Should we spit when we say “Abdullah”?

My translation of Agapius has now reached the portions describing the Arab takeover of the Near East, and so is full of Arabic names.  This raises the question of how we should write them, in an English translation.  Do we write “Ali”, or “`Ali”, indicating the hawking sound with the funny-looking apostrophe?  Do we write “Abdullah” or “`Abd-allah”? 

Barbarous-looking names like `Abbad-ibn-`Asim weary the eye, and cause the reader to skip across the text.  Does this factor all by itself tend to explain why we halt the study of antiquity at the Arab conquest, despite the substantial continuity of culture into the early Islamic period?

Suggestions welcome!


2 thoughts on “Should we spit when we say “Abdullah”?

  1. “Does this factor all by itself tend to explain why we halt the study of antiquity at the Arab conquest?”

    I think that is one factor among many. Another one is that since Winckelmann, we have thought about Greece and Rome as “our” culture, and the east as something foreign. This was reinforced when classical education was reorganized in the nineteenth century: the European elite, no longer united in its adherence to Christianity or the Enlightenment, found a cultural unity in Philhellenism – and its objection against anything Arabic.

    And finally, the continuity is only partial. The sixth century was a very difficult period: scientists are now tracing the immense impact of the Justinianic Plague, and some twenty years ago, the econonomic crisis in Italy (half a century of continuous warfare and a demographic collapse of 2/3) was a hot topic. I recently learned that Syria/Palestine were also in decline in the sixth century. The Arabian conquests were a consequence, and not the cause, of this earlier collapse. So, there was a cultural “break”, which sort of justifies the exclusion of Islam from ancient history.

    (It is slightly ironic that I am writing this; I am just finishing a book in which I argue that Islam is more important to Europe than is often assumed.)

  2. How much continuity there is can always be argued. Heraclius’ reorganisation of the Eastern Roman empire is some kind of break point of itself, if we like to think of it that way. I agree that a line can be drawn; but on the other hand we could probably draw it a century later without obvious unreason. John Damascene can be seen as the last of the Greek fathers; indeed is so seen in the latest volume of Patrology.

    But your points are valid. Agapius indeed himself refers to the various plagues and eclipses during this period, although I haven’t yet tied his events to the years AD.

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