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Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim

Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim: A Literary Banquet

Emily Selove
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim
    Book Description:

    This study compares Ḥikāyat, a mysterious text surviving in a single manuscript, to other comical banquet texts and party-crashing characters, especially from Ancient Greece and Rome.

    eISBN: 978-1-4744-0232-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Cover Illustration Acknowledgements and Explanation
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim, written by the otherwise unknown al-Azdī, probably in the eleventh century ad, describes a party in Isfahan that begins in the morning and lasts well into the night. Nothing impossible happens at this party: a group of fairly important, decent people have gathered together, food is served which is good but not extraordinary, and capable (though not legendary) entertainers and servants cater to the guests. The ordinariness of the event, however, is overwhelmed by the presence of a remarkable and uninvited guest, Abū al-Qāsim Aḥmad ibn ʿAlī al-Tamīmī al-Baghdādī, who dominates the conversation with his wide-ranging, prolix...

  7. 1 A Sampling of the Ḥikāya
    (pp. 31-69)

    In order to provide the reader with an idea of the contents of theḤikāyaand the varieties of registers and subjects that it includes, I will here summarise the events it portrays and translate some representative passages.¹ I will refer back to this section at various points in my argument.

    Because theḤikāyais brim-full of quotations and doubtful readings, a fully footnoted version of the translation here, tracing all of its many quotations to their sources, would result in an unwieldy tangle of notes not directly related to my purpose, which is to provide the reader with the...

  8. 2 A Microcosm Introduced
    (pp. 70-102)

    Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsimis a text enveloped in mystery. It exists, as I have already mentioned, in only one undated manuscript attributed to an otherwise unknown author and identifiable in no contemporary sources. The contents of the text are no less mysterious than the envelope, filled with difficult language, often nearly incomprehensible. For the moment, some of these unknown words and certain questions about theḤikāya’s history and authorship must go largely unexplained. Some of the puzzles of its unique narrative style, however, are very gracefully explained in the introduction to the text, written by the mysterious author himself, who...

  9. 3 Crashing the Text
    (pp. 103-118)

    Since theḤikāyatakes place at a party, we might expect to experience some of the pleasures of this party while we read the narrative. As Abū al-Qāsim compares Baghdad to Isfahan, copiously listing foods and goods in a tirade that occupies a very bulky portion of the narrative,¹ he seems to proceed in the order of events one would expect to experience if attending a feast. He begins with the overall atmosphere of the cities and their place-names, then describes their horses (on which, perhaps, we can imagine arriving at the party. He then describes clothing and houses (two...

  10. 4 Mujūn is a Crazy Game
    (pp. 119-134)

    Despite the topsy-turvy atmosphere of the text, theḤikāyamay invite readers to use it as an encyclopedia of material goods or otherwise as a source of historical and antiquarian interest for a number of reasons.¹ One of these reasons is its obscenity, or focus on ‘low’ topics not typically addressed in other forms of literature. TheḤikāyaoften employs a literary style known asmujūn, distinguished by its focus on low topics and use of obscene vocabulary. In ‘ArabicMujūnPoetry’, Julie Meisami writes: ‘Discussions by Arab scholars typically adopt historical, sociological, or biographical approaches’ tomujūnliterature, whereas...

  11. 5 The Cosmic Crasher
    (pp. 135-166)

    Al-Azdī tells us that Abū al-Qāsim is based on a real person that he once knew, though he does not suggest that this friend was himself named Abū al-Qāsim. We may have reason to believe that the name was designed to achieve a particular effect, for it is also the name of the prophet Muḥammad, whose son Qāsim passed away at a young age (the Prophet’skunya, or filionymic, means ‘Father of Qāsim’). Abū al-Qāsim’sism(given name) as it is found at the beginning of the text, Aḥmad (another name for the Prophet, derived from the same root as...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-183)

    In the pages (or hours) before Abū al-Qāsim’s superhuman vaunt, he appears to me the most human, or the most ‘of meat and bones’.¹ In these pages the narrator informs us that Abū al-Qāsim grows increasingly intoxicated and physically exhausted, and in these pages he interacts with the other guests more than anywhere else in the narrative. This is to say, the other guests do here occasionally get a word in edgewise. On page 334 of al-Shāljī’s 391-paged edition of theḤikāya(), our (anti-)hero, already well into his cups, and having thoroughly exhausted the game of arbitrary praise and...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 184-196)
  14. Index
    (pp. 197-206)