Her countryman Silvio Berlusconi echoed Fallaci's ill spoken sentiments that, on the whole, Western civilization was superior to that of Islam. She said she was quite happy with Dante, thank you very much. She spoke too soon. Though the theory has long incited fierce debate, Dante may have been acquainted with "ascension literature," a fantastical literary genre that deals with Mohammed's ascent to Heaven (using a spiraling, magical ladder; ascension literature is still popular in the Middle East and Africa). Ed and Secretariat probably originated in Central Asia (with the "Heavenly Horses" of the King of Ferghana), our equine friends were first bred for speed in the desert sands of the Empty Quarter. Arab historian al Kelbi (c. 786) traced the Arabian to the pedigreed horses of Bax, great great great grandson of Noah. The conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and Spain was due in no small part to the aptly named beast (and the indefatigable camel), mount of choice for the tribesmen who swept all in their path. The descendents of these terrible swift steeds were brought to the New World by the Conquistadors, to devastating effect, particularly in ancient Peru where the Incas mistook the horsemen for gods. (By the time they learned the truth it was too late.) Appropriately enough, the largest and most successful stable today belongs to Sheikh Maktoum of Dubai.
H is for "Havi"
D is for Dante
From "al jabr," Arabic for "restoration," itself a transliteration of a Latin term, and just one of many contributions Arab mathematicians have made to the "Queen of Sciences." Al Khwarizmi (c.780 c.850), the chief librarian of the observatory, research center and library called the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, was the man responsible for making my life miserable at school. The motivation behind his treatise, "Hisab al jabr w'al muqabala" ("Calculation by Restoration and Reduction": widely used up to the 17th century), which covers linear and quadratic equations, was to solve trade imbalances, inheritance questions and problems arising from land surveyance and allocation. In passing, he also introduced into common usage our present numerical system, which replaced the old, cumbersome Roman one. Al Karaji of Baghdad (953 c.1029), founder of a highly influential school of algebraic thought, defined higher powers and their reciprocals in his "al Fakhri" and showed how to find their products. He also looked at polynomials and gave the rule for expanding a binomial, anticipating Pascal's triangle by more than six centuries. Although this beautiful waste of time dates back to the pharaohs, the form we enjoy today came to us via Moorish Spain in the 10th century. Ghioul and moultezim are two other variants of "the game of kings," popular wherever the happy hookah is indulged.