Saracens

Medieval Christians’ views of Islam developed throughout the Middle Ages, beginning with concerns about easterners’ military and political conquests and developing into a greater understanding of some of the tenets of Islam. This second phase began due to contact with Muslims during the crusades (1096, 1146, 1189, 1228) and the arrival of Arab philosophy and science in the West via Spain in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This familiarity with the life of Muhammad and the Koran came mixed with Orientalist fabrications. Christian traders, crusaders, and clerics understood that Muslims thought of themselves as following the religion of the prophets and of the Koran as the third and ultimate revelation. However, they also saw the Koran simply as corroborating biblical scripture, the prophet as human and fallible, and Islam as a violent, depraved, and irrational religion. In Mandeville’s exordium to his Book, the author pleads for Christians to take back the Holy Land, “oure right heritage, and chacen out alle the mysbeleevynge men.” If the West could unite, he says, it would be a short time before this Christian “heritage” was restored (on the Book’s composition, see “Amazons,” p. 88). However, when Mandeville is in the Near East, he states amiably that he received favors from the Sultan of Egypt, including an offer to marry a prince’s daughter.

These contradictory approaches to the Muslim world reflect earlier Christian inconsistencies and also arise out of his sources for the following passage, which include William of Boldensele’s Un traictie de lestat de la terre sainte . . . (1336), whose hostility to the Saracens he tends to omit, and William of Tripoli’s more informed Tractatus de statu Saracenorum (1273).Of the customes of Sarasines and of hire lawe, and how the Soudan arresond1 me, auctour of this book, and of the begynnynge of Machomete Now because that I have spoken of Sarazines and of here contre, now yif yee wil knowe a partye of here lawe and of here beleve, I schalle telle you after that here book that is clept Alkaron telleth. And sum men clepen that book Meshaf, and summe clepen it Harme after the dyverse langages of the contree, the whiche book Machamete toke hem,2 in the whiche boke among other thinges is writen, as I have often tyme seen and radd, that the gode schulle gon to paradys and the evele to helle. And that beleeven alle Sarazines. And yif a man aske hem what paradys thei menen, thei seyn to paradys that is a place of delytes where men schulle fynde alle maner of frutes in alle cesouns and ryveres rennynge of mylk and hony, and of wyn and of swete water, and that thei schulle have faire houses and noble, every man after his dissert, made of precyous stones and of gold and of sylver, and that every man schalle have eighty wyfes, alle maydenes, and he schalle have ado every day with hem, and yit he schalle fynden hem alleweys maydenes.3 Also thei beleeven and speken gladly of the Virgine Marie and of the incarnacoun. And thei seyn that Marie was taught of the angel, and that Gabrielle seyde to hire that sche was forchosen from the begynnynge of the world, and that he schewed to hire the incarnacoun of Jhesu Crist, and that sche conceyved and bare child mayden.

And that wytnesseth here boke. And thei seyn also that Jhesu Crist spak als sone as he was born, and that he was an holy prophete and a trewe in woord and dede, and meke and pytous and rightfulle and withouten ony vyce. And thei seyn also that whan the angel schewed the incarnacoun of Crist unto Marie, sche was yong and had gret drede. For there was thanne an enchantour in the contree that deled with wycchecraft that men clepten Takina, that be his enchauntementes cowde make him in lykness of an angel and wente often tymes and lay with maydenes. And therfore Marie dredde lest it hadde ben Takina that cam for to desceyve the maydenes, and therfore sche conjured the angel that he scholde telle hire yif it were he or non. And the angel answerde and seyde that sche sholde have no drede of him, for he was verry messager of Jhesu Crist. Also, here book seyth that whan that sche had childed under a palme tre, sche had gret schame that sche hadde a child, and she grette4 and seyde that sche wolde that sche hadde ben ded. And anon the child spak to hire and comforted hire and seyde, “Moder, ne dysmaye the nought, for God hath hidd in the his prevytees5 for the salvacoun of the world.”6 And in othere many places seyth here Alkaron that Jhesu Crist spak als sone as he was born. And that book seyth also that Jhesu was sent from God Allemyghty for to ben myrour and ensample and tokne to alle men.7 And the Alkaron seyth also of the Day of Doom, how God schal come to deme alle maner of folk, and the gode he schalle drawen on his syde and putte hem into blisse, and the wykkede he schal condempne to the peynes of helle.8 And amonges alle prophetes Jhesu was the most excellent and the moste worthi next God, and that he made the gospelles, in the whiche is gode doctryne and helefulle, fulle of claritee and sothfastness and trewe prechinge to hem that beleeven in God, and that he was a verry prophete and more than a prophete and lyved withouten synne and yaf syght to the blynde and helede the lepers and reysede dede men and steygh to hevene.9 And whan thei mowe holden the boke of the gospelles of oure Lord writen, and namely Missus est angelus Gabriel,10 that gospelle thei seyn, tho that ben lettred, often tymes in here orisouns, and thei kissen it and worschipen it with gret devocoun. Thei fasten an hool moneth in the yeer and eten nought but be nyghte, and thei kepen hem from here wyfes alle that moneth. But the seke men be not constreyned to that fast. Also this book spekth of Jewes and seyth that thei ben cursed for thei wolde not beleven that Jhesu Crist was comen of God, and that thei lyeden falsely on Marie and on hire sone Jhesu Crist, seyenge that thei hadden crucyfyed Jhesu, the sone of Marie. For he was nevere crucyfyed, as thei seyn, but that God made him to stye up to him withouten deth and withouten anoye.

