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AraBIC LITerarY SaLOnS in the ISLamIC MIDDLe AGeS POETICS OF ORALITY AND LITERACY John Miles Foley, series editor AraBIC LITerarY SaLonS in the ISLamIC MIDDLe AGeS Poetry, Public Performance, and the Presentation of the Past Samer M. ALI University of Notre Dame Press Notre Dame, Indiana University of Notre Dame Press Notre Dame, Indiana 46556 www.undpress.nd.edu All Rights Reserved Copyright © 2010 by the University of Notre Dame Published in the United States of America Reprinted in 2013 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Ali, Samer M. Arabic literary salons in the Islamic Middle Ages : poetry, public performance, and the presentation of the past / Samer M. Ali. p. cm.—(Poetics of orality and literacy) Originally presented as the author’s thesis (doctoral)—Indiana University. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-268-02032-3 (pbk. : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-268-02032-9 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Arabic poetry—750–1258—History and criticism. 2. Salons—Islamic Empire. 3. Oral tradition—Islamic Empire. 4. Islamic Empire—Intellectual life. I. Title. PJ7553.A55 2010 892.7'13409—dc22 2010037737 ISBN 9780268074975 ∞ The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources. This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at email@example.com. To my mother and my father My lute awake! perform the last Labour that thou and I shall waste, And end that I have now begun; For when this song is sung and past, My lute be still, for I have done. —Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–42), “The Lover Complaineth the Unkindness of His Love” Contents Acknowledgments Introduction ParT I Literary Salons: Outlines of a Topic one Literary Salons: From Ancient Symposion to Arabic Muj; ālasāt TWO Adab Principles for Artistic Speech in Assembly THree Poetry Performance and the Reinterpreting of Tradition ParT II The Mujālasāt as Forum for Literary Reception FOur The Poetics of Sin and Redemption: Performing Value and Canonicity FIVe Al-Buḥturī’s Īwān Kisrā Ode: Canonic Value and Folk Literacy in the Mujālasāt SIX Singing Samarra (861–956): Poetry, Reception, and the Reproduction of Literary Value in Historical Narrative Conclusion Appendix of Arabic Poetry Notes Bibliography Index Acknowledgments The publication of this book has been a goal for many years, and in that duration a number of individuals and institutions have provided material and moral support. Without them, this book simply would not be, and it is a joy to record my gratitude to them. The project began as a Ph.D. dissertation at Indiana University under the supervision of Suzanne Stetkevych, who has been an exemplary mentor and colleague. Few people outside her circle of students witness the unflagging energy and countless hours she devotes to training Arabists and cultivating in them the sensibilities of the ode (qaṣīda) genre, which is the backbone of the Arabic literary heritage. Her knowledge of the Arabic literary tradition in particular and classical culture in general serve as an inspiration. I have also benefited from conversations and comments from Jaroslav Stetkevych, who served as discussant on several conference panels, providing compelling suggestions and insights. It has been my good fortune to witness his avuncular wisdom and breadth of knowledge in Arabic and comparative literatures. Research for this book was originally funded by a Fulbright-Hays Training Grant, part of the Doctoral Dissertation Research Program of the U.S. Department of Education. I am indebted to the Fulbright commissions of Egypt, Germany, and Spain for their assistance during 1998–99. An early version of chapter 4 was delivered to the Departamento de Estudios Árabes (Instituto de Filología) at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, Spain, where I benefited from the comments of Heather Ecker, Howard Miller, and Manuela Marín. Later, chapter 4 was published in Writers and Rulers, edited by Beatrice Gruendler and Louise Marlow. I appreciate the care and acumen of the two editors and the permission of the publisher to incorporate that chapter in this book. Similarly, I thank the Journal of Arabic Literature for permission to republish chapter 5 and the Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies for permission to use chapter 6. Likewise, many improvements were brought about in those articles because of the journals’ editors and reviewers. Sections of this paper were discussed at the Working Group on Modernity and Islam at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Berlin, 2000–2001, and I appreciate the productive exchanges I had with Angelika Neuwirth, Renate Jacobi, Hilary Kilpatrick, and Friederike Pannewick. I owe my gratitude as well to my colleagues at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, who welcomed me there in fall 2001 and provided encouragement with their example and wisdom: Moh Ghanoonparvar, Adam Newton, Esther Raizen, Abe Marcus, Kamran Aghaie, Faegheh Shirazi, Keith Walters, Peter Abboud, Mohammad Mohammad, Mahmoud Al-Batal, and Kristen Brustad. I want to thank successive chairs in particular for funding support and research leave: Harold Liebowitz, Abe Marcus, Ian Manners, and Esther Raizen. All have served with such fairness and effectiveness as to create a hospitable and invigorating environment crucial for scholarship and communication. At a critical point in the writing of this book, I had the privilege of teaching an undergraduate seminar titled “Loyalty and Rebellion in Arabic Literature,” where we focused on the issues of patronage and literary performance in medieval Arabic and Icelandic societies. Those seventeen students discussed, wrote, and thought along with me during fall 2005, thus enriching the book. With the support of the department and the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, I was given a research leave in 2004–5 to accept the Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Grant. This grant, as well as that of 1998–99, not only offered the opportunity to write in peace, but to examine manuscripts at world archives. Without that funding, it would not have been feasible for a private individual to finance trips to Spain for the Real Biblioteca del Monasterio, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid; to Germany to visit the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, and Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, Bibliothek der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft; to Egypt for the Manuscript Institute of the Arab League and the Egyptian National Archive in Cairo; and to Morocco to use the Madrasat Ben Yusif Library (Marrakesh), Bibliothèque Hasaniya (Rabat), and Bibliothèque Générale (Rabat). I mention this funding in name to indicate the critical role of public funds in supporting research and cultural understanding. I am grateful as well to family and friends who have voluntarily made sacrifices for this book, and I appreciate their constant inspiration and affection. My mother and father have bestowed many advantages on their children despite never having had those advantages in their own childhoods. I gladly recognize their greatness and the example they have set for generations. May your years be filled with love and warm memories. I want to thank as well beloved Zainab, Ehab, Jackie, Camila, and Ade, whose love and support sustain me. A circle of friends in Chicago and Austin aided me with drinks along the course of the marathon. Thanks to Jihad and Sofia Shoshara, Nejd and Fauzia Alsikafi, Hans Boas, Claire Colton, Carolyn Eastman, and Sharmila Rudrappa. Introduction Judging by the number of American universities that have added faculty and courses in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies to their curricula since September 11, 2001, many educators have come to the realization that Middle Eastern cultures and Islamic societies ought to be part of a liberal arts education. In addition, the most foresighted among policy makers have long held the view that the United States cannot wait for disaster to demonstrate that an understanding of foreign languages and cultures is vital.1 Fear of the foreign, the new, and the unfamiliar can itself be an alluring disaster. As the ancient Sumerian proverb describes and warns: “What I know makes everything else seem strange.” The challenge to educators is this: How do we cultivate the cognitive capacity to assimilate the foreign? In particular, how do we alleviate the cultural anxieties that might hinder this process? Edgar Allan Poe, the nineteenth century’s master of anxiety, illustrated the value of these questions in his horrific rewrite of the ending of the Thousand and One Nights. Whereas in the original Arabic tale the heroine’s verbal prowess as a raconteur triumphs over the king’s brutal mania, in Poe’s version, “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” Shahrazad’s plan to save herself and her society goes tragically awry. This one extra night of narrative becomes too much for the impetuous, dimwitted king. He is unable to apprehend or assimilate the wonders Shahrazad tells, real as they may be. At first, he fails to understand the wonders of Arabic language and culture. This presentation of the king as a xenophobe renders him—according to Poe’s wry humor—analogous to nineteenth-century critics who were unable to comprehend, let alone appreciate, Poe’s or Arabo-Islamic culture’s achievements because of fear of the unfamiliar. The king’s unfortunate intellect fails him again as he hears and rejects the marvels of Western society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the colossal eruption at Laki, Iceland, in 1783; the Petrified Forest of North America; Maelzel’s automatic chess player; Babbage’s calculating machine; the daguerreotype; the Voltaic Pile; and the telegraph. Without fail, the king cannot bear to perceive or assimilate the unfamiliar; his anxiety generalizes to every discovery Shahrazad relates—whether natural, historical, aesthetic, or technological. Poe seems to be asking implicitly if we can afford to have parochial attitudes toward other cultures, for fear itself has a tragic allure. The formation of cognitive maturity, and thus sociability, depends on one’s trained capacity to see one’s own reality as a single perception among a valid plurality. The study of other cultures thus opens the possibility for individuals to see beyond the centrality of their own lives, an essential rite of passage in becoming a mature and fair human. By virtue of the “smallness of our own experience,” the folklorist Henry Glassie notes, “we mistake artifice for nature [and] … we are doomed merely to perfect our own imperfections…. What is becomes what is right.”2 When one engages the mind in the products and achievements of another culture and sustains an “investigation of alternatives,” the process can provide a means of establishing “a second center distinct from our own.”3 Another center, with its own integrity and coherence, challenges our ideals and stimulates a multiplicity of standards for understanding and measuring human achievements. In the mid-nineteenth century, the German folklorist Johann Gottfried Herder became so frustrated with Enlightenment hubris toward non-European cultures as to deride it: “Look! To what enlightenment, virtue, and happiness the world has ascended! And look at me! I am high atop the pendulum!”4 Without a study of other cultures—a thoroughgoing engagement of what makes others human—great societies can bring about great acts of cruelty. Literature in particular, because of its intimate and symbolic connections to language usage, imagination, anxiety, and aspiration, can figure as a generative means of relating to cultures. As the Arabist Salma Khadra Jayyusi notes, “One of the most effective and humanizing ways that people of different cultures can have access to each other’s experiences and concerns is through works of literary merit.”5 The essence of empathy relies on one’s conditioned skill in conjuring up another’s interests, values, customs, conditions, and priorities. I believe the stewards of liberal education in America have a responsibility to promote the ideals of empathy and plurality by ensuring the presence of world arts and literatures in their curricula.6 SCOPE AND ISSUES This book examines the origins, functions, and impact of literary salons (mujālasāt; sg. mujālasa) in medieval Islamic culture. Mujālasāt emerged in ninth-century Iraq and flourished in the tenth century, spreading from Iraq to the west, to Andalusian Spain and to North