The Anthologist’s Art

Abū Manṣūr al-Thaʿālibī and His Yatīmat al-dahr


Why did premodern authors in the Arabic-Islamic culture compile literary anthologies, and why were these works remarkably popular? How can an anthology that consists of reproduced material be original and creative, and serve various literary and political ends? How did anthologists select their material, then record and arrange it?

This book examines the life and works of Abū Manṣūr al-Thaʿālibī (350–429/961–1039), an eminent anthologist from Nīshāpūr, paying special attention to his magnum opus, Yatīmat al-dahr (The Unique Pearl), and its sequel, Tatimmat al-Yatīma (The Completion of the Yatīma). This book is a direct window on to an anthologist’s workshop in the second half of the fourth/tenth century. It examines the methodological consciousness expressed in Thaʿālibī’s selection and arrangement, and his sophisticated system of internal references and cross-references to other works; how he selected from his contemporaries’ oeuvres; how he sought, recorded, memorized, misplaced, and sometimes lost or forgot his selections; how he scrutinized the authenticity of material, accepting, questioning, or rejecting its attribution; and the errors and inconsistencies that resulted from this process.

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Bilal Orfali, Ph.D. (2009), Yale University, is associate professor of Arabic studies at the American University of Beirut. He is editor of In the Shadow of Arabic (Brill, 2011); Sufism, Black and White, with Nada Saab (Brill, 2012); The Comfort of the Mystics, with Gerhard Böwering (Brill, 2013); and The Book of Noble Character, with Ramzi Baalbaki (Brill, 2015).
يضع الدكتور الأرفه لي في كتابه هذا مؤلفي "اليتيمة والتتمة" في سياقهما الأدبي، عارضا لهما من باب المقارنة والتحقيق والتصنيف، مقدما وسيلة بحثية غنية للباحثين ومهتمين بفن المختارات الأدبية. فيفكك حبكة الكتاب وخطة المؤلف إلى عناصر وسمات تميز "اليتيمة والتتمة" من غيرهما من كتب المختارات الأدبية. كما ويجمع الكتاب بعضا من آراء الباحثين ما يجعله بابا للتعرف على فن المختارات الأدبية مجالات البحث والدراسة فيها.
علاء كيالي، المشرق 91/2، تموز-كانون الأول 2017
Alaa Kayali, al-Mashriq 91/2, July-December 2017

"الكتباب الذي بين أيدينا دراسة جادة ومتأنية وعميقة، ستترك ولا شك أثرًا كبيرا في الدراسات العربية، فهي تطرح وتعالج عددًا كبيرًا من الأسئلة الأدبية والثقافية، وتفتح الباب أمام عدد جديد من الأسئلة المتعلّقة بالأنواع الأدبية العربية القديمة، وطرق التأليف العربية، وعلاقة الأدباء بالقصور، ورحلاتهم الأدبية والمهنية، وتذوق الأمراء والوزراء والنقّاد والأدباء للأدب في القرنين الرابع والخامس الهجريين."
مريم مشتاوي، الشرق الأوسط، 16 رمضان 1437\21 يونيو 2016، العدد 13720
Maryam Mishtawi, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 21 June 2016, issue 13720

"The Anthologist's Art is a welcome contribution to our knowledge of literary anthologies and of adab in the fourth to the fifth/tenth to the eleventh centuries. It points the way to further inquiries into the networks through which adab circulated and the tastes that informed its evaluation."
Matthew L. Keegan, in: Al-Abhath 64 (2016)

"Bilal Orfail's study is an important work of literary scholarship. It is important both for its detailed account of al-Thaʿālibī's career (his works, his methods, and his legacy) as well as for the attention it pays to an exemplar of a genre that has played a critical role in the development and perservation of classical Arabic poetic and literary traditions."
Adam Talib, Durham University, in: Journal of the American Oriental Society 139/1 (2019)

"The Anthologist's Art offers a truly comprehensive picture of the Yatīmat al-dahr and Tatimmat al-Yatīma. The amount of questions Orfali discusses makes it an important survey that has few equals in the history of Arabic literature. Its undoubted merit consists in contextualizing the enormous quantity of materials collected by Thaʿālibī' within the broader socio-literary framework of the century in which he lived and within the type of works through which he chose to express himself. Ultimately, it offers a further, indispensable, piece of knowledge of a central activity for cultivating adab (not yet sufficiently appreciated) that was anthologizing."
Francesca Bellino, Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale", in: Annali, sezione Orientale 79 (2019)
List of Illustrations
Note on Editions and Manuscripts of the Yatīma and Tatimma

1. The Art of Anthology in Premodern Arabic Literature
Anthology and Adab
Approaches to the Study of Arabic Literary Anthology in Modern Scholarship
Motives for Anthologizing
A Map of Arabic Poetry Anthologies

2. Life and Legacy of Thaʿālibī
Abū Manṣūr al-Thaʿālibī
Legacy of Thaʿālibī
Bibliography of Thaʿālibī
Printed Authentic Works
Printed, Authenticity Doubtful
Printed, Authenticity Rejected
In Manuscript, Authentic works
In Manuscript, Authenticity Uncertain
In Manuscript, Authenticity Rejected
Works Surviving in Quotations
Lost Works

3. An Anthologist at Work: The Organization and Structure of the Yatīma and Tatimma
Prominent Litterateurs
Courts, Dynasties and Other Patrons
Cities and Sub-Regions
Critical Awareness in the Organization of the Yatīma and Tatimma
Selection of Material
The Arrangement of Entries in a Chapter: Proximity and Resemblance
References and Cross-References
References in the Tatimma to the Yatīma
References to the Earlier Version of the Yatīma
References to Other Works by Thaʿālibī
Later Additions to the Yatīma
Authenticity and Misattribution
Forgotten, Lost, and Inconsistent Material

4. The Sources of Thaʿālibī in Yatīmat al-Dahr and Tatimmat al-Yatīma
Written Sources
Other Written Media
Oral/Aural Sources
Main Guarantors in the Yatīma
Main Guarantors in the Tatimma

5. Material within the Entry
Categorization and Arrangement of Material within Entries
The Biographical Summary
Deaths of Poets
Religious Views
Training and Education
Families of Litterateurs
Characterization of Litterateurs and Their Literary Oeuvres
Geographical Context
Social Context
Historical Context
Comparing Litterateurs
Knowledge of Persian
Relations between Contemporaries
Physical and Character Features
Patron-Littérateur Relations
Admission to a Court
Meeting a Patron
Leaving a Court
Prison Incidents and Stories
Description of Courtly Majālis
Evaluating Literary Production


Appendix 1: Outline of the Yatīma and Tatimma
Appendix 2: Sources of Yatīmat al-Dahr
Appendix 3: Sources of Tatimmat al-Yatīma
Appendix 4: Comparisons between Poets

All interested in Arabic literature, Islamic studies, and Arabic studies.
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