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"The Arabic Beast Fable"
Robert Irwin
Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 55, 1992, 36-50
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"In modern Europe and the Middle East, animal fables no longer feature prominently as part of an orally transmitted common culture. They are no longer widely read nor, outside academic circles at least, are they especially esteemed. They have been relegated to the children's library. Yet in the medieval world the Arabic translation of the Persian version of the Bidpai fables, Kalila wa Dimna, was admired by adults and much imitated. Therefore an examination of the reception of Kalila wa Dimna, and more broadly of the functions and readership of fables in Arabic, will have the character of an essay on the archaeology of literary taste. During the middle ages a large corpus of beast fables was produced in Arabic or translated into that language. We may reasonably treat this corpus as a genre. It is true that there are no important distinctions to be made between beast fables and fables featuring a combination of beasts and men, or men on their own; but this is a trivial reservation which would apply equally to the Aesopica and the Fables of La Fontaine. As we shall see, it may be useful to think of this body of literature in terms of a high genre and a low genre. But all fable literature followed certain common conventions, and the medieval reader could open a book of beast fables confident that his expectations would not be disappointed." - Irwin

Language: English

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