. 8
( 10)


þe Arabes vseþ it þat manere of doynge. Ismael was hire auctor. Genesis. þis Ismael was
afterward an archer, and gat on his wif þat was of Egipt twelue dukes, lederes of peple,
þat cleped hem self Saracenys, as þogh þey were i-come of Sarra; but þey beeþ verrailiche
Agarenes, for þey come of Agar Ismael his moder. Also þey beþ cleped Ismaelites, for þey
come of Ismael; and beeþ Madianites also.™
Anonymous translation of Polychronicon, RS 41, II, 292“4.
˜Of this Machumet came the kingdome of Agarenes (whom he after named Saracens)™
(Foxe, Acts and Monuments, I, 166). More emphatically of Muhammad, ˜His mother was
an Ismaelite, whiche Ismaelites being a people of Arabia, wer called then Agarens: Whiche
terme Mahumet afterward turned to the name of Saracens™ (Acts and Monuments, I, 872).
Matar, Islam in Britain, pp. 157“8.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

of Abraham, by his handmaid Hagar); thirdly, the descendants of Abraham™s
companion Ketura; and, fourthly, the descendants of Esau, son of Isaac, who
are called Saracens by (allegedly) Pliny and Ptolemy.36 The author explains:
For Isaac, Esau his father, was the Sonne of Abraham by his wife Sara. And they were
called Saracens, both because they might thereby shew and testi¬e, that they were
descended of the lyne of Sara, who was Mystresse, and not of Agar the handmaid
as the Ismaelites were: and also that they might be discerned and knowen from the
Iewes, who also had the verie same parentes and were proceeded out of the same
stocke and Progenie. Among al these, the people Scenitae which inhabited Arabia
Deserta, were most ualiant and warlike, having no habitation nor houses to dwel
in, but wandred abroade and lay in Tentes in the open ¬eldes.
Very few other writers appear to have gone to so much trouble to distin-
guish the Saracens from the Ismaelites after many generations had solidly
identi¬ed each with the other. Newton does a good job of ¬nding work-
able distinctions between the various names, including the ancient Scenitae,
whose characterisation here closely follows Jerome™s phrase on the Edomites:
˜non enim habent fundamenta nec domus, sed tabernacula, sedes semper
incertas™.37 Newton then explains that Muhammad was descended on his
father™s side from Esau or, some say, from Cedar, son of Ismael. He is, in
any case, captured by Scenitae early in life and brought up by an Ismaelite.
Eventually, after many trials, Muhammad succeeds in his religious endeav-
our and Mecca becomes ˜Metropolitane Citie . . . replenished wyth none
but Mahometans™:
And not only Mecca but all Arabia besides (as they are people by nature lyght of
beleefe and newfangled) embraced his pestilent errours. And from that tyme, all
they whych yelded themselves to that Secte, were called by the name of Saracens,
both because that errour sprong up and was ¬rst begonne by the Saracens, and also
for that, Mahomet persuaded them that all the promyses, in the Scriptures promysed
to the Seede of Abraham, belonged & appertayned to them.38
This is a fascinating attempt to negotiate the tricky issues surrounding the
name Saracen. Newton indicates that pre-Islamic Saracens lived in Arabia
36 37
Newton, A Notable Historie, p. 2. Jerome, Tractatus in psalmos, CCSL 78, 386.
Newton, A Notable Historie, p. 10. The same information is summarised in ˜A Summarie
or breefe Chronicle™ at the end of the main work, in which the date 623 is given for
Muhammad™s appearance with the Qur™¯ n: ˜And therewith seducing the light brayned
Arabians and other ¬ckle minded people of Asia, [he] called them Saracens™ (p. 120). Cf.
Acts XVII.21 on the novelty-loving Athenians?

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

and yet still succeeds in explaining the widespread use of the name as
having been the idea of the people themselves. Moreover, he manages to
incorporate in an explicit form the Christian view that the Saracens, by so
naming themselves, were trying wrongfully to appropriate the Abrahamic
legacy. Jerome had attributed the origin of this wrongful claim to the
ancestors of the fourth-century Saracens; Newton simply brings it forward
in time to the seventh century and locates it in the context of Qur™¯ nic a
claims upon Abraham.
The fact that Islam acknowledges many of the same prophets and events
as Judaism and Christianity cannot at ¬rst have made it easier for Christian
authors to view the new religious movement at all objectively. At the same
time, the exegetically-inspired explanation of the Saracens perhaps died
hard partly because earlier writings on Islam continued to ¬nd new life as
printed editions. At the end of the sixteenth century, a copy of James of
Vitry™s Historiae Hierosolymitanae “ the text which had informed Matthew
Paris™s account of the Saracens “ appeared in print in Brussels, containing
all the earlier author™s views on Muhammad and Islam.39 The following
year, 1597, a quite different book which yet drew on the same ideas was
published by the de Bry brothers. The book is for the most part devoted to
the histories of various of the Ottoman sultans. These rulers™ histories are
followed by an account entitled Acta Mechmeti I Saracenorum principis. Before
the main text begins, the author recounts in a note to the reader some key
historical characters and moments from the book of Genesis (beginning,
with a view to presenting a comprehensive account, ˜Lectori benevolo, in
principium creauit Deus coelum et terram . . .™). This note describes in short
order the Flood, the population of the earth, and then comes to the impious
inhabitants of the earth:
inter quos uel praecipuos Turcas statuimus, quorum historiam in praesenti libello
tractamus, quosque originem suam ab Hagar ancilla Abrahae, quod et nomen
Agarenorum innuit, deducere consentaneum est, licet alias Ismaelitae et Saraceni
secundum ipsorum placitum, uocari uelint.40
˜Fuit autem Mahometus Isma¨ lita, ex Agar ancilla Abrahae, ex progenie Isma¨ lis, hominis
e e
ferocis, cuius manus contra omnes, & manus omnium contra ipsum. Licet enim Saraceni
a Sara, tanquam ex libera, mendaciter & inaniter se nominent Saracenos; verius tamen
Agareni ab Agar, quae concubina fuit Abrahae, debent dici™ (James of Vitry, Historiae
Hierosolomytanae, p. 10).
˜Among whom, or, principally, we place the Turks, whose history we outline in the present
work, and whom it is proper to trace in their origin from Hagar, handmaid of Abraham,

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

The prologue contains moderately dense and abbreviated Latin (abbrevi-
ations expanded in italics above). It does not seem intended for a casual
audience, but forms part of what is, effectively, a book of detailed historical
reference on the Turks. The main text of the Acta Mechmeti goes on to ex-
plain, under a woodcut of Hagar™s casting-out, that scripture teaches us how
Hagar became insubordinate after her conception of Ismael, was punished
and ¬‚ed, and was recalled by the angel who prophesied concerning her son
that he would be ¬erce and warlike and opposed to all his brethren. The
text continues: ˜Hic nonnulli colligunt, et asserunt Turcicam gentem, ab
hoc Ismaele descendere, quod olim is Arabiam incoluit, unde originem illi
ducunt, qui Hagareni, et postea Saraceni appellati sunt™.41 It is interesting,
given the book™s emphasis on Ottoman history in particular, that Turks
should be identi¬ed with the Saracens, the Saracens, as in earlier accounts,
having already been described as claiming ancestry from Sarah secundum
ipsorum placitum.42
In a quite different style but with similar claims to biblical authority,
William Vaughan™s verse-history, The Church Militant (published in 1640),
contains the following lines:
Within this Age likewise the Agarens,
By changing of their Names to Saracens,
Intruded on the Right of Abrams Heire,
On Christs as Moses Lawes and on the Faire
Possessions of the Church in Siriaes Land,
With Aegypt, which to his Arabian strand

which indicates the name of the Hagarenes; even if they wish otherwise to be called
Ismaelites and Saracens according to their own opinion™ (Acta Mechmeti I, preface (˜Ad
˜Several conclude this; and af¬rm the Turkish people to descend from this Ismael, as, long
ago, he inhabited Arabia, whence they derive their origin who are called Hagarenes and
later Saracens™ (Acta Mechmeti I, pp. 1“2).
There is earlier evidence that western Christian authors felt some need to explain the
origins of the Turks in the same way that they could explain the origins of the Saracens.
However, their attempts to build the Turks into a Christian historical framework did
not usually include an explicit genealogy from Hagar. Rather, different writers pursued
different theories (or imitated different sources). By the ¬rst half of the twelfth century,
at least three hypotheses existed concerning the beginnings of the Turks: descent from
the ancient Trojans (parallel with that of the Franks); identity with the Huns or an-
other northern people, sometimes a people earlier locked behind the Caspian Gates by
Alexander; and identity with the ancient Parthians.

