ABU L-HASAN ‘ALI IBN NAFI’ (“ZIRYAB”)
The Islamic world around the turn of the first millennium (and really for most of its existence up until maybe the 19th century) was an extremely advanced, civilized, and chillaxed place, particularly compared to pre-Renaissance Europe, which was basically a centuries-long redneck backyard wrestling match.
One of the most significant people in Islamic culture remains nearly anonymous in European history despite almost single-handedly laying the groundwork for traditional Spanish music: a highly educated North African slave popularly known as “Ziryab,” or “black bird” for the color of his skin and the quality of his singing.
While music was his strong point, Ziryab’s innovations cover a staggering variety of disciplines — he invented numerous dyes and chemicals for clothing, makeup, and hygiene, he introduced the idea of seasonal fashions and brought new styles and fabrics to the Andalusian peninsula, he came up with the structure of the traditional “three-course meal” of soup, entrée and dessert, and he’s credited as having popularized shaving and short haircuts as a way of beating the fierce Mediterranean heat.
It’s said Ziryab even developed the world’s first underarm deodorant and a type of early toothpaste said to be not only effective but pleasant to taste, making him very likely the very first human being in history to smell good all the time. Had Old Spice existed in the year 800, Ziryab wouldn’t have just been the spokesman, he would’ve been the PR director, research department and CEO.