In recent decades, the theory that the Arabs, in the course of their expansion around the western Mediterranean basin, played the key rôle in the diffusion of pasta into Italy has gained near universal acceptance. As part of a necessary and legitimate reassessment of Arab cultural contributions to western Europe, this theory both draws on and itself lends seemingly crucial support to the broader view that among these cultural contributions was a deep and abiding influence on European cuisines. While there is no doubt that contacts between medieval Europe and Islamic civilisation had certain very important ramifications for the development of European foodways, there has arisen in some prominent circles an inclination to attribute to Arab influence a far greater impact than the recoverable evidence supports and nowhere is this distorted view of Arab centrality more problematic than in the history of pasta: the argumentation supporting this theory is based largely on amateurish etymologies of key words for pasta types and a simplistic approach to textual evidence. In addition, the pro-Arab evidence is never considered in any meaningful way against the broader backdrop of Mediterranean history, elevating, for example, the import of short-lived pirate encampments beyond that of many centuries of Greco-Italic cultural symbiosis. Building on previous work examining other aspects of the history of pasta (Buccini 2013, 2015), I focus on the key early pasta term Ar. itriyya/Gr. itria/SouthIt. tri(lli) and demonstrate that here too proponents of the Arab theory rely on faulty linguistic and historical analyses.
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