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  • God on a Medieval Fish October 29, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    God on a Medieval Fish

      The idea that words or images spontaneously appear on natural objects has long fascinated gullible human beings, and perhaps particularly the Muslim faithful: the letters ‘Allah’ on the filaments of a cut eggplant etc. Quite why there should be more interest in the generation of natural words in Islam it is difficult to say. […]

    The Bird Tree and Barnacle Geese September 10, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Bird Tree and Barnacle Geese

    Beach has previously looked at tall Arab tales about trees, including the mythical children tree. However, what about this pleasing nonsense associated with Britain and Ireland? The source is Rashid al-Din and we are in the fourteenth-century. Opposite [Spain] in the midst of the Encircling Ocean are two islands, of which one is Ireland. From […]

    Arab Embassy to Dark Age Scandinavia July 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Arab Embassy to Dark Age Scandinavia

    The Vikings were attacking everyone in the ninth-century and this included the Arabs of southern Spain. After their most famous raid, in 844, when Seville was memorably captured by those northern psychos, the Emirate of Seville did something quite extraordinary. He decided to send an embassy to the Viking homelands to buy them off. This […]

    Medieval Whaling Account from Ireland? June 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Whaling Account from Ireland?

    Beach was very excited to find this reference yesterday from the works of al-`Udhri an eleventh-century Arab writer in Spain (thanks to Caitlin Green). Al-‘Uhdri was quoted by another author (al-Qazwini) in the thirteenth-century. This passage allegedly shows a glimpse of Ireland through Arab eyes. The Norsemen have no capital in all the world save […]

    Review: Death of a Princess July 2, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Review: Death of a Princess

    Death of a Princess, a modest British television documentary, turned out to be the most expensive film ever made. It cost perhaps  a billion pounds and this was in 1980 when that kind of money could buy your three or four aircraft carriers. The piece, made for British television, tells the story of a nineteen-year-old Saudi […]

    Seduction by Hashish June 14, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Seduction by Hashish

    Modern proponents of the legalization of marijuana point out that other societies, particularly Arab society, never had any problems with cannabis and its derivatives. Beach, rather innocently believed the same thing, until he read recently about the fear of hashish in the medieval Arab world in a fine chapter by Franz Rosenthal in his Man […]

    The Children Tree November 18, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Children Tree

    There are some rare accounts from the middle ages (though not from antiquity?) of trees that are alive. The following comes from the great eighth-century Chinese geographer Du You. Du You is talking here of the Dashi, the Chinese word for the Arabs, that have just started to come onto the horizon with the Islamic […]

    The Pleasure of He Who Longs to Cross the Horizons November 12, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    The Pleasure of He Who Longs to Cross the Horizons

    A good book title should be like a good wine. It sits on your tongue and then spreads and then evokes… And there can be no genre of scholarly writing that evokes better than geography and travel literature the discoveries of those who, to respectfully rephrase one of the titles below, dared the horizon. Beach […]

    How Islam Created the Italian Renaissance November 16, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    How Islam Created the Italian Renaissance

    The Renaissance! What’s not to like: Leo flying; Micky chipping at marble; men in tights and women in bodices; the pop, snap, crackle of Kultur; and cherubs falling from the sky like hailstone. According to the textbooks fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italians, more particularly the urban Italians of northern Italy rediscovered the Greek and Romans and […]

    The Voting Diaspora February 24, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite
    The Voting Diaspora

    A diaspora is, of course, the citizens of a country who live outside their homeland but who still have a strong or residual loyalty to the patria. Diasporas have long mattered in history because they end up influencing the foreign policy of their adopted countries and, all too often, the domestic agendas of their countries […]

    Was Chess Invented in Ireland or China or India or…? November 5, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Was Chess Invented in Ireland or China or India or...?

                    There is a general consensus that chess came out of the east, that it arrived in Europe through the Arab Mediterranean and that from there it made its way to the royal courts of France and Germany. Certainly, by the fifteenth century a game that we recognise […]

    Roman Empire vs Caliphate in Sub-Saharan Africa October 7, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Roman Empire vs Caliphate in Sub-Saharan Africa

    By the mid first century AD the Roman Empire had run against four limits, limits that its subjects would never overcome: in the west, the Atlantic; in the north, the German tribes (thanks Varus); in the east, the ‘Persian’ Empire and its successors; and in the south, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert beyond. […]

    Islam Creates Europe June 27, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Islam Creates Europe

    Modern Europeans tend to have mixed feelings about the rise of Islam: Islam and Christianity have, after all, been butting heads for the last fifteen hundred years. What is not normally appreciated though is the fundamental role Islam had in creating Europe. Islam, it will be remembered, was born in the Middle East in the […]

    The Eastern Origins of Playing Cards June 23, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Eastern Origins of Playing Cards

    There are few things in history more entertaining than the transference of ideas  from one culture to another and the various misunderstandings that arise as the borrower fails to understands the lender. In our own day it is enough to hear an American university lecturer speak about Derrida or a Saudia Arabian discuss the British […]

    Honey and the Anvils of Women’s Thighs April 25, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Honey and the Anvils of Women's Thighs

    Beachcombing has been enjoying some reading in Arabic aphrodisiacs: aphrodisiacs understood as any food that creates desire or that deals with problems of desire from impotence to disinterest. The Arab world seems to have been pre-eminent in this field and opusculi were written with such wonderful titles as the medieval The Book of Exposition in […]

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