Montpellier and the South of France
|"Tour des Pins" |
Unlike today, many centuries ago the positions of the Western Christendom and the Muslim civilisation were completely reversed. At the time, the Islamic lands were flourishing whilst Western Europe was going through its dark night. Scott tells, that
`While the Christian world was enveloped in darkness, and of all learning save that of worthless metaphysics and polemic theology had been banished from the minds of men; while England was distracted by Danish and Norman invasion, and barbarous monks defied the authority of her kings in the very presence of the throne; while Charlemagne was desolating the provinces of Germany by sweeping and merciless proscription; while ecumenical councils were proclaiming the virtues of celibacy and the sanctity of images; while the populace of Rome was amused by the scandal of female pope; during this period of intellectual stagnation the Moorish princes of Spain and Sicily, alone among the sovereigns of the West, kept alive the sacred fires of art, science, and philosophy.'
Draper provides a more detailed description of this contrast. He tells us how, whilst self-sufficient and secure medieval Islamic cities possessed a thriving farming sector and were surrounded by dense green belts, 16th century England still had highwaymen on the roads with its people suffering from poverty and being at the mercy of the seasons. In more flowery language he holds:
`From the barbarism of the native people of Europe, who could scarcely be said to have emerged from the savage state, unclean in person, benighted in mind, inhabiting huts in which it was a mark of wealth if there were bulrushes on the floor and straw mats against the wall; miserably fed on beans, vetches, roots, and even the bark of trees; clad in garments of un-tanned skin, or at the best of leather-perrenial in durability, but not conducive to personal purity- a state in which the pomp of royalty was sufficiently and satisfactorily manifested in the equipage of the sovereign, and ox cart, drawn by not less than two yokes of cattle, quickened in their movements by the goads of pedestrian serfs, whose legs were wrapped in wisps of straw; from a people, devout believers in all the wild fictions of shrine miracles and preposterous relics; from the degradation of a base theology, and from the disputes of ambitious ecclesiastics for power, it is pleasant to turn to the south west corner of the continent, where, under auspices of a very kind, the irradiations of light were to break forth. The crescent in the West was soon to pass eastward to its full.'
There was a city and its region which were going to be a point of passage for that bright crescent; it was Montpellier and the south of France that separated the light of Muslim Spain from the barbarism of the North. How and why did this region play the part?
There were two simple reasons. The first factor was the closeness of the south of France to Muslim Spain. Dulieu notes how Montpellier had to have relations with the Islamic lands of Spain especially when the brilliant schools of Andalusia could only impress the Montpellier masters. This leads onto the second reason which was the Western Christian awareness and probable envy for what was beyond the mountain chain of the Pyrenees that separated France from Spain. The Muslim civilisation was prospering in the Iberian Peninsula.
`Accounts of the marvels to be seen beyond the Pyrenees (i.e. in Muslim Spain),' Scott narrates, `[include] opulent and flourishing communities, where the meanest citizen was in the daily enjoyment of comforts unattainable as luxuries by the greatest potentates of Christendom; edifices whose decorations surpassed in richness the wildest conceptions of Oriental fiction; vast plantations, where fruits, unknown to colder climes, grew in prodigal abundance; caravansaries and markets crowded with a profusion of costly fabrics, and resounding with a Babel of strange and guttural tongues; institutions of learning frequented by tens of thousands of students, whose attainments-extraordinary in a world of ignorance-were believed to have been secured by an unholy compact with the infernal powers. The existence of this civilization in close proximity to the semi barbarous Mediterranean nations and the salutary experience of its benefits could not fail to produce upon the latter a deep and lasting impression.'
`Semi barbarous Europe,' Scott continues, `looked with wonder upon a land so blessed by nature and adorned by art; where the remains of classic antiquity were taught in the same schools with the botany of Syria and the chemistry of Spain; where a philosophic spirit of inquiry had awakened the noblest aspirations of the human intellect, and where knightly courtesy had replaced the rudeness of the sword.'
To these two strong factors, Dulieu also adds the commercial aspects, stating that Muslims had extensive trading links in the city even coming from as far as the Muslim East. Such commercial links were accompanied by the influences of Muslim literary and scientific achievements. This impact, Dulieu insists, was intellectually welcomed by the local community and Muslim sciences, such as medicine, found not just a comprehending echo, but also excited interest.
