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  • A Missing History of the Kings of the Franks in Cairo! March 9, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    medieval cairo

    Our latest contribution to the burning library series is glimpsed, painfully briefly, in a tenth-century Arabic source. In the year 947, by the Christian calendar, the Islamic scholar Al-Mas’udi (obit 956) was rifling the shelves of a library in Cairo when he came across a suprising work. He had stumbled upon A History of the Franks by one Bishop Gotmar. His written summary – in The Meadows of Gold Al-Mas’udi’s vast universal history – includes several treats including Clovis rendered as Qulüdwiyuh.

    But, of course, there is a more difficult question. How on earth does a Christian book find its way to Cairo, particularly in a period where hostility between Christians and Muslims was growing both in the Levant and in Iberia? In fact, we know precisely who Gotmar was and when the book passed from Christian to Muslim hands. In 940 Gotmar, bishop of Girona, had travelled into Al-Andalus to negotiate an understanding between the Count of Barcelona and the Arabs of Cordova. He gave Prince Al-Hakam there a book entitled The Book of the Kings of the Franks, written apparently by Gotmar himself. This Book on the Kings of the Franks was a strategic and intelligent present as the Counts of Barcelona were effectively switching obedience from the Christian Franks to the Arab Cordovans at this date: Gotmar’s work might have been subtitled ‘understand us a little better’.

    Sometime in the next seven years Gotmar’s now lost volume was copied and brought to Cairo, apparently translated into Arabic: or did Gotmar himself bring the book already written in Arabic for the Cordovans? In multicultural, medieval Spain everything is possible. In any case, savour for a moment the meeting between Al-Mas’udi, born in Bagdad, a visitor to East Africa, the Caspian Sea and possibly India and Bishop Gotmar’s lost work, in Arabic script, telling of the line of the Franks and the cold north, Paris and even Britain and arctic waves beyond.  How great is the loss of Gotmar’s work? It probably included dynastic gossip from the previous three centuries, but it would have had a precious sub-Pyrrenean perspective at a date when that was rare. The truth is that any book from the tenth century, particularly a history book, would be valuable for our understanding of that obscure period in western history. How much more beautiful though to find this volume written in early medieval Arabic on a book stall in Old Cairo… We can dream.

    Other lost books: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com