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NEAR E 529 A: Classical Arabic Literature in Translation

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
DEN 110
Joint Sections: 
NEAR E 329 A
Terri Deyoung
Terri L. DeYoung

Syllabus Description:

NEAR EAST 329/529

Classical Arabic Literature

In Translation

(500-1250 C.E.)

Spring Quarter 2018


Instructor: Terri DeYoung                                                                       Class Location: 110 Denny Hall

Office: 246 Denny Halll                                                                          Class Time: MW 3:30-5:20

                                                                                                                    SLN:17647 /21642

Office Hours: MW 2:00-3:00  or by appointment

Telephone: (206)543-6184

or (206)543-6033 (dept. office—leave message)




Course Description: This course will familiarize students with the more important trends in Arabic literature during the period when it dominated literary production in the Islamic world, as well as giving relevant information about salient developments in creative expression, both in Arabic and other national traditions before the rise of Islam. Since this is an introductory course we will use only texts in translation, no knowledge of Arabic is required for the course.

                    In the quarter, we will trace the course of classical/medieval Arabic literature from its beginnings in the pre-Islamic period (approximately 500-600 C.E.) to the end of the Abbasid caliphate, which fell to the Mongols in 1258 C.E. While such a survey approach will necessitate a strong emphasis on literary history, other topics to be discussed will include: rhetorical elements of the Arabic language , the crystallization of the qasidah poem, literature in a religious and courtly context,  the role of women in the development of classical Arabic literature, attitudes toward fictional narrative, and the interests underlying canon-formation—that is, which authors and texts become part of the educational system, how they are read, and by whom.

                    We will read poems from the Jāhilīyah (the Pre-Islamic period), selections from the Qur’an, ‘Udhri love poetry from early Islam, political texts and essays, and the animal fables of Kalilah and Dimnah.


Course Requirements: The grade for this course will be determined through evaluation of the student’s written projects for the course.

Writing Assignments:

                    A short position paper (at least 2 pp. long) will be due on Wednesday 4 April 2018). The topic of the paper will be “What are my goals in taking this class?” This paper will count for 5% of the final course grade.

                    A second position paper (at least 3 pp. long) will be due tentatively on Monday 23 April 2018), answering either the question “How do the values of the jahiliyah literature compare to those of Greek and Latin literature?” or, “How does the Qur’an evaluate  literature?” This paper will count for 10% of the final course grade

                    A third position paper (at least 3 pp. long) will be due tentatively on Friday 11 May 2018), answering either “What is the role of love in Classical Arabic literature?” or “What is the importance of poetry vs. prose in Classical Arabic Literature?”. It will also count for 10% of the final course grade.

                     A set of three questions (see attached handout for examples) will be due at the beginning of discussion about each of the following sets of texts in class 1) Jahiliyah Poetry, 2) the Qur’an, 3) Kalilah and Dimnah  See the Assignments list (in Canvas) for exact due dates. The questions will count for 30% of the total grade.

Exams: There will be one exam, a take-home final exam (tentatively due Friday 8 June, 2018 at 11:30 PM). Students will have the option to substitute (with the instructor’s permission, obtained at least two weeks in advance of the end of classes) a final paper (about 5-8 pages in length) for the take-home final exam. This paper will be due on the same day as the final exam..

 The Take-Home Final Exam or Paper will count for 35% of the final grade.


                    The remaining 10% of the grade will be based on in-class participation. This means that you will be expected to have read the “Primary Readings” before coming to class, and do whatever other reading is necessary so that you can participate actively in the class discussions. Regular attendance records (according to University Regulations) may not be included in this portion of the grade, so it is up to the student to participate in the class discussion, in order to receive full credit for “class participation.”


                      Failure to turn in any assignments or take any tests on time will result in an automatic .3 deduction in the student’s grade for that assignment or test. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all assignments are submitted on time and in readable format to the instructor.

                Students enrolled in 329 will have the option to substitute (with the instructor’s permission at least two weeks in advance of the end of classes) a final paper of 5-8 pp. for the final exam. The paper will be due at the time of the Final Exam.

              The general policies about plagiarism in force at the University of Washington will be observed in this course (this applies to students enrolled under both the 329 and 529 numbers).


For 529 Students:

Those taking this course under the “529” number will be required to turn in a paper (of at least 10 pp.) instead of the take-home exam

                In addition, those enrolled in 529 will be required to prepare 1 presentation (about 15 minutes) to be given in class outlining the background of two of the authors covered in the course, or they may write an additional research paper of at least 5 pp.  Students enrolled in the 596 section of the course should consult the instructor about these presentations as soon as possible. The additional assignments will count for 20% of the final grade.



For Students With Special Needs: If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to the instructor as soon as possible so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.

Classroom Courtesy: Since the consumption of food during class often interferes with class participation and is distracting to others, students are requested to avoid this unless they are prepared to share what they have brought with everyone. After the beginning of Ramadan (May 16), everyone should refrain from eating or drinking in the classroom. Your cooperation will be appreciated. We will try to have a 10 minute break after the first 45 minutes of class throughout the quarter, so that everyone can leave the classroom to attend to personal needs  if necessary.

Communications Devices: Please do not use cell phones (or other communications devices) in the classroom. If you must take a call, please go outside the classroom. Laptop computers and tablets can be used in class for taking notes, but may not be used during exams (no exceptions).


