The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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Love and Its Songs Summary

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Last Updated on April 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

Menocal opens this chapter in Niebla, with the death of Ibn Hazm, originally a Cordoban citizen. Ibn Hazm serves as a kind of foil to Samuel of the previous chapter, as Ibn Hazm held onto and glorified the lost Umayyad customs and history. Ibn Hazm had witnessed the fall of the palace and Cordoba; his own father was imprisoned for political reasons, and his beloved died during the fall of Cordoba. After briefly serving as vizier to Abd al-Rahman V, who was promptly assassinated after spending some time in prison himself, Ibn Hazm left, a wanderer from city to city. He wrote hundreds of books on philosophy, science, and love. One of his most famous texts is The Neck-Ring of the Dove, serving as “a tribute to a world of courtliness that Ibn Hazm had just seen obliterated.” It serves as a forerunner to the kinds and expressions of love in literature that were soon to spread across Europe.

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Although Ibn Hazm died believing that his Umayyad culture had died with him, Menocal argues that it was in fact being metamorphosed. In 1064, Normans and Aquitanians laid siege to the city of Barbastro. The Aquitanians left with their spoils, and while the Christian Normans conquered the city, they willingly adapted to Barbastro’s ways quickly. While the Normans greatly influenced some of their conquered areas with their own culture, this did not happen for much of the Islamic nations. The same is true for Islamic Sicily, which eventually fell to the Normans in 1072. Although the Normans stayed, the Aquitanians left to go north of the Pyrenees Mountains, with many Islamic female singers comprising their spoils. This serves again to show how cultures were intermingling and crossing over at the end of the eleventh century.

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Finally, Menocal describes ring songs. Unlike songs that were meant to be heard and enjoyed “with detached connoisseurship,” these songs were meant to be sung and danced to. The rhyme and stanza schemes of these songs were much looser than what tradition dictated for poetry. These songs also included a repeated stanza or refrain, unlike poetry of the past. While the individual stanzas were in formal Arabic, the refrain could change based on where it was being sung to match the local vernacular, what Menocal suggests is a kind of blending of courtly love poetry and a movement toward something more accessible to all. Eventually, Hebrew songwriters would be influenced by this style, and even today, there is a distinct feeling behind Arabic love songs that follows this form, even if unintentionally.

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