Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reconciling Differences

Working on the "Author's Note" for Road from the West. Here's an excerpt:


As in any historical endeavor, one of the joys of this project has been reconciling different--and differing--source material. The chroniclers of the First Crusade tend to disagree as much as the leaders themselves. Although these discrepancies can be time-consuming and frustrating, they are also eminently understandable since each eyewitness sees things with a unique perspective and each historian was attached to a different contingent of the Crusade. The case of the Armenian traitor Firuz is a prime example; here the historians give as many variations of the story as they do variants on his name.

The writer of the Gesta states that an emir named Pirus was convinced of Christianity by Bohemond and agreed to turn over his three towers to the Normans. Anna Comnena, the daughter of Emperor Alexios, avers that Bohemond persuaded the Armenian to betray his trust by means of "flagrant cajolery and a series of attractive guarantees." Fulcher of Chartres records that the traitor was a Turk, not an Armenian; he was incited to action by a dream wherein Christ commanded him to place the city in the hands of the Christians. Ralph of Caen returns to the Armenian identification and depicts the traitor as the father of a large family. When Cassian confiscated the grain that the man had stored up to feed his children, he determined to hand over the Tower of the Two Sisters to Bohemond out of desperation and revenge.

The Islamic chroniclers have their own details to add. The Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir calls the traitor an armor-maker named Ruzbih whom the Franks bribed with a fortune in money and lands. His countryman Ibn al-Qalanisi states that the betrayal was a cabal among several of the armor-makers who were unhappy about some ill-usage and confiscations at the hands of the governor. Steven Runciman, the premier historian of the Crusades, conflates several of these versions plus another rumor circulated later, that Firouz "had been hesitating right up till the evening before, when he discovered that his wife was compromised with one of his Turkish colleagues."

My version of Firuz's betrayal strives to do justice to as many of the accounts as I can while still creating a plausible story for the reader....

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