The Wind of Babel: Mytho-Poetic Origins of Arabic Linguistic and Ethnic Difference in Medieval Spain

Activity: Talk typesInvited presentation


In this paper I examine how medieval Iberian accounts of Babel, particularly from the Arabic and later Romance traditions, whose additional details include elements of extra-biblical, in some cases pre-Islamic details. The latter show how the presence of several faith traditions, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as the variety of ethnic groups, including Hispano-Romans, Berbers, Slavs, and Basque provided a group of intellectuals on the Peninsula that sought to create a synthetic universal history that answered questions about the origin of language and people with an eye to addressing contemporary tensions between social and ethnic groups in the Peninsula. At times, they sought to accommodate one another’s traditions and at others to create a narrative that offered justification for the privileging of one group over another. As the socio-political realities changed in the Peninsula, the Muslim rule of the Umayyads and Taifa kings of the 8th-12th centuries giving way to Christian rule, we find a reconfiguration of firsts—first languages and first peoples.
PeriodAug 16 2017
Held atUniversity of Oslo, Norway
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Language
  • Translation
  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Spanish Literature
  • Arabic
  • Medieval
  • geography
  • Cartography