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

Now Mahomet doth adde, that by those Three
The Hornes in Daniel might accomplisht be.43

Here, another element in the western representation of Muslims “ the
apocalyptic interpretation of their appearance in order to bring about the
completion of biblical prophecy “ has been combined with the older story of
the Saracens™ self-naming. However, Vaughan, like Thomas Newton, quite
clearly attributes the change of name to the seventh century; the earlier idea
that the Saracens had always been so called because of their own wish to
claim Sarah as their ancestor had given way to the idea that Muhammad
or his followers were responsible. The occurrence of this particular example
from so late in the history of English thought (from, indeed, the beginning
of the period to which Said credits the rise of what he describes as the
˜manifest™, explicitly imperial variety of Orientalism) might be attributed
to something like an antiquarian eccentricity on the part of the author “
except that others write the same.
In a small book published slightly earlier, in 1637, Sir Walter Raleigh (or
another using his name) set out to describe the life and death of Muhammad,
the conquest of Spain and the rise and fall of ˜the Sarazen Empire™. During
his discussion of Muhammad™s background, Raleigh reports:
This false Prophet and usurping Prince, pretended paternally to discend from the
Patriarch Abraham by his eldest Sonne Ismael, and to avoyd the infamie of an
unlawfull bed his successors af¬rmed that Ismael was the Sonne of Sara, not of the
bondwoman Agar whereupon the Arabians (which is the undoubted name of that
people) are by some writers (of Ismael) called Ismaelites, and by others (of Agar)
Agarens. And (of Sara) Sarazens, but in this latter time they are distinguished by
the name of Arabians Moores, and Mahometans, the ¬rst is proper only to those
which inhabit in Arabia: the Moors are the progeny of such Arabians as after their
Conquests seated themselves in that part of Affrica, the Mahometans is the generall
name of all nations that professe Mahomet, as Turks, Tartars, Persians, &c.44

Raleigh is clearly updating earlier information: he follows his explanation
of the names Agarens, Ismaelites and Sarazens “ by which the Arabians were
formerly known “ with terms from ˜this latter time™ for three categories
of Muslim, along with a guide to their correct usage, Arabian and Moore
being geographically speci¬c and Mahometan more generally religious. This

Vaughan, The Church Militant, ll. 198“205; p. 136.
Raleigh, The Life and Death of Mahomet, pp. 25“7.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

account of peoples certainly seems more accurate and better aligned with
today™s understanding of the distinction between ˜Arabian™ and ˜Muslim™
than, say, the assertion made by Matthew Paris that Saracens ˜uerius Agareni
dicuntur ab Agar et Ismaelitae ab Ismaele™. However, in Raleigh™s account it
is European terminology which supplies useful names: the Saracens them-
selves (Arabs, Moors, Mahometans) provided false information. He differs
from Matthew and earlier authors, and comes closer to Newton and Foxe,
in claiming that Muhammad himself devised the theory of descent from
Abraham. What is remarkable is that Raleigh, or whoever wrote under his
name, managed to maintain the theory that the Arabians called themselves
Saracens, after Muhammad had claimed descent from Abraham via Ismael,
because descent from Ismael incurred ˜the infamie of an unlawfull bed™ “
that is to say, the unwanted association with Hagar, the bondwoman.45
Raleigh™s The Life and Death of Mahomet is a small volume, three and a
half inches by ¬ve and a half, containing only about ¬fty-¬ve words to a
page. It is hard to imagine that it was intended for reference use or directed
towards an erudite readership. It is by no means a work of polemic or
religious doctrine; its bulk is taken up with exciting stories of conquest,
resistance, abdicating kings and abducted daughters. Many of the learned
works on Islam during this period were in Latin and most were printed in
much smaller face than The Life and Death of Mahomet. In many cases, too,
they either did not offer an origin for the name ˜Saracen™ or Saracenus or
the word was newly etymologised from an Arabic root, in some cases even
explicitly denying the earlier explanation using Abraham™s Sarah. Hence
William Bedwell, in his translation of a French work on Islam from 1615,
had glossed:
Sarraceni, Sarazins, Sarrasins, are those people which otherwise of the Ancients
were called Arabes, Arabians. Neither were they so named of Sara, Abrahams wife,
as some men do thinke, but of Saraka, which signi¬es Furari, to rob or steale. And
indeed the Arabians have bene and are to this day accounted great sharkers and
Alexander Ross, who wrote the continuation of Raleigh™s famous History of the World,
stated that the Muslims, under « Umar, ˜in a short time subdued the East, and conquered
the Persians, calling them Saracens now from Sara Abraham™s wife™. He provides no
explanation of the signi¬cance of the claim upon Sarah, but retains the idea that it was
the Muslims who originated the name.
˜The Arabian Trudgman™, s.v. ˜Sarraceni™, found at the back of Bedwell, trans., Mohammedis
Imposture (unnumbered).

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

This is certainly a philologically ingenious alternative to the etymology
from Sara, but it hardly presents the Saracens freshly; the name of the people
is con¬rmed by their supposedly real behaviour, as though the relationship
between word and object were not arbitrary but essential, just as the earlier
etymology asserted. Indeed, the content of the de¬nition recalls Jerome™s
categorisation of the Saracens as plunderers and marauders on the edge
of the desert.47 It is even possible that Bedwell gestured towards another
(rhetorical) relationship between the supposed root Saraka and the English
term sharkers.
An alternative origin for the name was offered a few decades later in a
volume of 1649:
the *Saracens (a people so called from their inhabiting the Desart) . . . *Sarra
signi¬es in their tongue a Desart, and Sahen to inhabit. See Sands his Travell.48

This is verging on the neutral, though it disengages the Saracens from
a millennium of Muslim urban life and culture, and its offer to pin the
Saracens down by scholarly means might itself be interpreted as a form of
Orientalism.49 So, after this adoption of an Arabic etymology, the same
author later explains the Saracen adoption of the Qur™¯ n in terms of their
innate criminality and lustfulness:
I never read that any Nation did voluntarily receive the Alcoran except the theevish
Saracens of Arabia, because it was a friend both to their theevery and lechery, as
permitting multiplicity of Wives and Concubins, and a reward for those that shall
murther and rob.50

Clearly, while the etymology of Saracen from Sara might be dying away,
not only the wish to understand the Qur™¯ n as an unholy text but the
wish to continue thinking of Saracens as desert-dwelling thieves and lech-
ers was alive and well during the seventeenth century. It corresponds
neatly with stereotypical Orientalist thought as categorised by Said in

Jerome, LQHGen., CCSL 72, 20“1.
The Alcoran of Mahomet . . . newly Englished, p. 402.
See, for example, Said, Orientalism, p. 72: ˜Rhetorically speaking, Orientalism is absolutely
anatomical and enumerative: to use its vocabulary is to engage in the particularizing and
dividing of things Oriental into manageable parts™.
From ˜A needfull Caveat or Admonition™, p. 4, found at the back of The Alcoran of
Mahomet . . . newly Englished.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Orientalism.51 Descriptions of Saracens as robbers exist from the earliest
biblical commentaries by Jerome; from Jerome, too, derived ideas that the
Saracens were given over to lechery. Whether or not they could be described
as a source for this seventeenth-century text, Jerome™s writings provided
the early introduction of both ideas and his authority gave them longevity
amongst later writers.

Theory 2: the Saracens are devoted to Venus and/or stone-worship
Lechery or luxury amongst the Saracens is also associated with their supposed
connection with Venus. This idea seems to have died out earlier in English
thought than the idea that the Saracens had named themselves, but it still
persisted for a remarkably long time, given the wide dissemination after the
twelfth century of the knowledge that Islam is a monotheistic religion. It
also appears in peculiar forms, which will be described more closely below.
Again, this is a theory which has its origins in biblical exegesis, and
which was spread particularly widely because it was expressed by Jerome.
As described above, the original biblical passage which inspired Jerome™s
comment on Saracen idolatry occurs at Amos V.26, discussing the idolatry
practised by Israel in the desert: ˜et portastis tabernaculum Moloch uestro
et imaginem idolorum uestrorum, sidus dei uestri, quae fecistis uobis™. This
Old Testament passage is then picked up in the New Testament and forms
part of Stephen™s speech in Acts condemning his audience for the persecution
of the prophets. In his speech, Stephen adds the name ˜Rempham™ to refer
to the sidus dei uestri.
Jerome, as noted above, later provided a commentary on Amos which
added, concerning the worship of stars, the explanation that ˜ “sidus dei
uestri”, quod Hebraice dicitur “Chocab”, id est, “Luciferi”, quem Sarraceni
hucusque uenerantur™; he further explained in his Vita S. Hilarionis that
Lucifer could be identi¬ed with Venus, in whose temple the Saracens had
gathered to worship when the saint arrived in town.
Jerome™s tantalising comments informed subsequent generations of opin-
ion about Saracen devotion to Venus. Bede took the idea from Jerome, and
later commentators on the Continent such as Hrabanus Maurus or Haymo

Said, Orientalism, p. 108: ˜These contemporary Orientalist attitudes ¬‚ood the press and the
popular mind. Arabs, for example, are thought of as camel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed,
venal lechers whose undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilisation™.