Africa. These literary salons endured as a cultural practice well into the modern era. Particularly in an age before television, mujālasāt were the nightly venue for witnessing the oral performance of new poetry and narrative as well as poetry that was considered “heritage.” This forum for literature offered edification, entertainment, and escape for middle- and upper-rank men and women; it also served as a means of building one’s public reputation, establishing one’s status, expanding one’s social network, and socializing the young. For these reasons the mujālasa surely must have held intense meaning in medieval Arabic society. Yet the field of Arabic scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the written dimensions of the tradition at the expense of the oral aspects, although both modes are interconnected in medieval sources. This emphasis has overlooked the more acoustic and social dimensions that enabled the literary tradition to endure and adapt, despite dramatic societal changes over nearly a millennium and a half.7 Until recently, scholars of Arabic literature have taken for granted the continuity of a literary tradition that spanned three continents and fifteen centuries—a rare feat in world history.8 The existence and ubiquity of books transmitting this world heritage indicates their appeal, but Arabic literary studies have fallen short of explaining the reasons for that appeal. There has been little investigation into how such a long, tight-knit tradition might have remained meaningful and classical for such a surprising duration and across such a large geographic range, from Spain to Iraq. The question is more pressing when one considers the dramatic risks posed to the passing on of any tradition through the ages by boredom, apathy, famine, disease, war, or simply other distractions. Arabists, by and large overlooking the issue of appeal, might find it useful to analyze the ways in which generations of audiences, mostly amateurs, received, engaged, and reinterpreted old literature in order to breathe new life into traditional texts and forms, which can turn cold, alien, and stifling. Without an analysis of audience reception, we are left with a canon detached from the particular needs and choosy sensibilities of those who exercised the privilege of selecting texts for future transmission—or not. By focusing on the mujālasāt, this book investigates the chief literary forum where middle- and upper-rank members of society received the tradition and adjusted it. By analogy, I draw parallels throughout this work with the institutions of the marzēaḥ (of western Asia in the Bronze Age) and the Greek symposion (beginning in the Geometric period, 900–700 B.C.). I review the corpus of modern scholarship that gauges these social institutions’ character and impact. Judging from the rigor, vividness, and volume of the existing scholarship on the marzēaḥ and symposion since the 1960s,9 Arabists might benefit from identifying mujālasāt as an institution with socio-literary implications and exploring some basic questions: How large were mujālasāt? What type of people attended—elders, women, children, or servants? Who spoke what, and to what degree did attendees take turns or dominate? How long did sessions last, and were they held at night or during the day? Were they held indoors or outside, and which buildings were used? For a social institution that has occupied more of a place in the daily lives of medieval men and women than television or classroom education in our own time, this gap in knowledge is grave. I attempt to address these basic questions and take that description to the level of cultural analysis. If mujālasāt were prevalent and enduring, why did individuals participate? If people performed poetry and competed for prestige in mujālasāt, what impact did their text selection and performance in assembly have on the formation of canon, identity, community, and ideology? How did the performance of poetry and narrative shape their vision of an Arabo-Islamic past? OUTLINE The book is organized in two parts that examine, respectively, the character and the impact of mujālasāt. Part I, composed of three chapters, addresses some of the most basic questions. Chapter 1 traces the development of the Arabic literary salon custom from its earliest origins in ancient Mesopotamian, Canaanite, and Greek cultures and its emergence in Iranian Sasanian culture, which inherited the Hellenistic tradition as part of Alexander the Great’s legacy in Asia. The chapter examines the motivations for attending and participating in mujālasāt, including external social pressures such as sociability and the amassing of prestige (i.e., medieval networking), as well as the more cognitive and physical joys of social interplay. Chapter 2 goes beyond fundamentals to examine one of the Gordian knots of medieval scholarship, whether European or Middle Eastern. It appears that professional and amateur littérateurs, who were seemingly honest and intelligent, fabricated narratives in mujālasāt that they recounted as being truthful and historical. Drawing on previous scholarship on Arabic, European, and Persian historiography and literature, I argue that littérateurs employed a set of principles for speaking in assembly that need not be reconciled with our own modern principles. If we are ever to understand the way medieval littérateurs spoke of the world (in particular, the past), we must be willing to set aside our own sensibilities and imagine another set of principles for speaking. Children in antiquity and the Middle Ages were socialized to speak and think in a figurative language that artfully encoded actual people and events with meaning. The result does not represent the actual people or events in question, of course, but the various interpretations associated with them. Chapter 2 also looks at how these principles were applied as techniques to render people, places, and events heroic and sacral. As such, the products of mujālasāt reflect not literal but metaphorical truths, which, if decoded, offer up a storehouse of deep-seated beliefs, attitudes, and mythology.10 Chapter 3 follows the journey of a single poem from ninth-century Iraq to thirteenth-century North Africa. Here I illustrate the way in which literary reception and performance in mujālasāt radically reframed the meaning of the poem. Although it was first delivered as a praise hymn to the court of the caliph al-Mutawakkil in Iraq, serving political functions, performers in assembly appropriated and “subverted” it into a mystical ode when thirteenth-century North African Sufis (Malamatiyya Lodge) adapted it for their own spiritual and apolitical purposes. Anecdotes of its reception and performance by the Malamatiyya show how the poem gave voice to their culturally specific ideology of renouncing this world’s glories for the sake of those of the next. The ode, like a prism, refracts their intense hope—and consequent ambivalence—in God’s mercy. Part II analyzes the impact of mujālasāt on the formation of tradition. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 examine examples of the effect of performance in assembly on how littérateurs adjusted and transmitted specific past communal events. These chapters focus on a series of odes and narratives related to the first patricidal regicide of Islamic history in which the caliph al-Muntaṣir (d. 862) was implicated in the grisly murder of his father, the caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861). I look at the major poetic ceremonies staged by al-Buḥturī, the ninth-century court poet, to influence how later generations would remember this traumatic sequence of events. Chapters 4 and 5 isolate a group of poems composed by al-Buḥturī to shape cultural memory of the patricide in perpetuity. These poems were composed and performed by this court poet in the wake of Caliph al-Mutawakkil’s murder and in the era subsequent to it. More important, they were recited in mujālasāt for generations as canonical heritage. Together these poems constitute the last major statement by a contemporary on the subject. In chapter 6, I demonstrate how this body of poems sowed the seeds for historical narratives for some twenty generations of performers in mujālasāt. I argue that al-Buḥturī’s odes illustrate the determinative role that poetic heritage can play in concert with audience reception and adjustment to form communal historical narratives that entertain and edify audiences even today. SOURCES An examination of performance in group necessitates a broad and creative use of sources because it encompasses a wide variety of issues: the training that poets and reciters require in order to become competent, the immediate demands of face-to-face performance before an audience, the ways in which audiences express their responses and judgments, and the ways in which performers might adjust their texts or styles of delivery to attract and hold an audience’s attention. I address these questions without the benefit of direct observation or live recordings. Needless to say, that limitation alone poses a daunting challenge for the field of Arabic literature; it accounts in part for the reluctance among some scholars to examine the oral and sociable dimension of this literary form of communication. It is possible, however, with the appropriate methods, to interpret the available sources with an eye for these performance issues. I have culled details and sentiments primarily from texts but also, to a lesser extent, from architectural studies revealing how physical spaces were used in the salons. Medieval texts are used in large part as ethnographies that were composed by professional or amateur littérateurs. Anthologies of poetry and prose reveal themselves as transcripts of mujālasāt or as mnemonic devices for learning one’s lines (a feat that earned the admiration of one’s friends and colleagues). These sources serve the purpose of illustrating the culture of the mujālasāt, audience expectations, a performer’s training, norms of performance and reception, audience-performer interaction, text adjustment in performance, and even composition in performance. Most important, when these sources nonchalantly use the medium of writing to promote and ensure the oral dimensions of the tradition, they manifest certain norms of interplay between orality and writing. I also examine prose and poetry texts that were known to have been performed in mujālasāt and received as heritage. That these texts were reselected for recitation and transmission—despite the vagaries of history and psychology across generations—stands as a testament to their suitability for performance. With the support of Fulbright-Hays funding (1998–99, 2004–5), I visited ten archives in Spain, Morocco, Germany, and Egypt, where I examined more than a thousand manuscript titles. For this study, I have relied on manuscripts of anthologies, historical narratives, political advice manuals, poetry texts, and personal notebooks of students to understand how performers used these books for performance. I examined these manuscripts not only for the unprinted texts they may convey, but as physical artifacts that might indicate their usage as mnemonic devices explicitly or implicitly. As a physical artifact, each manuscript provides clues that often tell a story, and I have endeavored to foreground those stories by gauging the ways the book has been bound, supplemented, and rebound, interpreting marginal notes, noting shifts in script style or ink color, and observing the many strategies that manuscript owners employed to personalize and customize tradition. In referring to these manuscripts, I have used specific archival names and reference numbers and, where available, titles. It deserves to be mentioned, however, that manuscript numbers hardly ever coincide with a single title, since a single volume will often comprise a florilegium of titles. This medieval convention confounds our print-minded notion of “book.” Likewise, many works are not set “books” at all, since they served as personal notebooks composed by amateurs or as customized renditions of well-known texts. It is often difficult, therefore, to supply a neat label, let alone a title. In effect, this problem illustrates the invigorating challenges researchers face in engaging medieval manuscript culture on its own terms, apart from our contemporary idea of the stable printed book. METHODS In the course of this exposition on mujālasāt and their impact, I have developed and drawn on several methodological strategies to support my thesis. First, this book demonstrates that, far from being an ideological and brainy enterprise, the