11 But he transfigured his lykness into Judas Scarioth, and him crucifyeden the Jewes and wenden that it had ben Jhesu Crist, but Jhesu steygh to hevene alle quyk. And therfore thei seyn that the Cristene men erren and han no gode knouleche of this, and that thei beleeven folyly and falsly that Jhesu Crist was crucyfyed. And thei seyn yit that, and he had been crucyfyed, that God had don ayen his rightwisness for to suffre Jhesu Crist that was innocent to ben put upon the cros withouten gylt. And in this article thei seyn that wee faylen and that the gret rightwisness of God ne myghte not suffre so gret a wrong.12 And in this fayleth here feyth. For thei knoulechen wel that the werkes of Jhesu Crist ben gode and his wordes and his dedes and his doctryne be his gospelles weren trewe and his meracles also trewe; and the blessede Virgine Marie is good and holy mayden before and after the birthe of Jhesu Crist; and alle tho that beleven perfitely in God schul ben saved. And because that thei gon so ny oure feyth, thei ben lyghtly converted to Cristene lawe whan men preche hem and schewen hem distynctly the lawe of Jhesu Crist and tellen hem of the prophecyes. And also thei seyn that thei knowen wel be the prophecyes that the lawe of Machomete schalle faylen as the lawe of the Jewes dide, and that the lawe of Cristene peple schalle laste to the Day of Doom. And yif ony man aske hem what is here beleeve, thei answeren thus and in this forme: “Wee beleven God formyour of hevene and of erthe and of alle othere thinges that he made and withouten him is no thing made. And we beleven of th[e D]ay of Doom, and that every man schalle have his meryte after he hath disserved. And we beleve it for soth alle that God hath seyd be the mouthes of his prophetes.” Also, Machomet commanded in his Alkaron that every man scholde have two wyfes or three or four,13 but now thei taken unto nine and of lemmannes14 als manye as he may susteyne. And yif ony of here wifes mysberen hem ayenst hire husbonde, he may caste hire out of his hous and departe fro hir and take another, but he schalle departe with hire of his godes Also, whan men speken to hem of the Fader and of the Sone and of the Holy Gost, thei seyn that thei ben three persones but not o God, for here Alkaron speketh not of the Trynyte. But thei seyn wel that God hath speche and elles were he dowmb. And God hath also a spirit thei knowen wel, for elles thei seyn he were not on lyve. And whan men speken to hem of the incarnacoun, how that be the word of the angel God sente his wysdom into erthe and enumbred16 him in the Virgyne Marie and be the woord of God schulle the dede ben reysed at the Day of Doom, thei seyn that it is soth and that the woord of God hath gret strengthe. And thei seyn that whoso knew not the woord of God, he scholde not knowe God. And thei seyn also that Jhesu Crist is the woord of God, and so seyth hire Alkaron where it seyth that the angel spak to Marie and seyde, “Marie, God schalle preche the the gospelle be the woord of his mowth, and his name schalle be clept Jhesu Crist.”

