme Conquistata (not so the Liberata) provides a summary of the history of Islam during the first centuries of its spread in the Mediterranean area. In a different context, and with the help of a specialist, it would be interesting to examine these stanzas from a documented historical viewpoint; not here and now, however. Here we will choose some passages that are either useful for the understanding of the plot or significant for a general insight into Islam according to the Christian/European culture of the Renaissance. The setting is a -- fictional -- gathering of Muslim armies in Gaza from all over the Ummah Islamiyyah before the final battle for Jerusalem during the First Crusade in the year 1099. Such military shows, as in Homer, were usual in the Renaissance poems of chivalry too. The octave translated below assembles history, mythology, and Biblical references in an attitude that is typical of the late production of Tasso, see his long poem Il Mondo Creato.

[GC 17: 7]

Abuthan il nipote a l'aspro giogo
Le provincie vicine indi costrinse
Insin là dove la Fenice ha il rogo,
Ché tutte un duce suo le vide e vinse;
E poi fondò, nel fortunato luogo
Dove Menfi di tempio i mostri cinse,
Il Cairo, ch'il suo nome anco riserba,
Nova adversaria di Babel superba.

Abuthan, his grandson, (*) subjugated the neighboring provinces to his hard yoke, up to the place where the Phoenix burns, (**) as one of his captains saw and defeated (***) all of them. Then, in the prosperous place in which Memphis encircled its monsters with a temple, he founded Cairo, still named like that -- the new competitor of superb Babel. (****)

(*) A descendant of Abdalà, Abdullah, the first Caliph of Egypt (stanza 5); that is, Abul Abbas as-Saffah, or spelled differently in western languages. Abuthan's name will be modified into Abuthanin in the final printed text of the poem, a form actually closer to Abu Tamim (932-975).
(**) Heliopolis in Egypt, see Il Mondo Creato; now a suburb of Cairo.
(***) Quoting Julius Caesar's famous sentence Veni, vidi, vici.
(****) "Monsters" indicates the animal-headed gods of Ancient Egypt, see again Il Mondo Creato. Babel is identified with Babylon, superba meaning both superb and proud. Cairo becomes both the successor and the adversary of "Babylon" as the new international center of a non-Christian civilization.