The Salty Language of an Early Biography of Muhammad

Sean W. Anthony, assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon, brings a historian’s eye to his work editing and translating Maʿmar ibn Rāshid’s Maghāzī, or The Expeditions: An Early Biography of Muḥammad. The text explores the early life of the prophet and his community and, Anthony says, contains “humor, adventure, tragedy, and all the ingredients of great stories.”

Who’s the Heretic Here?

Translator Gregor Schoeler notes that Abul ʿAla al-Maʿarri’s “The Epistle of Forgiveness” has been linked to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Yet al-Maʿarri’s description of the hereafter, unlike Dante’s, seems shot through with a strong sense of irony. What does al-Ma’arri mean by it? When is — and isn’t — he being ironic? Schoeler talks about the parallels between the “Epistle” and the “Divine Comedy” and why irony complicates the translation process.

On Ibn al-Hajjaj, Whose Poems Schoolboys Were Beaten for Memorizing

If there were two disappointments I had while reading the opening chapter of Sinan Antoon’s The Poetics of the Obscene in Premodern Arabic Poetry, “Ibn al-Hajjaj and Sukhf: Genealogies,” they were: 1) that the full book is listed at more than $70, and 2) that there wasn’t a companion historical novel that gives full imaginative license to a re-crafting of Ibn al-Hajjaj and his contemporaries.

On Translating ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah, Perhaps Arabic’s Most Prolific Premodern Woman Writer

Th. Emil Homerin, author of the recently-published The Principles of Sufism, has long been interested in the work of ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah, who is perhaps the most prolific and prominent woman who wrote in Arabic prior to the modern period. Homerin, a professor of religion and former chair of the Department of Religion & Classics at the University of Rochester, previously translated a collection of al-Ba’uniyyah’s poems as Emanations of Grace, and likens her work to that of the famous Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumi.

If Feb 1 Was Robinson Crusoe Day, then Feb 2 Must Be Hayy ibn Yaqzan Day…Right?

The first of February apparently was Robinson Crusoe Day, with a plethora of activities, books, lesson plans and more being offered around the Internet, for readers small and not-so-small. It’s Feb 1 because that’s the day Alexander Selkirk — who may have been a key inspiration for Robinson Crusoe — was apparently rescued from the island of Juan Fernandez. Certainly, there are other possible models, among them a narrative by Ibn Tufayl that was “a sensation among intellectuals in Daniel Defoe’s day.

Humphrey Davies on Climbing Translation’s Mt. Everest

In his recent review of the book, M.A. Orthofer called Humphrey Davies’ translation of Ahmed Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg “the most important literary publication of a translation into English, in terms of literary history and our understanding of it, in years.” Davies answered a few questions about the four-volume book in an interview that originally appeared on the Library of Arabic Literature blog.

Cross-reading the Medieval

The introduction to Issue 5 of Spolia magazine quotes Yale professor Fred Robinson, who said (disapprovingly) that medieval “is most often used in Modern English simply as a vague pejorative term meaning ‘outmoded’, ‘hopelessly antiquated’, or even simply ‘bad.'”


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