History of International Relations Textbook

The Muslim caliphates

Deodorants and the origins of flamenco

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Abu I-Hasan, 789-857 CE, nicknamed “Ziryab” from the Arabic for “black bird,” was a musician, singer, composer, poet and teacher, who lived and worked in Baghdad, Northern Africa, and during thirty years in Al-Andalus in Spain. More than anything he was a master of the oud, the Arabic lute, to which he added a fifth pair of strings and began playing with a pick rather than the fingers. Many good musicians assembled at the court in Córdoba, but Ziryab was the best. He established a school where the Arabic style of music was taught for generations, creating a tradition which was to have a profound influence on all subsequent music in Spain, not least on the flamenco.

In addition Ziryab was the court’s leading authority on questions of food and fashion where he set an elegant standard of etiquette previously unknown in this part of the world. He changed his clothes according to the weather and the season, and he suggested different dress for mornings, afternoons and evenings. He is said to have invented a new type of deodorant to get rid of bad odors, and also promoted morning and evening baths. He also invented an early form of toothpaste and popularized shaving among men. Among the products he took with him from Baghdad were new fruits and vegetables such as the asparagus as well as the habit of serving three-course meals, consisting of soup, main course and dessert.