Gleanings of Curiosities from the Harvest-Fields of Arabic Literature: Chapter 87 of Kitāb al-Zahrah by Ibn Dāwūd al-Iṣbahānī (d. 297/910)

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
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  • 1 University of Oxford
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Muḥammad Ibn Dāwūd al-Iṣbahānī (d. 297/910) was a theologian who lived in Baghdad, where he succeeded his father as the leader of the juridico-theological school called al-Ẓāhiriyyah. He wrote several books but the only one that is preserved is a work of literature and poetry. His al-Zahrah (The Flower) consists of one hundred chapters, mostly containing poetry by many poets including himself, as well as some anecdotes and passages in prose. The first fifty chapters deal with various aspects of love and the second half with various genres and kinds of poetry. Chapter 87 is entitled Dhikr al-shiʿr alladhī yustaẓraf li-khurūjihi ʿan ḥadd mā yuʿraf, “On Poetry That Is Deemed Curious Because It Goes Beyond What Is Conventionally Known.” In a more or less unordered, partly associative sequence, this chapter offers many freaks of versification: lipograms; palindromes; lines that only use undotted, or dotted, or connected, or unconnected letters; pangrams; acrostics; unrhymed epigrams that seem to rely on non-verbal language; lines containing Persian or Greek words and expressions, etc. Many of the features of these poems are usually associated with a later stage of Arabic literature: they became more frequent especially after the appearance of the verbal artistry and artifices in the very popular Maqāmāt of al-Ḥarīrī (d. 516/1122). Ibn Dāwūd was therefore in a sense a pioneer. Many poems in the text pose problems. The chapter has never been investigated in detail; two passages were studied in articles by Michele Vallaro. The present article deals with the poems and anecdotes in the chapter, providing translations and commentary.

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