A Sea of Languages:
Rethinking the Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History



Medieval European literature was once thought to have been isolationist in its nature, but recent scholarship has revealed the ways in which Spanish and Italian authors – including Cervantes and Marco Polo – were influenced by Arabic poetry, music, and philosophy.  A Sea of Languages brings together some of the most influential scholars working in Muslim-Christian-Jewish cultural communications today to discuss the convergence of the literary, social, and economic histories of the medieval Mediterranean.

This volume takes as a starting point María Rosa Menocal's groundbreaking work The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History, a major catalyst in the reconsideration of prevailing assumptions regarding the insularity of medieval European literature. Reframing ongoing debates within literary studies in dynamic new ways, A Sea of Languages will become a critical resource and reference point for a new generation of scholars and students on the intersection of Arabic and European literature.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Persistence of Philology: Language and Connectivity in the Mediterranean
Suzanne Conklin Akbari

Part One: Philology in the Mediterranean

  • Beyond Philology: Cross-Cultural Engagement in Literary History and Beyond
    Sharon Kinoshita

  • Linguistic Difference, the Philology of Romance, and the Romance of Philology
    Simon Gaunt

  • Forging New Paradigms: Towards a History of Islamo-Christian Civilization
    John Tolan

  • Reflections on Muslim Hebraism: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus and al-Biqa‘i
    Walid A. Saleh

  • “Mixing the East with the West”: Cosmopolitan Philology in Richard Burton’s Translations from Camões
    Paulo Lemos Horta

  • Reading Backward: The 1001 Nights and Philological Practice 100
    Karla Mallette

Part Two: The Cosmopolitan Frontier: Andalusi Case Studies

  • Andalusi “Exceptionalism”
    Ross Brann

  • The Convivencia Wars: Decoding Historiography’s Polemic with Philology
    Ryan Szpiech

  • “In One of My Body’s Gardens”: Hearts in Transformation in Late Medieval Iberian Passion Devotions
    Cynthia Robinson

  • Arab Musical Influence on Medieval Europe: A Reassessment
    Dwight Reynolds

  • Sicilian Poets in Seville: Literary Affinities across Political Boundaries William Granara

  • Vidal Benvenist’s Efer ve-Dinah between Hebrew and Romance
    David A. Wacks

  • The Shadow of Islam in Cervantes’s “El Licenciado Vidriera”
    Leyla Rouhi

  • “The Finest Flowering”: Poetry, History, and Medieval Spain in the Twenty-First Century
    María Rosa Menocal

  • Boustrophedon: Towards a Literary Theory of the Mediterranean
    Karla Mallette

Available from the University of Toronto Press.


[an] example of viewing history that relies not so much on political elites and conflict, but rather, on what was happening in the streets, markets, and homes where … ‘our lives and values are in some measure shaped by the aesthetics of our universe.’”

—Alexander E. Elinson, Comparative LITERATURE Studies

“this is not only a book of high scholarship … It is also a book that provokes yet other questions, and perhaps the main one is about how scholarship in the Humanities, and in medieval history and culture can be relevant to public life and to the sort of education we produce at all levels.”

—Jesus Rodriguez-Velasco, Medieval REview

“The book shows how languages in the Mediterranean washed up against each other and mingled, then separated again (like the branches of the medieval World Ocean). The undercurrent of this linguistic sea was a contrapuntal music around whose bass continuo or “tenor” (to use the medieval term) the different languages were the moving voices.”

—Charles Burnett, Common Knowledge