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

of Auxerre took the idea from Bede or Jerome directly.52 The idea that the
Saracens (had) worshipped Venus seems to have been a contributory factor
in the development of western Christian ideas about licentiousness “ or,
rather, venereality “ in Islam, and may also have provided support for the
notion (which sometimes appears almost as wishful thinking) that Islam was
an idolatrous cult.53 These ideas received further impetus when Christian

Hrabanus Maurus (c. 780“856), Expositiones in Leuiticum, PL 108, 462: ˜Est autem Moloch
uel Melchom, ut saepe etiam legitur idolum Ammonitarum, quod interpretatur rex uester
et sidus Dei uestri Rempham, id est, facturae uestrae, uobis pro Deo suscepistis. Signi¬cat
autem Luciferum, cuius cultui Sarracenorum gens, ob honorem Veneris erat mancipata™.
At around the same time, Haymo of Auxerre (mid-ninth century) commented similarly
in his Enarratio in duodecim prophetas minores (PL 117, 117): ˜sidus dei uestri, quae fecistis
uobis . . . Sidus uero stellam dicit, quae a Saracenis in¬delibus olim colebatur™. Interest-
ingly, the much later commentary of Rupert of Deutz (c. 1075“1129) omits any indication
that the idea of Saracen worship of Venus was now obsolete or at least ancient (Hrabanus
Maurus adopted Bede™s phrase erat mancipata and Haymo used the word olim). Rupert,
in his Commentaria in duodecim prophetas minores (PL 168, 334), appears to cite Jerome al-
most verbatim: ˜quae sit ipsa imago uel idolum, sequenti sermone demonstrauit, dicendo,
“sidus Dei uestri”, id est Luciferi, quam huc usque uenerantur Saraceni™.
The most dramatic example of Jerome™s commentary being turned to polemical use
against Muslims is surely produced by Peter the Deacon of Monte Cassino, composing
his Registrum S. Placidi some time after 1137. In this collection of (substantially forged)
documentation appears the work called Acta S. Placidi which purports to be written by one
Gordianus and contains an account of the saint™s martyrdom in the ¬rst half of the sixth
century, along with thirty companions, at the hands of violently anti-Christian Saracens
who had sailed from Spain in order to eradicate Christianity (Rodgers, Petri Diaconi: Ortus
et Vita, xxxi“ii and xlvii; AASS Oct III, 65“147). It is worth quoting this work directly
in order to show how Peter adopts Jerome™s phrasing for his own anachronistic purposes:
˜Eodem tempore apud paganos, qui in Hispania inhabitabant, Abdala, impiissimus Christi
insectator et hostis, regnum administrabat. Hic Christianae religionis culturam funditus
de terra eradere, et Molochi templa et Luciferi culturam augere cupiens, centum nauium
expeditionem congregauit . . . quemdam crudelissimum Agarenum, nomine Mamucha,
ducem prae¬ciens . . . mandans, ut . . . Christianos ad daemonum Molochi, Rempham
et Luciferi culturam compelleret™ (˜at the same time, Abdala (most wicked persecutor
and enemy of Christ) ruled the kingdom among the pagans who lived in Spain. He,
wishing to root out Christian religious worship from the earth and increase the following
of Lucifer and temples of Moloch, gathered an expedition of a hundred ships . . . making
a certain very savage Hagarene, Mamucha by name, its leader . . . ordering that he force
the Christians into the worship of the demons Moloch, Rempham and Lucifer™; AASS
Oct III, 130). Later, Peter introduces a Saracen who berates the Christians for persevering
in their faith: ˜ “Assentite”, inquit, “nobis . . . negate, Christum uestrum Deum esse,
et nostro more Luciferum sidus Dei nostri Rempham excolite”™ (˜ “Say yes”, he said,

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

authors began to attack Islam through polemic directed at the Qur™¯ n and,
particularly, the life of Muhammad. Permission to practise polygamy was
upheld as an example of contemptible sensuality and authors also con-
demned what they thought to be Muhammad™s promise to his followers of
a paradise of ¬‚eshly delights after death. Speci¬c references to Venus occur
less frequently than these later condemnations and, often, not connected
explicitly with them. However, there seems little doubt that earlier refer-
ences to Venus-worship and devotion to idols in general paved the way for
later, unfavourable interpretations of Muslim practice and they may also go
some way to explaining the origins of western representations of Muslim
The idea that the Saracens had formerly been devoted to Venus-worship
and therefore continued to hold Friday in honour was expressed in the
Legenda aurea, as mentioned above, and thence made its way into very
many manuscript copies, printed editions and, later, translations, including
Caxton™s English version in the late ¬fteenth century. In this example, it is
acknowledged that Muhammad taught monotheism, but the author then
emphasises the earlier days of idolatry. It appears from his account that
followers of Muhammad still exhibit the mark of their erstwhile respect for
Venus by worshipping on Friday.
The same idea, expressed more clearly, also turns up in Ranulf Higden™s
Polychronicon, as had already the idea that the Saracens had named them-
selves. Higden explains:
Igitur Machometus utroque parente orbatus, sub patrui sui custodia annos pueritiae
transegit aliquantoque tempore cum gente sua Arabica idolorum cultui deseruiuit,
potissime tamen Veneris uenerationi deditus fuit. Inde est quod Saraceni adhuc

“to us . . . deny that your Christ is God, and, like us, adore Lucifer, the star of our God
Rempham” ™; AASS Oct III, 133). Rempham must re¬‚ect Stephen™s speech in Acts, but the
inclusion of Lucifer among the names of the idols and the connection with the Saracens
indicate that Peter is also working directly or indirectly from Jerome™s commentary on
Amos. It should be noted that what might be viewed as quite dry exegesis has inspired a
colourful account of a Saracen pantheon in a very bloody passio. While the Acta S. Placidi
was written for use at Monte Cassino rather than for broad circulation, and while Peter
should always be viewed as an extraordinary writer, his creation of Saracens who idolise
a demonic trinity recalls both Reginald™s version of Saracen paganism and, again, the
efforts by the authors of the chansons de geste to bring Saracen gods to material life.
Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 341“2 (modern attempts to explain the origin of the idea
of Saracen idolatry) and, more generally, his Heroes and Saracens.

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

diem Veneris celebrant sicut Iudaei suum Sabbatum solemnizant aut nos diem
Higden™s account does acknowledge that Muhammad and his followers take
up monotheism afterwards, but the implication remains that their Friday
worship represents a fond fossilisation of earlier idolatry (and lechery?). As
with the example of Paris™s genealogy for Muhammad which traced his an-
cestry to Ismael, the indisputable fact that Muslims do in fact worship with
particular devotion on Friday, dies Veneris, must have supplied what looked
like corroborating evidence for the ancient opinion that they were espe-
cially devoted to the goddess. Also as with the earlier example in Higden,
this piece of information is then rendered into English, ¬rst by Trevisa and
then by the later, anonymous translator. Trevisa™s account was presumably
perfectly clear to himself, but, like the example in the Legenda aurea, might
have given pause to a reader who was not familiar with the connection
between Venus and Friday:
þanne Machometus faderles and moderles was in his emes kepynge in his childhode;
he worschipped mawmetrie somwhat of tyme wiþ his contrey men of Arabia, and
he af hym specialliche to worschippe Venus, and þerfore it is þat it the Saracens
holdeþ þe Fridy holy as þe Iewes dooþ þe Satirday and we þe Soneday.
The second English translation, as found in MS Harley 2261, employs
more Latinisms but manages nevertheless to anglicise the crucial point
even further, to the point where it verges on the baf¬‚ing:
The fader and moder of Machometus dedde, he was norischede in his infancy by
his uncle, servynge idolatry with the peple of Araby, iffen specially to the synne
of lechery. Wherefore hit is that the Saracenys halowe the Friday as the Iues do
Seturday, and as we do the Sonday.
Only by reference to the original Latin, or by a fairly inspired example of
lateral Latinate thinking, or by utilising some other implicit link between
Friday and lust, could a reader have appreciated the logical connection
between lechery (ueneris ueneratio) on the one hand and Friday (dies Veneris) on
the other. Otherwise, no sense is to be made of the word Wherefore.
˜So, Muhammad™s parents both being dead, he passed the years of his childhood in the
care of his uncle and for a good deal of time devoted himself along with his Arabian kin
to the worship of idols, but he was especially given to the adoration of Venus. Whence
it is that the Saracens to this day celebrate the day of Venus as the Jews respect their
Sabbath and we the Lord™s day™ (Polychronicon, p. 20).

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

John Foxe cited the Polychronicon in the introduction to the section of
his fourth book known as ˜The History of the Turks™. He quotes Higden,
as noted above, on Muhammad as the namer of the Saracens, and shortly
afterwards provides his own take on the signi¬cance of the day of worship:
˜as we kepe the Sondaye, so they kepe the Fryday: which they call the day
of Venus. He permitted them to have as many wyues as they were able to
maintaine: to have as many concubines as they liste . . .™56 Foxe again states
that the Saracens had named themselves, and even leaves it ambiguous as
to whether it is they or some generalised Latinate ˜they™ who call Friday the
day of Venus. He has also shifted the grounds of the assertion away from any
explicit suggestion that the Saracens adored the planet or goddess. Venus,
according to Foxe, is the appropriate association to make with the holy day
of Muhammad™s followers; the juxtaposition of this information with the
statements concerning polygamy and concubinage makes a point which is
more about sensuality than idolatry. This has by now departed considerably
from Jerome™s ˜sidus . . . Luciferi, quem Sarraceni hucusque uenerantur™, but
it appears to belong to the same continuum of thought about the Saracen
relationship with Venus.
In later centuries, the idea of Muslim licentiousness became widespread
in Europe, partly fuelled by misrepresentations of parts of the Qur™¯ n and
Christian opinion of Muhammad™s life. This concept tended to become
associated with the idea that Venus signi¬ed lust, bringing the goddess
newly into the fray. In some cases comments about Saracen sexuality may
have been made with the exegetical comments about Venus-worship still
in mind, but it is dif¬cult to tell. Thus Bacon categorises Islam under
the sign of Venus because of its voluptuousness.57 This preliminary survey
indicates that at least as far as edited texts known in England are concerned,
examples of Saracen Venus-worship are rarer than the idea that the Saracens
named themselves falsely. This must be partly due to the fact that Islamic
monotheism did become well known reasonably early in the history of
western thought about Islam. It is all the more surprising to ¬nd the record
of their past idolatry reshaped and put to new use in the Polychronicon
and Foxe™s Acts and Martyrs in a form which nevertheless seems to derive
ultimately from fourth-century biblical commentary.

Foxe, Acts and Monuments, I, 166B (bk 4).
Daniel, Islam and the West, p. 168. See also pp. 215 (William of Auvergne) and 243“4
(Marino Sanudo).

