Traveling Libraries: The Arabic Manuscripts of Muley Zidan and the Escorial Library

In: Journal of Early Modern History
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  • 1 University of Connecticut

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In 1612, a Spanish fleet captured a French ship whose stolen cargo included the entire manuscript collection of the Sultan of Morocco, Muley Zidan. Soon, the collection made its way to the royal library, El Escorial, transforming the library into an important repository of Arabic books, which, since then, Arabists from across Europe sought to visit. By focusing on the social life of the collection, from the moment of its capture up through the process of its incorporation into the Escorial, this article examines three related issues: the first regards the social trajectories of books and the elasticity of their meaning and function, which radically altered in nature. The second part of the article examines the circulation of the Moroccan manuscripts in relation to a complex economy of restrictions over the reading and possession of Arabic manuscripts in early modern Spain. Finally, the third part focuses on the political and legal debates that ensued the library’s capture, when the collection became the locus of international negotiations between Spain, Morocco, France and the Dutch United Provinces over Maritime law, captives, and banned knowledge. By placing and analyzing the journey of Zidan’s manuscripts within the context of Mediterranean history, the paper explains (1) why Spain established one of the largest collections of Arabic manuscripts exactly when it was cleansing its territories of Moriscos (Spanish forcibly converted Muslims), and (2) why the Moroccan collection was kept behind locked doors at the Escorial.

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    Ana Labarta, “Inventario de los documentos árabes contenidos en procesos inquisitoriales contra moriscos valencianos conservados en el Archivo Histórico Nacional de Madrid (Legajos 548-556),” Al-Qantara 1 (1980): 115; Mercedes García-Arenal, “The Religious Identity of the Arabic Language and the Affair of the Lead Books of the Sacromonte of Granada,” Arabica 56 (2009): 507; Idem, “La Inquisición y los libros de los moriscos,” in Memoria de los moriscos. Escritos y relatos de una diáspora cultural, ed. Alfredo Mateos Paramio, Juan Carlos Villaverde Amieva (Madrid, 2010), 57; Jacqueline Fournel-Guerin, “Le libre et la civilisation écrite dans la communauté morisque aragonaise (1540-1629),” Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez 15 (1979): 241.

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  • 5

    José Adriano de Freitas Carvalho, “¿El club de los señores de las bibliotecas muertas? Nota a propósito de la librería del primer Marqués de Niza en el Portugal de mediados del siglo XVII,” in Libro y lectura en la península ibérica y América (siglos XIII-XVIII), ed. Antonio Castillo Gómez (Salamanca, 2003), 165-188. Also, reading is not the only way to consume books. We can take pleasure in touching, tasting, seeing, and hearing them, see Fernando Bouza, Hétérographies. Formes de l’écrit au siècle d’or espagnol (Madrid, 2010), 3-34.

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  • 8

    Andrew Hess, “The Moriscos: An Ottoman Fifth Column in Sixteenth-Century Spain,” American Historical Review 74 (1968): 1-25 and Mercedes García-Arenal, “Los moriscos en Marruecos: de la emigración de los granadinos a los hornacheros de Salé,” in Los Moriscos: expulsión y diáspora, una perspectiva internacional, ed. Idem and Gerard Wiegers, (Valencia, 2013), 275-312.

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  • 10

    Rodríguez Mediano, “Fragmentos de orientalismo Español del S. XVII,” Hispania, Revista española de historia LXVI (2006): 243-276; Mediano and Mercedes García-Arenal, “Los libros de los moriscos y los eruditos orientales,” Al-Qantara XXXI (2010): 611-646 and by the same authors, The Orient in Spain: Converted Muslims, the Forged Lead Books of Granada, and the Rise of Orientalism (Leiden, 2013). Gerard Wiegers, “Moriscos and Arabic Studies in Europe,” Al-Qantara XXXI (2010): 587-610. A different criticism of the image of an all-powerful Inquisition that points out the failure of the Holy Office to execute the prohibitions not only on Arabic but on all sorts of texts, was recently launched by literary scholars, see Ryan Prendergast, Reading, Writing, and Errant Subjects in Inquisitorial Spain (Burlington, 2011) and Patricia W. Manning, Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Spain: Inquisition, Social Criticism and Theology in the Case of El Criticón (Leiden, 2009).

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  • 13

    Mohammed Ibn Azuz, “La Biblioteca de Muley Zaidan en el Escorial,” Cuadernos de la biblioteca Española de Tetuán 17-18 (1978): 117-153, esp. 124-127.

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  • 33

    In 1575, when Diego de Hurtado de Mendoza died, his library, with a few Arabic manuscripts, was also incorporated into the royal library. Similarly, the library of Arias Montano himself, which contained twenty-eight Arabic manuscripts, became part of the royal collection in 1599. These are only the major acquisitions and doubtless other manuscripts made their way into the royal library in smaller numbers. On these and other acquisitions of Arabic manuscripts, see Antolín y Pajares, La Real Biblioteca de El Escorial, 36 and 48 and Nemesio Morata, “Un catálogo de los fondos árabes primitivos de El Escorial,” Al-Andalus 2 (1934): 87-94.

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    Labarta, “Inventario de los documentos árabes,” 124-125. Some of these books, however, made their way into the libraries of Arabists who worked with the Inquisition or who were involved in the affair of the Lead Books (Libros de Plomo), see García-Arenal and Rodríguez Mediano, “Los libros de los moriscos y los eruditos orientales,” 615-625.

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  • 35

    Morata, “Un catálogo de los fondos árabes primitivos de El Escorial,” 91-93.

  • 37

    Thomas Erpenius, “On the Value of the Arabic Language,” in Robert Jones, “Thomas Erpenius (1584-1624) on the Value of the Arabic Langue,” Manuscripts of the Middle East I (1986): 15-25. For the two last reasons and for a discussion of this part of Erpenius’ oration, see Peter T. Van Rooden, Theology, Biblical Scholarship and Rabbinical Studies in the Seventeenth Century (Leiden, 1989), 59-60.

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  • 38

    Rodríguez Mediano, “Fragmentos de orientalismo Español del S. XVII,” 245-246.

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    Rekers, Benito Arias Montano, 158.

  • 41

    Manning, Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Spain, 73-108.

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    Henry de Castries, “Autour d’une bibliothèque marocaine,” Journal des Débats, (20.10.1907): 3.

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    Fernando Bouza, “La biblioteca de El Escorial y el orden de los saberes en el siglo XVI,” in El Escorial: Arte, poder y cultura en la corte de Felipe II, (Madrid, 1989), 81-99, esp. 81.

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