“Arabic Literary Refinement and The Arabian Nights": The Seventeenth-Century Neglected Case of Al-Shirbinis Hazzal-Quhuf

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Al-Shirbīnī quotes "Ḥikāyat al-Muzayyin" (i.e., "The Lame Young Man and the Barber" known also as "The Tale of the Tailor") from the Arabian Nights at full length and almost verbatim, with not a hint of criticism. To the contrary, it serves him well in helping him to demonstrate a certain issue as part of his commentary on a verse in "the poem of Abū Shādūf," to the explanation of which al-Shirbīnī's composition is ostensibly dedicated. This is very different from the way he treats other literary materials that did not yet belong to the Arabian Nights, and would only later be absorbed into the well-known version of the collection ("The Story of the City of Brass," "The Story of the Female Slave Tawaddud," "The Story of Uns al-Wujūd and al-Ward fi l-Akmām"), or other popular literary materials that were current among the lower classes in seventeenth-century Egypt ("The Story of the Snare and the Sparrow," popular epics such as Sīrat al-Dalhama wa-l-Baṭṭāl, Sīrat al-Ẓāhir Baybars, Sīrat ʿAntara Ibn Shaddād as well as Sīrat Banī Hilāl). This may show that for al-Shirbīnī the Arabian Nights possessed quite a different status than the other types of non-official literature which he mentions with such scorn in his composition. It seems he does not consider all the différent materials that came into being in popular culture as an undifferentiated whole. Rather, some, all those epics and the other stories, deserved scorn, and others, namely the Arabian Nights, are free from criticism. Hence, in light of medieval scholars' clear negative attitude toward the Arabian Nights, may one not consider al-Shirbīnī in this case to be a unique voice or even a sort of a harbinger as to the local literary sphere and Muslim intellectualism in Arabic, which had begun to show some interest in the collection only since the beginning of the nineteenth-century?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-209
Number of pages19
JournalQuaderni di studi arabi
StatePublished - 2015


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