Abd al-Hamid, al-Ghazali
Born in 1058 to a family of spinners and sellers of wool in a small village in eastern Iran, Ghazali became one of the most prominent expounders of Islamic theology of his day. Traveling widely, from Persia to Baghdad to Damascus, he mastered a wide range of disciplines, and he energetically engaged in arguments with those he considered extremists. When he died in 1111, he left behind a series of treatises, many of them incorporating autobiographical material, particularly the discoveries he had himself made and was fully capable of defending.
Abū Hāmid Muhammad al-Ghazzālī, The Alchemy of Happiness, trans. Claud Field (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1991), 6–7 and 11–13.
Abstract and Key Words
German mapmaker Henricus Martellus created this copy of a Portuguese map to show the extent of Bartolomeu Dias’s explorations beyond the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa in 1486-1488. In earlier Ptolemaic maps, Africa appears as either a quarter-circle or a block of landmass abruptly terminating at the Sahara. This remarkable map shows the rapid development of European knowledge of the west and south coasts of Africa during the fifteenth century. In contrast to earlier maps, Africa is shown as surrounded by water. The Indian Ocean—for centuries a Muslim-controlled “lake” inaccessible to European merchants– is now shown as penetrable by ocean-going vessels sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. In 1497 Vasco da Gama headed a successful expedition that did just that, returning to Portugal in 1499.
Between 1405 and 1433, a series of naval expeditions were sent out by Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, under the command of the remarkable Zheng He (1371–1435). The largest of Zheng’s ships were over 400 feet long and were thus more than four times the length of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria. His voyages took Zheng to the coasts of southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, Arabia, and East Africa. In 2010, marine archaeologists attempted to find remains of one of Zheng’s ships off the coast of Kenya, near Malindi, a site Zheng visited in 1418. This photograph shows a model of one of Zheng’s ships, compared with a model of the Santa Maria. The model is displayed in a shopping mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Thomas R. Trautmann
Few things are more tantalizing to historians than an undeciphered script. Hundreds of broken and intact Harappan seals have been discovered in numerous sites throughout the Indus Valley, many that combine a line of symbols assumed to be text with an image of an animal. Denoting them seals, historians have determined that most were used to identify someone involved with an object (owner, craftsmen, or merchant). It is also possible that the seals, and other examples of the Indus script, were protective in nature, operating as a talisman. However, without the ability to read the symbols, how the seals and other objects with writing were used to convey information is a matter of speculation. It is hard to understand how a text is used if one cannot read the content. In the excerpt below, historian Thomas Trautmann, a leading specialist on ancient India, provides an overview of the mysterious Harappan seals.
The most intriguing artifacts of the Indus sites are rectangular steatitei seals, because of the writing on them. These seals, little more than an inch square, generally bear an incised image, beautifully carved, of which the humped bull is a common type. Other animals (tiger, elephant), composite mythological beasts, and the rare human form are figured on other seals. They also bear a short inscription across the top, in a script that has defied many attempts to decipher it. This script contains more than four hundred signs, too many to be purely alphabetic or syllabic because no language is known to have more than a hundred phonemes. Although many of the signs are obviously pictographic, other elements act as modifiers, perhaps as word endings, and others are clearly numerals. The seals were meant to be pressed into soft clay as a mark of ownership, in all likelihood. The inscriptions are short, presumably recording little more than the owner’s name. The language of the script is unknown; a Dravidian language would be our best guess because of islands of Dravidian language in the Indus and Ganga valleys, but other languages cannot be ruled out. We do not have a bilingual inscription, like the Rosetta Stone by which the Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered, or the Greek and Prakrit inscriptions on coins by which the inscriptions of Ashoka were read. However, because the Indus people were involved with seagoing trade with other literate people, especially the Elamites and perhaps the Mesopotamians, there is a chance that a bilingual inscription will be found one day…
From India: Brief History of a Civilization. Thomas R. Trautmann. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 22-27
Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, propounded the theory of evolution in his famous work On the Origin of Species (1859). With this theory, Darwin launched a massive debate concerning the spiritual repercussions of belief in natural selection—such as the contradiction inherent in the evolution of humans from apes and the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. This second work, The Descent of Man, explores the physiological connections between mankind and what Darwin calls “lower animals.” This selection examines the notion of sociability and how it plays out in various associations of animals; Darwin even makes a case for “lower animals” (like dogs) having characteristics that would be called “moral” in humans. Consider the impact of such “scientific discoveries” on a society that views humans as an elevated creation modeled on God.