Arabo-Islamic literary heritage was governed by sociability and social interaction at heart. These interactions and the underlying social need to charm and be charmed enabled odes and stories to take on pragmatic value in social exchanges that took place in the salons. Implicitly, I hope to put into question the presumption that canonicity is an a priori given and to show that a canon can be authoritative only insofar as it remains appealing and current. Second, the continuity of the Arabic tradition throughout time and across regions—over a millennium and a half, across three continents—cannot pass as an unquestioned phenomenon. Individual men and women who had the intellect and virtuosity to promote vested interests adjusted and performed inherited cultural knowledge to meet immediate demands. Thus the issue of canon formation can scarcely be divested from local interests: people transmit a canon by using it. Third, I employ a variety of methods from folklore studies and cultural anthropology to illustrate the way in which medieval littérateurs relied on manuscripts to prepare for oral performance. As such, I join a group of researchers who argue against the so-called great divide theory—that paper-based technologies inevitably displace oral performance.11 The great divide theory has the drawback of giving technology a determinative role in shaping knowledge and society, de-emphasizing the agency of people who perhaps might use those technologies to serve emerging goals rooted in their specific class, age, ethnicity, gender, and ideology. This book explores the ways in which individuals and groups use both oral and written modes of communication together to achieve social and political goals. Fourth, by tracing the impact of recited poems on historical narrative, I aim to question the rigid lines between genres and forms that were eminently combined and related in mujālasāt when performers alternated between them to entertain and edify their audiences. I hope to offer readers a study of medieval Arabo-Islamic mujālasāt that places the agency and impact of individuals and groups—whether amateurs or professionals—at the center of literary communication and canon formation. Beginning in the ninth century, these forebears created literary practices reflecting and shaping a savvy sociability that empowered and celebrated human dignity and tenacity. That heritage is now bequeathed to the world to reject or esteem. A NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION Throughout this book I have employed standard abbreviations for the first and second editions of the venerable Encyclopaedia of Islam, EI1 and EI2, common reference works in Middle Eastern studies. The transliteration system I have used is that of the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Because this book addresses both Arabists and non-Arabists, I explain here the transliteration symbols: The macron on the vowels ā, ī, ū simply indicates a long vowel. Assuming a midwestern American accent, compare the short a in bat to the ā in father, the i in pit to the long ī phoneme in bee, the u phoneme in took to the ū in boot. As for the consonants, the ʾ (as in Maʾmūn) is merely a glottal stop (the popping of the glottis in up), so it can be tinted with any of the three vowels, such as in at, it, or oh. The Arabic sounds ḍ ṣ ṭ ẓ, are emphatic versions of the dotless d s t z. The ʿ (as in the biblical name Yaʿqūb) has no English phonemic equivalent, but once acquired, it doubles as a respectable duck call. In conformity with convention, however, Arabic poetry has not been transliterated but rather transcribed to stress its aural dimensions. In the case of words that have entered the English language, such as kaaba and hajj, I have adopted the practice of not transliterating but using standard English spellings found in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Unless otherwise noted, all translations of Arabic texts are my own. An appendix of poetry texts in Arabic has been included for the reader’s convenience. I have attempted to offer readable translations in idiomatic English. In balancing the needs of Arabists with non-Arabists, I have assumed that the Arabist will be able to consult the original, so the translations primarily serve to engage non-Arabists. At least, I hope so. Part I LITerarY SaLOnS: OuTLIneS OF a TOPIC one Literary Salons From Ancient Symposion to Arabic Mujālasāt SALONS: HIERARCHICAL VERSUS EGALITARIAN In the year 750, at a time when North America’s redwoods and sequoias were seedlings and sprouts, a revolution was taking place seven thousand miles away in the Middle East as a new dynasty, the Abbasids, came to power. Although governed by Muslims, Abbasid society would enable Arabs and non-Arabs, as well as Muslims and non-Muslims, to interact and influence each other in unprecedented ways. Abbasid society (A.D. 750–1258), centered in Iraq, would sustain a golden age of Islamic civilization, which thereafter Muslims and Arabs would consider a model for organized communal life.1 Not only did this era produce a canonical literature, its triumphs fostered the ideals of cultural exchange, leadership, and civic participation. One of the primary mechanisms for forming Abbasid society and literature was the literary gathering or salon. These mujālasāt enabled people in new venues and ways to inherit, borrow, adjust, and share cultural knowledge. The types of knowledge that were most relevant to these mujālasāt were specifically in the Arabic language. Although particular literary ideas could originate from Greek, Syriac, Indian, or Armenian, they would be dubbed “Arabic” fields of knowledge (ʿulūm ʿarabiyya) if their ultimate language of composition and recitation was Arabic.2 According to the historian Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), the defining feature of Arabic knowledge was not merely language, but the norm-driven imperative to perform it and teach it to the young, to learn it by heart, and to recite it in assembly. In contrast to Arabic knowledge, if any “foreign” fields of knowledge (ʿulūm ʿajamiyya)—which included Greek, Indian, and Persian sciences (such as philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, pharmacy, and astronomy, as well as dream interpretation)—were forgotten or became extinct, they could be rediscovered by intellect. In this way they were viewed as perennially deducible. Arabic studies were viewed as cultural and thus set by communal convention, sentiment, attitude, and belief. The Middle East scholar George Makdisi notes, as further indication of this distinction, that foreign knowledge was sometimes referred to as “reasoned” (ʿilm maʿqūl), whereas Arabic knowledge was “personally transmitted” (ʿilm manqūl).3 In Ibn Khaldūn’s view, if Arabic knowledge was lost, sheer intellect could not regain its form or substance.4 It would die out along with the vast majority of cultural knowledge, such as family experiences, traditions, and lore, that ceases to hold meaning. Arabic knowledge comprises two subtypes of heritage: religious knowledge (dīn) and humanistic knowledge (adab).5 Those aspiring to good repute would learn from dīn the various transmissions of the Qur’an and reports by or about the Prophet Muhammad (known as Hadith) by heart. From adab, they would memorize classical proverbs (amthāl) and public speeches (khutab), inherited (qadīm) and “modern” (muḥdath) poetry, as well as charming or historical narratives (aakhbār).6 Whereas dīn guided the faithful to the path of God’s deliverance in the hereafter, adab delivered a person from isolation, trauma, and grief in the here and now. Whereas dīn taught mortals what God expects, adab taught them the manners, sensitivities, and verbal arts of charm (ẓarf) and sociability (muʾānasa) that human beings expect. This humanistic knowledge—not of divine but of social salvation—is the focus of this book, along with the social practices that surround its performance in mujālasāt. Mujālasāt were one of the many social institutions that promoted in varying degrees humanistic edification, which produced generations of professional and amateur humanists or littérateurs (adīb; pl. udabāʾ). Makdisi, in his important study of the rise of humanism in medieval Islamic culture and later in Christian Europe, notes that students could acquire this knowledge in several venues. Wealthy patrons endowed institutions, the most important of which was the mosque. Beginning with the advent of the Islamic polis, master teachers, poets, and scholars used the Friday mosque (jāmiʿ) throughout urban centers and the neighborhood prayer-nook (masjid) for regular study circles.7 In tenth-century Iraq, patrons established elementary and secondary schools, called kuttāb or maktab, where the young gained a foundation in foreign and Arabic knowledge. These schools often served as a gateway to higher education.8 A century later, students could gain competence in privately endowed seminaries (madrasa; pl. madāris).9 As early as the ninth century, scholars had the opportunity to hold study circles at independent libraries; two centuries later, when seminaries housed their own libraries, this practice was extended.10 Makdisi observed that the government imperative to train secretaries—whether copyists, calligraphers, or epistle writers—meant that state chanceries and courts graduated actual and would-be professionals of humanistic studies. In many cases chanceries became work-study situations where graduates of endowed institutions, such as secondary schools and seminaries, could apprentice the art and craft of preparing eloquent communications for the high-stakes purposes of intelligence, diplomacy, warfare, state accounting, and tax collection.11 Most significant, Makdisi offers a brief but important summary of mujālasāt that emerged in mid-ninth-century Baghdad independent of the control of wealthy patrons or the state.12 The mujālasāt were unlike other edifying circles in three ways. First, they were held in gardens, homes, and bookshops, so participation was semiprivate and relied on the health and wealth of one’s social network. Attendance and participation in these self-organized mujālasāt counted as a marker of prestige and influence, opening doors of opportunity for income, professional advancement, and the marriage of one’s children. Second, the mujālasāt were independent of mosques and religious institutions, which enabled non-Muslims and Muslims alike to associate, socialize, and influence each another in unprecedented ways and degrees. Although medieval urban culture enabled the social interaction of classes, professions, ethnicities, and ages, the mixing of religious identities in mujālasāt further stoked the fires of sociability and personal charm across religions and ethnicities, making these literary salons a vehicle of cultural integration in the Abbasid era. Third, these gatherings were relatively intimate. Thus they were more egalitarian and more ludic than other circles, legitimizing a full range of human seriousness and play. As such, one must distinguish these collegial salons from royal salons held at courts for the amusement and edification of kings and courtiers. Such royal salons were governed by principles of royal decorum and hierarchy, ensuring that guests showed deference to the entire chain of command represented at the assembly. Drawing on Persian as well as Arabic classical sources, Brookshaw notes that royals craved an air of intimacy but not the loss of power that accompanied it: This “intimacy” was often only apparent, and the rules of protocol governing subordinates’ relations with rulers still applied. At formal, courtly majālis … guests and performers were expected to keep to their allotted “seats” (or more commonly cushions) throughout. Positions at the majlis, which would often be dictated by the patronhost, were generally allotted according to social rank. Some participants were seated … while others … stood throughout.13 In the Berlin manuscript of Ḥalbat al-Kumayt (The Racing Formation of the Bay Horse/The Gathering for Bay-Colored Wine), al-Najāwī notes a palpable difference between the two salon types based on the presentation of one’s bodily and psychological comfort: It is appropriate that one leaves behind inhibition in the literary salon, for it is said that it is good manners for a person to let go of good manners (min al-adab tark al-adab) around those he does not fear or dread, to see little squabbling, to be treated fairly, to be forgiven in one’s drink, to be allowed to feign no answer, to remain happy, to relinquish the past, to ask the service of those present, to recite what comes easily, to expect others to