And thei seyn also that Abraham was frend to God, and that Moyses was familier spekere with God, and Jhesu Crist was the woord and the spirit of God, and that Machomete was right messager of God. And thei seyn that of theise four Jhesu was the most worthi and the most excellent and the most gret so that thei han many gode articles of oure feyth, alle be it that thei have no parfite lawe and feyth as Cristene men han.17 And therfore ben thei lightly converted, and namely tho that understonden the Scriptures and the prophecyes, for they han the gospelles and the prophecyes and the Byble writen in here langage; wherfore, thei conen meche of Holy Wrytt, but thei understonde it not but after the lettre. And so don the Jewes, for thei undirstonde not the lettre gostly but bodyly, and therfore ben thei repreved of the wise that gostly understonden it. And therfore seyth Seynt Poul, “Litera occidit, spiritus autem vivificat.”18 Also the Sarazines seyn that the Jewes ben cursed for thei han defouled the lawe that God sente hem be Moyses. And the Cristene ben cursed also, as thei seyn, for thei kepen not the commandementes and the preceptes of the gospelle that Jhesu Crist taughte hem.19 And therfore I schalle telle you what the Soudan tolde me upon a day in his chambre. He leet voyden out of his chambre alle maner of men, lordes and othere, for he wolde speke with me in conseille. And there he asked me how the Cristene men governed hem in oure contree, and I seyde him, “Right wel, thonked be God.” And he seyde me: “Treulych nay. For yee Cristene men ne recche right noght how untrewly ye serven God.

Yee scholde yeven ensample to the lewed peple for to do wel, and yee yeven hem ensample to don evylle. For the comownes upon festyfulle dayes whan thei scholden gon to chirche to serve God, than gon thei to tavernes and ben there in glotony alle the day and alle nyght, and eten and drynken as bestes that have no resoun and wite not whan thei have ynow. “And also the Cristene men enforcen hem in alle maneres that thei mowen for to fighten and for to desceyven that on that other. And therewithalle thei ben so proude that thei knowen not how to ben clothed, now long, now schort, now streyt, now large, now swerded, now daggered, and in alle manere gyses. Thei scholden ben symple, meke, and trewe, and fulle of almesdede as Jhesu was, in whom thei trowe, but thei ben alle the contrarie and evere enclyned to the evylle and to don evylle. And thei ben so coveytous that for a lytylle sylver thei sellen here doughtres, here sustres, and here owne wyfes to putten hem to leccherie. And on withdraweth the wif of another. And non of hem holdeth feyth to another, but thei defoulen here lawe that Jhesu Crist betook hem to kepe for here salvacoun. “And thus for here synnes han thei lost alle this lond that wee holden. For, for hire synnes, here God hath taken hem into oure hondes, noght only be strengthe of oureself but for here synnes. For wee knowen wel in verry soth that whan yee serven God, God wil helpe you, and whan he is with you, no man may ben ayenst you. And that knowe we wel be oure prophecyes that Cristene men schulle wynnen ayen this lond out of oure hondes whan thei serven God more devoutly. But als longe as thei ben of foul and of unclene lyvynge as thei ben now, wee have no drede of hem in no kynde, for here God will not helpen hem in no wise.” And than I asked him how he knew the state of Cristene men.

