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till, it seemed

to the amir that Al-

Ghazal’s diplomacy

overseas was as good as

his sharp tongue at home

was bad. This was why he

asked the poet to lead yet another embassy: this time to the

land of the Norsemen who had lately been raiding the coasts

of Al-Andalus. We get this only from later, less reliable Arab

sources, including a 12th-century biographical encyclopedia

of the lives of Arab poets collected by the Valencia-born Ibn

Dihya al-Kalbi.

The first Western scholar to vouch for the story was W.E.D.

Allen, a diplomat-socialite and expert in the South Caucasus

who briefly dabbled in British fascism. Allen’s evocatively titled

The Poet and the Spae-Wife



is an Old English cognate

of an Old Norse

word for “prophet-

ess”) accepts Ibn

Dihya’s account of

Al-Ghazal’s journey

mostly on circum-

stantial evidence.

Other scholars, however, claim it tracks disturbingly close to

Ibn Hayyan’s account of the trip to Constantinople, and thus

Ibn Dihya may have either filled in a real journey’s story with

plagiarized details or made it all up outright.

Undisputed is that Norsemen attacked throughout the

Mediterranean in these years. Vikings had raided several cit-

ies of Al-Andalus, including Seville, just downstream from

Córdoba. After one unsuccessful attack that resulted in

the burning of their ships and the death of their captain, a

Viking embassy in November 844 came to sue for peace.



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