keep one’s faults private, yet to refrain from reproach or artistic enjoyment (ṭarab) entailing hollering and screaming, to put aside boasting of one’s merit (ḥasab) and pedigree (nasab). As for those, however, that one fears and dreads, such as kings, caliphs, princes, and viziers, it [their salon] has arduous rules, strict decorum for which the heart quakes upon hearing, let alone seeing or witnessing: One must perfect his manners and stone silence—without vexation—never leaning on a cushion, nor playing with his clothes nor beard, nor showing any pain when [his foot] swells or goes numb (if it’s pinched under his clothes), nor can he rub his hands together, nor crack his knuckles, nor play with his ring, nor yawn even…. Thus the salon of one of the merchants or commoners (al-tujjār wal-ʿawwām) feels more joyful (alṭaf dhatan) and more literary (akthar adaban) than that of a king or vizier.14 While language does not always denote or connote practice, one finds that medieval littérateurs sometimes make a distinction in terminology between collegial and hierarchical salons. At times, they refer to the more egalitarian collegial salon as mujālasa (pl. mujālasāt), the verbal noun of the Form III jālasa, meaning “to sit with someone,” indicating reciprocity or sociability. The hierarchical salon of royalty, however, often takes the name majlis (pl. majālis), the noun of place for the Form I intransitive verb to sit or to take a seat. No reciprocity or equality is implied. When littérateurs use other labels for the collegial salon, it is usually a verbal noun modeled on the Form III verb implying reciprocity, such as mudhākara (the act of reminiscing with someone), musāmara (the act of conversing with someone late into the night), muḥāḍara (the act of contending with someone), or munādama (the act of drinking with someone).15 Like any label flaunted by professionals and amateurs, mujālasa and majlis sometimes lose their formal distinction; however, the distinction in practice—in experience—remains evident. As the passage from Ḥalbat al-Kumayt explains, the operant difference between one type of salon and the other is the presence of superiors versus colleagues. In the presence of superiors, one feels dread and anxiety at the risk of being judged harshly for drawing attention to one’s bodily or psychological comfort or discomfort. In the presence of peers, one can safely expect empathy between self and other, even some degree of indulgence for one’s foibles (excess drinking, feigning no answer, and relief from criticism and competitive boasting). Perhaps the most serious indicator of equality in collegial salons is asking a peer the favor of his service (i.e., serving a drink, food, etc.).16 Moreover, with such a piquant premium placed on companionability and pleasure, it should be no surprise that mujālasāt in homes and gardens often prompted bacchic excess: banquet foods, wine, fruits, flowers, perfumes, singing, and, of course, displays of sexuality and love. Mujālasāt are intriguing for historical and literary reasons. On the one hand, they were a social institution valuable to understanding the everyday history of Arabo-Islamic culture and the wider diffusion of that culture to other Islamic societies. On the other hand, they were a literary pretext that framed the majority of literary anthologies. Compilers of anthologies bolstered the authority of their works by framing their literary content as having been heard or overheard in mujālasāt. This framing device indicates the texts were current, alive, circulating, and widely performed—thus important. So authoritative was this credential that the number of works whose titles and prefaces situate literature in mujālasāt was legion. For example, from the tenth century we have Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī’s (d. tenth cent.) Book of Delight and Good Company,17 al-Ṣūlī’s (d. 947) Anecdotes about al-Buḥturī,18 al-Dīnawarī’s (d. ca. 940) Book of Literary Gathering and Jewels of Knowledge,19 and al-Tanūkhī’s (d. 994) Recollections of the Assembly and Anecdotes of the Salon.20 This practice continues well into the late Middle Ages, with reference to “springtime” and “gardens”—favored times and places for mujālasāt—such as the littérateur-exegete al-Zamakhsharī’s (d. 1144) Vernal Gardens for the Virtuous and Texts of Anecdotes,21 which is expanded by the littérateur al-Amāsī (d. ca. 1533) as Garden of the Best, Selected from ‘Vernal Gardens for the Virtuous’ on Knowledge at Literary Gatherings, and the Varieties of Discourse on Arabic Knowledge and Literary Arts.22 In some cases the author evokes a late-night time frame as a lyrical setting for recitation, as in a Sufi work attributed to the Sufi master Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240), Book of Repartee with the Virtuous and Late-Night Talk with the Elect on Humanities, Stories, and Anecdote,23 al-Ḥanbalī’s (d. 1503) The Joy of the Late-Night Raconteur for Anecdotes about Laylā al-Akhyāliyya and The Joy of the Late-Night Raconteur for the Lore of Majnūn Banī ʿĀmir,24 and al-Suyūṭī’s (d. 1505) Techniques for Holding Late-Night Conversations with Ancestors.25 Despite spanning seven centuries, these works share the framing device of presenting stories and poetry in the context of “socials,” “salons,” or “assemblies,” where littérateurs—amateurs and professionals alike—gathered to recite adab. In some works the source even structures the reader’s experience with each new chapter organized as a “night” of recitation. Thus this book attends to mujālasāt as both a social and a literary construct. Perhaps the most famous and well-attended mujālasa of the Abbasid era began in the home of Yūhanna b. Māsawayh (d. 857), a littérateur, philosopher, apothecary, and physician. Known in Christian Europe as Johannes Mesuë for his manual on aromatic medicines, Liber de Simplicibus, Ibn Māsawayh is credited in Arabic sources with redefining and promoting the custom among the adab urbanites in Baghdad in the early ninth century. By many accounts, the decisive factor in this feat was the man’s charm (ẓarf) and playful wit (daʿāba), which attracted the most diverse gathering of littérateurs. He was a Nestorian physician of Persian origin who had immigrated to Baghdad with his family as a child from his natal city of Jundishapur. One of the most worldly ancient cities in western Asia, Jundishapur was home to an ancient medical school, a library, and a stronghold of Iranian Hellenism and Nestorianism.26 The credit that Ibn Māsawayh receives in biographical sources for the emergence of the mujālasa in Abbasid culture points to a variety of cultural influences and salon-like precedents in the ancient Middle East. These precedents yield comparative insights, in addition to offering a plausible autochthonous history for the emergence of Abbasid mujālasa, situating it within the socio-religious life of the ancient Middle East. HISTORICAL COMPARISONS OF THE SYMPOSION AND THE MARZĒAḤ The symposion was a gathering of friends for the sake of ritual feasting, drinking, sex, and singing and can be attested in Sumerian culture before 3000 B.C. as an institution with a sacral function. In the latter part of the fourth millennium B.C., societies in the Middle East began domesticating the plants that would enable the stable production of alcoholic beverages—beer in Egypt and wine in western Asia. This period, the early part of the Bronze Age, saw the world’s first use of metal tools, the first glimmers of organized urban life, and the kind of specialization of labor—farmers, bakers, merchants, priests, warriors, and kings—that would dramatically increase complexity and hierarchy in social life. As the archaeologist Alexander H. Joffe notes, the advent and development of ritual drinking correlates with the increasing stratification of the earliest city-state and its systems of patronage; these rituals were likely intended to assuage frustration. Thus the ways in which wine and beer were produced, rated, distributed, and ritually consumed provide clues to the polities and politics of early civilizations. Although the drinking of alcoholic beverages engendered a feeling of community and well-being, their production and consumption also reflected relationships of patronage and privilege.27 For the purposes of this book the symposion enables us to chart some of the major transformations in the Middle East, in particular, the ways in which the Abbasid mujālasa redefined an ancient cultural practice to serve new literary and social needs. One of the most consistent dimensions of the ancient symposion was its elite character relative to the rest of society and the protection or support it received from high-status patrons. The earliest narrative art from western Asia depicts the symposion as the epitome of luxury. Many of the pictorial representations were on materials dedicated in temples, on wall decorations, or on inlaid furniture in prestigious homes. Some of these representations were also on cylinder seals, a status symbol used by men and women of prominence or office to mark their identities on property and documents. The images depicted in the narrative art show executive accomplishments, such as kings performing official duties like protecting the interests of their city or deity, worshiping, engaging in warfare, and constructing sacred buildings. When undecorated men and women appear in these representations, they are seated under the sponsorship of a royal patron, often depicted with fans, surfeited with food supplies and music, and drinking from beakers and straws. In some instances particular royal events seem to be marked with a symposion, such as the scenes on the Standard of Ur, where a military victory receives commemoration with a procession of clients or subjects coming before the king and his courtier, who are seated while drinking to musical accompaniment. Gods and prominent individuals are sometimes drawn in drunken or sexual positions in symposion scenes, suggesting that excess was considered a recognized privilege of untouchables. Moreover, cylinder seals depicting the symposion are most commonly found in the graves of high-status men and women.28 There is remarkable continuity of themes from the third to the first millennium, from Sumerian to Neo-Assyrian culture in Mesopotamia. One of the reasons for this astonishing pattern might be the fact that symposion scenes were depicted on perishable objects, such as cylinder seals, textiles, and furniture, for which there would have been a continuous demand and manufacture, regardless of conditions that prevented their purchase in royal courts.29 In the first millennium Assyrian narrative art begins to indicate that the symposion deserved a special room within the architecture of the home, with evidence that prestigious homes nearly always included a ceremonial room for ritual feasting and drinking, appointed with high-value furniture, such as one piece from the ninth century that depicts the symposion in an ivory panel. Assyrian art also evinces a new style of symposion that became prevalent and must have dramatically altered the ambience of the gathering. Whereas previously symposion attendees were shown primarily sitting and sometimes standing, Assyrian art began illustrating a type of symposion where attendees were reclining on couches with a raised armrest, much like a chaise longue.30 Seemingly trivial, this innovation would endure for many millennia and meant that each individual claimed more space in the volume of the room, necessitating a new norm of fewer people being invited to the symposion. Smaller groups partaking in the symposion signaled emerging possibilities of more intimate collegial gatherings. The “reclining symposion” seems to have originated outside of Mesopotamia; the Assyrians probably imported it from newly conquered regions in the eastern Mediterranean. Scholars have yet to determine the names for the symposion in ancient Mesopotamia, but in the Levant the regional version of the symposion was dubbed the marzēaḥ (revelry) and seems to have been in practice among the courtly and mercantile bourgeoisie of cities in Phoenicia and farther south in Palestine. Although the first records of the marzēaḥ are attested in Ugarit in the fourteenth century B.C., the institution spread over the course of two millennia throughout the Levant, and probably farther to Carthage with Phoenician trade. One finds it in Roman Palmyra and the Nabatean cities of Petra and Avdat (Obodat) from the first and third centuries A.D.31 Records are not complete about the character of the marzēaḥ in all localities, but in its earliest versions in Ugarit, Phoenicia, and