Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ibn Warraq: Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History (Part 40)

by Robert Spencer

The great scholar of the Qur'an and the life of Muhammad, Ibn Warraq, has sent in a number of new installments of his engrossing study of the myths and legends surrounding the Crusades, and their reality. The earlier segments can all be found linked here

Ibn Warraq explained in the first part: "The present essay grew out of my inquiries into something that Edward Said wrote about Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman. It took on a life of its own, and grew and grew, and led me into the Crusades generally. What follows is not meant as a complete narrative history of the Crusades -- some superb new histories of the Crusades have appeared in the last ten years, I do not need to add to these, even if I could -- rather, I wish to examine some of the myths and legends perpetuated by Sir Walter Scott in his novels on the Crusades, and at the same time I wish to elucidate, if possible, the motives of the Crusaders, and the real origins of the Crusades." 

Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History

by Ibn Warraq

Part 40
William of Tyre (c. 1130 – 29 September 1186), Archbishop of Tyre, grew up in Jerusalem but spent twenty years studying the liberal arts and canon law in European universities. He is now known as the author of a history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with the title Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum ("History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea") or Historia Ierosolimitana ("History of Jerusalem"), written between 1170 and 1184. It was translated into French soon after his death, and many other languages. It is a valuable source for the history of twelfth-century Jerusalem, especially as it is written by a native. He is considered the greatest chronicler of the crusades, and one of the most elegant writers of the Middle Ages. Saladin first appears in his pages in this manner, “Saladin was a man of keen intelligence. He was vigorous in war and unusually generous” [Vir acris ingenii, armis strenuus et supra modum liberalis]. But William later portrays him “as an ambitious enemy treacherously bludgeoning the [Fatimid] caliph to death and running through all his progeny with a sword, and as a usurper devoid of all human feeling. The same author also points to the sultan’s humble origin and attributes his political ascent to chance rather than inheritance. William speaks of Saladin as of a tyrant, primarily because the danger the sultan represented for the Franks in William’s time was real (whence his fear), but also because the portrayal corresponded to the medieval conception of history, in which tyrants are sent by God to punish the Christians for their sins. And for William, one of the explanations for the Frankish defeats lay in the fact that the sins of men -- especially those of the Eastern Franks -- had elicited God’s wrath. God therefore punished them by sending Saladin, who now reigned without rival over a reunified Muslim territory”. [1]

The text known as The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, or the Lyon Eracles, has a highly complex history, but a simplified version goes something like this: the Latin work by William of Tyre was translated into French in the early decades of the thirteenth century, and “many of the manuscripts of the French translation have continuations tacked on to the end.” [2] The text translated by Peter W. Edbury, to be quoted below, is to be found in a single manuscript now in the municipal library in Lyon, France, though there are, in fact, a number of other rescensions. The Lyon Eracles, as our text is also sometimes called, gives examples of Saladin’s noble qualities: “I must not omit to tell you about an act of courtesy of Saladin’s during the siege of Jerusalem. When Baldwin of Ibelin left the kingdom he entrusted his own small son who was named Thomassin to the care of his brother Balian. There was also another child called Guillemin, the son of Raymond of Jubail. Both children were in Jerusalem, and when their fathers heard that Saladin was besieging the city, they sent asking him to let their children come to them so that they would not be taken into captivity."
[1] Eddé, op.cit., p.472.
[2] Peter W.Edbury. The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. Sources in Translation. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.,1998, p.3.
To be continued.

Ibn Warraq is the author of numerous books, including Why the West Is Best and Why I Am Not A Muslim.

Robert Spencer


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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