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Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina)

With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

By Peter Heath

Publication Year: 1992

Islamic allegory is the product of a cohesive literary tradition to which few contributed as significantly as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the eleventh-century Muslim philosopher. Peter Heath here offers a detailed examination of Avicenna's contribution, paying special attention to Avicenna's psychology and poetics and to the ways in which they influenced strains of theological, mystical, and literary thought in subsequent Islamic—and Western—intellectual and religious history.

Heath begins by showing how Avicenna's writings fit into the context and general history of Islamic allegory and explores the interaction among allegory, allegoresis, and philosophy in Avicenna's thought. He then provides a brief introduction to Avicenna as an historical figure. From there, he examines the ways in which Avicenna's cosmological, psychological, and epistemological theories find parallel, if diverse, expression in the disparate formats of philosophical and allegorical narration. Included in this book is an illustration of Avicenna's allegorical practice. This takes the form of a translation of the Mi'raj Nama (The Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven), a short treatise in Persian generally attributed to Avicenna.

The text concludes with an investigation of the literary dimension Avicenna's allegorical theory and practice by examining his use of description metaphor. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna is an original and important work that breaks new ground by applying the techniques of modern literary criticism to the study of Medieval Islamic philosophy. It will be of interest to scholars and students of medieval Islamic and Western literature and philosophy.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Note on Transliteration and Dates

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pp. ix

In this book I generally follow the transliteration system of the International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) for Arabic and Persian words. I use the circumflex rather than the macron to represent long vowels, however, and I make two minor modifications in the transcription of the Arabic definite article ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi


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pp. xiii-xv

Part I Introduction

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pp. 1

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1. Avicenna and Islamic Allegory

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pp. 3-18

Islamic allegory represents a vast body of literature. It encompasses diverse genres—romance, "visionary recital," exegesis, debate (munâẓara), and fable. And its encoded "messages" stem from such varied disciplines as philosophy, mysticism, theology, political theory, and social and political satire. Despite this diversity in form and content, ...

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2. Avicenna: Courtier, Physician, Philosopher

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pp. 19-32

Avicenna lived in a world rich in opportunity. After enjoying a brief era of strong central authority and cultural florescence in the first part of the 3rd/9th century, the 'Abb

Part II Allegory and Philosophy

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pp. 33

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3. The Structure and Representation of the Cosmos

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pp. 35-52

Avicenna possessed an extraordinarily systematic vision of the structure of the cosmos—and of how it should be studied. Appreciating this fact is crucial if we are to understand his intellectual accomplishments; but it must also be kept in perspective. His passion for cohesiveness and completion led to the preoccupation with detail ...

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4. Avicenna's Theory of the Soul

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pp. 53-79

Psychology, the study of the soul, held a particular fascination for Avicenna. That the subject clearly lies near the heart of his concern for philosophy is indicated by the fact that he devoted numerous major and minor tracts to the subject and returned repeatedly to its elaboration throughout his life.1 ...

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5. Avicenna's Theory of Knowledge

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pp. 80-106

Avicenna's epistemology is based on his conception of what one can know (i.e., the sensible and intelligible realms surveyed in Chapter Three) and how one can know (i.e., the range of perceptual faculties discussed in Chapter Four). In this chapter we will investigate the dynamic psychological processes by which humans ...

Part III The Mi'r

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pp. 107

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6. Translation of the Mi'r

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pp. 109-144

The Mi'r

Part IV Interpretation and Allegory

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pp. 145

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7. The Interpretation and Function of Allegory

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pp. 147-169

Avicenna's theory of allegory is straightforward, easily summarized, and, obviously, highly pertinent to an understanding of the rhetorical dimension of his allegories and philosophical writings. As with any theory of literary creation or interpretation, however, Avicenna's hermeneutics must be taken with a grain of salt. ...

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8. Allegory and Allegoresis

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pp. 170-190

Until now we have examined Avicenna's allegories mainly in terms of their relationship to his philosophical writings, muthos in conjunction with logos. But his formulation of allegory itself deserves attention since it constitutes only one of the many possible expressions that the genre encompasses, whether in terms of ...


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pp. 191-214


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pp. 215-236


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pp. 237-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202229
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812231519

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 1992

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Avicenna, 980-1037 -- Symbolism.
  • Philosophy, Medieval.
  • Islamic philosophy.
  • Allegory.
  • Avicenna, 980-1037. Miʻrājʹnāmah.
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