Soon Montpellier and southern France acquired what their neighbours in the south under Islam had. Islamic scientific influence soon found home in southern Provence which received and began itself to diffuse Islamic science, arts, literature and architecture northwards to the rest of France and Europe. In the view of Haskins, in the dissemination of Islamic science up north, the role of southern French cities and regions like that of Montpellier was crucial. The latter especially played the central role and, as Watt explains, Montpellier was the city with the closest ties to the Muslim schools of southern Spain. At the time a considerable Muslim and Jewish population (schooled in Muslim education and learned in Arabic) were living in the French city and the Christian population were also able to speak Arabic. Just as in neighbouring Muslim Spain, education was available for all and when contrasted with the ignorance of contemporaneous societies, it was remarkable in its scope and efficiency. The practice of improvisation - the composition of extemporaneous poetry - derived from the imaginative tribes of the Arabian Desert and for generations the delight of the capitals of Muslim Spain, found in this part of France its most fascinating expression and its highest development. The influence that Troubadour and Trouvere (poets and minstrels), during their incessant wanderings, exerted upon the provincial dialects in which their productions were composed, and the extensive distribution of the latter, did more than all else to form and perfect the language of France, just as it was to do in Italy too. Much of the architecture of Southern Europe, especially in buildings devoted to religious worship, present unmistakable evidences of their Muslim origins. They enable the perpetuation of the memory of the arts, which were promoted in the construction of magnificent and imposing edifices. In a thousand ways the march of intellectual improvement, inspired by the presence and example of Muslim skill and learning, was accelerated in the provinces of the South of France. The impact was social, too, for
`Woman, hitherto considered slave, subjected to the caprice of an imperious and irresponsible master, was raised by the hand of chivalry and made the cherished companion, if not the equal, of her lord.'
The two Muslim sciences of astronomy and medicine spread in the southern French province. Haskins says that, by the 13th century, Montpellier was a well known centre of Muslim astronomy and also medicine whilst Sarton informs that the city developed primarily as a school of medicine and as a school of law. The famous University of Montpellier, a manifestation of the intellectual ideas and spirit which pervaded the South of France, was for generations a monument to the progress and erudition of the inhabitants of Languedoc. Montpellier University, like other early universities, had first started as a medical school and its teaching was shaped by the Muslims' medical achievements. Montpellier University was also an offshoot of Salerno (the city where Constantine the African made his translation of Ali Abbas' Al-Majusti's book, The pantegni, and where he had brought works of the doctors of Al-Qayrawan, especially Ibn al-Djazzar, from Tunisia where, under the Aghlabids, medical studies thrived). The earliest statutes of the medical school of Montpellier date only from 1220 and the organization was completed in 1240 and recognized by a papal bull in 1289. By that time Montpellier had already blossomed into a studium generale and after the heyday of Salerno was over, Montpellier was, for a short period of time, the leading medical school in Europe. Scores of Latin scholars with Salernitan background passed through and worked at Montpellier. Bernard of Provence, also known as Bernardus Provincialis, was a Salernitan physician who flourished in Provence in the third quarter of the twelfth century. He wrote commentaries on the Tabulae of Salernus and on the Practica of Bartholomew (first half of the twelfth century) and showed a tendency towards a simplified pharmacopoeia.
|The assault against the Cathars at Beziers.|
Giles of Corbeil, also known as Aegidius Corboliensis, (d. ca 1224) was a French physician and humanist from Ile-de-France, who also studied in Salerno and who stayed for a while in Montpellier, before travelling to Paris where he became canon of Notre Dame and archiater to Philip Augustus (King from 1180 to 1223). He wrote medical poems in Leonine verse which are very important for the reason that they were the main channel through which Salernitan lore reached the Parisian doctors. These poems also contain interesting information on the medical customs of his time. His principal works such as De urinis (or De urinarum judiciis) were the most popular textbook on uroscopy in the Christian West until the sixteenth century, as is illustrated by the number of manuscripts, editions and commentaries listed by Sarton, and again, as might be observed, they carry the distinct Salernitan content, itself inherited from al-Qayrawan. There is nothing better to help form a precise idea on the Islamic medical impact on Montpellier than by looking at its faculty of medicine and making a summary of some of the original Islamic manuscripts it contains:
- Abulcasis (Al-Zahrawi) (10th century Spain): H.89-Pars tertia libri Abulcasis-XIII_XIV centuries; .
- Ametus (Abu Djaafar Ahmad ben Ibdahim) (d. 1009 in the Maghrib): H. 277-XIV-XV c. (f. 65. Epistola Ameti filii Habre… de proprietalibus ad qemdam consanguinem suum…).
