Posted by: ken98 | August 27, 2012

An English Gentleman’s Introduction to All Things Arabian – Horse, Peninsula, and People

Day 1080 – Ken here (M)(08-27-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.150-160)(pages read: 2190)

What Gibbon likes, exuberantly

What Gibbon likes, exuberantly

(This posting is a little out of order, I thought it had already posted, but it had gone into a (most probably) self-imposed blog-scheduling black hole.

We start chapter 50, the first of 3 on the Arabs. Chapter 50 is primarily background about Arabia, and a history of Muhammad (ar in the late 18th cent English – Mahomet). There’s not really much to this first day of the first 10 pages – as you’ll see.

We look at Arabian peninsula geography today, a little about its peoples, a little about its animals, well, a little about everything. What is interesting, again, isn’t so much Gibbon’s description of it all (the world is a much, much smaller place in 2011 than it was in 1788) – but in the Arabs and their world refracted through late 18th cent. British eyes. It is a fascinating place, two centuries before the embargo and the oil crisis. I wonder what that part of the world will look like in another 200 years? Or the U.S?

Anyways… on to All Things Arabian…

The Story
Geography and Climate of the Arabian Peninsula
  • The peninsula is a rough triangle – 1500 miles by 700 by 1500
  • No rain, no major rivers
  • Diveded into 3 parts – Stony (Syria), Sandy (middle), Happy (Felix, Arabia Felix or the southern part of the pen. and the part having water and plants – this is Yemen) – actually these are the ROMAN names for Arabia (Arabia Petraea, Arabia Deserta, Arabia Feliz) – an interesting and typical way for Gibbon to refer to the peninsula – using Western (not Arab) names, 2000 years old

    Manners of the Arab Peoples
  • Originally fish-eaters (this from the historian Arrian (ca. 100) – it is interesting again that the only background Gibbon has is an imperial Roman historian of the 2nd cent CE
  • Arabs proper – the Bedouins (Gibbon’s Bedoweens)

    Typical Animals
  • Horse – the Arabian Horse trained, according to Gibbon in the tents of Bedouins along with their children
  • Camel – capable of carrying 1000 lbs – every part of a camel is used – meat, hair, dung, urine
  • What Gibbon doesn’t mention is that while Arabs do cherish their horses, they Absolutely LOVE their camels – in pre-Islamic poetry still extant it is often impossible to know whether the poet is writing to his lover or to his camel

    Cities of Arabia
  • 42 cities per Abulfeda (ca 1300) (Abu’l Fida), Marcian of Heraclea (ca 500) counts 164 – Gibbon doubts this
  • most are in Yemen – Arabia Feliz
  • of course famous Mecca and Medina
  • Mecca – forty miles inland from the Red Sea and the port of Gedda, and equidistant by land from Yemen and from Damascus Syria, trade=Africa to Persia trade, Persian Gulf pearls, incense
  • Famous city of Saana in Arabia Felix (Yemen) – an ancient and rich city – a kind of S. Arab New York of Antiquity

    Independence of Arabs
  • No central government, before Muhammad
  • border tribes usually somewhat clients of either Romans or Persians (famous Ghassanids=Roman, and famous Lakhmids=Persian


    View of Yemen city of Sana

    View of Yemen city of Sana - with ancient skyscrapers in their typical style - a kind of Antique New York of the Arabian Peninsula

    Arabian Peninsula from space

    Arabian Peninsula from space - the bottom corner is Arabia Felix (Happy, fortunate Arabia, land of frankincense and myrrh) the rest except for the northern strip is Arabia Deserta - sandy Arabia, the north, Syria, is Arabia Petraea, Stony Syria - of course these being ROMAN NAMES, the Arabs saw the peninsula a little differently


    Last Word…


    Map of the Arabian peninsula, hanging below the European Peninsula

    Map of the Arabian peninsula, hanging below the European Peninsula - Map of Arabian Peninsula (projection = two point equidistant asia)

    Quotable Gibbon


    That Empty Space Over There

    Granted, the Arabs themselves called the southern inland part of their peninsula Rub’al Khali the Empty Quarter. Gibbon goes a little further. It is a part of the great inland upland region of the Nejd (the Upland) (in Gibbonian=Neged) and has the famous Tuwaiq escarpment – which overlooks the capital of Saudia Arabia today in the 21st cent. Riyadh – in the central desert.

    All this (from the perspective of a late 18th cent British historian) looks a little different:

    In the vacant space between Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Aethiopia, the Arabian peninsula (2) may be conceived as a triangle of spacious but irregular dimensions.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.50, pp.151-152)

    A True Gibbonian Marvel – The Arabian Horse

    Not enough can be said in praise, and no praise strong enough for the most royal of horses – the Arabian. It behooves (forgive me, I couldn’t help it) the English aristocrat to fall all over himself in praising horses, that most class-conscious of possessions, and Gibbon does not disappoint in this regard. It is, in fact, a little odd seeing him so UN-SARCASTIC. Here he is waxing equine-ly lyrical:

    The same life is uniformly pursued by the roving tribes of the desert; and in the portrait of the modern Bedoweens, we may trace the features of their ancestors, (10) who, in the age of Moses or Mahomet, dwelt under similar tents, and conducted their horses, and camels, and sheep, to the same springs and the same pastures.

    Our toil is lessened, and our wealth is increased, by our dominion over the useful animals; and the Arabian shepherd had acquired the absolute possession of a faithful friend and a laborious slave. Arabia, in the opinion of the naturalist, is the genuine and original country of the horse; the climate most propitious, not indeed to the size, but to the spirit and swiftness, of that generous animal.

    The merit of the Barb, the Spanish, and the English breed, is derived from a mixture of Arabian blood: the Bedoweens preserve, with superstitious care, the honours and the memory of the purest race: the males are sold at a high price, but the females are seldom alienated; and the birth of a noble foal was esteemed among the tribes, as a subject of joy and mutual congratulation. These horses are educated in the tents, among the children of the Arabs, with a tender familiarity, which trains them in the habits of gentleness and attachment. They are accustomed only to walk and to gallop: their sensations are not blunted by the incessant abuse of the spur and the whip: their powers are reserved for the moments of flight and pursuit: but no sooner do they feel the touch of the hand or the stirrup, than they dart away with the swiftness of the wind; and if their friend be dismounted in the rapid career, they instantly stop till he has recovered his seat.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.50, p.155)

    Picture of an Arabian Horse - for once Gibbon has nothing bad to say

    Picture of an Arabian Horse - for once Gibbon has nothing bad to say

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