Meeting Points. Latin and Arabic Interactions Mirrored by the Written Evidence
Latin and Arabic linguistic and cultural spheres are seldom connected in studies devoted to written culture. Apart from Luigi Schiaparelli’s reference to a possible contact between Arabic script and Visigothic script (Schiaparelli, Intorno all’origine della scrittura visigotica, 1929), or references to more or less remote influences of Arabic-Islamic scribal habits in medieval Latin manuscript from Spain (P. Supino Martini, Il libro e il tempo, 1995; P. Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origin of Silent Reading, 1997), these two linguistic areas have scarcely received the attention of scholarly research, as far as their interactions are concerned.
Yet, the manuscript evidence offers a number of meaningful instances of meeting points between Latin and Arabic. Medieval scribes were actually able to write in both Latin and Arabic scripts, as texts and marginal notes attest. In this respect it is possible to recall the bilingual and digraphic Latin-Arabic fragment Vat.lat. 12900, or the Arabic glosses in the Visigothic Bible of Danila (ms Cava de’ Tirreni, Biblioteca della Badia, Cava 1).
It is also possible to detect shared codicological practices between the Medieval Latin manuscript production and the coeval Arabic one. Besides the major change occurred in the Latin manuscript production after the introduction of a new writing material – the paper – already in use in the Arabic written culture, it is nowadays possible to point out other instances of Latin-Arabic connections.
The use of coloured parchment – especially blue – in the production of the Bible of Cava is the key to understand, for instance, the production of a unique Islamic manuscript: the Blue Qur’an. The typical pen cut widely employed in the Arabic-Islamic world seems, in its turn, have contributed to the birth of a specific style of the Beneventan script: the Beneventan-Cassinese style.
The pages of early printed books offer a further field of interaction between languages, scripts and cultures. The first printed book containing some Arabic matter – a block-printed alphabet – dates back to 1486 and it is in Latin: Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinatio in Terram sanctam, Mainz, Erhard Reuwich, 1486. This paper aims at highlighting a number of well-known and less-known interconnections, shared practices and challenges involving Latin and Arabic scribes, artisans and early printers in the field of the written production – both through manuscript witnesses and printed books. These links are intended to be added to a geographical and historical context of Mediterranean interaction in which Arabic and Latin cultures are not anymore considered only as two opposed poles but also as two liminal and mutually enriching driving forces.