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Classical Arabic Literature

A Library of Arabic Literature Anthology

Geert Jan Van Gelder

Publication Year: 2012

A major achievement in the field of translation, this anthology presents a rich assortment of classical Arabic poems and literary prose, from pre-Islamic times until the 18th century, with short introductions to guide non-specialist students and informative endnotes and bibliography for advanced scholars. Like many pre-modern Arabic anthologies it aims at being both entertaining and informative. It ranges from the early Bedouin poems with their evocation of desert life to refined urban lyrical verse, from tender love poetry to sonorous eulogy or vicious lampoons, and from the heights of mystical rapture to the frivolity of comic verse. The prose contains anecdotes, entertaining or edifying tales and parables, a fairy-tale, a bawdy story, samples of literary criticism, and much more.
 
With this anthology, distinguished Arabist Geert Jan van Gelder brings together well-known texts as well as less familiar pieces that will be new even to scholars in the field. Many recent studies and anthologies of Middle Eastern literatures are primarily interested in Islam and religious matters—an emphasis that leads to the common misconception that almost everything in the region was and is dominated by religion. Classical Arabic Literature instead brings to life the rich variety of pre-modern Arabic social and cultural life, where secular texts happily coexisted with religious ones. This masterful anthology, in English only, will introduce this vibrant literary heritage to a wide spectrum of new readers.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Letter

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-x

Acknowledgements

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pp. xi-12

Abbreviations

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pp. xii-13

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Introduction

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pp. xiii-xxv

Many ancient Arabic Bedouin or quasi-Bedouin poems begin with the exclamation khalīlayya, “My two friends!” According to a literary convention, never fully explained,1 the poet, who is supposed to be traveling in the desert when he spots...

Notes to the Introduction

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pp. xxvi-xxviii

Verse

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pp. 1-30

A Qaṣīdah by ʿAbīd ibn al-Abraṣ

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pp. 2-3

A Qaṣīdah by ʿAlqamah ibn ʿAbadah

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pp. 4-7

A Qaṣīdah by al-Muthaqqib al-ʿAbdī

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pp. 8-11

An Elegy (Marthiyah) by al-Khansāʾ

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pp. 12-14

Polemics in Verse: An Invective Qaṣīdah by al-Akhṭal and a Reply by Jarīr

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pp. 15-20

Love in the Desert: A Qaṣīdah by Dhū l-Rummah

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pp. 21-26

An Umayyad GhazalPoem, used as an Abbasid Song Text

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pp. 27-28

An 'Udhri Ghazal attributed to Majnun Layla

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pp. 29-30

An Umayyad Ghazal by ʿUmar ibn Abī Rabīʿah

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pp. 31-32

A Love Poem by Umm Khālid

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pp. 33-62

Anti-Arab, Pro-Iranian Lampoon (Hijāʾ) by Bashshār ibn Burd

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pp. 34-36

A Modern (Muḥdath) Ghazal Epigram by Abū Nuwās

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pp. 37-66

A Ghazal by Abū Nuwās: On a Boy Called ʿAlī

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pp. 38-39

Two Wine Poems by Abū Nuwās

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pp. 40-42

A Lampooning Epigram (Hijāʾ) by Abū Nuwās

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pp. 43-72

A Ghazal Poem by al-ʿAbbās ibn al-Aḥnaf

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pp. 44-45

Three Love Epigrams by ʿUlayyah bint al-Mahdī

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pp. 46-48

A Poem of Asceticism (Zuhdiyyah) by Abū l-ʿAtāhiyah

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pp. 49-50

Ibn al-Rūmī: On His Poetry

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pp. 51-52

A Qaṣīdahby Ibn al-Rūmī: A Party at ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Ṣāliḥ al-Hāshimī’s

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pp. 53-57

A Panegyric Qaṣīdah by al-Buḥturī

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pp. 58-60

A Victory Ode by al-Mutanabbī: The Qaṣīdah on Sayf al-Dawlah’s Recapture of the Fortress of al-Ḥadath

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pp. 61-64

Nature Poetry: Two Epigrams by Ibn Khafājah

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pp. 65-66

Strophic Poem: A Muwashshaḥah by al-Aʿmā al-Tuṭīlī

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pp. 67-68

An Anonymous Muwashshaḥah from Spain

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pp. 69-72

There Descended to You: A Philosophical Allegory by Ibn Sīnā

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pp. 73-74

Five Epigrams on Death and Belief, by Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī

