This thesis compares an Italian and an Egyptian novel, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Gamal al-Ghitani's Zayni Barakat, paying particular attention to the way European and Arabic historiographies influence their composition. Both set at the end of the Middle Ages, the two novels are taken as representatives of the way contemporary European and Arabic literature portray the past in relation to their present. Starting with a reconstruction of the two historiographic patterns based on Salvation and Progress, and their influencing the notion of literary Medievalism, the two novels are treated separately in order to contextualize them in their literary frame. Eco portrays in The Name of the Rose the contemporary crisis of post-modern societies, philologically reconstructing late medieval Italy in order to show the challenge between its traditional and modern aspects. In doing so, he succeeds in enacting before the reader the contemporary conflict between modern and medieval conceptions of the world, still rooted in European culture through its two different historiographic patterns. Being the genre of the novel introduced in Arabic literature since the late nineteenth-century, the medievalist literary fashion has been appropriated by Ghitani in order to portray the social problems of contemporary Egypt. Dealing with late-Mamluk period, Ghitani enacts a parallelism between the Turkish invasion of 1517 and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, enquiring for both cases the causes of a military defeat. Concerned with the theme of social control during the Nasserist period, with a system of spies keeping constantly in check civil society, Ghitani sets his novel in ancient Cairo. In doing so he is able to escape censorship and enacts a past lived as still present. Representative, as compared with Eco, of a more eclectic conception of time, Ghitani builds his novel on different historiographic patterns, partly European, partly traditionally Arab, partly given by his personal conception of time.


English & Comparative Literature Department

Degree Name

MA in English & Comparative Literature

Date of Award


Online Submission Date

February 2013

First Advisor

Ghazoul, Ferial

Committee Member 1

Ghazoul, Ferial

Committee Member 2

Mehrez, Samia

Document Type



76 p.


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