Islamic Spain: Classicism and the Caliphate

Marines’ Memorial Theatre

With the coming of Islam into the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, rediscovered classical intellectual and artistic traditions flourished for hundreds of years. Cordoba was the site of the zenith of the Umayyad caliphate in Spain, with its stunning grand mosque. Advances in science, philosophy, history, visual arts, language, along with al-Hakam’s library that was reputed to contain more than 400,000 volumes, made Cordoba a true center of learning during this period. Seville, Granada, Toledo, and Saragossa also were centers of learning. Muslims, Christians, and Jews were part of an ethnically and religiously diverse society that lived in moderate though conflicted harmony. Eventually, much of this knowledge spread throughout Europe, profoundly influencing post-medieval thinking and serving as some of the foundation of the Renaissance.

FRIDAY, APRIL 23, 2021 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm

Introduction: Fred Astren (Professor, Jewish Studies, SFSU), Moderator

Islamic Spain / Teofilo Ruiz (Professor Emeritus, History, UCLA)

Focusing on the period of the Caliphate (9th to 11th century) and that of the Almohads (12th and 13th centuries), this presentation, while emphasizing those high points of Islamic civilization in Spain during these two specific periods, will also provide a brief introduction to the Islamic settlements in the Iberian Peninsula. Describing and explaining the contributions of Islam to Spanish and Western European civilizations in the Middle Ages and into the present, the lecture will conclude with a brief overview of the history of the Muslims in Spain after the great Christian conquests in 1248-52, the fall of Granada in 1492, and their eventual tragic denouement in the early seventeenth century.

Performance / Convivencia 
Humanities West star performers Susan Rode Morris, Peter Maund, Tim Rayborn and Shira Kammen present a program of the diverse, fascinating, and beautiful music of Islamic Spain, exploring Sephardic songs, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and medieval Arabic Muwashah, celebrating differences and similarities in these musical cultures, on early, Andalusian and other traditional instruments, and voices.

SATURDAY, APRIL 24, 2021 | 10 am – 12:00 noon & 1:30 – 4 pm

Introduction / Fred Astren (Professor, Jewish Studies, SFSU), Moderator

Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the So-Called Golden Age of Muslim Spain / Fred Astren (Professor, Jewish Studies, SFSU)

Muslim Spain is often portrayed as a multicultural paradise distinguished by tolerance, social harmony, and religious liberty. In fact, its tangled history is marked by acculturation and resistance to Islam, the layering of ethnic and religious identities, and is punctuated by violent Muslim and Christian interventions from beyond the borders. The resulting religious and ethnic complexity demands that notions of medieval Iberian convivencia (literally, “living together”) take into account conflict and discord as much as coexistence. Even as individuals could operate outside of the limits of their particular group identities in economic, cultural, artistic, and intellectual life, they were keenly aware of their place in society and jealously guarded their turf.

Framing Vernacular: Arabic Literature and the Making of The Spanish Language / Camilo Gómez-Rivas (Associate Professor, Mediterranean Studies, UC Santa Cruz)

When the king of Castile-Leon set out to outdo his father and elevate the local dialect to the level of high language, he mined the Arabic literary tradition for inspiration and content. On the most significant land border between Western Europe and Islam, this founding father of Spanish took liberally from a language and tradition that was not only a neighbor and adversary but was also the greatest exponent of a medieval global culture to which the king’s own culture aspired. And by translating a famous collection of animal fables, Alfonso el Sabio was not just translating an Arabic story into Castilian but also forging a connection to distant pasts (Persian and Sanskrit, among others) and traditions of government, ethics, and wisdom, providing a frame for the cultural aspirations of what was to become one of the first great European vernacular empires (and a blueprint for the rest).

Following the Clues: Detecting Islamic Architecture in Unexpected Places / Deborah Loft (Emeritus Professor, Art History, College of Marin)

The striking features of Islamic architecture in medieval Iberia drew from several cultures (Near Eastern, north African, Roman, Visigothic), and in turn, were integrated into Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. These influences spread through pilgrimages, and through monastery contacts; reaching into France, and even further north. Following this trail includes the detective work of finding structures and details which reveal the integration of Islamic forms in unexpected places. The Great Mosque of Córdoba, the palatine city of Madinat al-Zahra, and other medieval buildings in Spain will be points of reference for tracing these points of inter-cultural contact.

Islamophilia and Islamophobia: Visions of Islamic Spain / Hussein Fancy (Associate Professor, History, University of Michigan)

The influence of Islamic Spain is patent in Spanish art, architecture, cuisine, and even language, but the meaning of that influence has been a fraught one. Ranging from medieval to modern perspectives, this lecture addresses the long and entangled history of Islamophilia and Islamophobia, the love of Islam and the hatred of it. Rather than competing perspectives on Islam, Professor Fancy argues, Islamophilia and Islamophobia were competing perspectives on Spain itself. The legacy of Islamic Spain reveals both the allure and danger of reading the present through the past.