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pp. 75-78

Mystical Ghazal : A Poem by Ibn al-Fāriḍ

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pp. 79-82

A Mystical Zajal by al-Shushtarī

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pp. 83-84

Two Elegies on the Death of his Concubine, by Ibn Nubātah al-Miṣrī

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pp. 85-88

A Zajal : An Elegy on the Elephant Marzūq

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pp. 89-92

Rajaz

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pp. 93-122

Early Rajaz

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pp. 94-123

A Few Lines from the Poem of Proverbs by Abū l-ʿAtāhiyah

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pp. 95-124

A Few Lines from The Thousand-liner by Ibn Mālik

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pp. 96-125

Light Verse: A Domestic Disaster, by Abū l-Ḥakam al Maghribī

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pp. 97-101

“Didactic” Verse: From a Poem on How to Behave in Society

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pp. 102-108

Prose

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pp. 109-139

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Examples of Early Rhymed Prose (Saj')

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pp. 110-113

Not everything that rhymes is verse: only metrical, rhymed speech is considered poetry according to traditional Arabic opinion. Non-metrical, rhymed prose is called sajʿ. In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times it was used for special occasions...

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A Pre-Islamic Tale: The Princess on the Myrtle Leaf (Three Versions)

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pp. 114-116

They say that al-Ḍayzan al-Ghassānī,340 the king of al-Ḥīrah, was attacked by Sābūr Dhū l-Aktāf.341 Al-Ḍayzan fortified himself and was besieged for a month. They say that Mulaykah,342 the daughter of al-Ḍayzan, looked at Sābūr from the...

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How the Queen of Sheba Became Queen

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pp. 117-118

Zuhayr ibn ʿAbd Shams, of the Banū Ṣayfī ibn Sabaʾ al-Aṣghar: he was killed by Bilqīs, daughter of Ṣayfī.363 The cause of this was that he was a king who ruled despotically and overbearingly; he used to deflower women before their husbands...

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Two Stories from Meadows of Gold

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pp. 119-122

Azūr and Khalinjās368 became kings [of the Syrians]; it is said that they were brothers. Their conduct was excellent and they mutually supported each other in reigning. One of these two kings was sitting one day, it is said, when suddenly...

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Lives of The Poets: al-Farazdaq Tells the Story of Imru' al-Qays and the Girls at the Pond

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pp. 123-126

ʿAbd Allāh ibn Mālik related to us: Muḥammad ibn Mūsā related to me: al-Qaḥdhamī related to me: one of our friends related to me, on the authority of ʿAbd Allāh ibn Zālān377 al-Tamīmī, the rāwī378 of al-Farazdaq, that al-Farazdaq said:..

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Bedouin Romance: The Unhappy Love Story of Qays and Lubna

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pp. 127-165

As is mentioned by al-Kalbī, al-Qaḥdhamī, and others, he is Qays ibn Dharīḥ ibn Sunnah ibn Ḥudhāqah ibn Ṭarīf ibn ʿUtwārah ibn ʿĀmir ibn Layth ibn Bakr ibn ʿAbd Manāh, who is ʿAlī ibn Kinānah ibn Khuzaymah ibn Mudrikah ibn Ilyās ibn...

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A Parable: The Human Condition, or The Man in the Pit

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pp. 166-167

When I432 thought about the world and its affairs and considered that a human being is the noblest and most excellent part of creation, but only led from one evil and worry to the next, I was amazed. I realized that there could be no human...

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Mirror for Princes (and Others): Passages from Right Conduct

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pp. 168-175

ʿAbd Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ says: We have found that people before us had larger bodies. In addition to this they had greater understanding, were stronger, were more expert in their affairs and, by their greater strength, lived longer...

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Al-Jahiz on Flies and Other Things

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pp. 176-194

In the name of God and by God, praise to God! There is neither might nor power except through God. God bless and preserve our Master, the unlettered451 prophet Muḥammad, his family, his companions, and his pious, goodly, and excellent descendants...

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Essayistic Prose: Al-Tawhidi on the Superiority of the Arabs

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pp. 195-207

I was in his presence on another night, when he opened the session by asking, “Do you think the Arabs are superior to the non-Arabs, or vice versa?”502 “Scholars recognize four (civilized) nations,” I answered, “the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Persians...

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History as Literature: Al-Amin and al-Ma'mun, the Sons of Harun al-Rashid

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pp. 208-217

In that year551 al-Rashīd went on the Hajj with the people, together with his two sons, Muḥammad and ʿAbd Allāh. He drafted a document between the two, in which Muḥammad was designated heir apparent, and ʿAbd Allāh his successor...

