Prophets, Gods and Kings in Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan

An Intertextual Reading of an Egyptian Popular Epic


This book is a literary, intertextual study of an Egyptian popular epic. In this innovative study, Helen Blatherwick investigates how various sources, including Islamic qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (‘tales of the prophets’), Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman and Coptic Egyptian myths and narratives, and recensions of the Alexander Romance function as intertexts within Sīrat Sayf. Blatherwick argues that these intertexts are deployed as narrative devices which are readily recognisable to the story's audience, and that they are significant carriers of meaning and theme. Crucially, these intertexts also interact within Sīrat Sayf to bring a conceptual continuity to its discussion of kingship and society that stretches from this late-medieval epic back to ancient Egyptian narratives.

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Helen Blatherwick, Ph.D. (2002), SOAS, University of London, is a Research Associate at the same university.
"Arabic popular epic, sira shaʿbiya, is a relatively under-researched branch of Arabic literature, which makes the appearance of Helen Blatherwick’s monograph on Sirat Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan especially noteworthy… here we have a book that is admirable for its lucid and consequent development of argument as well as for its stimulating new approach. A book highly recommended, and not only for sira scholars."
Remke Kruk in: BSOAS, 80:2, June 2017.

"... Helen Blatherwick's book represents a valuable and inspiring contribution, and helps advance the study of Arab popular epics." - Zuzana Gažáková, in: Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 108 (2018)
1. Introduction

2. The Text
Narrative Analysis
Compositional Techniques

3. The Prophets: Islamic Legend in Sīrat Sayf
The General Prophetic Intertext

4. The Gods: Sīrat Sayf and Ancient Egyptian Myth
Ancient Egyptian Narrative and Sīrat Sayf
The Osiris Intertext
Osiris and Horus, Death and Re-birth: Dhū Yazan, Sayf and His Sons

5. The King: Sīrat Sayf and the Alexander Romance
The Qur’anic Alexander
The Alexander Romance
The Persian Alexander Romance
The Alexander Intertext

6. Conclusion: Intertextual Dialogue in the Diversion Of The Nile
The Diversion of the Nile
The Dialogue of Intertexts
Insiders and Outsiders: Noah’s Curse, Bilqīs, and Ḥabash

Appendix: Glossary of Principal Characters


Those interested in Arabic sīra and popular literature, and, more generally, anyone interested in comparative literature, popular epic, folklore and popular literature.