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The Maqámát of Badí’ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání

The Maqámát of Badí’ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání PDF
The Maqámát of Badí' al-Zamán al-Hamadhání
The Maqámát of Badí’ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání: Translated From The Arabic With An Introduction and Notes Historical and Grammatical

The Maqámát of Badí’ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání

THE maqdma genre has been a part of Arabic literature for almost a thousand years, and has been used for both pure entertainment and for didactic and moralistic purposes.

Because of the supreme prestige of the Arabic tongue, the language of the Qur’an, within the Islamic world, the genre was carried into the literatures of other Islamic countries of the Middle East, including the Persian and Turkish ones, and even into such non-Islamic literatures as Hebrew and Syriac.

The maqama, as it originated with Bad!’ aI-Zaman al-HamadMni in the eastern Islamic lands of the tenth century, is a short piece, rarely more than a few pages long.

The core of Badi’ al-Zaman’s maqdmdt is an anecdote, often (though not always) built around the adventures of one Abu ‘l-Fath of Alexandria, as seen through the eyes of a narrator, ‘Isa ibn Hisham.

Beginning with the century preceding that in which Badi’ aI-Zaman flourished, sc.

with the ninth one, there is discernible in Arabic literature a growing interest in low life and in the doings of beggars, tricksters, mountebanks and even criminals.

This was doubtless in part a reflection of the growing urbanisation of the Islamic world, its economic prosperity and a generally increased
sophistication; as G. E. von Grunebaum appositely remarked, , Patronage of the popular milieu has always remained the domain of the sophisticated and erudite.’

Whatever the root causes of this interest, there now appears a fascination amongst the intellectual classes for the Islamic underworld, its activities and its peculiar jargons, an absorption in these arcana seen not only in the maqdmdt of Badi’ aI-Zaman, but also in works like the Book of Misers of al-Jal).

with its realistic, almost sociological, portrayal of classes of people who were not normally considered as proper subjects for treatment in
real literature ; in various works on the lower orders known to us now by their titles only; and in the globe-trotter and physician AbU Dulaf

al-KhazrajCs Qa${da sasaniyya, a long poem describing the stratagems of beggars and swindlers, into which the author introduced specimens
of their peculiar vocabulary and argot.

Badi’ al-Zaman’s maqamat are in rhymed prose (saj’), the form of writing which lies midway between the prose and poetic styles and which during the tenth century became increasingly used for official correspondence and then for historiography and other forms of prose composition (it is true that many of the maqamat end with scraps of verse, but Bad!’ aI-Zaman was not a great poet, and many of these lines are little more than doggerel).

It is this euphuistic, assonantal style, -this displaying of verbal pyrotechnics, where the author strives after elegance of expression at the expense of conciseness and even of sense, which later gave Islamic literature its popular reputation in the West of pomposity and floweriness.

Yet this accusation is unjust where the earlier stages of Islamic literature are concerned, and especially so in the case of Bad!’ aI-Zaman, whose Arabic style in the maqamat does not sacrifice vividness of expression and sense to the exigencies of the rhymed prose style, as did many later exponents of the maqama (although Badi’ al-Zaman’s collected Epistles show that he possessed the technical expertise for writing in the most high-flown epistolary manner).

In fact, this style only gradually became dominant amongst the secretaries of the chanceries and amongst literary men as a mistrust of literary innovation and a fear of straying from the paths trodden by the ancients developed, and then in the central and eastern Islamic lands rather than the Muslim West.

In the present century, which has seen a splendid renaissance of Arabic literature, both the rhymed prose style and the form of the classical maqama appear as fossilised and dead as the styles of say Lely or Gongora in contemporary western European prose-writing.