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Passages from Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (The Epistles of the Sincere Brethren)

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pp. 218-224

Then the leader of the beasts said: O King, we and our ancestors used to inhabit the earth before Adam, the father of mankind, was created. We lived in all its regions, traveled along its paths, every group of us coming and going in God’s lands...

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Prose Narrative: Four Stories

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pp. 225-244

Abū l-Mughīrah Muḥammad ibn Yaʿqūb ibn Yūsuf, the poet from Basra,625 said: I was told by Abū Mūsā ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Baghdādī: A friend of mine related to me: I was on my way to al-Ramlah,626 by myself, a town I had never visited before. I reached it after people had gone to sleep...

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The Isfahan Maqamah by Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī695

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pp. 245-247

A maqāmah (literally, “place or occasion where one stands,” sometimes translated as “assembly”) is a short, usually narrative “picaresque” text in ornate rhymed prose, often with interspersed poetry, involving a fictional narrator...

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The Debate of Pen and Sword

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pp. 248-254

The “literary debate” in which objects or concepts are personified and boast of their superiority is already found in Sumerian literature. In Arabic it occurs sometimes in verse but mostly in ornate prose, in a style not unlike...

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A Visit to Heaven and Hell, by Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī

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pp. 255-276

Then the shaykh says (may God make him speak meritoriously when he says something, if his Lord will him to say something): I’ll tell you my own story. After I got up and rose from my grave and had arrived at the Plane of Resurrection (“plane” being like “plain,”...

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Poetics: Ibn Rashiq on the Definition and Structure of Poetry

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pp. 277-280

Poetry is made from four things (besides intention), viz. wording, meter, meaning, and rhyme.840 This is the definition of poetry, since some speech is metrical and rhymed yet not poetry, because the purport and intention are lacking, such...

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Literary Criticism: From The Secrets of Eloquence by ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī

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pp. 281-296

Abū Bakr ʿAbd al-Qāhir ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, a Persian from Jurjān (or Gurgān, at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea), died in 471/1078 or 474/1081. He wrote some works on Arabic grammar, but became famous...

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Popular Science: Two Chapters from the Encyclopedia of Animals

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pp. 297-304

The term “polythematic” is often used for the Arabic qaṣīdah; it is equally apt for many prose works. Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kubrā (The Great Life of Living Beings), an encyclopedia of animals by the Egyptian author Muḥammad...

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A Section from an Adab Encyclopedia: The Chapter on Stinginess from The Precious and Refined in Every Genre and Kind by al-Ibshīhī

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pp. 305-317

Al-Mustaṭraf fī kull fann mustaẓraf, by the Egyptian author Bahāʾ al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Ibshīhī (sometimes called al-Abshīhī, 790/1388– ca. 850/1446), is a popular example of a genre that flourished since the ninth...

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A Fairytale: The Tale of the Forty Girls

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pp. 318-332

This tale (Ḥadīth al-arbaʿīn al-jāriyah) is taken from an anonymous manuscript dating from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, featuring “Wonderful Tales and Strange Stories” that are akin to those in the...

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Erotica: The Young Girl and the Dough Kneader, from The Old Man’s Rejuvenation

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pp. 333-338

I’ve been a prostitute from my early days the fact is my father was a baker and we had a servant in the bakery who kneaded the dough he had a big body like an elephant but good-looking I was ten years old at the time I knew nothing of fucking I didn’t know about the pleasures...

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Two Burlesque Stories from Brains Confounded

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pp. 339-344

Our shaykh told us that some years ago a Persian came to Cairo (may God protect it) where he met its vizier. He told him he was a Persian scholar and that nobody rivalled him in knowledge. He so impressed the vizier and others with his words...

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Lyrical Prose: A Visit to the Bath, by al-Ḥaymī al-Kawkabānī

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pp. 345-351

Once, together with a number of good and gentle friends, * we were talking about various odds and ends, * passing along the cup of conversation on its circular path * and discussing a visit to the bath. * Someone on whom we always relied...

Notes

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pp. 352-425

Chronology

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pp. 426-428

Glossary of Names and Terms

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pp. 429-431

Bibliography

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pp. 432-451

Further Reading

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pp. 452-456

Index

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pp. 457-465

About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute

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pp. 466-496

About the Typefaces

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pp. 467-497

About the Translator

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pp. 468-498


E-ISBN-13: 9780814745113
E-ISBN-10: 0814770274
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814770276
Print-ISBN-10: 0814770274

Page Count: 496
Publication Year: 2012