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MAHOUN, MAKOMETE, MAKOMETES. Muhammad, c. A.D. 570-632, son of Abdullah, founded Islam. For over twenty years, between 612 and 632, he claimed to have received revelations from the angel Gabriel, which he recited to his followers. The Qur'an (or The Recitation) is thus regarded by Muslims as the Speech of God. When the Meccans rejected his teaching and threatened his life, Muhammad fled to Medina in 622. The year of the flight (hejira) became the first year of the Islamic calendar (EI III: 641-657).

In the eleventh century there appeared the Vita Mahumeti (Life of Muhammad), a poem of 1142 lines, sometimes attributed to Hildebert of Tours, sometimes to Embrico, Treasurer of Mainz, 1090-1112. Muhammad is here portrayed as a magus or magician. Ten of the fourteen manuscripts date from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Walter of Compiègne wrote his Otia de Machomete, a poem of 1090 lines, between 1137 and 1155. In his Gesta Dei per Francos III (PL 156: 689-693), completed before 1112, Guibert of Nogent included a chapter on Muhammad's life. In 1258 Alexandre du Pont published his poem, Roman de Mahomet, which tells the story of Muhammad and Bahira Sergius, the Nestorian monk who was said to have converted Muhammad to his heresy. In 1143, Peter the Venerable of Cluny commissioned Robert of Ketton, for a high fee, to make the first Latin translation from Arabic of the Qur'an, and the work was completed at Toledo. Peter wrote to Bernard of Clairvaux that he could not decide whether the "Muhammadan" error was heresy and its followers heretics or whether they were to be called pagans (Epistola Petri Cluniacensis ad Bernardum Claraevallis, Letter of Peter of Cluny to Bernard of Clairvaux).

Dante depicts Muhammad among the schismatics; terribly mutilated, he warns against heresy and schism, Inf XXVIII.26-63. Langland relates that Muhammad was a renegade cardinal and a false Christian, Piers Plowman B. XV.389-414. Muhammad as cardinal appears in the life inserted by Jean le Clerc of Troyes in his Roman de Renart le contrefait, written in the first half of the fourteenth century. Muhammad appears as heretic and as renegade cardinal in Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon V.xiv. In the Chansons de geste Makomete is one of the several gods of the Saracens, in direct contradiction to the monotheism of Islam.

Mahoun is the prophet of the Syrians, MLT 211-224, 330-336, 337-340. Chaucer also uses the common nouns mawmet and mawmetry, derived from the Italian form of the name Maometto and from OF mahumet, meaning "idol" and "idolatry." The Sultaness refers to "the hooly lawes of our Alkoran," MLT 332; alcoran means "the Koran," the Arabic article is attached to its noun.

The form of the name varies. Mahoun, the OF variant, occurs twice medially, MLT 224, 340; Makomete, derived from medieval Latin Machometus, occurs in final rhyming position, MLT 333; Makometes, the ME genitive case, occurs in medial position, MLT 336.

Alexandre du Pont, Roman de Mahomet en vers du XIIIe siècle; Dante, Divine Comedy, ed. and trans. C.S. Singleton, I, 1: 300-301; R. Higden, Polychronicon, ed. J.R. Lumby and C. Babington, VI: 14-51; J. Kritzeck, Peter the Venerable and Islam, 212-214; W. Langland, Piers Plowman, ed. A.V.C. Schmidt, 190; D. Metlitzki, The Matter of Araby in Medieval England, 200-201; R.W. Southern, Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages, 29-30, n. 26.
Copyright © 1988, 1996 Jacqueline de Weever
Published by Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London.

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