One source nearly contemporary with Badi’ aI-Zaman, but written at the opposite end of the Islamic world from Badi’ al-Zaman’s Persian homeland, states that he was not the real inventor of the maqama genre, but that he followed a way roughly delineated by an early tenth century Arab philologist, Ibn Duraid; and in his own Epistles, Badi’ aI-Zaman boasted that he had written some 400 maqamat, i.e. eight times the number at present extant. Both these statements are probably without foundation. A. F. L. Beeston has recently seen the origins of Bad!’ al-Zaman’s efforts in the anecdotal literature of the age, as exemplified in the book of his older contemporary, the Qa(;li al-Tamlkhi, the Deliverance from Anguish,

where are described the escapades of characters not unlike Abu ‘l-Fath al-Iskandari in that they are outwardly unprepossessing but nevertheless possess a propensity for shrewd actions and trenchant literary expression.

This question of the origins of the maqdma, discussed by Prendergast in his Introduction with what was, for the time,considerable perspicacity, has continued down to the present to exercise the minds of experts on Arabic literature in both East and West.

For the European scholars, this has been in large measure because the maqdma seems to be that genre of classical Arabic literature which most closely approaches the dramatic form, so prominent in the unfolding of European literatures.

In reality, although the dramatic element became stronger in the maqdmdt of Badi’ al-Zaman’s successor and imitator, al-ljariri, the maqdma form was, as we have noted, a dead end in Arabic literature, the modern Arabic drama being a creation de novo under palpable European influence.

The translator William Joseph Prendergast was born in 1861, and graduated in Arabic and Persian.

He became an Ordinary Fellow of Madras University in 1908, and was also Director, later Professor, of Oriental Languages at the Nizam oi Hyderabad’s College, the nucleus of the present Osmania University in Hyderabad.

He remained a Fellow of Madras University till retirement in 1927, and died at an unknown date after that.

During the years 1911-14 he was at New College, Oxford, and it was there that he produced as a B.Litt. research thesis his translation of Bad!’ al-Zaman’s maqdmdt, published in book form a year later.

The only other work which Prendergast seems to have written is a booklet published in Madras in 1890, the Muhdwardtul-Arabeeha: A Collection of Arabic Idiomatic and Colloquial Sentences.

In producing his translation of Badi’ al-Zaman’s maqdmdt, Prendergast must have had an eye on the monumental translation of al-ljarfri’s maqdmdt, The Assemblies of al 1f.arlri, begun by Thomas Chenery in the mid-Victorian period, before he took up the editorship of The Times, and only completed by F. Steingass in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Apart from Prendergast’s English one, the only other translation of the complete maqdmdt of Badi’ aI-Zaman into a western language is that of O. Rescher, who in 1913 published at Leonberg an accurate German version as Volume V of his Beitriige zur Maqdmen-Litteratur.

In French, R. Blachere and P.Masnou in their Al-Hamafldni, Choix de Maqdmdt (seances) …

avec une etude sur le genre (Paris 1957) have translated fifteen of the maqdmdt and have prefixed to this what is at present the most thorough and up-to-date study of the author and his work.

Although Prendergast does not explicitly say so, the text of Badi’ aI-Zaman which he used was the edition by the Egyptian religious reformer and scholar Shaikh Mul;1ammad ‘Abduh, first published at Beirut in 1889; his commentary and notes depend considerably on ‘Abduh’s own Arabic commentary.

The text as used by Prendergast was not quite complete.

A fifty-second maqama, called Shtimiyya, that of Syria, was excluded by ‘Abduh from his text on the grounds of its indelicacy, as was an anecdote from the end of No. 30, that of Ru~cifa.

One may read these expurgated sections (which, compared with other scatological works in Arabic literature, contain little to shock people today) in such complete editions of the maqamat as those of Lucknow (1876) and Istanbul (1880).

Prendergast’s translation, printed as it was in India and during the First World War, has long been out of print and difficult to obtain; and since it is unlikely to be replaced in the near future by a further English translation, it will be useful for students and scholars to have available once more this English version of a pioneer work in its genre of Arabic literature.

 

 

 

 

Format:PDF
Size:8 MB
Series:Routledge Library Editions: Islamic Thought in the Middle Ages
Edition:1st Edition
Date: 2015

 

 

 

 

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