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

The term ˜Saracen™ may no longer credibly be used to refer to either
Arabs or Muslims but the perception of Arabs as Ismaelites persists in
some scripture-based thinking. An article in The Revelation (an electronic
publication based in Canada) from the autumn of 2001 analyses political
con¬‚ict in the Middle East in terms of ˜biblical™ revelation, closing with the
line: ˜Earth™s ¬nal con¬‚ict appears to be the ancient con¬‚ict between Israel
and Ishmael™. The article cites several passages from the Bible, including Ps.
LXXXIII.2“8 (on the inimical tribes around Israel, including the Ismaelites
and Hagarenes) and Jer. XXV.15“27 (on the neighbours of Israel, including
all the kings of Arabia and those in the desert) to suggest an apocalyptic
end due to overtake these peoples, identi¬ed with modern Muslim peoples
and states. After citing various chapters in Genesis on the life and death of
Ismael and the settling of his descendents, the article goes on: ˜The family
and religion of Ishmael has produced a mighty people. The ancient Biblical
issues seem to remain the same . . . As much as world leaders try and deny
it, the truth is that the world™s current ills stem largely from the ancient
con¬‚ict over the inheritance of the family of Abraham. It is a confrontation
between Islam and the West.™ 58
The Revelation is not widely read and this article does not appear to derive
immediately from early Christian exegesis of the Old Testament on the
Arabs and Ismaelites. Indeed, it emphasises that the same concepts can be
derived from the same texts in different times and places. Yet in effect it
performs the same function as Bede™s writing on the Muslim conquests,
assimilating a contemporary phenomenon (opposing Saracens or Muslims)
within a scriptural tradition of Israel and Ismael that promises a favourable
outcome for Israel, the true believer. It is also an example of how exegesis
and political desires may ally; and perhaps reinforces Said™s assertion that
the scholar is necessarily engaged with the world because ideas and inter-
pretations continue to have real power on the ground. That assertion itself,
perhaps, lies outside the scholarly realm.

the transmission of ideas
Conspicuously missing from the above catalogue is any serious discus-
sion of sources and textual culture during the various periods mentioned.

The Revelation 12.1 (autumn, 2001); viewable at http://vvv.com/∼revpublishing/islam.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Sometimes, it is easy to guess at what served as a source for an author™s
statement about Saracens; Matthew Paris™s use of James of Vitry is a good
example. In most cases (and in very many cases not listed above) it remains
to provide the genealogy of an idea by showing its probable transmission.
More work, for example, is necessary to clarify the succession of sources
between Jerome and Foxe. It is unlikely that one speci¬c concept about
the Orient could securely be traced generation to generation from ancient
Greek drama to the twenty-¬rst century, but some might be traced more
or less convincingly from the fourth to the seventeenth century, which is
suf¬cient to have a considerable bearing on Said™s thesis.
Also lacking above is any account of unedited writings. Manuscripts of
twelfth-century commentaries on biblical books, for example, may well
contain references to earlier exemplars such as Jerome and Bede and may
repeat their statements on the Arabs, Ismaelites and Saracens. Such repet-
itiveness would make for a dull read but the dullness itself would provide
a valuable insight into twelfth-century ideas about exegetical conservatism
and authority on, among other subjects, the Saracens “ a topic which was
by then of greater contemporary involvement and interest than during the
Anglo-Saxon period. On the same subject, it would be desirable to track
the arrival in England after the Norman Conquest of commentaries written
on the Continent during the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries. The later
importation of works by authors such as Remigius of Auxerre or Hrabanus
Maurus emphasises that English perceptions of the Arabs, Saracens and Is-
maelites were formed and reformed within a continental Latinate context.59
This becomes progressively more pressing an issue as time passes and books
become more numerous and more mobile. Ideally, the arrival in England of
other texts concerned with the Saracens, old and new, would be plotted at
the same time to illustrate the wider background.
This points to one other signi¬cant lack in the above account, con-
cerning the place of the exegetically derived theories within the corpus of
other medieval theories about Islam: the poisonous fables about imposture,
violence and ignominy in the Prophet™s life, for example; the portrayal of
the Saracens as chivalrous enemies or ghastly villains in crusading literature
(chansons de geste and eyewitness accounts); Muslims as living contemporaries

Remigius of Auxerre, Expositio super Genesim, CCCM 136, 117 (rephrases Jerome on
Saracen duplicity); Hrabanus Maurus, Expositiones in Leuiticum, PL 108, 462 (repeats Bede
on Saracen idolatry).

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

in histories, travelogues and pilgrimage reports; Arabs as philosophers and
scientists, and so forth. Some particulars of these representations too enjoyed
a long life and tell us something about what readers and writers wanted to
believe about Islam during this period. However, the information which
high-medieval authors constructed about Islam was not constructed in a
void. It was composed to a greater or lesser extent in accordance with the
information which was already available, and the information which was
already available had for the most part been generated before Muhammad™s
lifetime. If pre-Islamic perceptions of the Saracens had died a death as soon
as authors obtained more up-to-date information, their survival up to that
point could be attributed merely to ignorance (as suggested by the title of
Southern™s ¬rst chapter). This was not the case, however. Authors adapted
pre-Islamic theories so that they would sit comfortably with information
about Islam and then persisted in reusing them even in the teeth of the
evidence. Daniel suggests that this constitutes the establishment of a com-
munal opinion due to ignorance or ˜a special craving for unanimity™,60 but
it is dif¬cult to conceive of John Foxe as a craver of unanimity so much
as a proli¬c author who desired that his enemies be shown to be in the
It is precarious to generalise about the de¬ning viewpoint of an age, and
one could hardly nominate a de¬ning viewpoint to cover several ages. On
the other hand, the ¬ndings of this chapter tend to suggest that in two cases
at least we can point to stable and durable theories which remained verbally
more or less constant (as expressed by authors read in England) over more
than a millennium. The precise content of the assertions shifts, but the
subject-matter and use made of it stay largely the same: Saracen association
with Venus indicates religious wrong-headedness, whatever the exact nature
of their association; wrongful Saracen self-naming indicates duplicity for
no good purpose, whatever the exact intention or author behind the deed.
Perhaps this is the kind of constancy which characterises latent Orientalism
for Said: ˜an almost unconscious (and certainly an untouchable) positivity™.61
However, in the context of quite speci¬c examples as outlined above, it is
hard to know what might distinguish Said™s ˜unconscious positivity™ from
any other process of generating comfortable opinions, unless an Orientalist
mentality just means the tendency to generalise about something which
Said de¬nes as ˜Oriental™.

60 61
Daniel, Islam and the West, p. 283. Said, Orientalism, p. 206.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Elsewhere, Said clari¬es latent Orientalism as profoundly conservative,
dedicated to self-preservation, transmitted from one generation to another.
˜Orientalism staked its existence . . . on its internal, repetitious consistency
about its constitutive will-to-power over the Orient.™62 At ¬rst reading,
this corresponds with Daniel™s ideas about unanimity; but it suggests too
conscious and motivated a process to ¬t with the peculiar survival of the pair
of theories outlined above. In individual authors, such as Bede or Matthew
Paris, one might visualise what can be called a will-to-power over the Orient
in the desire to control it intellectually as part of a Christian history; and
therefore perhaps a will-to-power in their treatment of earlier sources. It has
already been argued that some Crusades literature, being intimately bound
up with political and military aspirations for territories in the Middle East,
might constitute a form of manifest Orientalism.
However, it seems as likely in many cases that inertia or indifference
prompted the readoption of a theory that was convenient, consistent with
the Bible and satisfyingly validative of one™s own habits of mind. If a de-
sire for ideological security equates with a will-to-power over the Other,
Said™s theory of latent Orientalism through the ages must be vindicated by
these ¬ndings. Malice and ignorance helped the transmission of incorrect
information about the Saracens; but while the most frenetic medieval and
Renaissance attacks upon Islam tended to centre upon the Prophet and the
Qur™¯ n in order to assert by all means that they must be wrong, the older
theories sketched above seem to have been repeated for much longer in the
vague expectation that Christian authors must be right.
The later development of these two theories also has something to say
about how acceptable claims to truth were presented at various stages of
English thought about the Saracens. At times, the Venus theory must have
collided with increasing European awareness of Islam as a monotheistic reli-
gion. This certainly is the case towards the end of the period, when Higden
and Foxe were writing. The form of the theory had altered by the ¬fteenth
century to suggest that, despite Muhammad™s monotheistic teaching, a fos-
silised idolatry remained in the continuing Muslim respect for Friday. The
emphasis began to fall upon the Venus-content rather than the worship-
content of the statement and it became a tributary for a body of European
assertions concerning Saracen voluptuousness rather than religion “ as in
Roger Bacon™s categorisation of Islam under the sign of Venus. It was no

Said, Orientalism, p. 222.

