Spanning the fifth to sixteenth centuries and societies that range from Afghanistan to Spain, this anthology is a testament to the astonishing grandeur and variety of classical Arabic literature. Here are excerpts from dozens of works–both renowned (The Qur’an, The Thousand and One Nights) and esoteric (Ibn Washshiyya’s “Book of Poisons”; a 10th-century poem in praise of asparagus)–all accompanied by Robert Irwin’s erudite commentaries that illuminate readers on the vanished world in which they were written.
In Night & Horses & the Desert we encounter the dashing Byronic poetry of Imru’ al-Qays and a treatise on bibliomania by Al-Jahiz, possibly the only writer to have been killed by books. There’s a sorcerer’s manual from 11th century Spain and an allegory by the mysterious “Brethren of Purity,” in which animals argue their case against humanity. Encompassing piety and profanity, fables and philosophy, this volume is a thrilling and invaluabe introduction to one of the world’s great bodies of literature.
This ambitious anthology presents a wide range of classical Arabic poetry and prose, covering the fifth to the 16th centuries from Afghanistan to Andalusia, Spain, in a single volume. The task is even more daunting owing to the difficulty of translating verse and prose obscure even to the 20th-century native Arabic speaker. The selections, arranged thematically, include very famous and lesser-known classical texts: representative texts and passages by Ibn Hazm on the etiquette of love, by Jahiz on love of books, by Maqqari on adventures and terrors of the sea, a shadow-play text by Ibn Daniyal, an ecological essay by the philosophical and mystical group Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethern of Purity), and more. Additionally, the obscure and somewhat peculiar selections include Ibn Marzuban on the superiority of dogs to men, Kushajim's poem on asparagus, and Ibn Washsiyya on "the art of poisons." Irwin's (The Middle East in the Middle Ages; The Arabian Nights: A Companion) introduction, commentaries, and notes provide, in addition to general historical background, a clear and concise interpretation of the context, symbolism, and meaning of the pieces selected. He also introduces the literary environments of the royal court (salon, mosque, bookshop, and desert) and provides short biographies of the authors and poets, caliphs, princesses, scribes, and mystics who created this literary legacy. No other single-volume anthology provides such extensive coverage. This rare and outstanding anthology is highly recommended for all literary collections.--Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\