Palestine, this cultural institution had pagan and posh overtones that put it in conflict with the developing monotheisms of the time. The marzēaḥ was at root set in veneration of a deity or deification of forebears, the rephaim. These ancestors were in particular the “heroic … dead warriors of elite status, who dwell in the netherworld among the lower ranks of gods and who can be summoned to partake of food and drink with the living.” Most important, attendees recited ritual texts, epics, songs, and poetry to bring about mythic transformations, such as the epic of the bygone Aqhat, whose son Danel brings him back to the living with the help of Baal. The sacral protection of deities is further recorded in a Ugaritic text that mentions the marzēaḥ of Shatrana, Hurrian Ishtar, and Anat.32 The austere prophet Amos of the early first millennium railed at the practice: Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry (marzēaḥ) of the loungers shall pass away.33 Within this philippic, Amos reveals the elegiac mood and purpose of the marzēaḥ and betrays the similarities that link it with its Mesopotamian precursors: drinking wine to excess, listening to music, eating ritual foods, reclining on couches paneled with ivory. These ivory panels display a constellation of placid motifs that evoke the values of kindness, protection, and sustenance—key benefits of patronage for which a client’s devotion is expected in return.34 In short, the marzēaḥ in the first millennium evinces the character and function of a distinctly religious, namely, pagan, ritual. Because of the power of the sacred in ancient society, it bears mention that these gatherings received the direct material and moral support of monarchs, who must have viewed them as critical to their legitimacy as sacral kings.35 While descriptions of the marzēaḥ point to its elite nature, a hierarchy can also be observed within the association itself. To be clear, membership in these regular gatherings was limited to those who could afford to acquire and display its luxuries of food, wine, and oils and all the secondary costs of flaunting such wealth. Yet the ordinary member of the marzēaḥ was distinguished from the administrator of the association. The regular member was called mt. mrzḥ, and the head was dubbed rb. mrzḥ. Along with this distinction in honor, there was a drastic difference in responsibility. The honor of the title rb. mrzḥ was sought by or fell upon wealthy elders by turns, in the hope that they would assume responsibility for the cost of the proceeding for a year at a time. The rb. mrzḥ also presided over the finances of the bēt marzēaḥ, an estate that was usually donated to the association by a ruler, which often included furnished meeting halls, farmland, vineyards, and wineries.36 Other officers included the secretary, chef, wine steward, and additional ceremonial positions.37 Membership in the marzēaḥ relied on wealth and status but apparently no particular kinship ties. Nevertheless, sons could inherit their fathers’ membership, thus preserving the prestige accrued from elite associations within families.38 By comparison, the Arabo-Islamic mujālasāt were largely independent of state patronage and accessible to a wider swath of society. In Hellenic culture the symposion, much like the marzēaḥ, was prevalent as early as the ninth century B.C., in Athens, Sparta, and Crete, as a gathering of elite warriors intended to commemorate battle feats and bygone heroes. In the eighth century, however, the symposion began to adopt the practice of reclining as a result of Crete’s regular contact with Phoenicians through trade and immigration.39 Lyric poetry—solo elegiac song for the lyre—was the favored content for performance in the symposion.40 Much has been made of reclining as an “orientalizing” shift, but perhaps the most fascinating aspect might be that Hellenic culture was conscious of the borrowing and the similarity with Phoenicia, with indications that “oriental” motifs and styles were considered status symbols among the elite.41 Scholarship on the Greek symposion offers a particularly nuanced description and analysis of the institution and provides further insights into its analogs in the Bronze Age Middle East, as well as in the Abbasid era. The symposion was a tripartite sequence of ritual feasting, drinking, and entertainment (consisting of games and the performance of oral literature) and is suspected to have begun as warriors’ postbattle celebrations, “the feast of merit” in tribal Greece, well before 800 B.C. It persisted as a form of voluntary organization for the gentry in the first millennium B.C. Sources refer to the host of the gathering by the honorific symposiarch, which establishes a hierarchical distinction somewhat like that of the marzēaḥ. Wine was also a ceremonial component of the symposion, with the role of mixing the wine being highly honored and ceremonial. This role had practical effects on the gathering, as the actual proportion of water to wine (usually three to one) delivered to guests surely had a fateful effect on the course of events in any particular evening.42 The institution of the symposion influenced and was influenced by banqueting rituals in the Middle East, most notably in Phoenicia and Iran.43 Under those influences, as early as the eighth century B.C., the symposion changed from a seated event to one where guests feasted, drank, and socialized while reclining, thus reducing the number of guests a host could invite and cultivating a more intimate atmosphere.44 At the symposion space was used to create a feeling of exclusivity and intimacy. The Greek scholar Oswyn Murray describes the symposion as such: The guests reclined in couches around the walls of the andron [the men’s room], which was later often especially designed, with stone benches…. The fact that the participants reclined, rather than sitting [sic], created a specific space limited in size by the need for all to communicate…. The typical … “men’s room” held between seven and fifteen couches with two men to a couch. This “sympotic space” created an exclusive, internal world, centered on the loyalty of members of the group to one another, and encouraging a sense of separateness from the external world of family and polis.45 This separate realm was also a place for formally breaking the code of honor that ordered ordinary life. Thus the symposion was governed by its own conventions of sexuality that permitted homosexual bonds with the young male “beloved” (eromenos), a kind of unfettered love with companions, nubile attendants, and performers, as well as ritual exhibitionism and a display of violence at the end of the sessions.46 This mood of “escapade” also appears in accounts, discussed elsewhere in this book, of more bacchic literary gatherings in Abbasid society. Most important for literary studies, the symposion was an event at which ancestral literature was performed. Here individuals could gradually channel the course of a tradition through social practice. They could shape and reshape a canon through usage. Performers adapted the Greek traditions of epic and lyric to new audiences at the symposion, thus cultivating long-term patrons for each art.47 Rather than conceive of performance as an ancillary distraction to the artistic tradition, one might see that the performance event, wherever and whenever it took place, sparked and revived the continuity of the poetic tradition in much the same way that staged theater serves drama. Various types of symposion appear to have been crucial to the social life of elites before the rise of Islam and to the formation of tradition throughout the Levant and Mesopotamia over the course of at least four millennia. In Greece the symposion began later in the first millennium B.C. In the early part of that millennium, the already luxurious symposion became a reclining event with more intimate overtones. One of the most intriguing commonalities between types of symposion throughout the millennium and across the various regions is the overarching association with loss and mortality. In the Levant and Mesopotamia, for example, scenes of marzēaḥ, as well as the ivory inlaid couch, were incorporated in burial chambers.48 In Greece the couch used for reclining had a primary use as a ceremonial deathbed and funeral bier. In a remarkably reflexive move, the deceased is often depicted as lying on the symposion couch-deathbed amid full symposion scenery, complete with food, music, attendees, and wine, though without friends and colleagues.49 One might theorize that the seemingly inconvenient position of reclining in the actual symposion while eating and drinking among friends has the more redeeming quality of evoking the deathbed scene, thus enhancing the funerary associations of the symposion event. GATHERINGS UNDER THE MOONLIGHT The preceding discussion describes the ancient background of the Arabic mujālasāt that probably influenced the emergence of the Abbasid institution indirectly, but there is one direct link that can be established. The Nestorian physician credited with establishing and promoting Abbasid salons, Yūhanna b. Māsawayh, hailed from Jundishapur. The primary agents for stoking the fires of interest and providing a model for Abbasid society were subsequent physicians from Jundishapur, and they were primarily Nestorian. Nestorian Christianity was especially influenced by Dionysian and Epicurean sensualities, which were ritually enacted in wine-merry symposia.50 These influences—Jundishapur, Nestorianism, and medicine—provided Ibn Māsawayh with a trifecta for direct access to the tradition of the ancient symposion. Jundishapur was the prime seat of Hellenism in the Middle East. It was located in Iran, the heartland of Alexander the Great’s empire where he established a successor empire, the Seleucid dynasty, which hybridized Greek culture with local ancient cultures for some two hundred fifty years. Furthermore, in A.D. 260, King Shapur settled three thousand Roman soldiers in Jundishapur (originally Wandyu-Shapur or Shapur’s Antioch), which helped to ensure the city’s role as a center for Hellenized Christianity and a vortex of ancient regional traditions. Both in name and in deed the city was designed to match that other center of Hellenistic Christianity, Antioch. Shapur then founded the Academy of Jundishapur, which became a beacon of medicine and philosophy in Asia. Physicians tended to be the stewards of Hellenism, as the Greek physician Galen was considered the ancestral founder of the profession. Physicians were assured of royal patronage because kings needed them for their own longevity. In Abbasid society non-Muslim, non-Arab physicians who sought greater assimilation into Arabo-Islamic society preferred adab among the Arabic fields of knowledge, which was nonreligious. They would often host gatherings in their homes, as other venues, such as mosques, were not suited for non-Muslims. According to Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, the biographer of physicians, when Ibn Māsawayh migrated to Baghdad, he began to host clinical hours after sunset in his home. While examining patients’ eyes, ears, and heart, he would recite humorous stories, poetry, and song to them, in an effort to heal the body by stimulating the soul. In addition to creating a welcoming environment for guests, Ibn Māsawayh had an impeccable capacity to charm and amaze with wit and manners, not to mention the entertainment his pet monkey, Jumājim, provided.51 These mujālasāt developed from primarily clinical events to literary events, ultimately spreading to the homes of nonphysician littérateurs. References to mujālasāt are legion in Arabo-Islamic sources, although description of these assemblies are paradoxically rare, suggesting the degree to which classical authors took this institution for granted. One source, however, manuscript 1708 at Spain’s Escorial library, offers what might be the most detailed description of setting, mood, and collegiality at mujālasāt. The source has the disadvantage of being from the seventeenth century, several centuries after the period in question. Nevertheless, it provides a starting point that can be modified for different times and places. Manuscript 1708, titled Al-Maqāma al-Badīʿiyya fī Waṣf Jamāl al-Maʿālim al-Makkiyya (The Wondrous Story Session Describing the Beauty of Mecca’s Landmarks), was compiled by Muḥyī al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Qādir b. Muḥammad al-Fayyūmī (d. 1614), a Hanafi law professor of little acclaim who worked in Mamluk Cairo.52 His chief virtue for our purposes rests in his status as an amateur of humanities, thus reflecting common