Discussion with the presenters, George Hammond (Humanities West), Moderator

Kyoto: Imperial Capital for a Millennium

Kyoto was established during the Heian Period (794-1185) as the capital of Japan’s Imperial Court. The adoption of Buddhism from China soon inspired the construction of beautiful wooden palaces and temples. And that concentration of political and spiritual wealth and power eventually inspired samurai warriors to overthrow the status quo. But the samurais were also captured by the Heian culture, as they discovered they needed to attain perfection in the arts before being accepted as legitimate rulers, creating a unique military-artistic-complex. Kyoto is the heart of where Japanese culture emerged from the dominating shadow of Chinese influence and began developing distinct styles of art, poetry, literature and architecture. In 1868 Emperor Meiji moved the Imperial Capital to Edo (Tokyo), transforming Kyoto into a cherished monument to history and tradition.  In collaboration with San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2021 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm

Welcome and Introduction / Jay Xu (Director, Asian Art Museum) and George Hammond (Humanities West)

Kyoto, from Capital to Metropole / Joan Piggott (Department of History and The Project for Premodern Japan Studies, USC)

There are compelling reasons for studying the history of a city like Kyoto, including its origins, relations with government, organization and functions, and cultural characteristics through time. Much of the world’s population now lives in cities or is deeply involved in urban-centered networks. Urbanism has become a historical theme of considerable interest for regional and world historians. Professor Piggott is particularly concerned with making the history of Japan’s royal capital at Kyoto, now a favorite venue for world tourism and recently listed as ninth among the world’s most livable cities, more accessible, especially to those who do not read Japanese. In this lecture she will trace key trajectories in Kyoto’s history from its establishment in 794 as the capital of the Heavenly Sovereign (tennô) through the 12th century, when retired monarchs came to lead the court and build their palace-temples beyond the city’s perimeters. The story, set in the broad context of East Asian and world urban histories, relies on written and archaeological records, including evidence from some particularly intriguing literary texts.

Performance: Traditional Music of Japan. The Japanese Music Institute of America performs music of classical Japan, featuring Shakuhachi Flute Master Masayuki Koga“There is a secret to excel in playing the shakuhachi. Blow … from your heart.…. If we have an open mind, our sound will be mellow. If we have right attitudes toward life, our music will be acceptable to everyone. Take care of your sound as you would care for yourself.” – Masayuki Koga

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2021 | 10 am – 12:00 noon & 1:30 – 4 pm

Introduction / George Hammond (Humanities West), Moderator

The Tale of Genji and the Women of Courtly Salon Life in 11th-Century Japan / John R. Wallace (Japanese, UC Berkeley)

In imperial Japan of a thousand years ago, there lived a class of glamorous women who served high-ranking imperial consorts through their literary and cultural acuity. Among their duties was the elevation of their lady-patron through writings now admired as a stunning collection of works. Among these is a preeminent masterpiece—the massive Tale of Genji. It describes the anxieties and romantic difficulties of these ladies-in-waiting. This talk will draw on The Tale of Genji and other striking literature of the time to explore how these women saw their place in the world as well as their judgment of others.

Two Temples: Splendor and Longing in Medieval Kyoto / Ethan Segal (Associate Professor, History, Michigan State University)

Kinkakuji and Chorakuji might seem to be polar opposites. One is located in northwestern Kyoto, covered in gold leaf and among the city’s most popular tourist destinations. The other, in eastern Kyoto, is modest in its decor and off the beaten path. Yet each was the site of major historical events from Japan’s medieval period that are well remembered even today. Professor Segal will guide us through these two temples and highlight key aspects of Japan’s medieval age, when samurai mixed with aristocrats, Japan engaged in international trade with China, and shoguns helped promote new and enduring artistic forms.

A Tale of Two Cities:  Kyoto and Edo in Print / Quintana Heathman (Curatorial Assistant, Shrem and Manetti Museum, UC Davis)

Under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868), the city of Edo (now known as Tokyo) rose to prominence—a rival, in many ways, to the imperial capital of Kyoto. As these two cities grew into major metropolises, each developed a distinct personality. Kyoto’s illustrious history and courtly charm was easily contrasted with the brash spirit of upstart Edo, which had until recently been a fishing village. Looking through the lens of popular woodblock prints and printed books of this period, we will explore how civic identity played out in the vibrant images of these famed places.

The Challenges of Modernity in the Old Imperial Capital / Robert Mintz (Deputy Director, Asian Art Museum)

With the fall of the last Shogun, Japan returned in 1868 to imperial rule under Emperor Meiji. The Emperor’s palace was moved from Kyoto to the Shogun’s capital of Tokyo, leaving the former imperial seat without its most important resident. From outside Kyoto came a nation-wide embrace of technology, industry, and imperialism. This changed Kyoto as it became the city representative of a beloved but ever more distant past. The city became a monument to history and tradition and served a vital role in the war that would destroy Japan’s empire and trigger its rise as a global economic power.

