This study investigates the status of poets and poetry in sixteenth-century Ottoman Damascus by focusing on soldier-turned-poet Māmayya al-Rūmī (d. 985-7/1577-9). As a poet he received patronage from local centers of prestige; however, such support seems to have been at best sporadic. While his dīwān (collection of poetry) is replete with poems celebrating his poetic ingenuity—notwithstanding the fact that he was not a native Arab, it is also a testimony to his frustrations with lack of financial security and his diminishing social status. In addition to gloomy poetry, he also composed a great number of panegyrics in honor of Ottoman sultans, scholars, and administrators. What was Māmayya’s position in the literary culture of sixteenth-century Damascus as a Rūmī? What was the role of panegyric poetry in this period? Did poets voice their concerns about lack of appreciation? This study explores these questions by focusing on a selection of poems by Māmayya al-Rūmī with references to his contemporary, and later poets.
This article provides a close reading of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khafājī’s (d. 1069/1659) Maqāma Rūmiyya, a narrative work detailing the journey of an Arab scholar to Istanbul who then satirizes his Rūmī counterparts in acerbic fashion. Despite its notoriety, the cursory scholarly attention paid to the text has either merely observed the maqāma’s departure from the genre’s classical structure or mentioned its immediate context, al-Khafājī’s dispute with the Grand Mufti in Istanbul. Firstly, I demonstrate that the text is a deeply layered adab work, one highly referential of and intertextual with the Arabic literary tradition, which aims not only at satirical entertainment but also at serious moral import. Secondly, I assert that al-Khafājī loosely utilized the maqāma genre to express personal anxieties over imperial politics and cultural difference. I consider how al-Khafājī’s digressive sections on generosity and rulership get at the core of what really concerns him: sociability among learned Muslims.
This article explores the phenomenon of familiarity with Persian among Arabic literati of the early modern period, with a focus on the eleventh/seventeenth century. It has long been recognized, in a general sense, that some scholars from the Ottoman Arab world had knowledge of Persian literature. Only recently have we seen the beginnings of detailed research on this topic. In the current article, the works of four authors are examined with an eye toward their discussion of things Persian or Iranian: Muḥammad Amīn al-Muḥibbī (d. 1111/1699), Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khafājī (d. 1069/1659), Ḥasan al-Būrīnī (d. 1024/1615), and ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1143/1731). We find that, although familiarity with Persian was far from unheard-of in Arabic literary circles, the degree of interest varied widely. At one extreme is al-Muḥibbī, who goes out of his way to share samples of the work of prominent Persian poets that he has translated into Arabic. Closer to the opposite end of the spectrum is al-Khafājī, of whom it is not obvious whether he could read Persian. The remaining authors fall somewhere in between. One insight that becomes clearer through this study is that Ottoman Damascus was a place in which Persian could be learned. There were enough migrants and visitors from the Persianate realm, and sufficient circulation of texts, that a scholar like al-Būrīnī could attain fluency without traveling.
This article approaches early-modern biographical literature, in particular the centenary biographical dictionary of Muḥammad Khalīl al-Murādī, titled Silk al-durar fī aʿyān al-qarn al-thānī ʿashar as an integrated source. The article argues that as a biographer, al-Murādī relied heavily on poetry, not simply for its literary value, but as a historical tool, a primary source, whose contents provided the reader with direct access to the historical figures in question. This approach to the Silk allows the biographical dictionary to serve not simply as a historical reference, as it often does, but as a reflection of the cultural moment it emerged from. The poetry within the Silk, when read as a historical source, affords insight into the history of the self, of self-fashioning, and of the mentality of the learned community of eighteenth-century Ottoman Syria, and Damascus in particular.
Premodern manuscript production was fluid. Books and papers freely changed hands, often against their authors’ wishes. In the absence of copyright laws, certain countermeasures arose. This study considers one of them: self-commentary, meaning an author’s explanations on his own works. The article deals with two cases of medieval self-commentary across linguistic and cultural boundaries: the Arabic author and rationalist Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 1057 CE), and the professional Byzantine littérateur John Tzetzes (d. 1180 CE). After an overview of their lives and works, with a focus on the key role of self-explanation, the article considers their respective manuscript cultures, which involved face-to-face educational settings that nonetheless permitted widespread copying. There follows a discussion of textual materiality, which reveals a mutual concern to avoid tampering or misinterpretation. Then, the article shows how both men tried to direct readers by exploiting language’s capacity for multiple meanings. The conclusion ponders the relevance of this study for problems posed by digital book technology.
In 1508 the legendary Sulṭān of Sindh, Niẓām al-Dīn Jām Nindō, of the Samma dynasty (1351–1522) died. The Sulṭān’s death occasioned a major political shift in Sindh at the turn of the sixteenth century, which ultimately led to the fall of the Sammas in 1522. This period is marked with repeated instances of military and civil unrests and dethroning attempts. The primary theme of this article is to demonstrate that these particular cycles of political instability defined the parameters of contemporary architectural undertakings. For this purpose, two of the most ambitious funerary constructions in the Samma royal necropolis of Maklī at Thatta (southern Sindh)—the tomb enclosure of Samma military commander Mubārak Khān and the monumental mausoleum of Sulṭān Niẓām al-Dīn—are reassessed. The article also locates political undertones in the architecture of these mausolea, and deciphers the implicit subtext interlaced into their epigraphic as well as visual motifs.
In this Philological Conversation, Carlo Ginzburg reflects on the place of philology in his work and explores the connections between philology, microhistory, and casuistry. We talk about the people who inspired his early thinking, including his father Leone Ginzburg, his mother Natalia, and his grandfather, moving on to Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, and Sebastiano Timpanaro. We discuss the ethical and political implications of his research and reflect on the power of philology to give voice to the marginalized and suppressed. The conversation, which was edited for readability, took place during the Corona pandemic over three meetings via Zoom on July 13, September 10, and September 17, 2021.
This essay will examine two “graphic novel” depictions of WWI epidemics: one that depicts scientific advances during the dysentery epidemic on the European front in World War One; and another that depicts the Spanish influenza epidemic unfolding across the United States of America. Both texts narrativise an epidemic through a verbal and visual engagement with historical and scientific discourses. These texts were produced within five years of our current Covid-19 pandemic and show us how language (visual and verbal) can be employed to make sense of a plague threat that involves an invisible “enemy”. The way that meaning is blended and elaborated throughout each text can help us understand how a figurative framing of a pandemic might help open up new understandings or possibilities. Popular imagination can productively link with tropes from the past, particularly tropes that were in play as understandings of the role of science shifted.