Panel: The interaction between poetry and its environment in pre-modern Arabic culture


Raum: JO 1, Johannisstraße 1-4, Gebäude des Exzellenzclusters “Religion und Politik”
Tag Zeit    
Do 09:00-09:30 Masarwa Urbane Tropen – tropische Urbanitäten: Städtelob und Städtetadel am Beispiel einer mufāḫara zwischen Damaskus und Bagdad
Do 09:30-10:00 Papoutsakis Classical Arabic Begging-Poetry and Shakwā (8th-12th centuries)
Do 10:00-10:30 Richardson Blue and Green Eyes in the Islamicate Middle Ages
Do 10:30-11:00 Pause
Do 11:00-11:30 Siblini In between: estrangement and nostalgia in mukhaÃram poetry
Do 11:30-12:00 Talib Telling Time: using clocks and poetry to periodize Islamic history c. 1200–1700 - Abgesagt
Do 11:30-12:00 von Hees Old age: Literary theme versus social reality


Rana Siblini

Beschreibung des Panels:

In studying a phenomenon in pre-modern Arabic culture, whether social, anthropological, political, religious, historical, or simply personal, poetry appears to be an invaluable source of information or may even generate certain circulating perceptions. A lot can be deduced from poetry but also the above mentioned phenomena can in their turn help us understand certain poetic images and meanings.

This panel addresses the mutual influence between poetry and its environment, factual and intellectual. It presents and discusses cases where this interaction between poetry and its surroundings reveals certain conceptions about the Arabic culture or modify other existing ones. Papers will tackle one or more of these questions:

What can be deduced from poetry on certain social practices?

How can poetry help understand the ethical and aesthetic principles of people in a given time and environment?

To what extent can poetry preserve and transmit some norms and traditions across the time?

How can poetry speak for or against certain historical events?

Language: English and German



Abstracts der Vorträge:

Masarwa, Alev: Urbane Tropen – tropische Urbanitäten: Städtelob und Städtetadel am Beispiel einer mufāḫara zwischen Damaskus und Bagdad

Städte bilden mit allem, was man mit ihnen und dem städtischen Leben verbindet, ein riesiges Motivreservoir für die Literatur. Vielfach erhalten Städte durch die benutzten Motive (auch Bilder und Metaphern) Markierungen, die, wenn sie erfolgreich eingesetzt wurden, so hartnäckig an der Stadt haften können, wie ihre Bausubstanz. Am Beispiel dieser mufāḫara (ca. 16./17. Jhd.), soll gezeigt werden, welche Motive und bekannten Tropen für Lob und Tadel von beiden Kontrahenten frequentiert und welche eventuell generiert werden, um im Rangstreit eine überlegene Position für die eigene Stadt einzunehmen.

Papoutsakis, Nefeli: Classical Arabic Begging-Poetry and Shakwā (8th-12th centuries)

Begging-poems can be roughly described as petitions in verse addressed to a patron. A begging-poem differs from the panegyric, with which it is often unduly confused, in that it focuses on the poet’s plea, rather than the praise of the benefactor, and hyperbolically dramatizes the dire position of the suppliant. The poet exaggerates and shamelessly advertises his need in self-pitying, whining tones, with a view to arousing the patron’s compassion. Albeit a minor genre that essentially contradicted the modes and conventions of Abbasid court poetry, classical Arabic begging-poetry flourished throughout the Abbasid period. Literary mendicancy and complaints of litterateurs over their predicament became very common especially during the Buyid era, when they were widely referred to as shakwā (Arabic for complaint). In my talk I shall sketch the development of the genre to the late 12th century and present its main themes and most prominent exponents.

Richardson, Kristina: Blue and Green Eyes in the Islamicate Middle Ages

Negative representations of blue and green eyes in Islamicate literature and art have been ubiquitous since the advent of Islam in the seventh century CE, and continue to appear in such popular symbols as the blue-eyed devil, a key figure in the Nation of Islam’s theology, and the evil eye, which is always rendered blue. By the tenth century the Arabic term azraq, which denotes a blue or green iris color, had, for reasons very clear, acquired the meanings of ‘ill-omened’ and ‘deceitful.’ How did these definitions and representations structure and reproduce rivalries between tribal groups, between Muslims and perceived Others, and within local Muslim groups? 

My research suggests that Ayyubid and Mamluk Muslim male writers overwhelmingly accepted the characterization of blue and green eyes as unattractive and deviant. Predictably, as certain community members—like blind people or Christians—became identified with blue and green eyes, anxieties flared at such moments as the Crusades, spurring increased literary production about blue- and green-eyed people. Through an examination of period poetry, narrative sources and Qur’anic commentaries of 20:102, which is the only verse mentioning blue-green eyes, I will examine the ways in which medieval constructions of blue and green eyes reflected imperial politics of identity and also created and reinforced power differentials between physically normative Muslims and physically different Others within and without medieval Dar al-Islam.

Siblini, Rana: In between: estrangement and nostalgia in mukhaÃram poetry

The mukhaḍramūn poets were recognized as an independent category in pre-modern Arabic literary criticism. However, their poetry was considered by classical literary critics —as well as the majority of the modern ones— as an extension of the pre-Islamic poetry, except for the poetry which exhibited references to Islam.

Only few modern scholars have pointed out to certain changes and new trends in the poetry of the mukhaḍramūn on both the thematic level and stylistic one, which some were instrumental in the formation of later poetic genres.

Along this line, through focusing on the theme of ghurba and ḥanīn (estrangement and nostalgia), the present paper attempts at demonstrating that the mukhaḍramūn poetry reveals a unique experience which cannot be considered pre-Islamic or Islamic, from the point of view of sub-themes and motifs.

The poets who express these feelings of estrangement and nostalgia appear to be having difficulty settling with the new order and way of life which Islam introduced. It is a feeling of being a stranger to the new society and values, and a feeling of longing to only yesterday’s “atmosphere”.

Through this thematic illustrative example, this paper addresses the problem of perdiozation of pre-modern Arabic poetry and the politico-historical influence versus the literary one.

von Hees, Syrinx: Old age: Literary theme versus social reality

“White Hair” is a very common literary theme in pre-modern Arabic poetry. It brings to the surface the ambivalent feelings regarding old age, its blessings and curses. From the 3rd/9th century onwards its praise and blame were treated in anthologies in direct juxtaposition. Given the long literary tradition of this theme, which cultivates the awareness of the multifaceted aspects of old age, its pros and cons, how can we trace an individual’s feeling evoked by a poem written in the 8/14th century? Analysing Mamluk poems in their literary as well as their historical/biographical context, this paper will explore the possibilities and limits of such an inquiry.