Persisting theories about Saracens in post-Conquest England

longer acceptable by this point to lay claim to a truth while stating that
the Saracens were outright polytheists or idolaters. The intended audience
would presumably not have accepted the combination. It was, however,
possible still to suggest religious inferiority by converting the statement
of Saracen idolatry into a question of how genuine or how deeply-felt their
monotheism really was. Later still, it became unworkable to build a truth-
statement upon notions of Christian commonality and authors presumably
realised too that the Venus“Friday relationship worked in Latin, not Arabic.
Commentators on Islam resorted to different foundations of astrology and,
later, the laws of Nature and scienti¬c rationality “ terms that readers could
be expected to agree with.
Similarly with the self-named Saracens: they originated as false claimants
to an inheritance which was only an inheritance according to Christian un-
derstanding. Their name was fake; they were dissemblers; Christian schol-
arship could tell you more about them than they themselves would really
like you to know. The speci¬c content of this idea involved the names Hagar
and Ismael to begin with (well into the late Middle Ages). The idea arrived
some time after the twelfth century that it was Muhammad who had made
the false claim or invented the new name; this ¬ts well with the general
portrayal of him around this time as an impostor. Eventually, European
commentators cottoned on to the fact that Saracenus was never a bid for
Abrahamic inheritance by a set of eponymous impostors. They kept the
elements of the statement which would still bear scrutiny: for a short time,
this included the idea that names express nature, hence ˜Saracens because
they are thieves™ or ˜because they live in the desert™. A supposed innate
relationship between name and nature then presumably ceased to validate
statements and the earlier etymology was pooh-poohed; but new methods
of secular knowledge provided ample means for stating as truth that Sara-
cens (Arabs, Muslims) were untrustworthy, dissembling and yet open to
the expert European gaze.
Is it possible to explain why these two theories in particular lasted so
long? They were ¬‚exible and convenient; they attributed characteristics
to the Saracens which, no doubt, European commentators who thought
about it wished the Saracens to possess. They had very long authority.
Jerome™s name must again be mentioned here; as translator of the Bible,
he remained a huge authority in matters textual and exegetical. They were
both based on explanations of passages in the Old Testament and, too, both
those Old Testament passages were also cited by apostles, as recorded in the

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

New Testament. Whether or not this had anything to do with the success
of the theories in the minds of later writers, it is dif¬cult to say; but it
may have contributed to earlier medieval ideas about the importance of
the Old Testament passages and therefore also the commentaries upon the
passages. The two theories outlined above were based originally on erudite
scholarship which could not easily be veri¬ed, with all the survival-value
that that implies; and they conveyed ef¬ciently the reassuring proposition
that Saracens were unlike Christians in making false statements for self-
serving purposes and worshipping the wrong ideal.


Perceptions of Saracens, Ismaelites and Arabs in Anglo-Saxon England were,
to begin with, almost exclusively the result of literary engagement and
not personal experience. Some experiential information can be found in,
for example, Willibald™s pilgrimage report, but these particular examples
did not reach England during the period in question. Arculf™s pilgrimage
(which was read and used by Bede) appears more typical of the travel genre:
Adamn´ n™s report describes the holy sites ¬rst and foremost, drawing upon a
variety of literary sources to do so, and includes information about Saracens
only when their activities have impinged signi¬cantly upon the unques-
tioned rights of the Christians (whether for good or bad). His intention
to show Christians and Christianity in a good light obscures the historical
value of his comments on Saracens.
Saracens themselves were not given a voice in any texts surviving from
this period, except, possibly, the Vita Willibaldi. Alcuin™s reference to a Dis-
putatio Felicis cum Saraceno may be evidence for an early form of religious
dialogue, but the disputatio itself does not appear to have survived. A use-
ful perspective on Christian literature about Saracens may be gained by
comparing contemporaneous Muslim Arabic accounts of and references to
Christianity and the West.1 It is perhaps worth repeating the obvious point
that the evidence collected above demonstrates clearly (as other scholars have
also shown to some extent) that the beginnings of European thought about
Saracens and the Islamic world lay many centuries before the Crusades and
Daniel and Said themselves do not give any ˜Orient™ a voice in their books about western
perceptions of that Orient, so it is perhaps not surprising that they show European literature
to have been the ˜one powerful discursive system maintaining hegemony over another™
(Said, Orientalism, p. 339). Lewis demonstrated in The Muslim Discovery of Europe that
Muslim authors have their own history of writing about non-Islam, the West and Europe.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

that English ideas about Saracens were well developed before the Crusades
The ¬rst perceptions of Arabs, Saracens and Ismaelites in England were
literary perceptions derived from written Latin and mediated through
learned Christians. Furthermore, they were chie¬‚y informed by pre-Islamic
accounts of Arab peoples in and around the Holy Land. Written Latin offered
space for a full spectrum of representations, from complicated allegorical
analysis to bare chronicle entry. From the very beginnings of Anglo-Saxon
Christian culture, readers might encounter both accounts of Saracens as
biblical Ismaelites and accounts of Saracens as a contemporary nuisance:
compare, for example, Jerome™s or the Canterbury commentator™s interpre-
tations with Cassian™s story of the monks killed by bandits. From Bede™s
lifetime, if not earlier, recent news about Saracens was arriving in England
in documents such as the Liber Ponti¬calis and letters from abroad (Alcuin,
Boniface) and also, presumably, by word of mouth. For a scholar, events in
annals and oral reports ¬tted into a pre-existing exegetical scheme which
related together Christians (Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and the heavenly Jerusalem),
Ismaelites (Hagar, Ismael, Esau, the world, ¬‚esh and devil) and God. Hence
Bede™s success in combining Jerome™s desert marauders with the eighth-
century invaders of Christian lands to reconstruct a single Ismaelite-Saracen
As Bede famously said, England lies apart, in the far north-west.2 The
English made efforts to sustain connections with the Continent: trade
and, with the establishment of the church, missionary, scholarly and pere-
grinatory expeditions to and fro. Throughout the period, business ex-
changes evidently took place between Muslim and non-Muslim merchants
so that Anglo-Saxon England bene¬ted from exotic goods imported from or
through Muslim territory. An artefact such as Offa™s gold dinar indicates a
degree of sophistication in its attempt to evoke the right sort of wealthy and
cosmopolitan background: I am the product, it seems to say, of a European
England, looking eastwards to Rome and Byzantium.
Nevertheless, the material enemies of the Anglo-Saxons continued to
arrive from the north, not from south and east as they did for Rome and
Constantinople. As far as the vast majority of Anglo-Saxon readers was
concerned, the ninth-century Viking raids must have not only focused
attention upon the Danes as a more immediate problem than reported

Historia ecclesiastica, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 14, ll. 1“3, and p. 16, l. 9.


Saracen invasions of more distant lands, but also inhibited the ¬‚ow of mate-
rials between England and the Continent, including texts and information
which could have described those invasions and their consequences in more
detail. The relatively late arrival of the Reuelationes of pseudo-Methodius
in England, compared with their earlier wide circulation abroad, is prob-
ably a case in point. The relatively sparse evidence surviving from Anglo-
Saxon England is suggestive rather than conclusive concerning a general
early English view of Saracens, but it is ample to show that the literary
background for any such view was well developed and that many authors
contributed during the period.
One must also bear in mind the possibility, however limited, of a con-
tinuing oral circulation of news or views which were never written down
but which, perhaps, also inspired an interest or moulded a perspective.
The Canterbury commentator™s record of lectures by Theodore or Hadrian
refers to Persian drinking cups, Edessan melons and inimical, wrongly
named Saracens; what else might the two great teachers have disclosed in
the course of a lesson or conversation? The stray decree from the end of
the eighth century “ ˜cibum in secreto sumere . . . hypocrisis et Saraceno-
rum est™ “ suggests that either George or Theophylact might have been in
possession of other interesting information about Saracens.
Thus, even had eye-witness texts such as the Reuelationes been read by
the odd scholar in England from as early as the eighth century, they might
not have provided much in the way of new perceptions. The second re-
cension of the Reuelationes was edited to bring it more into line with
extant north-western literature on the Muslim conquests and a surpris-
ing quantity of writing had already made most of the same points, al-
beit more dryly. The student who gained suf¬cient expertise in Latin to
work through the Old Testament with reference to Jerome™s commentaries
would ¬nd a reference to the Saracens and their violent vagrancy as soon
as he reached Gen. XVI.12 and consulted the Liber quaestionum hebraicarum
in Genesim on the angel™s prophecy concerning Ismael. If working on the
psalter, he might have seen the comment by Cassiodorus on Psalm CXIX
which explained that the peoples of Kedar and Ismael were now called
Saracens and could be interpreted here to signify ˜sinners™. The ready-
reference of Isidore™s Etymologiae provided a handy selection of informa-
tion culled from Jerome: the Saracens, Ismaelites and Hagarenes and Kedar
were all the same, and all known as Saracens as though descended from