Panel Discussion with Presenters, Moderated by George Hammond

Carthage: From Dido to Destruction

The Phoenicians were the most civilized people of the Near East and the greatest businessmen and conduits of culture of the ancient world, including the alphabet. Their expansion westward across the Mediterranean is told in the legend of the Rape of Europa, and other myths—the story of princess Elissa/Dido and of Dido and Aeneas—tell of their founding of Carthage in 814 BCE. Carthage soon became the most powerful and cultured city of the western Mediterranean, their ships dominating the trade routes, especially for vital metals and grain. Conflict was inevitable with Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans each in turn driving the Carthaginians (Punics) reluctantly to war. The Phoenician story culminates in three titanic struggles the Romans called the Punic (i.e. Phoenician) Wars. Hannibal terrorized the Romans like no enemy they ever encountered, but in the end the Romans erased Carthage entirely. Yet in legend, literature, and grand opera, Carthage lives forever.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2020 | 7:30 – 9:30 pm

Legendary Carthage / Douglas Kenning (Director, Sicily Tour)

The mythic cycle begins with how the Rape of Europa led to the story of Phoenix, which led to the several stories of the Phoenician princess Elissa, which led to the story of Dido and Aeneas as told by Virgil. Few mythic cycles are as important as this one in the history of Western painting and Western music. It is fundamental also to any understanding of Carthage historically, because myth shaped how Carthaginians viewed themselves (e.g. Hannibal playing at being Hercules), how the Romans saw them (giving rationale for the Roman foreign policy against them), and how we remember them today.

Performance / Carthage Goes to the Opera, featuring excerpts from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with beautiful arias and ensembles, especially the heartbreaking Dido’s Lament. The tradition of the lament was based on the lament in near Eastern literature. DIDO AND AENEAS An Opera in Three Acts, Z. 626, composed in 1683 by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Introduced by Clifford (Kip) Cranna (Dramaturg Emeritus, San Francisco Opera). Performers include Mezzo-soprano Heidi Waterman performing Dido, Tenor David Kurtenbach as Aeneas, Soprano Helene Zindarsian as Belinda, and Mezzo-soprano Natasha Hoehn performing as the Sorceress and Lady in Waiting; accompanied by Kevin Korth on piano.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2020 | 10 am – 12:00 noon & 1:30 – 4 pm

Introduction / George Hammond (Humanities West), Moderator

Writing and Erasing Ancient Carthage / Alexandra Pappas (Associate Professor, Classics, SFSU)

What does the writing of ancient Carthage and her founding Phoenicians have to tell us, and what does it leave out? What histories have been preserved, and what has been erased? Ancient inscriptions, the objects inscribed, and their movement along trade networks paint part of the picture. The interchange between written and spoken languages of the ancient Mediterranean, and the destruction and preservation of literary sources fill in additional pixels. Although the Punic writing of Carthage descends directly from its Phoenician forebear, by an ironic twist it is rather ancient Greek and Latin literary sources that preserve much of what we know about ancient Carthage today, including her ultimate destruction—and the erasure of her literature—at the hands of the Romans. 

Of Kings, Gods, and Human Sacrifice: Carthaginian Religion in a Mediterranean Context / Lela Urquhart (Senior Development Director, Getty Research Institute)

Carthaginian religion is fascinating, but has, throughout history, been a controversial subject. It was derived from the traditional polytheistic religion of the Phoenician city-states, and most particularly the religion of Tyre, the “mother-city” of Carthage with a patron deity known as Melqart. This lecture will explore how the Tyrian background and especially ties to the deity Melqart infused many aspects of Carthaginian and Punic religion in the western Mediterranean, ranging from its emphasis on the religious significance of royalty to its prominent role in one of the most notorious religious practices of Carthage, child sacrifice. 

The Reception of Dido in Western Culture: From Vergil to Video Games / Robert Gurval (Associate Professor Emeritus, Classics, UCLA)

Borrowing from multicultural traditions of myth and history, the Roman poet Vergil invented Dido, Phoenician exile, founder of Carthage, and lover of Trojan Aeneas. Ever since, Ovid toyed with her, St. Augustine wept, and Dante put her in hell. From the medieval to modern eras, poems and plays, and above all operas, have spoken or sung her tragic tale. Her beauty has been represented on Renaissance painted canvasses and woven tapestries. In the 21st century, a novel has modernized her love story and a video game has placed her as a character in the conflict of civilizations. This lecture will survey her immortal story.

Hannibal, Rome’s Nightmare / Patrick Hunt (Stanford and National Geographic)

Hannibal, great Carthaginian general, weaponized nature – making Roman armies cross icy streams, face fog and dust storms, etc. – in his prolonged war against Rome in Italy from 218 BCE onward for almost two decades. Brilliantly defeating multiple Roman legions even when outnumbered, Hannibal’s flexible craftiness and ability to get in the minds of his enemy – employing a staggering arsenal of tactics – are still admired and copied in modern warfare, emulated wherever he is taught around the world for his pioneering military intelligence. It is likely Roman legions would never have conquered the world had Hannibal not first schooled Rome in new ways of professional warfare. Even Machiavelli created his famous dictum “better to be feared than loved” around Hannibal. It is an irony that a leader who won so many battles but could not win the war only wanted Rome to leave Carthage alone. Hannibal’s policy ultimately failed as Rome was inexorably driven to destroy Carthage by 146 BCE.

Panel Discussion with Presenters / George Hammond, Moderator (Humanities West)