From Philip Appleman, Ed., Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, Second ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980, pp. 196–203, 208.
Pedro Cieza de León
The Incas created an imperial communications and logistics infrastructure that was unparalleled in the Americas, with two highways extending to the north and south from Cuzco nearly the entire length of the empire. The roads, which were up to 12 feet wide, crossed the terrain as directly as possible, which clearly required a tremendous labor force to create. In many places, even today, the 25,000-mile road network still exists. Pedro Cieza de León was born in Spain in 1520 and undoubtedly traveled along the extensive, and still-functional, Roman road system of his native land as a child. When he arrived in the New World at the age of 13, he was captivated and impressed by the civilizations that the Spanish were supplanting. In 1541, he began writing his account of the Incas, tracing their heritage and government for the benefit of those who would never see the territory he did—or travel the roads that made his observations possible.
Pedro Cieza de León, The Incas, trans. Harriet de Onis, ed. Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959), 135–137.
In his essay The Painter of Modern Life, the French poet Baudelaire (1821–1867) lays out his vision of modernism, which became perhaps the closest thing to a “manifesto” the movement had. In discussing the work of the painter Constantin Guys (1802–1892), he argues that the habit of contemporary painters to look for truth or beauty in antiquity is senseless; instead, painters should, like Guys, be looking to capture the specifics of the modern age, as new techniques of painting would surely uncover new perspectives on reality. Looking to the past for technique or inspiration, therefore, results in not only historically inaccurate work, but also artistic failure. But in attempting to capture the modern moment, the painter, he said, was in search of something indefinable, “something we can perhaps call modernity.”
From Charles Baudelaire, Selected Writings on Art and Literature. Trans. P. E. Charvet. New York: Viking, 1972, pp. 395–422.
Oscar Wilde, an Irish poet and writer, became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the 1890s. Trained as a classicist in Dublin, then at Oxford, Wilde became a journalist in London and made a name for himself as a flamboyant proponent of the new philosophy of aestheticism. After several popular stage plays, he wrote his most famous work, The Importance of Being Ernest, in 1895. The same year, Wilde was put on trial for homosexuality, a crime in England at that time, and imprisoned for two years. Upon his release Wilde immigrated to Paris, where he died in 1900 at the age of forty-six. In The Soul of Man, Wilde explores the manner in which socialism, allowing people to realize greater individualism, will provide the best context for art—Wilde’s ultimate goal. The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.
From Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” New York: Humboldt, 1891.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
The best Spanish source on the Aztec–Spanish encounter was written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, an old campaigner from Cortés’s army. Born and raised in a poor family in Spain, Díaz began his military career as a common soldier. In 1514, he went to America to serve with the Spanish forces opening up the “New World,” and he made two previous expeditions to the Yucatan prior to the one led by Hernando Cortés in 1519. According to his own accounts, he took part in over one hundred battles and was present at the surrender of Tenochtitlan in 1521. After having read a published account of the conquest that he considered a distortion, Díaz set about writing his own account during the 1560s, when he was already an old man. He finished it when he was seventy-six years old. Though he had sent a copy to Spain, the work was not published until the next century, well after his long and eventful life had ended in 1581. The drama of the events and the intimacy and novelty of his observations make this a remarkable historical source.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, vol. 1, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIII (London, 1908), 132–35; vol. 2, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIV (London, 1910), 4–18, 37–38, 39–40, 44, 55–58, 59–60, 69–79, 84–88.