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

A full biblical study would mean also tackling the books of the prophets
along with their accompanying commentaries. Bede consulted these and
a number of contemporary sources to write his own exegeses which were
in turn widely disseminated. Evidently, the Saracens as a present-day phe-
nomenon commanded some interest by this time: not only did Bede re-
produce Jerome™s comments with reference to events around the turn of
the seventh century, he also re¬ned the older account and recorded vari-
ous recent Saracen depredations. The ideas that the Saracens were falsely
named and that they (had) worshipped Venus were both retransmitted in
Bede™s writings. His scholarship enjoyed a wide readership abroad as well as
at home; later continental commentators and historians such as Hrabanus
Maurus and Paul the Deacon drew on his work and included his statements
about Saracens. News of current affairs involving Saracens very probably
stimulated interest in these scholarly accounts of the people which largely
agreed with one another; and the Reuelationes, when they arrived, expounded
their case using much of the same biblical material. The familiarity to a
European point of view of pseudo-Methodius™ version of history is indicated
by the rapid assimilation of the Reuelationes to the norms of the day in the
second recension. The geography moved westwards and the enemies™ name
was changed from ¬lii Ismael to Saraceni.
As far as the learned Latinate representation of Saracens was concerned,
a pattern had settled into place that was not soon to change. Orderic™s
comment about the Saracen cook in the early twelfth century was still
founded upon the etymology of Saraceni as ˜self-proclaimed descendants of
Sarah who are in fact descended from Hagar through Ismael™. In general,
in Europe, such exegetical comments seem to have remained con¬ned to
Latin literature during the early Middle Ages.
In England, references to Saracens were, apparently, largely restricted to
Latin writings until the tenth century. During the tenth century, comments
on Saracens began to enter vernacular written literature in translation, by
which time the Saracen identity as latter-day Ismaelites had informed edu-
cated western thought for centuries. Vernacular representations of the Arabs,
Ismaelites and Saracens should be viewed within the context of the contin-
uing Latinate mythology, bearing in mind the notion of appropriate truths.
An audience that required materials to be presented in the vernacular was
not thought suited to advanced explanations of the Latin words of the Bible
along with their Greek and Hebrew antecedents, four-fold exegesis or the


careful negotiation of work by earlier scholars. It was unnecessary and inap-
propriate “ possibly dangerous to the understanding “ for the unlettered to
enter into exegetical discussions of Saracens as latter-day representatives of
Ismael, the son of Abraham. Inside a Christian community, it was possible
to conceive of the Saracens as anti-Christian simply by reference to historical
event: they attacked such-and-such a monastery, they oppress Jerusalem to
this day. The written representations of historical events thus still formed
part of a Christian literary discourse which was apparently supposed to
be suited to a less erudite understanding. But it would be misleading to
suggest an absolute distinction between ˜learned™ and ˜unlearned™ percep-
tions of the Saracens, or, amid energetic translation and glossing activity,
between ˜Latinate™ and ˜vernacular™. Nor was it necessarily the case that
only the great scholars could transform and redeploy information. Aldred™s
intriguing reference to india saracenorum in the Durham Ritual indicates an
educated awareness of the Saracens which does not obviously derive from a
mere parroting of high exegesis.
The Benedictine Reform introduced new cenobitic ideals and promoted
the translation and glossing of Latin texts (including the Old English trans-
lation of Jerome™s Vita Malchi) and composition in Latin; meanwhile, Anglo-
Saxon acquisition and transmission of verbal culture seems slowly to have
been becoming more textual and less oral-mnemonic.3 The vernacular en-
joyed its status as a satisfactory prose medium. A rudimentary form of
exegesis entered Old English in the form of glosses, so that Ismaelitae could
be understood as synnahyrendra. Although the vernacular never offered to
compete with Latin in becoming a medium for erudition, it seems unlikely
that only the very highly educated would have appreciated literary references
to the Saracens. Ælfric, a teacher who was careful to explain the dif¬cult
and the unfamiliar to a lay audience, provided no explanation at all for the
Saracens in his writings. His accounts of their occupation of Jerusalem and
battle with Theodosius II argue for a simpler, more widespread notion of the
Saracens as a barbarian desert people associated with destruction and enmity
On the origins and anglicising of the Benedictine Rule, see Gretsch, The Intellectual Foun-
dations, pp. 226“60 (on the Old English translation of the Rule of St Benedict), 332“83
(revival of interest in the hermeneutic Latin style) and 425“7 (on the intellectual culture of
late Anglo-Saxon England); evidence for a shift towards the textual end of the oral-textual
continuum has been presented by O™Brien O™Keeffe, Visible Song, pp. 1“14, 23 and 192;
see also Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, pp. 26“32, on use of documents.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

towards the true faith. A general, perhaps vague conception of the Saracens
as enemies of the Christian church was nourished by news of Muslim activ-
ities abroad such as the entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on Otto II and his
victory over the Saracens. It seems likely that many Anglo-Saxons had some
understanding of the Saracens as inimical non-Christians without having
much if any knowledge of their Oriental origins or of Latin literature and
exegetical explanations of the Ismaelites.
Once the Saracens had been explained in biblical commentaries as
Ismaelites, there seems to have arisen little or no opportunity in Anglo-
Saxon England for Arabs to be identi¬ed with either people until well after
the end of the period. Likewise, according to observation, the Saracens were
a contemporary people not identi¬ed with the nomadic Arabs of the Old
Testament. The idea of the Arabs in Old English literature seems to have
faded away into grammatical examples and obscure inhabitants of the land of
the phoenix until their reidenti¬cation with Hagarenes/Ismaelites/Saracens
during the early Crusades. Arabia itself was mentioned more often than
Arabs in Anglo-Saxon England but as an idea it seems mainly to have
survived thanks to the psalter and a few classical references. The Ismaelites
appear in vernacular versions of scripture only as the merchants who bought
Joseph and, as mentioned above, as synnahyrendra in various psalter-glosses.
They were not linked with the Saracens except by implication in one in-
stance in the Old English Life of Malchus.
Saracens, by contrast, seem to have ¬‚ourished in a wide variety of literary
genres. By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, they had appeared in writings
suitable for every level of literacy, ranging from Jerome™s analysis of Isai.
XXI.13 to Ælfric™s sermon on the destruction of Jerusalem. All such writ-
ings, Latin and Old English, provided consistent examples or explanations
of the ways in which Saracens and Ismaelites opposed Christianity. Concep-
tions of the Saracens simply as heathen enemies aided the reader™s construc-
tion of a sense of self and community which centred on the church. Authors
perhaps expected that their audience would the more readily subscribe to
peacefulness, orthodoxy, urban civilisation and divine favour within the
fold of the Christian church if these qualities were implicitly contrasted
with the undesirable Saracen traits of violent aggression, instability, ruin,
idolatry and exile from God in a literal and spiritual desert. In this, the
Saracens differed little from other spiritual villains such as heretics and per-
secutors, and, in the vernacular, the devil, Cain and Grendel. As adversaries
of the righteous community, Saracens in both Latin and Old English share


a number of characteristics with other threatening ¬gures. It remains to
explore literary resemblances between Saracens and, for example, monsters,
other eastern peoples, Jews or Vikings in Anglo-Latin and Old English
To summarise: surviving evidence suggests that most Anglo-Saxon per-
ceptions of Arabs, Ismaelites and the more contemporary Saracens were
formed in a Christian literary matrix, since most people had no chance
to witness Islam for themselves or hear a ¬rst-hand report “ and even a
pilgrim to Jerusalem such as Arculf or Willibald had been informed to
some extent by the Christian literary corpus before arriving in Saracen ter-
ritory. Between AD 600 and 1100, Anglo-Saxon awareness of the Saracens
gradually diffused from a written Latin context to occupy a more general
awareness. For the unlettered who learned about events abroad from a text “
whether by reading Old English, hearing it read or hearing another™s in-
terpretation of vernacular or Latin material “ biblical and historical event
could speak for itself: the record showed that the Saracens and the tribes of
Arabia were hostile towards God™s chosen people. Arabia itself does not seem
to have been characterised so much by indwelling Arabs as by other Old
Testament peoples who, perhaps, appeared more signi¬cant in Christian
In many of the narrative examples cited above “ such as Jerome™s Vita
Malchi, Bede™s Historia ecclesiastica, the chronicle entry on Otto II™s defeat
of the Saracens and Ælfric™s story of the similar victory by Theodosius II “
the Saracens or Ismaelites initially gained the upper hand or initiated hos-
tilities only to be overcome in the end by divine providence or human
representatives of the Christian faith. The popularity of both recensions of
the Reuelationes on the Continent, and their circulation in England towards
the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, suggests not only an increasing interest
in apocalypse and prophecy but also a desire for reassurance among west-
ern readers of Latin that the distressing success of the Muslim conquests
heralded an accordingly overwhelming Christian victory to come.
With the twelfth century and the gathering momentum of institution-
alised military engagement with Muslim rulers, the information about east-
ern peoples which was available to a European audience changed very fast,
becoming even more multifarious and inconsistent. During the ¬rst half
of the twelfth century alone, many kinds of information proliferated, both
old and new. Returning Crusaders must have reported their encounters
with Saracens and the newer people of the Turks while, simultaneously,

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

commentaries from previous centuries were being retransmitted and
up-to-date propaganda and polemic devised to encourage participation in
the crusades. The Qur™¯ n was translated into Latin for the ¬rst time at Cluny
under the direction of Peter the Venerable while the chansons de geste em-
phasised idolatry and polytheism as the characteristic religious attributes
of the Saracens. Accurate knowledge of Islam as a religion and polity and of
Muslims in daily life jostled with hearsay, wishful thinking, polemic and
received opinion; information was acquired, generalised, distorted, consol-
idated and in some cases apparently created from scratch, and yet, in other
cases, the received opinion survived for a surprisingly long time despite its
patent inaccuracy.
Some statements which derived from the Latin literature on Ismaelite
Saracens can still be identi¬ed long after the Norman Conquest. Jerome™s
initial observations, within a Christian tradition of thought, carried with
them certain, perhaps inevitable conclusions, and these conclusions seem to
have been favourably regarded by later authors. Saracens threatened Chris-
tians “ and therefore (one might conclude) embodied the opposite of the
agreed ideal; they were vicious and barbarian, not virtuous and civilised.
They were Ismaelites or Hagarenes who had tried to claim the privilege of
descent from Sarah “ this meant that they were false dealers, yet their ˜true™
nature was on display to anyone with suf¬cient expertise to see it. They
worshipped an idol, not Christ “ their paradigm for the workings of life
and the world was incorrect and primitive.
The wording of these initial observations was reproduced (often verba-
tim) by later Christian scholars until the observations came into con¬‚ict
with different information which was also considered true. In some cases,
new facts could be shown to revalidate the general tenor of an old con-
clusion. Although Jerome™s statement, ˜the Saracens adore Venus (they are
misguided)™ might not remain credible after it became clear that Saracens
were monotheists, a writer could still associate them with Venus and intro-
duce other material on concubinage and polygamy to show that ˜they adore
lustfulness (they are misguided)™. Later, from within a scienti¬c discourse,
one might say: ˜they adore a god (they are misguided)™. In the same way,
˜Saracens are really Ismaelites (they are underhand, but we know them)™
easily enough evolved into ˜Muhammad called them Saracens (etc.)™ and
then ˜Saracen means ˜sharker™ (etc.)™. The concluding prejudices which are
assumed here will be familiar to anyone who has read Said on modern west-
ern views of Islam. Yet these two examples should not therefore be taken


to vindicate his theory. Said™s general thesis has been very often discussed
and it might seem otiose to take it up again here in any detail. How-
ever, in the context of a discussion about Anglo-Saxon literature, Said™s and
Norman Daniel™s use of ˜the Middle Ages™ to understand the origins of later
perceptions of Islam deserves closer examination.