And he answerde me that he knew alle the state of alle contres of Cristene kynges and princes, and the state of the comounes also be his messangeres that he sente to alle londes in manere as thei weren marchauntes of precyous stones, of clothes of gold, and of othere thinges for to knowen the manere of every contree amonges Cristene men. And than he leet clepe in alle the lordes that he made voyden first out of his chambre, and there he schewed me four that weren grete lordes in the contree, that tolden me of my contree and of manye other Cristene contrees als wel as thei had ben of the same contree, and thei spak Frensch right wel and the Sowdan also, wherof I had gret mervaylle. Allas, that it is gret sclaundre to oure feith and to oure lawe whan folk that ben withouten lawe, schulle repreven us and undernemen20 us of oure synnes. And thei that scholden ben converted to Crist and to the lawe of Jhesu be oure gode ensamples and be oure acceptable lif to God, and so converted to the lawe of Jhesu Crist ben, thorgh oure wykkedness and evylle lyvynge, fer fro us and straungeres fro the holy and verry beleeve, schulle thus appelen21 us and holden us for wykkede lyveres and cursede. And treuly thei sey soth. For the Sarazines ben gode and feythfulle, for thei kepen entierly the commandement of the holy book Alkaron that God sente hem be his messager Machomet, to the whiche, as thei seyn, Seynt Gabrielle the aungel often tym tolde the wille of God. And yee schulle understonde that Machamote was born in Arabye, that was first a pore knave that kepte cameles that wenten with marchantes for marchandise. And so befelle that he wente with the marchandes into Egipt, and thei weren thanne Cristene in tho partyes. And at the desertes of Arabye he wente into a chapelle where a eremyte duelte. And whan he entred into the chapelle that was but a lytille and a low thing and had but a lityl dore and a low, than the entree began to wexe so gret and so large and so high as though it had ben of gret mynstre or the gate of a paleys. And this was the firste myracle the Sarazins seyn that Machomete did in his youthe. After began he for to wexe wyse and riche.

And he was a gret astronomer, and after he was governour and prince of the lond of Corrodane.22 And he governed it fulle wisely in such manere that whan the prince was ded he toke the lady to wyfe, that highte Gadrige.23 And Machomete felle often in the grete sikeness that men callen the fallynge evylle,24 wherfore the lady was fulle sory that evere sche toke him to husbonde. But Machomete made hire to beleeve that alle tymes whan he felle so, Gabriel the angel cam for to speke with him and for the gret light and brightness of the angelle he myghte not susteyne him fro fallynge. And therfore the Sarazines seyn that Gabriel cam often to speke with him. This Machomete regned in Arabye the yeer of oure lord Jhesu Chist six hundred and ten, and was of the generacoun of Ysmael, that was Abrahames sone that he gat upon Agar his chamberere.25 And therfore ther ben Sarazines that ben clept Ismaelytenes and summe Agarynes of Agar, and the othere propurly ben clept Sarrazines of Sarra,26 and summe ben clept Moabytes, and summe Amonytes, for the two sones of Loth, Moab and Amon, that he begatt on his doughtres that weren aftirward grete erthely princes. And also Machomete loved wel a gode heremyte that duelled in the desertes a myle fro Mount Synay in the weye that men gon fro Arabye toward Caldee and toward Ynde, o day journey fro the see, where the marchauntes of Venyse comen often for marchandise. And so often wente Machomete to this heremyte that alle his men weren wrothe, for he wolde gladly here this heremyte preche and make his men wake alle nyght. And therfore his men thoughten to putte the heremyte to deth. And so befelle upon a nyght that Machomete was dronken of gode wyn and he felle on slepe. And his men toke Machometes swerd out of his schethe whils he slepte, and therewith thei slowgh this heremyte and putten his swerd al blody in his schethe ayen. And at morwe whan he fond the heremyte ded, he was fulle sory and wroth and wolde have don his men to deth. But thei alle with on accord [and oon assent seide] that he himself had slayn him whan he was dronken, and schewed him his swerd alle blody.

And he trowed that thei hadden seyd soth. And than he cursed the wyn and alle tho that drynken it.27 And therfore Sarrazines that ben devout drynken nevere no wyn. But summe drynken it prevyly for, yif thei dronken it openly, thei scholde ben repreved. But thei drynken gode beverage and swete and norysshynge that is made of galamelle,28 and that is that men maken sugre of, that is of right gode savour, and it is gode for the breest. Also it befalleth sumtyme that Cristene men becomen Sarazines outher for povertee or for sympleness or elles for here owne wykkedness. And therfore the archiflamyn or the flamyn,29 as oure e[r]chebisshopp or bisshop, whan he resceyveth hem seyth thus, “La ellec olla syla Machomet rores alla,” that is to seye, “There is no god but on, and Machomete his messager.” Now I have told you a party of here lawe and of here customes, I schal seye you of here lettres that thei have, with here names and the manere of hire figures what thei ben: [the alphabet follows in the manuscript]. And four lettres thei have more than othere for dyversitee of hire langage and speche, for als moche as thei speken in here throtes. And wee in Englond have in oure langage and speche two lettres mo than thei have in hire abc, and that is ? and , the whiche ben clept thorn and yogh.

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