The Basque History of the World

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The Basque History of the World is the illuminating story of an ancient and enigmatic people. Signs of their civilization existed well before the arrival of the Romans in 218 B.C., and though theories abound, no one has ever been able to determine their origins. Their ancient tongue, Euskera, is equally mysterious: It is the oldest living European language, and is related to no other language on Earth.. "Yet despite their obscure origins and small numbers (2.4 million people today), the Basques have had a ...
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Overview

The Basque History of the World is the illuminating story of an ancient and enigmatic people. Signs of their civilization existed well before the arrival of the Romans in 218 B.C., and though theories abound, no one has ever been able to determine their origins. Their ancient tongue, Euskera, is equally mysterious: It is the oldest living European language, and is related to no other language on Earth.. "Yet despite their obscure origins and small numbers (2.4 million people today), the Basques have had a profound impact on Europe and the world for more than 2,000 years. Never seeking more land, they have nonetheless fiercely defended their own against invaders ranging from the Celts and Visigoths to Napoleon and Franco. They have always been a paradoxical blend of inbred tradition and worldly ambition, preserving their indigenous legal code, cuisine, literature - even their own hat and shoe - while at the same time striving immodestly to be leaders in the world.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Straddling the border of southern France and northern Spain, the land of the Basques has long been home to a people who had no country of their own but have always viewed themselves as a nation. In this marvelous work of cultural history and appreciation, Kurlansky traces Basque history from pre-Roman times, when Basques worked as the mercenaries of Carthage, to the region's recent renaissance in language and arts. Along the way, he explains how the Basques came to be among Europe's first whalers, capitalists, explorers, industrialists and international traders. As he did in Cod, Kurlansky fuses political and economic history with delightful digressions into cultural and culinary traditions several delicious recipes are included. The book is as politically loaded with opinion as it is culturally informative: Kurlansky expresses sympathy for the cause of Basque independence, arguing that many of Spain's current policies toward its Basque minority are holdovers from the repressive Franco regime. He also tends to accept the claim that the Basques "are the original Europeans," largely on the ground that Euskera, the Basque language, appears to have no linguistic relative and is likely the oldest European language still spoken. For all the ground it covers, this wildly informative work is a marvel of clarity, glittering with unusual facts and marked by penetrating insights into a people always "making complex choices about the degree of independence that was needed to preserve their way of life, while looking to the rest of the world for commercial opportunities to ensure their prosperity." 56 illustrations, 6 maps, 10 recipes. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy Agency. 5-city author tour. Oct. FYI: Cod received the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing and was a New York Public Library Best Book of 1997. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of Cod, one of last year's quirkiest and most enjoyable entries, returns with a slightly less meandering but equally entertaining history of the Basques. Kurlansky brings a novelist's storytelling talents, a journalist's eye for the salient fact, and an unapologetic admiration of his subject to an episodic narrative of Europe's oldest surviving culture. LJ 10/1/99 Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A comprehensive view of all things Basque, from the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997). The Basque History of the World is an honorable title, alerting readers to its singularly Basque-centric mix of cultural studies, history, and politics. The writing is direct and accessible, although limited by the occasional descriptive cliché ("jagged mountains" and "crisp fall days"). It's most interesting when describing the periods when Basque history intersects with the history of the larger world. For example, in a section on the Spanish Civil War, Kurlansky utilizes quotes from survivors of the 1937 bombing of Guernica by Franco's forces, the first large-scale use of air power against a civilian population, to create a sense of suspense, dread, and terror. The bravery of members of the Basque underground, who helped over 700 downed Allied fliers escape from Nazi-occupied territory to England during WWII, is also depicted through compelling first-person recollections. The last third of the book, covering the post-WWII period and the radicalization of a faction of the Basque independence movement, is most problematic. While Kurlansky adeptly explains the logic for Basque autonomy and presents the most radical wings' justification for its historical use of terrorism, his analysis too often accepts the Basque view at face value and offers no independent perspective. Perhaps this is because Kurlansky is enamored of his subject, especially the Basque language, Euskera. Euskera warrants attention, as it's a unique non-Indo-European language with no known linguistic relatives. Kurlansky knows the Basques well and includes many entertaining anecdotes,myths, and facts about them, all of which reflect a quaint Basque chauvinism. According to the author, the Basque are: probably the original Europeans, the first Europeans to cultivate tobacco, the first bankers in Spain, the most devout Catholics in the world, and among the inventors of beach resorts. In its entirety, this is an informative but ethnocentric history that readers should approach with their critical faculties intact. (Author tour)
From the Publisher
"This wildly informative work is a marvel of clarity, glittering with unusual facts and marked by penetrating insights into a people always making complex choices about the degree of independence that was needed to preserve their way of life." -- Publishers Weekly

