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Géographie Arabe et Géographie Latine au XIIe Siècle

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AbstractThe influence of Arab geography upon the Latin tradition in the Middle Ages is difficult to assess due to several factors including the former’s definition, content, and origin, as well as the tangled historiography on the question of its influence. The purpose of this paper is not to provide a comprehensive study of this complex issue but rather to define the terms of the problem and to examine some concrete cases of contact between both geographical cultures during the twelfth century. The author first considers the impact of the introduction of Greek conceptions, transmitted through the Arabic Ṣūrat al-arḍ (The Picture of the Earth), upon medieval Latin cosmography. Special attention is devoted here to the influence of Greco-Arabic knowledge on contemporary Western Latin ideas about the habitability of the remotest parts of the earth. The author then deals with the relationship between both cultures in the field of descriptive geography and cartography. Unexpectedly, these different traditions can be shown to be largely isolated from one another, and the alleged Arab origin of some documents is, in most cases, dubious. The cause of the obvious lack of interest among Western Christians in Arab descriptive geography could lie in the general conditions of the Latin schools of the time, and perhaps also in the fact that Arabic writings and maps emphasize the domination of Islam over lands formerly under Christian rule.

Affiliations: 1: IRHT40 avenue d’Iéna, 75116 ParisFrance


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