The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jokes, and learned essays upon them

(... Return to Zork? Anyone?)

So sura 69 is in a rajaz / saj' form of semipoetry. Each line rhymes, sort of. Q. 69:27 canonically reads yâ'laytahâ kânati al-qâdiyatu; it is supposed to wrap up a sinner's lament on the last day, from v. 25 yâ'laytanî lam ûta kitâbiyah. To force the pericope into rhyme, that last consonant in v. 27 - a ta' marbuta - has to be pronounced like v. 25's "-h", which in common Arabic indeed it would be since it's at the end of a sentence. Ghali and Pickthall translate v. 25 o that this were the end.

But then there was caliph al-Walid, whose Arabic was not much better than, well, mine. Suyuti, tr. Major Jarrett, History of the Caliphs (1881), 228:

Abu A'krinah ad Dhabí says that al Walíd read from the pulpit, "O
that death had made an end of me."* (Kur. LXIX), and below the pulpit
stood Omar-b-A'bdi'l Azíz and Sulaymán-b-Abdi'l Malik, and Sulayman
exclaimed, "by Allah, I would it had." Walíd was despotic and tyrannous.

*Misplacing the vowel-points again. "Yá laytu há" for "Yá layta há".

I looked into this and I couldn't see how al-Walid's "mistake" changes anything. Among modern translators Yusuf Ali, for one, sides with Jarrett's translation of al-Walid almost to the letter. And when I turn to what Jarrett did elsewhere, there are a number of mistakes in the typesetting (this edition is rife with these): most glaring, a storyteller by name of "Abu A'krinah" does not actually, um, exist.

So I went to Islamport for the primary. I found that, and thence I had my anchor to run further searches; found out that the storyteller was Abu 'Ikrimah, for a start. First, 'Abd al-Malik b. Husayn b. Abd al-Malik al-Isami (d 1111/1699), Samt al-nujum al-awali fi anba al-awail wa-al-tawali, quotes Ibn al-Anbari... who, we know from the Itqan, was one of Suyuti's sources. Anbari includes some key material, making clear that the vowel wasn't the problem. The problem was that al-Walid had added the consonant "T". (Although Anbari credits 'Umar with the snark.) Mukhtasar Tarikh Dimashq agrees that the "T" was the problem. (And he goes back to crediting Sulayman. Sulayman perhaps struck Suyuti as the more likely to express his disdain.)

With the "T", the listener would expect another word to follow. The two hecklers, in the Mukhtasar and in Ibn al-Anbari, supplied that word: "'alay-", that is "upon al-Walid".

It took me almost 24 hours to get out of the Jerk Store. Wonder how long it took the caliph.


posted by Zimri on 12:16 | link | 0 comments

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