Migrations to the north

August 1st, 2012

A new translation of mediaeval Arab travel narratives may herald further English translations of classical Arabic literature – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by David Tresilian, 25 – 31 July 2012.

Speaking to the Weekly in an interview late last year, the British orientalist Robert Irwin suggested that while more works of modern Arabic literature were now being translated into English than ever before, western readers were still sometimes ill served when it came to translations from the classical literature.  

Irwin himself is the author of a useful Companion to the Arabian Nights, a kind of extended commentary on the stories making up the Thousand and One Nights, and editor of a widely used anthology of classical Arabic literature in English translation. Yet, English-language publishers, he said, “don’t really know where to start as far as classical Arab writers are concerned,” and they can turn a deaf ear to pleas for better, more modern translations as a result.

“I keep telling publishers they should do Jahiz,” the polymath Abbasid writer, Irwin explained, as “he’s so witty and so interesting, or the pre-Islamic poets, but they are not very receptive. When I suggest Jahiz, people look blank.” At the moment, non-Arabic-speaking readers wanting to read the works of Jahiz have few options aside from older French or German translations, unavailable except in larger research libraries.

However, the decision by Penguin Books to bring out a new translation of works by mediaeval Arab geographers, among them the 10th century writer Ibn Fadlan, in its familiar Penguin Classics series may be a sign that things are changing and that English-language publishers are at long last beginning to cater to western readers curious to know more about mediaeval Arab civilisation.

Entitled Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, Arab Travellers in the Far North, the book contains some of the earliest accounts in any language of the Viking traders who penetrated Central Asia down to the Caspian Sea in the mediaeval period and of the indigenous inhabitants of the region. It has been expertly translated by Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, and it is full of fascinating details about the Abbasid caliphs’ northern neighbours and how these appeared from the perspective of a writer from the caliphal court in Baghdad …//

… Lunde and Stone’s English translation of the work of these early Arab travelers has been provided with an informative introduction, useful notes, and a set of bibliographical and textual references. It will appeal particularly to anyone whose knowledge of mediaeval Arab travellers stops with the much later and very different Ibn Battuta, and it may signal an intention on the part of its publishers to make other works of classical Arabic literature available in readable modern translations. (full long text).

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Find on en.wikipedia:

  • Robert Irwin (writer) … (born August 23rd, 1946) is a British historian, novelist, and writer on Arabic literature …
  • Abbasid Caliphate;
  • Ahmad ibn Fadlan (more fully Ahmed bin Fadlan bin al-Abbas bin Rashid bin Hammad) was a 10th century Arab traveler …
  • Al-Muqtadir … (born 895 AD (282 AH), died 932 AD (320 AH)) was the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad from 908 AD to 932 AD (295 AH – 320 AH) …
  • Khazars were semi-nomadic Turkic people who established one of the largest polities of medieval Eurasia, with the capital of Atil and territory comprising much of modern-day European Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, large portions of the northern Caucasus (Circassia, Dagestan), parts of Georgia, the Crimea, and northeastern Turkey.[5] Khazars wrote in a runic script that originated in Mongolia.[citation needed]
  • Pechenegs or Patzinaks … were a semi-nomadic Turkic people of the Central Asian steppes speaking the Pecheneg language which belonged to the Turkic language family …
  • (Bashgirds) Bashkirs …  are a Turkic people indigenous to Bashkortostan extending on both parts of the Ural mountains, on the place where Europe meets Asia …
  • (Ghuzz Turks) Oghuz Turks … were a historical Turkic tribal confederation conventionally named Oghuz Yabgu State in Central Asia during the early medieval period …
  • (Yakut al-Rumi / Yaqut al-Rumi) Yāqūt ibn-’Abdullah al-Rūmī al-Hamawī (1179–1229) …  was an Islamic biographer and geographer renowned for his encyclopedic writings on the Muslim world …
  • Church of the East (redirect from Nestorian Christians) …  also known as the Nestorian Church,[note 1] is a Christian church, part of the Syriac tradition of Eastern Christianity …
  • Al-Jahiz … (real name Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr al-Kinani al-Fuqaimi al-Basri) (born in Basra, 781 – December 868/January 869) was an Arabic prose writer and author of works of literature, Mu’tazili theology, and politico-religious polemics …

Find on other wikipedias:

  • al-Dschahiz auf de.wikipedia … (* um 776 in Basra; † Dezember 868 oder Januar 869 … eigentlich Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr Mahbun al-Kinani al-Lithi al-Basri … war ein schwarzarabischer Schriftsteller, ein Verfasser von Adabliteratur, der der rationalistischen Glaubensrichtung des sunnitischen Islam namens Mu’tazila angehörte …
  • Al-Jahiz dans fr.wikipedia … de son vrai nom ’Abu ʿUthmân ʿAmrû ibn Baḥr Mahbûn al-Kinânî al-Lîthî al-Baṣrî … était un écrivain, encyclopédiste et polygraphe arabe mutazilite, né à Basra vers 776, mort en décembre 867 à Basra également …

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