SARACEN The word Saracen is an English adaptation of the Greek word sarakenos (easterner). It was used commonly in medieval and early modern British literature to refer to any non-Christian, non-Jewish person, usually from the Middle East but also possibly from North Africa or even Spain; Arab or Muslim are rough synonyms. The use of the term is usually pejorative and indicates an opponent of Christianity. It is seldom attached to actual cultural knowledge; instead, most literary depictions of Saracens involve simple behavioral stereotypes (treachery, greed, cowardice), either for comic effect or as part pro-Christian propaganda.
Saracens are almost always simple villains in romances, where for the most part Christianity triumphs, and they either die or are converted. However, there are exceptions to this ethnocentrism. For instance, in the Charlemagne romance The Sultan of Babylone (ca. 1450), the Saracens are more multifac-eted and thoughtful. As travel and ethnic encounters increased in the later 15th and 16th centuries, the word began to be replaced—in literature as well as in nonliterary texts of many kinds—by more precise cultural nomenclature.
See also Bevis of Hampton; Floris and Blauncheflur; "Man of Law's Tale, The."
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