World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL POETRY - 1/2 (137) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE, 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Zahia Smail Salhi (Head of Department, Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Leeds and Executive Director of BRISMES)

Paper presenter: Driss Cherkaoui (Associate Professor of Arabic, College of William and Mary), “Ibn Qutayba and Antar's Muallaqa: Sources, Traditions and Structure”
This article examines one of the most important pre-Islamic poems composed by the black warrior-poet, Antar Ibn Shadd’d (6th century CE). This article’s analysis refutes Ibn Qutayba’s point of view concerning the poem. Ibn Qutayba (d.276H/886CE) believes that this is Antar’s first long poem. His opinion is one of the most important controversies among the many questions and doubts concerning the poem. Ibn Qutayba is also one of our main sources of information about Antar, along with al-Isfah’ni (d.356H/967CE). These writers, along with Arab critical tradition cast many doubts on the poem and its author. These include doubts about Antar himself (for example, about his lineage and his death); doubts about the exact number of lines in the poem; doubts about whether or not it was indeed one of the elite mucallaq’t poems. The article demonstrates, through comparison with recognized mucallaq’t and a structural analysis of the poem that divides it into the nas’b, the journey and the warrior’s boast, that cantar’s poem is too fully developed and conforms too closely to the traditionally accepted mucallaq’t constraints to have been his first attempt at a long poem. It incorporates the most typical qualities of the mucallaq’t and illustrates the principal themes of pre-Islamic poetry: mourning of ruins; evocation of the beloved; citation of place names and their significance; expression of sorrow, loss and yearning; and reference to life and death. In short, the poem reflects the values of Anta’s time, the pre-Islamic era in the Arabian Peninsula. These values include generosity, honor, protection of the weak (particularly women), courage, the warrior’s ability to declaim poetry, especially in the glorification of one’s own exploits. The article also compares Antar’s poem to other mucallaq’t, showing the elements it has in common with works by such esteemed poets as Zuhayr Ibn Abi Sulma, Imru’u al-Qays, and Lab’d Ibn Rab’a.

Paper presenter: Kaoru Yamamoto (Dr, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), “Appropriation of Values: Sa'alik Poets as Heroes of the Inverted World”
My paper aims to explore the manner by which pre-Islamic Sa’alik poets tried to disturb the boundaries which the tribal society of the Arabs at the time had drawn to put social life in proper order. The brigand poets called Sa’alik occupied a very unique position in the pre-Islamic Arab literary tradition, where the poets who advocated the values of the Arab tribes and often embodied such values in themselves as rich and noble heroes had the most powerful voices. On the contrary, Sa’alik were depicted in their biographical anecdotes as poor persons of low rank in tribal society, or outcasts from their native tribes, yet unbeatable plunderers, blessed with superhuman physical ability and cunning. The poetry which is said to have been sung by Sa’alik exhibits many distinct features, but previous studies say that it should be read in comparison with the main poetic style at the time, that is Qasida. In this paper, I will resort to Barbara A. Babcock’s notion of “inversion” as a clue to understanding the nature of Sa’alik poetry, and provide some analysis on its main motifs to be seen as inverted or parodied versions of those of Qasida, with special emphasis on “locus” and “attributes of the hero”. In Qasida, dar (abode) is the place where a man must live and the desert is the domain of wild nature where a man goes through hardships to be reborn as a hero who can serve tribal society. In Sa’alik poetry, however, the desert is their territory, and wild animals are their companions, and in this inverted world, Sa’alik act and boast of themselves as if they are the real heroes. But how can these outsiders assert that they are the heroes? And what are the attributes that Sa’alik poets claim that the hero must have? On this point, my paper will argue that they use “the appropriation of values” as a strategy for both confusing and confirming the social norm.

Paper presenter: Raymond K. Farrin (Assistant Professor of Arabic, American University of Kuwait), “The 'Lamiyyat al-Arab' by al-Shanfara: A Structural and Thematic Analysis”
This paper analyzes the pre-eminent Su’luk poem from pre-Islamic Arabia, al-Shanfara’s “Lamiyyat al-Arab”. It shows that the ode is organized in a very controlled manner even though the poet portrays himself in it as wild, existing outside the margins of civilization. Specifically, the paper highlights the structure of ring composition in the poem. Accordingly, we find that, at the beginning of the ode, al-Shanfara repudiates his tribe (whereas in reality, his tribe ostracized him) and says that he inclines to another tribe of his own choosing. Then, at the end, we see that he integrates with a cohort of ibex, who accept him as one of their own. These ibex position themselves around him and treat him with ample respect. Hence the animal kin ultimately replace his tribe. Interior sections of the poem also correspond according to the principles of ring composition. And, in the middle of the poem, one finds a depiction of al-Shanfara and his Sa?alik colleagues as a pack of wolves, who patiently endure hunger and display solidarity and seemly behavior. The core section is set off from the rest of the poem by the prominent use of radd al-ajuz ala al-sadr, a rhetorical device commonly found in later poetry. Thematically, the poem sharply criticizes pre-Islamic tribal society for its moral blindness. It asserts that al-Shanfara embodies fundamental Bedouin virtues: endurance, independence, courage, desert familiarity, not to mention generosity. Meanwhile, it indicates that many a tribal member lacks such qualities. Al-Shanfara reveals in this poem his disgust with society, which is motivating him to go off on his own. In addition, he underscores another pre-Islamic virtue in himself: his proud nature and inclination to retaliate for harm suffered. For in the poem, besides expressing criticism, al-Shanfara likewise details how he inflicts severe punishment on society for its rejection of him.