- Avenzoar: (Spain; d. 1162): H. 25-XIIIc. (fol 1-47. Incipit liber taysir…. De epidemia).
- Avicenna (980-1036): H.15 XIIIc. Liber canonis primus.
- Constantinus Africanus: (d. 1080): H. 318-XII-XIII c: Creator volens animalium genus firmiter permanere ne perire…
- H. 324: XIII c. I (fol 1-54) Viaticum. II (fol 55-6), Diete universale.
- H. 421 XIII c. I: Liber de stomacho. II: De melancholia.
- H. 187. XIII c: Pantechni. H. 182. XIV c. I. De urnins. II. Liber dietarum.
- H. 182 (bis) XIV c. Liber urinarum. Diete universals; Diete particulares. Liber febrium.
- Geberus (Jabir): H. 277 (fol 61-3) Incipunt flores naturarum quod est primus liber Geberi..
- Mesue (Ibn Massawih al-Maradini) (fl. 8th-9th century): H.182. XIV c. Allforismi Johannis Damasceni filii Serapionis (cum commentario).
- The list also includes works by al-razi, Ibn sarabi, Ibn Ridwan, etc…, and also manuscripts in Romance languages, including by al-Zahrawi.
Montpellier did not just play a major part in the transmission of medicine on Muslim lines to the rest of Europe, it also attracted students from other parts to the study of the subject as early as 1137. Great numbers of students came from the Latin West, who after having imbibed from the Arabic sources available at that time, once more scattered themselves throughout Europe, thus permeating the whole fabric of medieval culture with Arabian erudition. The subsequent teaching of the alumni of Montpellier, who exercised a dominating influence over medieval literature on the continent and in England, is one of the outstanding historical facts of the Middle Ages. In the view of Montgomery Watt,
`the contribution of Montpellier to the development of European medicine on Arab lines is probably more important than is generally accepted.'
Not far from Montpellier, other southern French towns and cities also played their part in spreading Islamic science. In Marseilles, for instance, where a certain Raymond sought to adapt the astronomy of Muslim Spain to the north of the Pyrenees, declared himself the first Latin `to acquire the science of the Arabs.' His inspirations were al-Battani, Mash-Allah and especially Al-Zarqali from whose astronomical canons Raymond's works are largely drawn. The south of France championed mainly astronomical sciences (through The Marseilles Raymond Tables and also the translations by Hermann of Carinthia, Jacob Ben Mahir and John of Brescia, Ibn Ezra etc…) The Jews, in particular, played a major part spreading ideas on both sides of the frontier. Many of the Jews of Narbonne and Marseilles, as Scott reckons, had been educated at Cordova and all spoke Arabic with fluency. The Jewish schools of Beziers, Lunel and Montpellier composed translations of the most important Islamic sciences. At Narbonne, Abraham ibn Ezra prepared the way for the numerous translations from Arabic into Hebrew, including the Commentaries on Al-Khwarizmi's tables made for the Jewish communities of Provence and Languedoc. To understand how Muslim learning spread to France, as Renaud, reviewing one of Millas Vallicrosa's works, correctly concludes:
`For long, we have been signalling, about the history of medicine, of the interest there will be for a Hebrew speaker to deal with the controversial issue of the contribution, anterior to XIIth century, of the works of Arab doctors via the Judeo-Hispanic means to the centre of medicine of Languedoc, in researching and studying the documents, which by default of specialised knowledge, those who have tried to study the origin of the teaching of Montpellier have not been able to use.'
The unbroken intercourse with the Muslim principalities of Spain had introduced into a country (whose people might, to some degree, justly claim consanguinity with the Muslims of Andalusia) the arts, the philosophy and the erudition which had long embellished the accomplished courts of the Western Caliphate.
This flowering of tolerance and science was brought to a sudden and violent end with a crusade launched against the southern French population in 1208. The crusaders surrounded Beziers, the centre of the Cathari heresy, scaled the walls, captured the town and indiscriminately slew 20 000 men, women and children including those who had sought asylum in the church. Arnaud, the papal legate, was asked by a soldier how he should distinguish and save the Catholic from the heretic. He answered with the most infamous phrase which perhaps more than any other highlights the contrast between actions of evil men acting in the name of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus who taught about loving your enemy. The papal legate said:
`Kill them all, for God knows His own.'
by: FSTC Limited, Tue 26 July, 2005