Classical Arabic Stories: An Anthology
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Short fiction was an immensely innovative art in the medieval Arab world, providing the perfect vehicle for transmitting dazzling images of life and experiences as early as pre-Islamic times. These works also speak to the urbanization of the Arab domain after Islam, mirroring the bustling life of the Muslim Arabs and Islamized Persians and reflecting the sure stamp of an urbanity that had settled very staunchly after big conquests. All the noises and voices of the Umayyads and Abbasids are here. One can taste the flavor of Abbasid food, witness the rise of slave girls and singers, and experience the pride of state. Reading these texts today illuminates the wide spectrum of early Arab life and suggests the influences and innovations that flourished so vibrantly in medieval Arab society. The only resource of its kind, Salma Khadra Jayyusi's Classical Arabic Stories selects from an impressive corpus, including excerpts from seven seminal works: Ibn Tufail's novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan; Kalila wa Dimna by Ibn al-Muqaffa; The Misers by al-Jahiz; The Brethren of Purity's The Protest of Animals Against Man; Al-Maqamat (The Assemblies) by al-Hamadhani and al-Hariri; Epistle of Forgiveness by al-Ma'arri; and the epic romance, Sayf Bin Dhi Yazan. Jayyusi organizes her anthology thematically, beginning with a presentation of pre-Islamic tales, stories of rulers and other notables, and thrilling narratives of danger and warfare. She follows with tales of love, religion, comedy, and the strange and the supernatural. Long assumed to be the lesser achievement when compared to Arabic literature's most celebrated genre-poetry-classical Arabic fiction, under Jayyusi's careful eye, finally receives a proper debut in English, demonstrating its unparalleled contribution to the evolution of medieval literature and its sophisticated representation of Arabic culture and life.
they sailed on without me. When I woke, it was to find the sun fully risen and the others gone, and my ordeal began all over again. A ship of some kind passed, and I went on with them to Basra. I entered the city, knowing not a soul or a place in it; and I hadn’t thought to ask the man for his name and address. Then I saw a Baghdadi passing and decided at once to approach him and tell him of the wretched state I was in. I followed him to find out where he lived, then I went to a grocer’s for a
discouragement of purely fictitious narratives but also the old Arabic mastery, since pre-Islamic times, of succinct, cogent expression, with little of the redundancies or flabbiness afflicting Arabic prose much later. It was also a direct contradiction to the endless tales found in the Book of Crowns, where one story grows out of another. The interest in the many compendiums containing hundreds of anecdotes23 stems from other human incentives: the curiosity about Arabic and particularly Abbasid
faint from the sweet fragrance. “Brother,” ʿAqisa said then, “permit me, in God’s name, to counsel you; for, by God, though caution has no power against destiny, I do not hold you lightly, now that God’s pledge stands between the two of us.” “ʿAqisa,” said King Sayf Ben Dhi Yazan, “of what do you wish to warn me?” “I must warn you,” she replied, “on two accounts. First, there is in this garden a building fashioned and made firm by the secret sciences. Should you encounter it, do not draw near
have I come as a spy for one of his adversaries. I have rather come on a mission of trade, whose goods he may enjoy. If he wishes them for himself, they shall be his; if not, and if he will agree for me to sell them to his subjects, then I will sell them thus.” He went on speaking, and, if ever he heard Khosrow’s voice, he knelt. “The king asks you,” the translator said, “ ‘Why did you kneel?’ ” “I heard a loud voice,” he replied, “where no voice should rise, out of deference to the king, and
choice for you.” With that they left her and told ʿAbd Allah what she had said. People began to gossip about ʿAbd Allah’s divorce of Zainab and his approach to marry Muʿawiya’s daughter. He was, they said, to blame for divorcing his wife so hastily, before making sure the engagement would actually take place. ʿAbd Allah now urged Abu ʾl-Dardaʾ and Abu Huraira to obtain an answer from Muʿawiya’s daughter. They went to her. “Do as you intend,” they said, “and seek guidance from God. He will