"An accessible book with an encyclopedic sweep and a delight in digression. Like Cod... it's a fugue, with historical narrative and cultural study weaving through geography, myth mixing with social history and politics, cookery abutting commentary." -- The Globe and Mail

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590072493
  • Publisher: New Millennium Entertainment
  • Publication date: 6/1/2004
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 4.46 (w) x 6.28 (h) x 2.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky is the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, a Canadian and international bestseller. He is also the author of A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny, and A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Blessed with extraordinary narrative skills, journalist and bestselling author Mark Kurlansky is one of a burgeoning breed of writers who has turned a variety of eclectic, offbeat topics into engaging nonfiction blockbusters.

Kurlansky worked throughout the 1970s and '80s as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Mexico. He spent seven years covering the Caribbean for the Chicago Tribune and transformed the experience into his first book. Published in 1992, A Continent of Islands was described by Kirkus Reviews as "[a] penetrating analysis of the social, political, sexual, and cultural worlds that exist behind the four-color Caribbean travel posters."

Since then, Kurlansky has produced a steady stream of bestselling nonfiction, much of it inspired by his longstanding interest in food and food history. (He has worked as a chef and a pastry maker and has written award-winning articles for several culinary magazines.) Among his most popular food-centric titles are the James Beard Award winner Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997), Salt: A World History (2002), and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006). All three were adapted into illustrated children's books.

In 2004, Kurlansky cast his net wider with 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, an ambitious, colorful narrative history that sought to link political and cultural revolutions around the world to a single watershed year. While the book itself received mixed reviews, Kurlanski's storytelling skill was universally praised. In 2006, he published the scholarly, provocative critique Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea. It received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Despite occasional forays into fiction (the 2000 short story collection The White Man in the Tree and the 2005 novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue), Kurlansky's bailiwick remains the sorts of freewheeling colorful, and compulsively readable micro-histories that 21st-century readers cannot get enough of.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hartford, CT
    1. Education:
      Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

Read an Excerpt




Part One


THE SURVIVAL OF
EUSKAL HERRIA


Nomansland, the territory of the Basques, is in a region called Cornucopia, where the vines are tied up with sausages. And in those parts there was a mountain made entirely of grated Parmesan cheese on whose slopes there were people who spent their whole time making macaroni and ravioli, which they cooked in chicken broth and then cast it to the four winds, and the faster you could pick it up, the more you got of it.
—Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, 1352


The Basque Cake


The truth is that the Basque distrusts a stranger much too much to invite someone into his home who doesn't speak his language.

—LES GUIDES BLEUS PAYS BASQUE FRANÇAIS ET
ESPAGNOL, 1954


The game the rest of the world knows as jai alai was invented in the French Basque town of St.-Pée-sur-Nivelle. St. Pée, like most of the towns in the area, holds little more than one curving street against a steep-pastured slope. The houses are whitewashed, with either red or green shutters and trim. Originally the whitewash was made of chalk. The traditional dark red color, known in French as rouge Basque, Basque red, was originally made from cattle blood. Espelette, Ascain, and other towns in the valley look almost identical. A fronton court—a single wall with bleachers to the left—is always in the center of town.