practice. Al-Fayyūmī frames his collection of stories and poetry as “heard knowledge” and describes in his preface how anecdotes naturally took shape in group: Abū al-Ṭayy [his friend] narrated an account of how he disseminated these fresh anecdotes. He said, “I yearned to remember loved ones and to talk into the night with those of mind and heart. So we would sit down for late talk on moonlit nights acquiring from each other’s mouths the freshest fruits of knowledge. We would not grow tired of late-night talk until daybreak. If the novelty of recent anecdotes dried up, the wittiness of old and new replenished us. Each one of us was admired for what he remembered and esteemed for what he remembered…. Each one began to pour out what he had in him—what exhilarated him. He would stir the attendees with the merits of his oratory.”53 Not all texts fit the definition of performances, not even all texts recited aloud. According to the folklorist Richard Bauman, the defining moment of performance begins with the speaker’s assumption of responsibility to an audience for the display of skill in communicating. As the Homerist Albert Lord noted, the performer faces the judgment of the audience moment by moment as he or she competes to attract their attention and to hold it, thus compelling the performer to respond to their cues with adjustments in text and delivery. The instability of an audience, the fact that a performer can never take their attentiveness for granted, implies that the performer has the perpetual responsibility to display competence according to the audience’s expectations. The performer implicitly agrees to stand subject to the approval or disapproval of an audience, and thus external validation becomes an incentive for performing.54 In this light al-Fayyūmī’s description provides indications of the defining features that make opening one’s mouth in the mujālasa a stirring performance. The speaker receives the judgment of his or her peers and will be held accountable to the audience’s standards and expectations. Accentuating the positive, al-Fayyūmī notes the stakes of performance: admiration and the esteem of one’s peers. The goal, in his phrasing, was to stir the attendees with one’s delivery. We surmise that shoddy performance would fail to earn such a response, and the performer would know or come to know. In the Arabic literary tradition, audience response counted as a performance detail worth noting in anecdotes about performances, thus suggesting that performers craved it, sought it, esteemed it, and transformed audience response into the stuff of narrative. In one instance a poet’s performance caused a caliph to lean back and kick the air (like a sacrificial animal) in rapture.55 Another anecdote depicts a prince listening to a poet so entranced that he crawls (like an infant) along his mattress (maṣallā) toward the performer. The patron inches forward in three stages, each time he pleads for more (zidnī). In the second and third stages he is drawn off the mattress and releases a cry (ṣayḥa) of ecstasy (ṭarab).56 In another anecdote a well-established vizier listening to the poet al-Buḥturī began to tremble in a fit of rapture in response to a favorite line.57 The caliph al-Hadī (r. 775–85) on one occasion lost control at the end of the performance; ecstasy was the culprit. He sprang from his seat and screamed out, “By God, encore—by my very life!”58 A contemporary of Charlemagne, the caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd (r. 786–809), is said to have leaped to his feet and kissed the performer’s head.59 Competent performers remained attuned to forms of audience reaction such as smiles, pensive looks, cheers, sighs of Amen, encore requests, foot-stomping, and clapping. In this way they could optimize the effectiveness of their performance and reduce the risk of embarrassment.60 As Bauman notes, performers gained influence by virtue of their skill and wielded their power onstage to subvert power relations—a phenomenon that often rendered them feared and admired.61 Thus for professional as well as amateur performers, personal clout rested in the sustained ability to elicit validation. In addition to the generic pressures on the performer to attract and hold the audience’s attention, one cannot rule out specific demands particular to the situation. In the Andalusian love story of Bayāḍ and Riyāḍ, for example, Bayāḍ is invited to recite poetry at a garden mujālasa to win the heart of Riyāḍ. When Bayāḍ shows deference to the kindly matron who facilitated his courtship of Riyāḍ, she advises him to focus on his performance: “My son, I don’t need this [deference] from you, rather prepare your mind, consider your speech, and sequence your utterances for your introduction to a proper lady’s palace.” His response conveys performance anxiety (in love and art): “If all of this, all of what you say, is as you describe, then I can’t enter her palace ever.” In due course Bayāḍ impresses his audience, and the Lady of the House lauds him with the label “a poet genius and winning littérateur” (shāʿir mufliq wa adīb arīb) and explains the basis for her admiration: “We recite what we have related, memorized and overheard from others, but you recite what you improvise from within yourself.” She does not rest, however, without raising the stakes for Bayāḍ, when she says: “We all humbly ask and suggest, show us the breadth of your soul, the freshness of your mind and your perceptiveness of poetry. We would like you to describe the garden that we are in. It will not be difficult for you.” To which, Bayāḍ responds with a cock of the head and an instantaneous composition of poetry and melody, earning rousing compliments and more requests.62 In Andalusia and the Arab West it was fairly common for both men and women to participate in mixed mujālasāt, such as the example we have in the romance of Bayāḍ and Riyāḍ. In the Arab East, however, middle- and higher-ranking women tended to have separate salons. This dynamic is attested in residential architecture with a separate salon space (qāʿa) for men and one for women in the more private section of the house (Ḥarīm or Ḥarāmlak). Women’s salons can be found in Fustat homes from the Tulunid and Fatimid periods (ninth–eleventh cent., Cairo, Egypt), as well as in Ottoman townhomes, such as Ajikbash House (eighteenth cent., Aleppo, Syria), Harrawi House (1731, Cairo, Egypt), and Suhaymi House (1648, Cairo, Egypt). In the Ottoman homes, often the women’s salon is located on the second floor, and in the case of Harrawi House, it has a rooftop gallery screened by a wood-carved arabesque Mashrabiya. Interestingly, though, the gallery is accessible only via a tight service staircase, indicating that servants and slaves would have looked on to witness the lady of the house as she earned prestige and admiration in her role as host and littérateur. While textual evidence for the participation of women is scant, the fact that there was a dedicated space for mujālasāt in the homes of middle- and higher-status women suggests that women sought opportunities to acquire the verbal prowess and tenacity that adab instills.63 One of the most compelling examples of women’s tenacity using adab comes from a collection of anecdotes about acts of generosity. A woman named Maria the Copt wanted the honor of playing host to the caliph al-Maʾmūn and his entourage as they passed by her village, of which she was chief (ṣāḥibat al-qarya). She beseeched him for the honor of hosting: “O Commander of the Faithful, you camped in every village, but you passed by my village. Other Copts will ridicule me on that account. I beseech the Commander of the Faithful to give me the honor of alighting in my village so that I and my descendants may also enjoy the privilege, and that my rivals may not lord it over me.” She cried vigorously, and al-Maʾmūn took pity on her. He bent the reins of his horse toward her and dismounted. Since persuasive skill and audience impact are two of the hallmarks of adab, her display of adab is validated by the caliph’s acceptance. Though the caliph obliged her, his aristocratic contempt would occasionally flicker, much to Maria’s disappointment. Nevertheless, she was undaunted in her effort to impress with a banquet of near-mythic proportions. The next morning the caliph al-Maʾmūn persisted with his arrogance but would face another surprise: When he awoke the next day and set out to depart, she came to him with ten servants each carrying a large dish. As he saw it from afar he mocked to his attendants, “The Coptic lady is bringing you gifts of the countryside, vinegar-sauce, salt fish and bitter aloes.” When she placed them in his hands, he noticed each dish had in it a pouch of gold, and he deemed it beautiful but demanded she take it back. “No,” she said, “by God I won’t!” He looked at the gold pieces and he noticed that they all had the exact same mintage. He said, “By God, this is wonderful! Our treasury may very well lack something like it.” She said, “O Commander of the Faithful, do not break our hearts, nor deride us.” He said, “To the contrary, a fraction of what you have done would’ve been sufficient, and we wish not to impose. So take back your money, may God bless you.” She then grabbed a clump of land, and said, “O Commander of the Faithful! This—pointing to the gold—is from this—pointing to the soil she picked up from the land—and thereafter from your justice, O Commander of the Faithful! And I have a lot of it!” He then gave the command, the gifts were accepted from her, but, he bestowed upon her farmland, and awarded her in her village, Ṭāʾ al-Naml, two hundred feddans free of kharāj-taxes. He departed amazed at the magnitude of her manliness (murūʾa: pun on her name) and the extent of her means.64 Examples of men and women using adab methods to charm, shame, and blandish are the staple of adab material about caliphs and sultans. They illustrate the ideal of influencing authority without a loss of dignity, embodied in the pithy dictum, “Teach them (tuʿal-limahum) as though they teach you, educate them (tuʾaddibahum) as though they educate you; if not, then stay as far away as possible!”65 These techniques for public speaking and communicating with daunting authority figures could be learned in mujālasāt only by a steady diet of listening to and performing adab. Her stellar performance would have had to be an immaculate conception for Maria, if a woman of her talent did not frequent the mujālasāt. In addition to romance, the mujālasa must have provided a proving ground for gaining earthly benefits such as sex, monetary gain, and prestige, which would have raised the stakes of the performance. With audience responses being such a prized result, one must consider the impact of ends on means. When a performer assumed responsibility for the display of skill, for attracting and holding attention, what effect might this have had on his or her text and delivery? Furthermore, because most adab performances purported to represent people, places, and events (mostly in the distant past) in the form of historical narrative and verse, what are the standards for evaluating the authenticity of such speech? What are the principles for producing such speech? This is the focus of chapter 2. TWO Adab Principles for Artistic Speech in Assembly THE PRAGMATICS OF ADAB The concept of adab is central to Arabo-Islamic cultural analysis. It denotes, on the one hand, a corpus of varied literary knowledge (e.g., poetry, charming anecdotes, even historical narratives) that a young littérateur must know—akin to the Greek concept of paideia. On the other hand, adab refers to the constellation of courtly manners and tastes to be conditioned and exhibited. These two senses of the term have been abundantly discussed in modern Arabic scholarship.1 Whether speaking of texts or behaviors, however, the debate over the meaning of adab in classical Arabic culture has widely assumed that medieval society experienced literature in the form of private reading, which is a modernist bias. Private reading was far from the norm in medieval societies globally, yet scholarship surrounding adab has overlooked or discounted the impact of the mujālasāt on literature, society, and the formation of a canon. Perhaps by examining the social dimensions—prestige, networking, intimacy—we can ask questions that help us understand how it was that teenagers and status-conscious adults throughout the ages cared so deeply for these arts, despite the intimidating challenge of gaining skills and competence in adab. What made adab worthy of their trouble? What was appealing to people about this endeavor? The value of adab literature has by and large