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Pre-Modern Arabic Literature

Classical Arabic Literature

The Library of Arabic Literature Librarablit.png

(Prof James E. Montgomery, Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic)

This five-year project aims to publish 35 works from the classical Arabic creative tradition in facing-page Arabic edition and English translation. It is funded by a grant from New York University Abu Dhabi’s Research Institute, and went live in September 2010. The General Editor is Professor Philip Kennedy and Montgomery is one of the two Executive Editors, along with Professor Shawkat Toorawa of Cornell. They are guided by an editorial board of five colleagues. Phase 2 of the project is currently being planned.

Much of Montgomery’s research that does not concern al-Jaḥiẓ is centred on The Library, for which he has undertaken a number of projects. Each of the following is at differing states of completion, from initial phase to finished:

  1. Ibn Faḍlān, Mission to the Volga: a new edition and translation of the Mashhad manuscript, accompanied by studies of scribal presence in the manuscript and a complete translation of Yāqūt’s quotatiosn from Ibn Faḍlān, based on the edition produced by Ferdinand Wüstenfeld (Leipzig, 1866-73).
  2. ʿAbbasid Hunting Poetry: a three volume edition and translation of the corpus of 200 poems to have survived from the ʿAbbasidṭardiyyāt tradition: Volume 1: Falcons and Hawks; Volume 2: Saluqis; Volume 3: Eagles, Cheetahs, and Bows.
  3. The Dīwān of ʿAntarah: an edition of the poetry of the rep-Islamic poet ʿAntarah, accompanied by collective and individual translations produced by the Editors of The Library of Arabic Literature.
  4. Al-Ashʿarī: Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn: a collaborative project with David Bennett (Göttingen University), to edit and translate this most important history of the Islamic community and its beliefs.
  5. Ibn Qutaybah, Kitāb Faḍl al-ʿArab wa-al-Tanbīh ʿalāʿ ʿUlūmihā: a collaborative project with Sarah Savant (Agha Khan University) and Peter Webb (SOAS, London).


Madīḥ  and ghazal under the Marwānids  (Samuel Wilder, PhD Student)

This study examines the work of several poets of the Umayyad period, focusing on the genres of praise (madī) and love-lyric (ghazal), as practiced by poets from the Hijaz during the period of the Second Fitna and the Marwanid caliphate (roughly 680-740 CE). The research aims to study this poetry, primarily in the diwāns of Kuthayyir ʿAzzah and Ibn Qays al-Ruqayyāt, in connection to the extremely important and turbulent historical events of this period, including the Second Fitna, the building of the Dome of the Rock, and the bombardment of the Kaʿba.  It will further investigate how these poets construct and express subjectivity and communal identity, and attempt to re-examine our understanding of the 'transitional' or 'experimental' nature of Umayyad poetry.


'Abbāsid Conceptions of the Jāhiliyya

(Michael Mumisa, PhD Student)

This research comprises an investigation into the discursive construction of the Jahiliyya in classical Arabic literature. It is inspired by previous studies on Jāhilī poetry and on 'Abbāsid intellectual history by James Montgomery and others. It aims to contribute to this exciting field by treating 'Abbāsid notions of the Jāhiliyya as an important aspect of ninth-century 'Abbāsid memory culture, in which the representation of the Jāhilī past becomes a palingenetic process where that past is reconstructed in order to address the needs of the Abbasid present. Abbasid texts on the Jāhiliyya position themselves at the intersection between memory, identity, and cultural continuity. They constitute an important “construction site of memory” about the Jāhilī past. Jāhilī poetry, 'Abbāsid poetry, prose and prosimetra are the representational systems by which the early Abbasids reconstructed and re-imagined the Jāhiliyya. Thus, this study combines intellectual history, literary criticism and philology in a close analysis of poetry, prose, and prosimetra (al-Jāhiẓ et al) in order to investigate the notions of the Jāhiliyya the early 'Abbāsids were constructing, why they were doing it, and how or by which means they were doing it.   


Arabic Folk Literature

Arabic epic folkloric tales (sīrah) and their “historical” origins

(Dr Shady Nasser, University Lecturer in Classical Arabic Studies)

 This project studies some of the main epic folkloric tales in Arabic literature (sīrah shaʿbiyyah) from the perspective of their “historical” origins in the classical Arabic sources available to us. The characters in these folkloric tales are present in the historical sources yet they underwent major changes in personality, beliefs, and surrounding circumstances. Two major figures will be discussed at length: ʿAntarah and al-Muhalhil. This project aims at carrying out a comparative study with other folkloric tales in world literature based on Thompson’s Motif-index of folk literature, in order to highlight similarities and differences between Arabic folkloric tradition and the folkloric traditions in other cultures.