    While the French were developing tennis, the Basques, asthey often did, went in a completely different direction. The French ball was called a pelote, a French word derived from a verb for winding string. These pelotes were made of wool or cotton string wrapped into a ball and covered with leather. The Basques were the first Europeans to use a rubber ball, a discovery from the Americas, and the added bounce of wrapping rubber rather than string—the pelote Basque, as it was originally called—led them to play the ball off walls, a game which became known also as pelote or, in Spanish and English, pelota. A number of configurations of walls as well as a range of racquets, paddles, and barehanded variations began to develop. Jai alai, an Euskera phrase meaning "happy game," originally referred to a pelota game with an additional long left-hand wall. Then in 1857, a young farm worker in St. Pée named Gantxiki Harotcha, scooping up potatoes into a basket, got the idea of propelling the ball even faster with a long, scoop-shaped basket strapped to one hand. The idea quickly spread throughout the Nivelle Valley and in the twentieth century, throughout the Americas, back to where the rubber ball had begun.

    St. Pée seems to be a quiet town. But it hasn't always been so. During World War II the Basques, working with the French underground, moved British and American fliers and fleeing Jews on the route up the valley from St.-Jean-de-Luz to Sare and across the mountain pass to Spain.

    The Gestapo was based in the big house next to the fronton, the pelota court. Jeanine Pereuil, working in her family's pastry shop across the street, remembers refugees whisked past the gaze of the Germans. The Basques are said to be a secretive people. It is largely a myth—one of many. But in 1943, the Basques of the Nivelle Valley kept secrets very well. Jeanine Pereuil has many stories about the Germans and the refugees. She married a refugee from Paris.

    The only change Jeanine made in the shop in her generation was to add a few figurines on a shelf. Before the Basques embraced Christianity with a legendary passion, they had other beliefs, and many of these have survived. Jeanine goes to her shelf and lovingly picks out the small figurine of a joaldun, a man clad in sheepskin with bells on his back. "Can you imagine," she says, "at my age buying such things. This is my favorite" she says, picking out a figure from the ezpata dantza, the sword dance performed on the Spanish side especially for the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi. The dancer is wearing white with a red sash, one leg kicked out straight and high and the arms stretched out palms open.

    Born in 1926, Jeanine is the fourth generation to make gâteau Basque and sell it in this shop. Her daughter is the fifth generation. The Pereuils all speak Basque as their first language and make the exact same cake. She is not sure when her great grandfather, Jacques Pereuil, started the shop, but she knows her grandfather, Jacques's son, was born in the shop in 1871.

    Gâteau Basque, like the Basques themselves, has an uncertain origin. It appears to date from the eighteenth century and may have originally been called bistochak. While today's gâteau Basque is a cake filled with either cherry jam or pastry cream, the original bistochak was not a gâteau but a bread. The cherry filling predates the cream one. The cake appears to have originated in the valley of the winding Nivelle River, which includes the town of Itxassou, famous for its black cherries, a Basque variety called xapata.

    Basques invented their own language and their own shoes, espadrilles. They also created numerous sports including not only pelota but wagon-lifting contests called orgo joko, and sheep fighting known as agaritalka. They developed their own farm tools such as the two-pronged hoe called a laia, their own breed of cow known as the blond cow, their own sheep called the whitehead sheep, and their own breed of pig, which was only recently rescued from extinction.

    And so they also have their own black cherry, the xapata from Itxassou, which only bears fruit for a few weeks in June but is so productive during those weeks that a large surplus is saved in the form of preserves. The cherry, preserve-filled cakes were sold in the market in Bayonne, a city celebrated for its chocolate makers, who eventually started buying Itxassou black cherries to dip in chocolate.

    Today in most of France and Spain a gâteau Basque is cream filled, but the closer to the valley of the Nivelle, the more likely it is to be cherry filled.

    Jeanine, whose shop makes nothing besides one kind of bread, the two varieties of gâteau Basque, and a cookie based on the gâteau Basque dough, finds it hard to believe that her specialty originated as cherry bread. Just as the shop's furniture has never been changed, the recipe has never changed. The Pereuils have always made it as cake, not bread, and, she insists, have always made both the cream and cherry fillings. Cream is overwhelmingly the favorite. The mailman, given a little two-inch cake every morning when he brings the mail, always chooses cream.

    Maison Pereuil may not be old enough for the earlier bistochak cherry bread recipe, but the Pereuil cake is not like the modern buttery gâteau Basque either. Jeanine's tawny, elastic confection is a softer, more floury version of the sugar-and-egg-white macaroon offered to Louis XIV and his young bride, the Spanish princess Maria Theresa, on their wedding day, May 8, 1660, in St.-Jean-de-Luz. Ever since, the macaroon has been a specialty of that Basque port at the mouth of the Nivelle.