been taken for granted; thus scholarship has tended to offer tautological definitions grounded in ideals of form and content. This view discounts the documented external effects that adab must have produced in audiences and the equally documented methods that performers used to prepare in order to achieve exactly their intended effects. In addition to curricula and manners, a sense of adab emerges in lexicons that might facilitate our endeavor to understand the motivating forces that spurred millions of novices to invest themselves in this form of education. The intransitive verb aduba/yaʾ dubu denotes “to be well brought up, to become cultivated.” The transitive verb adaba/yaʾdibu, with the altered middle vowel, gives us the meanings “to prepare a banquet for someone or to invite someone to a banquet.” This sense yields the noun for “banquet” or “repast”—ʾadb or maʾdaba.2 Adab can hold a flexible yet pragmatic definition that can accommodate inevitable local and temporal variations of curriculum and behavior: words and deeds that elicit approval in social settings. Thus to acquire or teach adab would entail learning or transmitting words and deeds that would accrue glory in the eyes of others and eschew embarrassment. It is telling that when al-ʿĀmirī comes to the defense of adab culture (under attack from pious ascetics), he says: Some of the pious ascetics find fault in the humanistic arts (ādāb) and charge that anyone who is driven to acquire them must be one of the following men: Either a man who aspires to be praised for eloquence and clarity, or a man who ornaments himself with them before the mighty and the noble to gradually gain by its [ādāb’s] glory a means to success and rank.3 Curiously, both characterizations establish an association between adab-type knowledge and status seeking. In the first instance the littérateur wants praise, conventionally from subordinates and peers, and in the second instance, the littérateur seeks the approval of superiors in order to gain benefits that can translate into opportunity for oneself and one’s family. The ideal of adab opens up semantic and cognitive associations between literal and figurative hosting and dining, raising the possibility that principles of sociability (muʾānasa) and charm (ẓarf) influence how littérateurs produced and consumed adab as they would a meaty repast (maʾdaba). If adab was speech and conduct that entitled one to banquet with others time after time and to earn their admiration, then perhaps we might derive a pragmatic definition to measure the quality of adab by its impact expressed as audience reaction. Adab, like the modern academic terms discipline, field, and school, denotes a variety of cognitive skills and behaviors that are subject to peer evaluation. Were it not for the reality of peer validation, the procedures of one’s academic “discipline” would unravel. As a safeguard of integrity, external validation prevents adab from becoming idiosyncratic and bizarrely subjective, while ensuring that personal innovations see the light of day in a manner that meets collective standards of merit. Banqueting and peer validation give us incentives that are fundamental to human behavior, at any age, and hence serve us well in outlining the norms that guided adab production and reception. It is thus not surprising that the scholar-littérateur al-Zamakhsharī, among others, included in the category of adab knowing how to conduct oneself in mujālasāt.4 HISTORY: A TYPE OF ADAB The norms of adab production and reception have wide implications for the formation and presentation of the Arabo-Islamic past, as adab texts included historical verse and narrative that purported to depict past people and events.5 The curriculum of adab could include traditional and contemporary poetry and narrative transmitted in the Arabic language, although the narrative report (khabar; pl. akhbār) itself constituted the basic unit of many genres of writing outside our modern categories of literature. This category included genealogy of tribes (ansāb), genealogy of horses (ansāb al-khayl), speeches (khutab), tales (qiṣaṣ, hikāyāt), prosopography (ṭabaqāt), hagiography (ṭabaqāt al-awliyāʾ), cosmological-natural history (ʿajāʾib al-makhlūqāt), geographic-archaeological lore (ʿajāʾib al-buldān), zoological lore (ʿajāʾib al-ḥayawān), battle history (maghāzī), biography/heroic epic (sīra), proverbs (amthāl), and periodized history (taʾrīkh). All these akhbār-based genres employed narrative patterns to elicit wonder within the audience and reward it with cultural information. Typically, medieval Muslim historians, by virtue of their language-based training as professional jurists or littérateurs, were steeped in literary know-how. Historical works offer a panoply of adab materials plotted along a chronological scheme, such as the historian al-Nuwayrī’s (d. ca. 1332) Nihāyat al-Arab fī Funūn al-Adab (The Utmost in Types of Adab). This thirty-three-volume history vaunts one of the most impressive displays of Arabo-Islamic cosmology, geographic lore, proverbs, tribal rituals, animal and plant folklore, Arabian legend, apropos proverbs, and poems, often in the name of “history.”6 Thus, when thinking about medieval Arabo-Islamic culture, we should bear in mind the debt that history owes to the mujālasāt as a forum for the performance of adab. As we can see from the placement of history within adab, the key problem modern scholars have faced in the study of historical narrative remains the difficulty of appreciating the literary performative atmosphere in which narratives are deployed, recited, and transmitted to future generations. In the modern era we tend to think of history and historiography as a form of scholarship, whereas people in medieval Arabo-Islamic culture and indeed in most medieval cultures tended to think of historical narrative as an organic fruit of artistic performance in group. Abbasid historians—with rare exception—did not discover what happened in the past.7 Consider, for example, that archaeological remains of previous eras were deemed important by historians and littérateurs because they elicited wonder and lyricism, not concrete answers about what actually happened.8 Historians seldom if ever investigated or interpreted such “archival” documents as contracts, bills of sale, or state epistles to contradict popular perceptions.9 (In effect, as I explain later in this chapter, educators and adults in positions of responsibility gave little credence to knowledge that was divested of a persona.) History that accurately reconstructed the past was not the sort of history that littérateurs wanted or expected. Rather, historians saw themselves as arranging and reporting various versions of what was widely performed in adab gatherings, where narratives were crafted and adjusted to shape memory of the past. In line with modern positivist views of history, however, the source-critical approach to medieval Islamic history has disapproved of the crafted nature of narratives. This view concludes that literary devices in narratives make it clear that “transmitters and collectors invented and circulated reports on a large scale.” The methods employed in producing historical narrative indicate falsification of fact, “a process of compiling and systematizing, of expanding and abbreviating, or inventing the chronology and the other order of events, or omitting and creating, and through other manipulations.” This inconvenient reality has yielded “grave reservations concerning both the overall historicity of the Arab-Islamic literary tradition and the view of early historians which emerges from that tradition.”10 At best, on this view, scholars can hope to sift through the falsifications to unearth “kernels of truth.” The problem with the source-critical approach, and in effect the trouble with all positivist approaches to medieval history, is a misplaced assumption that medieval audiences share with the positivists the same standards of authenticity for historical narratives—namely, scholastic positivism. I illustrate how historical narratives were viewed and practiced as a performed art in assembly. This discussion serves as an opportunity to analyze the standards of authenticity that applied to historical narrative recitations in the mujālasāt, which tended to emphasize performance quality and figurative truth over banal and literal audits of events and people. I argue that littérateurs employed a set of principles for speaking in assembly that need not be reconciled with today’s positivist standards of historiography or the modern view that history must be a field of scholarship and not art. If we are to understand the way medieval littérateurs spoke of the world (particularly the past), we must be willing to set aside our presentist sensibilities and employ another set of principles for speaking in assembly. Arabo-Islamic culture deemed history a field of adab, thus a performed, recited art, along with poetry. Performance made adab norms and principles relevant to the production, transmission, and recitation of historical narrative.11 METHODS OF PREPARATION FOR PERFORMANCE: THE INTERPLAY OF ORAL AND WRITTEN KNOWLEDGE Literary salons were fundamentally a forum for the transmission and display of knowledge between responsive people. Thus preparation was a means to gain credibility for one’s display. Credibility was dependent on observing certain habits and norms that accredited education in the Arabo-Islamic Middle Ages. The central principle governing the culture of medieval education was the imperative to preserve the face-to-face social dimensions of knowledge delivery and reception. Knowledge was considered a social and sociable enterprise, and thus self-study did not become the norm in Arabo-Islamic personal development.12 Books were a vital part of learned circles of all sorts, whether in the fields of Arabic knowledge (religious or adab) or so-called foreign knowledge (astronomy, philosophy, medicine, and so on), beginning in the eighth century with the introduction of paper and state support for its production. The bias against self-study was scarcely a bias against books per se; rather, it was a bias against the solitary unguided use of books. There were visible exceptions to this norm, of course, such as those accredited professionals atop the arc of their careers who did not need the added credentials of guided study or those who had vested interests in the production and sale of books.13 But in general there remained no societal mechanism for credentialing self-study, so the balance of opinion and practice favored sociable models of teaching, in which books were employed and deployed for the sake of memory and public recitation. Rather than displace face-to-face recitation, the availability of paper in the Middle East invigorated and multiplied the social bonds and rituals deemed necessary to transmit knowledge, as well as the face-to-face performance that authenticated it. In short, people used books and paper in unprecedented ways to complement the oral dimensions of education. In medieval seminaries as early as the tenth century a system of certification (ijāzat al-samāʿ) was used to accredit students for knowledge gained.14 As the historians Pierre MacKay and George Makdisi have argued, this system authorized a student to teach not a subject but particular books within a subject, indicating that the special role of books in face-to-face education was still reliant on personal credentials.15 This norm indicates the degree to which professionals and amateurs viewed Arabic fields of knowledge as detailed and high stakes, such as the modern professions of medicine or law. How many of us today would entrust our worries to a self-taught physician or lawyer? The development and use of paper in Europe and the Middle East differed fundamentally. Latin Europe, before the thirteenth century, had little or no pulp paper technology, thus making education dependent on books made of vellum or parchment, both laboriously processed from animal skins.16 This rendered books an expensive, rare commodity, as it might require the skin of some forty cows to make an average book.17 In contrast, the Middle East followed China’s lead to affordable technologies in the form of flax- and cotton-based paper, which was available in pre-Islamic Iran as early as the sixth century. In the eighth century Samarqand in Central Asia became known for the efficient production of its paper, known as kāghid.18 Knowledge of paper-making techniques enabled a proliferation of manuscripts in the urban centers.19 Abbasid Baghdad boasted a special copyists’ market (sūq al-warrāqīn), where a hundred copyist-merchants