Saturday, August 21, 2010

Trading places

"Sixteenth-century English traders in the Levant realized that there was a high degree of tolerance of religious and cultural difference." - Lawrence Rosen
The donkey pictured here is actually from Alpujarra, south of Granada, another part of the Islamic world that was tolerant of differences at its cultural zenith in the 12th century, during the Hispanic proto-Renaissance that brought classical learning back into Europe. The quote is from a review ("Trouble with a Dead Mule," London Review of Books, page 22-23) by Lawrence Rosen of James Mather's Pasha: Traders and Travelers in the Islamic World (Yale 2009) Mather's thesis is that the loosely organized partners of the Levant Company, focused on trade rather than the furthering of English interests, were adept at fitting in to the Islamic cultures of cities like Istanbul, Aleppo, and Alexandria. What they found there was more open and sophisticated than what they left behind. A few stayed on, although most returned to the England they remembered.

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