    When asked for the antique recipe for her family's gâteau Basque, Jeanine Pereuil smiled bashfully and said, "You know, people keep offering me a lot of money for this recipe."

    How much do they offer?

    "I don't know. I'm not going to bargain. I will never give out the recipe. If I sold the recipe, the house would vanish. And this is the house of my father and his father. I am keeping their house. And I hope my daughter will do the same for me."


Chapter One


1. The Basque Myth


The Basques share with the Celts the privilege of indulging in unrivaled extravagance on the subject of themselves.
—Miguel de Unamuno quoting Ampère,

HISTORY OF FRENCH LITERATURE BEFORE
THE TWELFTH CENTURY, 1884


The Basques seem to be a mythical people, almost an imagined people. Their ancient culture is filled with undated legends and customs. Their land itself, a world of red-roofed, whitewashed towns, tough green mountains, rocky crests, a cobalt sea that turns charcoal in stormy weather, a strange language, and big berets, exists on no maps except their own.

    Basqueland begins at the Adour River with its mouth at Bayonne—the river that separates the Basques from the French pine forest swampland of Landes—and ends at the Ebro River, whose rich valley separates the dry red Spanish earth of Rioja from Basqueland. Basqueland looks too green to be Spain and too rugged to be France. The entire area is only 8,218 square miles, which is slightly smaller than New Hampshire.

    Within this small space are seven Basque provinces. Four provinces are in Spain and have Basque and Spanish names: Nafaroa or Navarra, Gipuzkoa or Guipúzcoa, Bizkaia or Vizcaya, and Araba or Alava. Three are in France and have Basque and French names: Lapurdi or Labourd, Benafaroa or Basse Navarre, and Zuberoa or Soule. An old form of Basque nationalist graffiti is "4 + 3 = 1."

    As with most everything pertaining to Basques, the provinces are defined by language. There are seven dialects of the Basque language, though there are sub-dialects within some of the provinces.

    In the Basque language, which is called Euskera, there is no word for Basque. The only word to identify a member of their group is Eushaldun—Euskera speaker. Their land is called Euskal Herria—the land of Euskera speakers. It is language that defines a Basque.


The Central Mystery Is: Who are the Basques? The early Basques left no written records, and the first accounts of them, two centuries after the Romans arrived in 218 B.C., give the impression that they were already an ancient—or at least not a new—people. Artifacts predating this time that have been found in the area—a few tools, drawings in caves, and the rudiments of ruins—cannot be proved to have been made by Basques, though it is supposed that at least some of them were.

    Ample evidence exists that the Basques are a physically distinct group. There is a Basque type with a long straight nose, thick eyebrows, strong chin, and long earlobes. Even today, sitting in a bar in a mountainous river valley town like Tolosa, watching men play mus, the popular card game, one can see a similarity in the faces, despite considerable intermarriage. Personalities, of course, carve very different visages, but over and over again, from behind a hand of cards, the same eyebrows, chin, and nose can be seen. The identical dark navy wool berets so many men wear—each in a slightly different manner—seem to showcase the long Basque ears sticking out on the sides. In past eras, when Spaniards and French were typically fairly small people, Basque men were characteristically larger, thick chested, broad shouldered, and burly. Because these were also characteristics of Cro-Magnons, Basques are often thought to be direct descendants of this man who lived 40,000 years ago.

    Less subjective physical evidence of an ancient and distinct group has also surfaced. In the beginning of the twentieth century, it was discovered that all blood was one of three types: A, B, or O. Basques have the highest concentration of type O in the world—more than 50 percent of the population—with an even higher percentage in remote areas where the language is best preserved, such as Soule. Most of the rest are type A. Type B is extremely rare among Basques. With the finding that Irish, Scots, Corsicans, and Cretans also have an unusually high incidence of type O, speculation ran wild that these peoples were somehow related to Basques. But then, in 1937, came the discovery of the rhesus factor, more commonly known as Rh positive or Rh negative. Basques were found to have the highest incidence of Rh negative blood of any people in the world, significantly higher than the rest of Europe, even significantly higher than neighboring regions of France and Spain. Cro-Magnon theorists point out that other places known to have been occupied by Cro-Magnon man, such as the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the Canary Islands, also have been found to have a high incidence of Rh negative.

