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On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature

On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature

Andras Hamori
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 211
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  • Book Info
    On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature
    Book Description:

    In applying the standards of modern literary criticism to medieval Arabic literature, Andras Hamori concentrates on those aspects of the literature that appear most alien to modern Western taste: the limitation of themes, the sedimentation with conventions, and the use of elusive patterns of composition.

    The first part of the book approaches Arabic literature from the historical point of view, concentrating on the transformations in poetic genres and poetic attitudes towards time and society in the literature between the sixth and the tenth centuries. The problems of poetic technique are then discussed, with special emphasis on poetic unity and the use of conventions. The third part of the book deals with methods of composition in prose through an examination of the orders and disorders in two tales from theArabian Nights.

    Originally published in 1974.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6935-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Translation and Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Genres and the Transformation of Genres

    • one The Pre-Islamic Qaṣīda: The Poet as Hero
      (pp. 3-30)

      Arabic literature begins with the poetry of the century or so before the coming of Islam. The voice belongs to nomads of the desert, but it is neither halting nor unsophisticated. What tradition ascribes to the oldest recorded poets is no primitive song, but verse in complex meters, with a polished rhetoric and a precise, carefully managed vocabulary.¹ The development that led to this fluency and mastery of craft is obscure: the span of the pre-lslamic poetry handed down to us is too brief. None of the texts we now have are likely to antedate the early five hundreds. In...

    • two Ghazal and Khamrīya: The Poet as Ritual Clown
      (pp. 31-77)

      Aṣma‘ī, the great eighth-century, philologist, is reported to have declared that poetry goes soft when brought into line with the Good.¹ This generalization, which springs from a discussion of the merits in Ḥassān ibn Thābit’s pagan and Muslim poems, gives expression to a very sound piece of critical intuition; for Islam changed the foundations of Arabic poetry and turned the old world so thoroughly upside down that poetry was never again the same.

      The change is not immediately obvious. There are many poems that clearly must have been written in the Islamic period, but hardly differ in style and spirit...

    • three Waṣf: Two Views of Time
      (pp. 78-98)

      Of poetic description (waṣf) independent of plot or larger framework Ibn al-Mu‘tazz (d. 908) was the first major practitioner. His work already contains the salient characteristics of the genre. The chief vehicle of thewaṣfpoem is the simile, less frequently the metaphor. The similes tend to link two prima facie unrelated sets of objects, usually such that the objects within each set stand in some form of coherence. The result is a poetry of wit, with emphasis on astounding combinations.Waṣfpoems are frequently very short: two or three lines may be the extent of an entire piece.


  6. Technique

    • four The Poem and its Parts
      (pp. 101-118)

      Time and again Western scholars suggest that it is no use looking for coherence in a medieval Arabic poem, and we have even managed to persuade many of our Middle Eastern colleagues that those of their poets who were unlucky enough to be born before 1930 never composed anything but a crazy-quilt of glittering lines. But things are, for once, a little better than they seem. I will try to demonstrate by a few examples, mostly taken from Abū Nuwās, that some medieval poems really hang together quite well. The discussion is in two sections: the first deals with poems...

    • five Ambiguities
      (pp. 119-142)

      In the poems I mil now consider, various forms of sustained ambiguity provide complexity as well as coherence. The three pieces—a short poem by Abū Nuwās, Abū Tammām’s celebrated ode upon the conquest of Amorium,¹ and an elegy by al-Mutanabbī—reveal subtleties, the recognition of which may improve our habits in reading Arabic verse. The first and third exhibit neat formal organizations. The first poem is characterized by puns that link two sets of ideas; the second poem depends on logical and emotional ambiguities that arise from the use of paronomasia; the third works its way towards strange and...

  7. The Construction of Tales

    • six An Allegory from the Arabian Nights: The City of Brass
      (pp. 145-163)

      Gloomiest of travelogues, the tale of the City of Brass engages our attention in puzzling ways. Through its maze of episodes, conventional pessimism and the old cryubi suntare staged, sensed, and at last transcended. I am attempting a few remarks here on the nature and fascination of this maze, hoping to demonstrate its coherence and to show the source of its power.¹

      The story is an account of an archaeological expedition that consists of two parts: one planned and one fortuitous. In the opening scene, the caliph ‘Abdalmalik ibn Marwān and his courtiers are seen discussing legends of...

    • seven The Music of the Spheres: The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad
      (pp. 164-180)

      If in theCity of Brassostensibly random events appear coherent when examined in the light of their references to a revealed moral order in the universe,¹ in the tale ofThe Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdadthere is a structural coherence that ultimately speaks for a morally random universe.² The two stories represent two poles of thought in theNights, and both demonstrate that storytellers took up the moral interest upon which the Arabic poets of the later Middle Ages had turned their backs.

      Since my discussion will focus on the relations among various details of the...

  8. Relative Chronology of People and Events
    (pp. 181-182)
  9. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 183-194)
  10. Index
    (pp. 195-199)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 200-201)