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Imagining Poetic Lives: Akhbār and History

Subproject by Samuel Wilder

My work in connection to the Teilprojekt investigates the early Arabic literary genre of poetic ‘lore’ or prose accounts (akhbār), the narrative accounts of the lives of poets from the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods, into which texts of poetry are embedded. These collections of narrative prose, which were compiled in their extant forms mostly in the 9th-10th century CE, provide an enormous wealth of information – sometimes historical and often clearly fictional – about the social and historical realities of the early Islamic period, providing context for early Arabic poetry, and offering a strain of narrative-exegetical writing that has strong parallels in other products of Late Antique commentary cultures, such as biblical exegesis and the early Greek ‘novel’ or prose romances. I investigate the akhbār, focussing on the accounts of poets from the Umayyad period, with special attention to the texts’ claims of historical verisimilitude, exegetical function, and narrative pattern.