sold and lent out manuscripts.20 In Arabo-Islamic culture a piece of technology such as a book could not adequately substitute for the authority of learned gifted personalities, largely because of the premium on lyricism and elegizing. For example, when the great philologist al-Mubarrad passed away, Ibn ʿAllāf reminded colleagues in a eulogy that only one great philologist of the era remained: al-Thaʿlab. To his students, Ibn ʿAllāf provided these words: “My advice to you is to record his very breathing, if indeed breathing can be recorded,” suggesting that the best lessons cannot be captured in writing.21 Even in the case of the collegial mujālasāt, the focus was on a solemn relationship. As the scholar al-Fayyūmī noted, colleagues are referred to as those of “mind and heart,” who would keep each other company nightlong, “acquiring from each other’s mouths the freshest fruits of knowledge.”22 An event’s finesse and sociability was as important as the quality and quantity of knowledge displayed. Forging social bonds was perhaps the most important lesson of any subject; thus education was a means of binding people together in ontological chains of being. For this reason education in the fields of Arabic knowledge received credibility chiefly from face-to-face exchanges. Ibn Buṭlān (d. ca. 1068), a professional physician but an amateur littérateur, composed a succinct outline of the reasons against relying on books instead of people. Aptitude being equal, Ibn Buṭlān said, students learn better and easier from teachers rather than books. First, meaning transfers from like-minded to like-minded, and thus it would be simpler for a student to learn from a sentient eloquent being like himself than from an inanimate volume. Second, if a student fails to understand a technical point or an idea, a teacher can clarify with rephrasing, whereas a book can never rephrase. A teacher is more suited (aṣlaḥ) to the student’s needs. Third, knowledge can exist only in a being that has a soul. The soul can be knowledgeable, but a book cannot retain knowledge by its soulless nature. Likewise, only a sentient being can receive knowledge. Fourth, the form that knowledge takes is expression (lafẓ), and expression has three stages: The first is intimate (qarīb), when the mind forms an idea; the second is intermediate (mutawassiṭ), when the idea forms a vocal expression; the third is more distant (baʿīd), when the vocal expression is written down in a book. The book, in Ibn Buṭlān’s view, is thus necessarily a form of a form of a form, thrice removed from the mind that produced an idea, whereas the vocal expression is only twice removed. This greater degree of ease and intimacy facilitates learning more than do books. As a side note to this logic, Ibn Buṭlān states that the transmission of ideas through books relies on a sense that is “alien” (ḥāssa gharība) to vocal expression—sight. The most appropriate sense is hearing, since the expression is vocal. This dynamic of the intimacy of senses makes learning from the voice of a teacher more comfortable (ashal) than from the script of a book. Fifth, the student who recites a book to a teacher receives knowledge from a teacher aurally as well as from the book visually, and one of these senses is more intimate. Thus the teacher can correct his recitation if he errs, but the book’s visual nature would not provide such a corrective. Although Ibn Buṭlān’s first five reasons are philosophical, suggesting deep-seated assumptions about soul, mind, and communication in education, his final reason addresses the practical design of the Arabic script system as well as the nature of writing in general. In written texts there are technical and Greek terms that are unfamiliar to the student. There are also errors in copying. Moreover, the Arabic script (abjad) was consonantal, up until the tenth century at the earliest, and any diacritical or vowel marks were in flux, and not widely adopted, creating a built-in ambiguity.23 How would a student thus be able to decipher a text with confidence?24 Ibn Buṭlān’s arguments assume a concept of knowledge dramatically different from those that might operate in postindustrial society. First, in his view knowledge is embodied in a person. There can be no knowledge outside of a person. The historian Ibn Khaldūn reaffirmed this premise: “Know that the storehouse for knowledge is the human soul.”25 One line of poetry signals the hazard of trusting paper, as opposed to people, to transmit knowledge: “He committed knowledge to paper, then lost it / Paper indeed is a bad place to keep it.”26 Knowledge therefore can only be “kept” within a person. Second, the exchange of knowledge between people requires a relationship of trust. A relevant adage informed, “Wise men say, do not teach the dastard anything anytime; he might benefit from it and then become your enemy.” One scholar was asked, “What type of knowledge would be deemed most dangerous?—That which benefits only fools.” Similarly, even in the case of established authorities, further self-study outside a relationship of trust did not necessarily provide the necessary credibility to transmit knowledge. For example, the littérateur al-Ṣūlī was criticized, despite his erudition and expertise, for teaching texts he personally had never heard recited.27 The historian Marshall G. S. Hodgson observes the importance of personal witness for historical narratives in guaranteeing the integrity of each link in a continuous human chain.28 The historian Richard W. Bulliet likewise explains that the authority to communicate Hadith-knowledge rested in personally hearing it from someone who personally heard it in a chain going back to the Prophet himself or a companion of the Prophet.29 A student aspiring to a career as a scholar would strive for the privilege of joining that historical chain. He would essentially become a permanent member of this ontological chain of being by witnessing the oral event, what Bulliet calls being an “ear witness,” and by passing on the tradition to future generations.30 In al-Ṣūlī’s case, because his aural reception was not witnessed by others, he lacked the license to transmit this particular knowledge. One also finds suggestions that literary speech cultivated relationships of trust: “The best of speech forges bonds between hearts.”31 In these few confirmations, we see knowledge being framed as a privilege, a type of power, not to be taken but assigned and conferred in a normative manner. Third, one senses in Ibn Buṭlān’s outline the assumption that writing is a phantom of real communication in the form of speech. Within this framework speech conveys musical qualities, such as tone, volume, and cadence—subtleties that in the Arabic script would be lost in the translation from speech to writing. In a similar vein Ibn Khaldūn considered Arabic orthography a minimalist notational system for recording speech without the warm nuances of delivery that makes a text come to life.32 In addition to the musical dimensions of voice, the Arabic script in Islam’s early centuries noted only consonantal sounds. In effect, Arabic orthography played the role of a stenographic system for recording dictations. Arabic orthography, as in other Semitic languages, does not show short vowels.33 Vowels, and even the diacritic dots that distinguish homographs, were seldom used in the earliest epigraphic script of Islam’s first century.34 In its second century a multiplicity of idiosyncratic systems were in use, including that by the grammarian Khalīl b. Aḥmad (d. 791). One of the consequences, perhaps even an aim, of this stenographic system was to render self-study intimidating for the novice, thus generating demand for a credentialing establishment. Consider, for example, that without vowels or diacritics the word bayt (house) could be misread, since the consonants bā, tā, thā, nūn, and yā would all be represented by the unpointed dish, yielding bint (daughter), nabāt (plant), nābit (sprouting), or thabāt (steadfastness) or thābit (steadfast), just to name half a dozen of the many possibilities. In this respect this stenographic system served to prevent unauthorized access by novices to a living tradition, requiring them to seek the aid of instructors within the credentialing network. The potential for confusing the uninitiated increases exponentially with barriers to knowledge, such as archaic terminology, neologisms, and disciplinary jargon. To make matters even more daunting, Arabic cursive script well into the tenth century would break off at the end of the line in midword at letters that do not connect to the left.35 Implicitly, words were not written as grapheme units but as a sequence of phonetic cues.36 The earliest Arabic cursive served as a coded stenographic system—a shorthand for interpersonal speech. After Arabic orthography was standardized, it preserved an enigmatic quality, rendering it among a category of scripts whose orthography challenged its reader with a built-in “element of interpretation.”37 To learn a text (to read, memorize, understand, and recite it), a student would thus need to seek out a teacher. The teacher’s recitation provided the necessary vowels for the student, while the written text remained a visual prompt to the spoken utterance. As late as the fourteenth century, Ibn Khaldūn advised the anxious student to break down the relationship between written sign and meaning into two links, joined by the spoken utterance. For the first link the student should dwell on the connection between the written sign (al-kitāba al-marsūma) and the spoken utterance (al-alfāẓ al-maqūla). Thereafter he or she should comprehend the connections between the spoken utterance and the desired meaning (al-maʿānī al-maṭlūba).38 It is compelling that Ibn Khaldūn preserved a vital oral component in learning and cognition that encouraged a teacher’s intervention. Because medieval educators considered self-study both impractical and unsociable, the most acceptable methods were those that would lead to face-to-face exchanges. Students were trained to memorize countless texts by heart from childhood. This was considered essential content—knowledge—to earn the admiration of audiences. Then they were trained to develop performance skills, which included thoughtful recitation verbatim, as well as improvisation when needed.39 The methods that students learned for acquiring and performing texts suggests that rather than displacing orality, writing facilitated it in the realm of Arabic fields of knowledge. Rather than insist that writing played a determinant role in shaping society—along the lines of the great divide theory—I would like to probe the agency of people in alternating between oral and written media. The great divide theory poses the problem of techno-determinist arguments, which give “agency” to technology without due regard for sociological factors of age, gender, race, and class. These factors of course might suggest how differing or vying groups used technology to achieve discrete interests. From a performance perspective, let us examine how groups and individuals mobilized technology (in this case, books) to hold and sustain an audience’s attention. For example, the Book of Monasteries by the littérateur al-Shābushtī (d. 1000) is organized by chapters named after various monasteries and contains bawdy anecdotes celebrating the bacchic escapades of famous Abbasid nobles.40 In the margins of the Berlin manuscript an anonymous hand jotted a remark that stresses the connection between text, memory, and responsibility in performance. The note reads: “The anecdotes falling under this monastery are very delightful. The late-night raconteur (musāmir) must memorize them and perform them, for the soul is ennobled by the best of anecdotes.”41 The raconteur is not only encouraged to memorize, but to do so with an explicit purpose: to touch the soul of audiences. The note suggests the delicate interplay of writing and orality for the purposes of the mujālasāt. Interestingly, the note comments on one particular chapter in the manuscript, suggesting that a raconteur might not be bound to slavishly memorize all chapters or all anecdotes with equal rigor. In fact, sporadically on every page or so, the margins bear a note in the same raconteur’s hand (yuḥfaẓ): “ought to be memorized.”42 A competent raconteur may well find that certain chapters are better suited for some audiences than others. A book could remain in his collection until the need arose for more narratives. Another maxim recognizes the pitfalls of memory but simultaneously affirms the necessity of aural-oral transmission. It states: “People misrecite the best portion of what they m