˜ o r i e n ta l i s m ™ , ˜ i m p e r i a l i s m ™ a n d t h e
m e d i e va l p e r i o d
Said de¬ned ˜Orientalism™ as an academic discipline, a corporate institution
for dealing with the Orient and a mode of thought based on a perceived
distinction between Orient and Occident. The latter category ˜can accom-
modate Aeschylus, say, and Victor Hugo, Dante and Karl Marx™.4 As noted
near the beginning of this discussion, Daniel anticipated Said to a degree by
writing in The Arabs and Medieval Europe that ˜from the late 1600s till the
present day, but most strongly in the eighteenth century, Western oriental-
ism has run riot™. His portrayal of western thought about Islam is, at points,
similarly breathtaking in its span of centuries and breadth of de¬nition:
Imperialism is a more important forward reach from the Middle Ages . . . the
awareness of the Arabs that was formed in the Middle Ages contributed to the
imperial movement of the nineteenth century. It provided much of the sense of
being justi¬ed . . . Above all, imperialism has been the movement to control others
for their own good, by which we mean, to force them to conform to our own
patterns of behaviour, or, at least, to our ideal pattern. This seems to have been
normal, whether conscious or not, and whether politically intended or not.5
Daniel™s model of the relationship between medieval thought and modern
activity is, like Said™s, predicated upon the ¬nal result of European empire.
Like Said™s de¬nition(s) of ˜Orientalism™, Daniel™s of ˜imperialism™ runs close
to becoming a comment on eternal human nature “ so general that it may
be applied to almost any act smacking of dominion, whether or not it
has to do with ˜an Orient™ or ˜an Empire™. Putting aside the question of
whether such general de¬nitions are appropriate, it is odd to suppose a sin-
gle, homogenous ˜Middle Ages™ in direct relation to later events in this way.
Said later notes the methodological jeopardy of combining such a broad approach with
selected, speci¬c examples; see p. 8 and, for his more personal response to criticisms of the
method of Orientalism, p. 340.
Daniel, The Arabs and Medieval Europe, p. 322.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Evidence from the previous chapter supports to some extent Daniel™s idea
that medieval concepts can be aligned with later European justi¬cations for
imperial expansion, and this is discussed in more detail below. However, his
discovery of the origins of nineteenth-century political activity in ˜the Mid-
dle Ages™ is surprising. That Daniel at one point proposes a ˜Middle Ages™
extending until 1939 may go some way towards explaining a ˜medieval™
complicity in empire-building, but does not much clarify medieval textual
The ways in which the textual evidence supports an idea of proto-
˜Orientalism™ or proto-˜imperialism™ are rather general. They can be found
with hindsight. Most Anglo-Saxon (and early medieval) accounts imply
or state that triumphant Christians oppose humbled Saracens, whether or
not the latter are also described as Ismaelites. It is possible to infer from
this opposition a foreshadowing of Said™s Orientalism in which triumphant
West opposes humbled East “ or to see an example of Daniel™s imperialism
in the movement to force others to conform to our own ideals.
According to Said, the overtly religious prejudice against the Arabs and
Islam that is visible in such examples is characteristic of periods before
the eighteenth century but in a cryptic manner has still not ceased to
shape western thinking. During and after the eighteenth century, he argues,
increasing secularisation of learning led to a western reappraisal of how to
perceive the world and, ultimately, to the phenomenon of Orientalism itself:
. . . the expansion of the Orient further east geographically and further back tem-
porally loosened, even dissolved, the Biblical framework considerably. Reference
points were no longer Christianity and Judaism, with their fairly modest calendars
and maps . . . race, color, origin, temperament, character, and types overwhelmed
the distinction between Christians and everyone else.7

The intellectual authority of the Bible and church became subject to aca-
demic scrutiny by scholars of archaeology, philology, anthropology and other
secularising disciplines. These offered new and grander conceptualisations
of space and time than could be expressed in the ˜fairly modest calendars
and maps™ which had revolutionised western notions of the world during
the early medieval period.
Said then suggests that medieval Christian modes of thought sur-
vived, hidden in the new eighteenth-century scholarship as ˜a reconstructed

6 7
Daniel, The Arabs and Medieval Europe, p. 2. Said, Orientalism, p. 120.


religious impulse™.8 An implicit prerequisite for his later Orientalists™ hid-
den ideology would be an earlier ˜constructed religious impulse™. Again, the
phenomenon can be found if sought for. Something which might answer to
that de¬nition can be argued to underpin literary representations of Arabs,
Ismaelites and Saracens in Anglo-Saxon England (and, to an appreciable
extent, early medieval Europe). An observation involving the Saracens very
rarely survives simply as an observation. The causes and consequences as-
signed in literature from this period tend to fold events into a distinctly
Christian pattern. The Saracens are not simply attacked, they are encoun-
tered in the act of intending to attack Christians and then prevented, despite
heavy losses on the Christian side. Or they do not simply attack; they attack
the site of Augustine™s bones, which then have to be rescued at high cost;
or they attack in Gaul, then are repaid by God for their per¬dy. Before the
rise of secularised language as the scholarly norm, we can easily suppose
that a constructed religious impulse in the form of charged Christian ex-
pression was a determining factor in the composition and transmission of
information about Islam, Ismaelites, Saracens and so forth.
However, there were exceptions, of a sort. The Saracens in Aldred™s glosses
and Orosius™s Historiae aduersum paganos, both Latin and Old English, are
not very demanding of causes or consequences. They just exist, in their
particular India, or north and east of Egypt between the Mediterranean
and the Euphrates. Perhaps this location and categorisation by Orosius and
Aldred also represent characteristically Orientalist geographical claims to
know and own the East. If so, despite the status of the Historia as Christian
apology and the glosses as Christian explication, their treatment of the
Saracens and the Middle East in general belongs not with religious impulse
but with a more ancient tradition of classi¬cation and hierarchy.9 In the
case of the Orosian geography, though, the same argument might as easily
be applied to its divisions and listings of Scandinavia or mainland Europe.
After all, in local terms, nearly everything lay east of England.
In fact, it is not at all clear from surviving Anglo-Saxon literature that it
records any connection made between an abstract concept of ˜the Orient™ on
the one hand and, on the other, the Arabs, Ismaelites or Saracens, or alien-
ation from God, anti-Christian behaviour and contemptibility in general. As
Said himself points out, the relevant distinction here lies ˜between Christians
and everyone else™. From an early medieval perspective, ˜Christians versus

8 9
Said, Orientalism, p. 121. Said, Orientalism, pp. 57“9.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

Saracens™ cannot be made into a meaningful predecessor for ˜Europe versus
Orient™. To suggest that it can is to exaggerate the place of the Saracens as
the sole enemies of the church, and to assume without much evidence that
they can also represent an inferior and exotic ˜East™. Medieval religious lit-
erature involves triumphant Christians opposing humbled non-Christians;
in terms of superiority, ˜West™ and ˜East™ may be, as it were, neither here
nor there.
This raises the question of whether Daniel™s ˜imperialism™ and Said™s term
˜Orientalism™ “ even ˜latent Orientalism™ “ are not anachronistic when ap-
plied to pre-colonial texts. A theory about conceptualisation of the North
in western medieval Europe might be proposed by contrast.10 Anglo-Saxon
literary reactions to the raids and then settlement by Vikings and Danes
sailing from the north would compare very interestingly with the earliest
Christian responses in the eastern Mediterranean and Constantinople to
Islamic conquests from the south. The names used to refer to the raiders,
including h¦þene and nor°menn, suggest a religious-geographical percep-
tion.11 Patristic writings indicate a tradition of regarding the north or the
north-west as the seat of evil, based on exegesis of Isai. XIV.12“14 con-
cerning Lucifer™s throne in the north (lateribus aquilonis), and Jer. I.14 on
the breaking forth of evil from the north (ab aquilone).12 The tradition of
Lucifer™s throne was translated into Old English, which seems to have cul-
tivated its own image of a watery, frozen, craggy hell.13 As Thomas Hill has