    Twenty-seven percent of Basques have O Rh negative blood. Rh negative blood in a pregnant woman can fatally poison a fetus that has positive blood. Since World War II, intervention techniques to save the fetus have been developed, but it is probable that throughout history, the rate of miscarriage and stillborn births among the Basques was extremely high, which may be one of the reasons they remained a small population on a limited amount of land while other populations, especially in Iberia, grew rapidly.

    Before Basque blood was studied as a key to their origins, several attempts were made to analyze the structure of Basque skulls. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a researcher reported, "Someone gave me a Basque body and I dissected it and I assert that the head was not built like that of other men."

    Studies of Basque skulls in the nineteenth century concluded, depending on whose study is believed, that Basques were either Turks, Tartars, Magyars, Germans, Laplanders, or the descendants of Cro-Magnon man either originating in Basqueland or coming from the Berbers of North Africa.

    Or do clothes hold the secret to Basque origins? A twelfth-century writer, Aimeric de Picaud, considered not skulls but skirts, concluding after seeing Basque men in short ones that they were clearly descendants of Scots.

    The most useful artifact left behind by the ancient Basques is their language. Linguists find that while the language has adopted foreign words, the grammar has proved resistant to change, so that modern Euskera is thought to be far closer to its ancient form than modern Greek is to ancient Greek. Euskera has extremely complex verbs and twelve cases, few forms of politeness, a limited number of abstractions, a rich vocabulary for natural phenomena, and no prepositions or articles.

    Etxea is the word for a house or home. "At home" is etxean. "To the house" is etxera. "From home" is etxetik. Concepts are formed by adding more and more suffixes, which is what is known as an agglutinating language. This agglutinating language only has about 200,000 words, but its vocabulary is greatly extended by almost 200 standard suffixes. In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled from a data base of 60 million words, but English is a language with an unusually large vocabulary. It is sometimes said that Euskera includes just nouns, verbs, and suffixes, but relatively simple concepts can become words of formidable size. Iparsortalderatu is a verb meaning "to head in a northeasterly direction."

    Euskera has often been dismissed as an impossible language. Arturo Campión, a nineteenth-century Basque writer from Navarra, complained that the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defined Euskera as "the Basque language, so confusing and obscure that it can hardly be understood." It is obscure but not especially confusing. The language seems more difficult than it is because it is so unfamiliar, so different from other languages. Its profusion of ks and xs looks intimidating on the page, but the language is largely phonetic with some minor pitfalls, such as a very soft b and an aspirated h as in English, which is difficult for French and Spanish speakers to pronounce. The x is pronounced "ch." Etxea is pronounced "et-CHAY-a." For centuries Spanish speakers made Euskera seem friendlier to them by changing xs to chs as in echea, and ks, which do not exist in Latin languages, to cs, as in Euscera. To English speakers, Basque spellings are often more phonetic than Spanish equivalents. The town the Spanish call Guernica is pronounced the way the Basques write it—Gernika.

    The structure of the language—roots and suffixes—offers important clues about Basque origins. The modern words aitzur, meaning "hoe," aizkora, meaning "axe," aizto, meaning "knife," plus various words for digging and cutting, all come from the word haitz or the older aitz, which means "stone." Such etymology seems to indicate a very old language, indeed from the Stone Age. Even though the language has acquired newer words, notably Latin from the Romans and the Church, and Spanish, such words are used in a manner unique to this ancestral language. Ezpata, like the Spanish word espada, means "sword." But ezpatakada means "the blow from a sword," ezpatajoka means "fencing," and espatadantzari is a "sword dancer."

