Doing Things with Arabic in the Seventeenth-Century Escorial

In: Philological Encounters
Daniel Hershenzon University of Connecticut

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This article takes part in the recent project of reevaluating the place, role, and importance of different forms of engagement with Arabic and Arabic manuscripts in seventeenth-century Spain, and more broadly in Europe, by focusing on a single institution—the royal library of San Lorenzo of the Escorial. I examine if, and how, the Escorial fits within the new narrative of the history of Arabic in seventeenth- century Spain. Did the presence of an exceptionally sizeable collection of Arabic texts facilitate, hinder, or have no effect on the new Orientalism of the seventeenth century? More specifically, the article explores four questions: (1) What did Spanish and European scholars think about the collection of Arabic manuscripts in the Escorial? (2) What did the Hieronymites, the friars in charge of the library, do with its Arabic manuscripts? (3) What did the Hieronymites think about the study of Arabic? and (4) What access to the collection, if any, did Spanish and European scholars have? The answers to these questions suggest that the Escorial became a shrine of Arabic knowledge, to which scholarly pilgrims sought access, and that during seventeenth century Spain preserved its reputation among European orientalists as an important site for the study of Arabic.

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