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40

AramcoWorld

Baghdad

Constantinople

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The story, according to Córdoba-born historian Ibn Hayy-

an, is that when the

amir

of Al-Andalus, ‘Abd al-Rahman

II

,

assigned his court poet and trusted ambassador to a

mission to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, the

poet tried his best to refuse.

Independent, insubordinate, even impudent: Such moments

were almost trademarks of Yahya ibn Hakam al-Ghazal,

whose surname meant “the gazelle,” a name given for his

extraordinary good looks and fleet wit. He was known for

satirical verse and sharp epigrams that not infrequently land-

ed him in trouble. Yet it was precisely this kind of trouble

that precipitated his travels, which later included also the far-

thest and earliest Arab journey to the Norsemen, or Vikings,

a journey that, if true, outshines even the more famous (and

better documented) voyage a century later of Ahmad Ibn Fad-

lan up the Volga River.

Because Al-Ghazal himself is not known to have ever

put his own pen to parchment—at least to any that survives

today—we rely on Arab chroniclers of following centuries.

Although some eminent Western historians of Al-Andalus,

including the Frenchman Evariste Lévi-Provençal and the

Spaniard Ambrosio Huici Miranda, are skeptical of their

accuracy, modern historians of the Vikings take the truth of

Al-Ghazal’s story as a given. Ibn Hayyan wrote his 10-vol-

ume history of Al-Andalus in the 11th century, fully 200

years after Al-Ghazal lived, and it is the most complete

record we have of his biography and

diwan

, or suite, of

poems, many written and, often, composed orally and recit-

ed on the spot, thanks to his lightning wit. Thus we know

that although he tried to beg off the assignment to Constan-

tinople, protesting that he was too old and the journey too

dangerous, Al-Ghazal eventually acceded, begrudgingly:

Some say that Al-Ghazal is so clever

That after due consideration, he was the one selected.

Yet that was not the reason. Rather it is that I was

The easiest one to be rid of.

So yes I will go, but those who cause me harm

Stand before the whims of fortune;

I only wish it to be God’s plan that I return

Whether they like it or not.

A

l-Ghazal was born in Jaén, on the Iberian Peninsula,

around 770

CE

. This was during the reign of ‘Abd al-Rah-

man

I

,

who had fled for his life from the Umayyad court

Seville

TRAVELERS

of

AL-ANDALUS

part

1

V

Written

by

JESÚS CANO

and

LOUISWERNER

Art by

BELÉN ESTURLA

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