The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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An Andalusian in London Summary

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Last Updated on April 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 218

In 1106, a Jew named Moses was baptized as Petrus Alfonsi and left for England. Though little is known about his early life, he was trained in philosophy, science, and rhetoric, and likely served as a physician for Henry I. In England, he became something of a celebrity, as his level of learning, common in Jewish-Muslim Spain, was still a wonder in England, respected for what was seen as esoteric knowledge. One of his most famous books, Disciplina Clericalis, inspired many future writers. In fact, the simple stories, sometimes containing stories within stories, became a literary form that would span centuries in Europe. He further gave the rest of Europe Greek and Roman stories that had been all but forgotten. Another popular book by Petrus was Dialogue Against the Jews. Again, although the dialogue form of writing had existed for many years in the Arabized world, this form of writing became popular in the rest of Europe largely due to Petrus. The book itself was a diatribe against Islam and Judaism, written by one who knew the religions quite well. Menocal comments on the paradoxical nature of Petrus: although he ultimately wrote against the Jews and Muslims, it was his Arabic Jewish heritage that allowed him to be seen as a truly wise and learned individual in Christian England.

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