    Though numerous attempts have been made, no one has ever found a linguistic relative of Euskera. It is an orphan language that does not even belong to the Indo-European family of languages. This is a remarkable fact because once the Indo-Europeans began their Bronze Age sweep from the Asian subcontinent across Europe, virtually no group, no matter how isolated, was left untouched. Even Celtic is Indo-European. Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are the only other living European languages that are not related to the Indo-European group. Inevitably there have been theories linking Finnish and Euskera or Hungarian and Euskera. Did the Basques immigrate from Lapland? Hungarian, it has been pointed out, is also an agglutinating language. But no other connection has been found between the Basque language and its fellow agglutinators.

    A brief attempt to tie the Basques to the Picts, ancient occupants of Britain who spoke a language thought to be pre-Indo-European, fell apart when it was discovered the Picts weren't non-Indo-European at all, but were Celtic.

    If, as appears to be the case, the Basque language predates the Indo-European invasion, if it is an early or even pre-Bronze Age tongue, it is very likely the oldest living European language.

    If Euskera is the oldest living European language, are Basques the oldest European culture? For centuries that question has driven both Basques and non-Basques on the quest to find the Basque origin. Miguel de Unamuno, one of the best-known Basque writers, devoted his earliest work, written in 1884 when he was still a student, to the question. "I am Basque," he began, "and so I arrive with suspicion and caution at this little and poorly garnered subject."

    As Unamuno pointed out, and this is still true today, many researchers have not hesitated to employ a liberal dose of imagination. One theory not only has Adam and Eve speaking Euskera but has the language predating their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The name Eve, according to this theory, comes from ezbai, "no-yes" in Euskera. The walls of Jericho crumbled, it was also discovered, when trumpets blasted a Basque hymn.

    The vagaries of fact and fiction were encouraged by the fact that the Basques were so late to document their language. The first book entirely in Euskera was not published until 1545. No Basques had attempted to study their own history or origins until the sixteenth-century Guipúzcoan Esteban de Garibay. Spanish historians of the time had already claimed that Iberia was populated by descendants of Tubal, Noah's grandson, who went to Iberia thirty-five years after the Flood subsided. Garibay observed that Basque place-names bore a resemblance to those in Armenia where the ark landed, and therefore it was specifically the Basques who descended from Tubal. Was not Mount Gorbeya in southern Vizcaya named after Mount Gordeya in Armenia? Garibay traced Euskera to the Tower of Babel.

    In 1729, when Manuel de Larramendi wrote the first book of Basque grammar ever published, he asserted that Euskera was one of seventy-five languages to have developed out of the confusion at the Tower of Babel. According to Juan Bautista de Erro, whose The Primitive World or a Philosophical Examination of Antiquity and Culture of the Basque Nation was published in Madrid in 1815, Euskera is the world's oldest language, having been devised by God as the language of Adam's Paradise, preserved in the Tower of Babel, surviving the Flood because Noah spoke the language, and brought to present-day Basque country by Tubal.

    In one popular legend, the first Basque was Aïtor, one of a few remarkable men who survived the Flood without Noah's ark, by leaping from stone to stone. However, Aïtor, still recognized by some as the father of all Basques, was invented in 1848 by the French Basque writer Augustin Chaho. After Chaho's article on Aïtor was translated into Spanish in 1878, the legend grew and became a mainstay of Basque culture. Some who said Aïtor was mere fiction went on to hypothesize that the real father of all Basques was Tubal.

    Since then, links have been conjectured with languages of the Caucasus, Africa, Siberia, and Japan. One nineteenth-century researcher concluded that Basques were a Celtic tribe, another that they were Etruscans. And inevitably it has been discovered that the Basques, like so many other peoples, were actually the lost thirteenth tribe of Israel. Just as inescapably, others have concluded that the Basques are, in reality, the survivors of Atlantis.

    A case for the Basques really being Jews was carefully made by a French clergyman, the abbot J. Espagnolle, in a 1900 book titled L'Origine des Basques (The Origin of the Basques). For this theory to work, the reader first had to realize that the people of ancient Sparta were Jewish. To support this claim, Espagnolle quotes a historian of ancient Greece who wrote, "Love of money is a Spartan characteristic." If this was not proof enough, he also argues that Sparta, like Judea, had a lack of artisans. The wearing of hats and respect for elders were among further evidence offered. From there, it was simply a matter of asserting, as ancient Greek historians had, he said, that the Spartans colonized northern Spain. And of course these Spartan colonists who later became Basques were Jewish.