Such a theory could also admit a few perceptions of ˜Muslim™ peoples, since the Turks were
thought by many commentators to be a characteristically northern, rather than eastern
race, and were sometimes described as descending from the north; see, for example,
Sigebert of Gembloux, Chronica, MGH SS 6, 302, and William of Tyre, Chronicon, CCCM
63, 114“15. In vernacular literature of the thirteenth century, too, Saracens and northern
pagan armies appear to have been presented to all intents and purposes as the same or
equivalent attackers, King Horn providing notorious examples.
See, for example, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle MS C under the years 787, 937 (Battle
of Brunanburgh) and 942 (ed. O™Brien O™Keeffe, pp. 50, 78 and 79“80); and the Old
English verse Genesis, ll. 1976“8 and 1995“6 on nor°menn in biblical adaptation.
˜Quomodo cecidisti de caelo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris? Corruisti in terram qui uul-
nerabas gentes, qui dicebas in corde tuo in caelum conscendam super astra Dei exaltabo
solium meum; sedebo in monte testamenti in lateribus aquilonis; ascendam super al-
titudinem nubium, ero similis Altissimo™ (Isai. XIV.13); ˜Et dixit Dominus ad me, ab
aquilone pandetur malum super omnes habitatores terrae™ ( Jer. I.14)
See, for example, Ælfric, Catholic Homilies: The First Series, ed. Clemoes, p. 179 (1.1.31“4),
and The Vercelli Homilies, ed. Scragg, p. 316 (19.15“19). The cold northern hell of the Visio


pointed out, there also already existed a patristic division between north-
west and south-east, which represented, respectively, the ungodly and the
godly.14 Generally speaking, the north was thus associated with Babylon,
the devil, the Antichrist and the sinful chill caused by a lack of warm caritas
in the heart.15 The same distinction between the devil™s direction and God™s
was expressed in Old English verse in Christ III, Genesis A (division north“
south) and Genesis B (north-west“south-east). It is alluded to in Latin in two
passages by Bede in his Historia ecclesiastica, the Visio S. Pauli and Stephen
of Ripon™s Vita S. Wilfridi.16 At different times and in different languages,
Alcuin, Byrhtferth and Wulfstan tried to explain the Viking raiders who
attacked Anglo-Saxon communities as God™s characteristic punishment of
his chosen but sinful community (an explanation which had also featured in
a number of Christian reactions to Muslim conquest).17 Northern peoples
appeared in texts on the Continent too, often simply as historical entities in
chronicle entries, but quite regularly announced in biblical terms or with
reference to Jeremiah.18
Aquilo according to a biblical author east of the Mediterranean could be
reused as aquilo by a medieval writer who lived himself in northern Europe.

S. Pauli also appears famously in The Blickling Homilies, ed. Morris, no. 17 (pp. 209“11)
where it is seen to lie northwards, and in Beowulf, ll. 1357“76; on the grim north, see also
Wanderer, ed. Leslie, l. 104; Seafarer, ed. Gordon, l. 31; Beowulf, ed. Klaeber, l. 547, etc.
Hill, ˜Some Remarks™, pp. 303“4.
Salmon, ˜The Site of Lucifer™s Throne™, pp. 119“20.
Hill, ˜Some Remarks™, pp. 309“10. The passages in Historia ecclesiastica were then also
translated into Old English.
Alcuin, Epistolae, MGH Ep.car.aeu. II, 42“4, 45“9, 53“6 and 57“8 (Lindisfarne) and es-
pecially p. 55 in a letter to the brethren of Wearmouth-Jarrow: ˜Vos maritima habitatis,
unde pestis primo ingruit. In nobis impletum est, quod olim per prophetam praedic-
tum est: “Ab aquilone inardescunt mala et a Domino formidolosa laudatio ueniet”. Ecce
fugax latro boreales insulae nostrae partes peruasit™ (˜You inhabit the shoreline, whence
the plague ¬rst broke. In us is ful¬lled what was said through the prophet long ago:
“From the north evils ¬‚are up and from the Lord comes terrible acknowledgment” [ Job
XXXVII.22]. And see, the swift bandit invades the northern parts of our island™). Byrht-
ferth characterised the Vikings who martyred King Oswald as a biblical people of the north
by citing Jeremiah™s complaint; see his Vita S. Oswaldi, pp. 54 (Latin) and 55 (English).
For Wulfstan, see Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, ed. Bethurum. On the earliest Christian responses
to Islam, see above, pp. 39“42.
See, for example, Abbo of Fleury, Passio S. Edmundi, pp. 71“2 (an important passage);
Sigebert of Gembloux, Chronica, MGH SS 6, 302; and Folcuinus of Lobbes, Gesta abbatum
Lobiensium, MGH SS 4, 61.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

It could be moved around as convenient. This is not true of the eighteenth-
and nineteenth-century Orientalised Orient, which, despite Said™s insistence
upon its status as a literary construct, still has reference to a geopolitical
constant. Bede criticised the Saracens wherever they were, and ˜Eastness™
had nothing to do with it. It is true that medieval readers inherited clas-
sical writings which discussed ˜the wonders of the East™, for example, in
relation to the world-view of the ancient Greeks and the Roman Empire,
but then north-western Europe had been marginalised and fabulised in the
same literature and Britain itself was reinherited by its own inhabitants at
the edge of the world. Is it possible that it was not until considerably later
that a generally north-western European sense of political, geographic and
cultural community allowed the abstract Orient, the concrete Orient and
the Islamic Orient to be located in more or less the same place for all ex-
pected readers?19 Today, substantial third- and fourth-generation Muslim
and Hindu communities outside the Middle East and Indian sub-continent
once again complicate theories of continuing Orientalist prejudice by erod-
ing the geographic content of an ˜Oriental™ identity.
It seems to be the case that only hindsight can distinguish the ˜Oriental-
ism™ of the Middle Ages from the same mixture of scholarship, xenophobia,
historical record and outrage which characterised medieval Christian views
of the North or, indeed, of Saracens. There exists (as yet) no sweeping anal-
ysis which involves “ to take the example of ˜the North™ “ early ideas about
the diabolic aquilo, Wulfstan™s exhortation to stand up to and ¬ght the en-
emies of the North and eighteenth-century proposals to civilise the savages
of the Arctic and make good use of their resources in the interests of the
Empire.20 Therefore we do not think in terms of an eternal ˜Septentrionalist™
mindset underlying western empire-building which could, in retrospect,
turn patristic exegesis and medieval polemic about various ˜norths™ into a
kind of pre-meditation of the imperial act. The modern reader of medieval
opinions about the North cannot experience the history-telescoping frisson

Compare twentieth-century views of the ¬xed West in, for example, Carrier, ed., Occiden-
Nevertheless, there is a myth of ˜the frozen North™ as well as of ˜the fabulous East™ which
might repay closer examination, particularly in light of recent proposals from Washington
to make use of its northern oil resources. Furs and gold were sought from Alaska, the
Yukon and further north from around the same period that colonial enterprise was being
re¬‚ected in European literature, and several authors “ Jack London and Rudyard Kipling
among them “ took up the topic of adventure and gain in a barbaric North.


that accompanies Said™s account of the centuries of ˜latent Orientalism™.
This is to cast doubt, as several critics have already done, on Said™s own
construction of a uni¬ed Orientalist hegemony throughout all European
thought.21 In Anglo-Saxon England, at least, a poor view of Saracens does
not seem to have involved a location Oriens nor a racial dislike different from
any other dislike of peoples who lived outside civilisation.
Said also describes a conceptual movement from Christian claims about
the Orient to scienti¬c claims about the Orient in terms which suggest
that the religious spirit of an earlier age had migrated into a new secular
corpus. His insistence upon a medieval religiosity yet lurking in Oriental-
ism is underlined by his repeated descriptions of modern Orientalists using
metaphors of religious doctrinarianism. He seems to say that innately reli-
gious ideas simply altered their linguistic garb “ that Christian patterns of
history and the medieval conceptual repertoire continued to live under the
disguise of science. To quote his argument more fully:
But if these interconnected elements represent a secularizing tendency, this is not to
say that the old religious patterns of human history and destiny and ˜the existential
paradigms™ were simply removed. Far from it: they were reconstituted, redeployed,
redistributed in the secular frameworks just enumerated. For anyone who studied
the Orient a secular vocabulary in keeping with these frameworks was required. Yet
if Orientalism provided the vocabulary, the conceptual repertoire, the techniques “
for this is what, from the end of the eighteenth century on, Orientalism did and
Orientalism was “ it also retained, as an undislodged current in its discourse, a
reconstructed religious impulse, a naturalized supernaturalism.22

When Orientalism supplies the secular framework, the conceptual reper-
toire and the techniques as well as an appropriate secular vocabulary, it is
hard to put one™s ¬nger on just where the ˜reconstructed religious impulse™
might rest in an Orientalist text. Perhaps it might consist in a supposed

For example, see Dallmayr, Beyond Orientalism, p. 118, quoting W. Halbfass: ˜One of
the main problems of Said™s conception is the blending of “highly selective historical
observations” with broad philosophical and metaphysical “generalisations”, with the latter
often riding roughshod over the task of concrete historical interpretation. Resulting from
the merger of “very speci¬c and very general traits”, Orientalism is in danger of appearing
as a “historical and conceptual hybridisation that is no less a construct and projection than
the so-called Orient itself”.™ The problem, here, is less that Orientalism is a construct as
that it is, in places, an unpersuasive construct.
Said, Orientalism, pp. 120“1.

Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Islamic world

European wish for the conclusions of earlier observations about the Sara-
cens to be correct even if the observations themselves had been formulated
unacceptably. Like the Orientalists, medieval authors discussed Islam and
the East using an appropriate conceptual and lexical framework to body
forth their views and to evoke wider agreement. Whether or not the views
remained the same when the discourse changed is not so easy to estimate,
though Said and Daniel seem to assume, perhaps using Occam™s razor, that


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