Course Readings:

                There is one text required for the class and available at the University Bookstore. This is: Ibn al-Muqaffa‘, Kalilah and Dimnah, trans. Thomas Ballantine Irving. This book will not be required until the second half of the course.

                A selection of translated texts (and other readings) will be made available by e-mail directly and on Canvas to students during the quarter. If you think you cannot receive texts by e-mail attachment or on Canvas, please talk to the instructor individually as soon as possible, in order to make suitable arrangements so that you can get access to the texts promptly. These will constitute the "Primary Readings" for the quarter.

                ”Recommended Readings” are for the most part available in the Odegaard Undergraduate Library, either on reserve or in the stacks. “Supplementary” and background readings will mostly be found in the Suzzallo/Allen library, either in the Reference area or the stacks. You should see the instructor if you have any difficulty obtaining one of these recommended or optional readings



Background Reading: Many new and useful critical works about Arabic literature have become available in the last twenty years. One absolutely essential new resource for information about authors, genres, and cultural activities, both medieval and modern, is The Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (1998), ed. by Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey. It is available in the Suzzallo and Odegaard reference sections, PJ7510 E53 1998. Another useful resource (especially for early medieval works) is Vol. 311 of The Dictionary of Literary Biography (Volume title is: Arabic Literary Culture, 500-925). A copy of the text of this volume is available in the Suzzallo Reference area, but the material is also available on-line through the UW Library web site. Go to the “Research Data Bases” section on the UW Library home page, and type in “Literature Resource Center” in the database query box. Then you will need to type in the name of the author you want to research, and you will be taken to the appropriate article from The Dictionary of Literary Biography, which you can read online or print out for study at your leisure. A second valuable resource for our course will be Volume 6 of the series World Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events That Influenced Them (Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times)  This volume is not available online, but a copy of the text will be on 4-hour reserve in Odegaard (PJ 307 M67 2004), so that you can Xerox or scan the relevant articles.

                 For a recent general introduction to Arabic literature (not limited to our period, but including modern material as well), I recommend Professor Roger Allen’s  The Arabic Literary Heritage: The Development of its Genres and Criticism (1998) PJ7510 A44 1998 (on 4-hour reserve on Odegaard). Additional useful material on these subjects may still be taken from R[eynold] A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs (1907) (in Odegaard stacks, PJ7510 N5 1930), but caution should be exercised in consulting this source, since some of the information is outdated and the author suffers from an “Orientalist” bias and lack of knowledge about literary theory. The index at the back of the volume is complete and valuable.

                As a further supplement, the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Islam (1953-2007) contains concise biographical articles and bibliographies about the majority of individual authors studied in the course. It is available on-line (for registered UW students only) and in the Suzzallo reference stacks, DS37 E5 1960-. The basic bibliographical reference work for articles and (in some cases) monographs on Islamic subjects written in European languages is the Index Islamicus (Z7835 M6 L6), which is available in the Suzzallo reference stacks and on-line. The Index is not cumulative, so to find older articles, you will have to look for them in the print volumes. There is, unfortunately, still no comprehensive reference work for articles on these subjects in Arabic.

                Recently, Cambridge University Press has also been publishing volumes in a series devoted the history of Arabic literature in all historical periods. The quality of these volumes in uneven, however, so they cannot be recommended as highly as the references mentioned in the paragraph above. The volumes about the Abbasid period are generally good, but the volumes treating early developments, Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period (1983), and Hispano-Arabic works, The Literature of Al-Andalus (2000), are not as successful and should be consulted with caution (ask the instructor if you want more information).

                For linguistic study of Arabic and its evolution, especially prior to the rise of Islam, Kees Versteegh’s The Arabic Language(1997) provides indispensable information. It is on reserve in Odegaard (PJ6075 V46 1997). An earlier volume that also contains much relevant information is Anwar Chejne’s The Arabic Language (available on line).  Irfan Shahid’s four-volume study of Byzantium and the Arabs (in the stacks of Odegaard, DS62.25 + various) in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries C.E. similarly provides exhaustive information about Arab society prior to Islamic times. Standard reference works on Persian literature, like Jan Rypka’s History of Iranian Literature (in Suzzallo reference stacks, PK6097 R913), and on Byzantine literature, like N.G. Wilson’s Scholars of Byzantium (1983, 1996, available on line), provide useful perspectives on these parallel traditions.

                For general reading on the culture and history of medieval Islam, I recommend three books. The first is an introduction to Islam as a religion that includes extensive historical background. This is An Introduction to Islam by Frederick M. Denny, BP161.2 D46 1985 (available on-line at the UW Library website). You may also want to read through Albert Hourani’s History of the Arab Peoples, DS37.7 H67 1991 (multiple copies are available in the UW Libraries, but it is not on line), which is a well-written and highly informative introductory history. A third option (especially for graduate students) is Marshall Hodgson’s The Venture of Islam, DS36.85 H63 (1974, available on line). This was the first book to apply modern methods of historiography and cultural analysis to the study of the medieval Islamic world. It is not well-written, but its astute analyses of medieval Islamic culture have not yet been superseded. Copies of both books are available in Suzzallo and Odegaard libraries. You can also generally find copies for sale at The University Bookstore and other large chains in the general books department.

Catalog Description: 
Examines development of Arabic literature from its beginnings through the fall of the Abbasid dynasty and the Mongols. Coincided with period when Arabic language and literature were dominate forces in Islamic civilization. Topics include: Pre-Islamic poetry, impact of Islam on the literature, court poetry, and the rise of Arabic prose.
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:18pm