    With issues of nationhood at stake, such seemingly desperate hypotheses may not be devoid of political motives. "Indigenous" is a powerful notion to both the French and Spanish states. Both define their history as the struggle of their people, the rightful indigenous occupants, to defend their land against the Moors, invaders from another place, of another race, and of another religion. In Europe, this heroic struggle has long been an essential underpinning of both nationalism and racism. The idea that Basques were in their European mountains, speaking their own indigenous European language, long before the French and the Spanish, is disturbing to French and Spanish nationalists. Unless the Basques can be shown to be from somewhere else, the Spanish and French are transformed into the Moorish role—outside invaders imposing an alien culture. From the sixteenth century on, historians receiving government salaries in Madrid wrote histories that deliberately minimized the possibility of indigenous Basques.

    But the Basques like the idea, which most evidence supports, that they are the original Europeans, predating all others. If true, it must have been an isolating experience, belonging to this ancient people whose culture had little in common with any of its neighbors. It was written over and over in the records of those who observed the Basques that they spoke a strange language that kept them apart from others. But it is also what kept them together as a people, uniting them to withstand Europe's great invasions.

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Table of Contents

Maps ix
Introduction: The Island and the World 1
Part One THE SURVIVAL OF EUSKAL HERRIA
The Basque Cake 15
1: The Basque Myth 18
2: The Basque Problem 27
3: The Basque Whale 45
4: The Basque Saint 65
5: The Basque Billy Goat 80
6: The Wealth of Non-Nations 105
Part Two THE DAWN OF EUSKADI
The Basque Onomatopoeia 129
7: The Basque Beret 154
8: The Basque Ear 155
9: Gernika 177
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2012

    Highly recommended if you are traveling to southern France-northern Spain

    I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I knew little of the Basque struggle to establish a nation, or the many contributions Basque people have made to the world. I am planning to visit the Basque regions of southwestern France and northwestern Spain to increase my knowledge of these fascinating people and their long history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2002

    .Demystifying the Basque Country

    I have visited the Basque country several times and found it the most enigmatic of places: at once cultured, economically successful, and endowed with the most lethal indigenous terrorist activity on the Continent. Before I read this book, what little I did know only served to confuse me more. This book, far from a comprehensive hostorical narrative, is more of a mosaic of vivid tiles from different times, places and kitchens. The result is an economical but powerful portrait of the people and land today. I disagree with the earlier review with respect to Basque nationalism. I think it does a good if sketchy job of presenting its noble historical roots, its purist middle age steeped in ethnic supremicism, and the recent decades in which the cause has rather desparately served the frustrations of young malcontents of all political and ethnic stripes in that corner of Spain. The author is clearly intimate with his subjects on all levels, and there's not a dull page in it. Properly for a book about the Basques, it's heavy on the culinary traditions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2000

    A Charming voyage of discovery

    Kurlansky possesses a direct prose style and an eye for detail that presents an entertaining and compelling account of this unusual European 'nation'. From the stand by Roland at Roncevalles to current ETA bombings, the book certainly captures the indomitable spirit of Basques throughout history. It is obvious that Kurlansky has Hemingway's affection for the people devastated by the Spanish Civil War, in whose number he includes the Basque. [Aside: That conflict should be required study for all Americans, in high school, as it relates directly to our contemporary geopolitical situation as well as the myriad of Latin American wars since WW II.] The book's only weakness is its lack of objectivity concerning post-Franco issues. That shortcoming aside, he brings you 'all things Basque' with refreshing relevance, clarity, and humor. A high school friend of mine, whose mother was a French woman married to an American Air Force Pilot, advised me in 1977 that his ancestors were Basque. It meant nothing to me then; Kurlansky helps me understand my friend's pride. A Spanish colleague of mine, who commands a fighter squadron in Maron, Spain, will doubtless approach the copy I sent him from a different point of view. The linkages between 'Cod' and 'The Basque History of the World' relate directly to American colonial history. Both books are worthwhile reading for any American. Again, Kurlansky provides a book full of delightful surprises and anecdotes, not to mention intriguing recipes. Enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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