Friday, January 13, 2012

Les Poulains

Marriage of Melisende and Fulk of Anjou (June 2, 1129)
Daughter of a Crusader King (Baldwin II) and a Armenian Princess (Morphia of Melitene), Melisende (herself Queen of Jerusalem from 1131 to 1153, and then Regent Queen from 1153 to 1161) utterly fascinates. Late as it is, and with tomorrow as busy as today, I can do little more than register my fascination, but with each study of the Crusades, a new obsession emerges. This time, it's the Poulains, pullani - Melisende and those like her, those born of Crusader settlers in the Holy Land who would never see France or Germany or Italy or England. Second generation colonials who were native (all the more so because their parents had so eagerly gone native). They often spoke Arabic, dressed Frankish in the streets, but in loose Arabic clothing at home, they patronized local musicians, their servants were Arab (sometimes Christian, sometimes Muslim). The art they commissioned picked up traces and gestures of both the visual languages of both Muslim and Eastern Christian (Greek, Egyptian, Armenian, Syrian) art.

And today in reading the wonderfully engaging Sacred Violence by Jill N. Caster, I came across this term I had just seen in John Tolan's Saint Francis and the Sultan that morning (and boy the anticipation for that episode!): Poulains, or in the 12th-century Latin: pullani. The young colts, the young ones, the children of Crusaders. I marvel at the term itself: the vigor and rebellion of the term. And some were: Melisende's sister Alice wanted Antioch all to herself no matter what; and Melisende herself stood up to both her husband and her son for rule of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (and won, mostly). Were the any different from any other children of colonials? Do we understand them if we only think of 19th century colonial offspring in India? It can't be that simple. So wherein the difference? How do we come to understand these Poulains (and how do even the medieval French come up with these perfect terms?)? What were their experiences of the world? Where's the book about them? Are they hybrids, liminal, multicultural, truly between two worlds, or not at all? The "We who were Occidentals have now become Orientals" line from Fulcher of Chartres's chronicle Historia Iherosolymitana, written between 1100 and 1127, gets quoted a lot, but listen to the rest of it:

For we who were Occidentals have now become Orientals. He who was a Roman or a Frank has in this land been made into a Galilean or a Palestinean. He who was of Rheims or Chartres has now become a citizen of Tyre or Antioch. We have already forgotten the places of our birth; already these are unknown to many of us or not mentioned any more.

Some already possess homes or households by inheritance. Some have taken wives not only of their own people but Syrians or Armenians or even Saracens who have obtained the grace of baptism. One has his father-in-law as well as his daughter-in-law living with him, or his won child if not his stepson or stepfather. Out here there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some tend vineyard, other till fields.

People use the eloquence and idioms of diverse languages in conversing back and forth. Words of different languages have become common property known to each nationality, and mutual faith unites those who are ignorant of their descent. Indeed it is written, "The lion and the ox shall eat straw together" [Isai. 62:25]. He who was born a stranger is not as one born here; he who was born an alien has become a native.

Our relatives and parents join us from time to time, sacrificing, even though reluctantly, all that they formerly possessed. Those who were poor in the Occident, God makes rich in this land. Those who had little money there have countless bezants here, and those who did not have a villa possess here by the gift of God a city.

Therefore why should one return to the Occident who has found the Orient like this?

Indeed. And they didn't. They and their generations stayed as long as they could (until 1291 and the fall of Acre). This text is quoted pretty extensively in the film Kingdom of Heaven (the students did a nice job of gasping in realization). It is this outrageous vision (Fulcher called it a miracle, along with God's will to enrich all (Christians) who go to the Holy Land). And at the same time, his own fascination, his own desire for the place is so palpable. We talk a good deal about medieval "fluidities" (boundaries not quite set as solidly as they are in the modern era). Is that what this is? There's more to be interested in as well: marriages and alliances (and confrontations) with Eastern Christians, especially Armenians and Greeks/Byzantines. One could go to Cyprus and really revel in the breakdown of boundaries (the incredible art historian Annemarie Weyl Carr has, and the results are utterly fascinating). For now, it will be bed instead of Cyprus - but with many questions of homeland and knowledge (and of course Melisende commissioned stunning manuscripts and was involved in the Holy Sepulcher refurbishing and, and, and...)

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