Making the Great Book of Songs
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Making the Great Book of Songs

Compilation and the Author's Craft in Abû I-Faraj al-Isbahânî's Kitâb al-aghânî

Hilary Kilpatrick

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eBook - ePub

Making the Great Book of Songs

Compilation and the Author's Craft in Abû I-Faraj al-Isbahânî's Kitâb al-aghânî

Hilary Kilpatrick

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About This Book

This is the first systematic literary study of one of the masterpieces of classical Arabic literature, the fourth/tenth century Kitâb al-aghânî ( The Book of Songs ) by Abû I-Faraj al-Isbahânî. Until now the twenty-four volume Book of Songs has been regarded as a rather chaotic but priceless mine of information about classical Arabic music, literature and culture. This book approaches it as a work of literature in its own right, with its own internal logic and coherence. The study also consistently integrates the musical component into the analysis and proposes a reading of the work in which individual anecdotes and poems are related to the wider context, enhancing their meaning.

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Publisher
Routledge
Year
2003
ISBN
9781135787936
1
MODERN RESEARCH ON THE KITĀB AL-AGHĀNĪ
Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣbahānī’s Kitāb al-aghānī has attracted the interest of scholars for close on two hundred years now. This interest arose after what is now the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris acquired some Aghānī manuscripts which had been brought to France by a member of Napoleon’s expeditionary force to Egypt.1
It first took the form of translations, and attention focussed on the Aghānī’s pre-Islamic material. In 1816 Silvestre de Sacy published a French version of the Aghānī article on Labīd.2 Three years later Kosegarten brought out a Latin translation of the article on ‘Amr ibn Kulthūm, accompanied by an edition of the text based on the Paris manuscripts of the Aghānī.3 In the 1830s Quatremère planned to make an abridged translation of the entire work, but only the Preface, the account of the Hundred and then the Three Songs, and the articles on Abū Qaṭīfa, ‘Adī ibn Zayd and the two poets named al-Muraqqish saw the light.4 De Slane accompanied his edition of Imru’ al-Qays’s Dīwān with the Aghānī article on the poet.5 As the second part of his article on the history of the pre-Islamic Arabs in the Hijaz and Yemen, Perron published the section on Uḥayḥa,6 and another French scholar, Fresnel, included the account of Muḍāḍ ibn ‘Amr in his survey of pre-Islamic Arabic history.7
A new focus of interest appears in some subsequent translations in the nineteenth century. The first students of the history of Arabic music realised that the Aghānī was a unique source for their subject, and they proceeded to make sections on singers accessible to the wider scholarly public.8
At the same time researchers into early Arabic literature continued to translate articles devoted to major poets, such as ‘Antara.9 It would be hard to draw up a complete list of the translations that have been made of different parts of the Aghānī for scholarly ends up till now,10 although probably the sections on poets have consistently attracted the most attention. But interests other than poetic are also reflected in the choice of translated articles; for instance the English version of Abū l-Faraj’s presentation of the Medinan singer and entertainer Ash‘ab forms the basis for Rosenthal’s Humour in Early Islam.11 On the whole these translations of articles aim to make information about a given individual or subject accessible; in other words, they consider the Aghānī as an important source for the history of poetry, culture or music. One cannot help wondering, however, whether the frequency with which foreign scholars resort to translating excerpts from the Aghānī is not also partly due to qualities which they seldom mention, the variety and liveliness of its information and its readability – the very qualities which have inspired many mediaeval and modern men of letters to undertake abridgements of the texts.
To return to the nineteenth century, the Aghānī soon attracted the notice not only of translators but also of editors.12 The first to embark on the task was Kosegarten, who in 1840 published the first volume of a projected edition and Latin translation, based on the Paris MSS, with additional information on the theory of Arabic music, drawn in large part from al-Fārābī.13 He did not succeed in bringing out any more of the text before his death ten years later. The first printing of the (reasonably) complete text occurred at the Maṭba‘a al-Amīrīya in Būlāq in 1285/1868. This Būlāq edition in 20 volumes is still reprinted and widely used and quoted, although, as is well known, it has no critical apparatus and lacks several articles.14 The Cairo MSS on which the Būlāq text was based were incomplete, and in 1888 Rudolf Brünnow brought out a further volume, containing articles he had found in MSS in Munich.15
After the Būlāq edition became unobtainable, al-Ḥājj Muḥammad Effendī al-Sāsī took upon himself to reprint the Aghānī. This edition, often known by al-Sāsī’s name, came out in 1323/1905 at the Maṭba‘at al-taqaddum. It contains the Būlāq text with revisions by Aḥmad al-Shinqīṭī and also Brünnow’s 21st volume; it represents an advance on the original Būlāq text. It was further improved when Muḥammad al-Shinqīṭī’s corrections to the Būlāq edition, based on his knowledge of Arabic language and literature, were published under the title Tasḥīḥ kitāb al-aghānī.16 But it is only with the Dār al-kutub Aghānī, of which the first volume appeared in 1927, that something approaching a scholarly edition of the text became available. The Dār al-kutub edition is based on the various Cairo MSS, to which manuscripts from Munich and Tübingen were added in the course of the work.17 The editors were originally sceptical about whether the articles from Brünnow’s 21st volume belonged to the Aghānī,18 but one, on Ḥāritha b. Badr, was published later by Ibrāhīm al-Abyārī as a supplement to volume VIII.19 The Dār al-kutub edition does not provide a detailed critical apparatus, but it gives some variants and has useful notes on people and places and explanations of some obscure words. It also makes sensible comments based on internal comparisons in the text. It has indices to poets, singers, transmitters of akhbār and melodies, other named individuals, tribes, places, poetry, ayyām, proverbs, titles mentioned in the text and sources referred to in the notes. In the margin it gives the pagination of the Būlāq edition.
The Dār al-kutub edition proceeded apace to begin with, and by 1938 eleven volumes had appeared. But the Second World War and its aftermath interrupted this rhythm, parts 12 and 13 coming out only in 1950. The reorganisation of the National Library under the republican government brought about another pause, and parts 14 and 15 were published only at the end of the 1950s. Part 16, the last for many years, appeared in 1961. In the meantime scholars impatient with the slow pace of publishing the Cairo edition took the initiative to bring out the complete text in Beirut. The Dār al-thaqāfa text is essentially a reprint of the first 14 volumes of Dār al-kutub, followed by ‘Abd al-Sattār Aḥmad Farrāj’s edition of the rest of the Aghānī.20 At the end he has appended the Akhbār Abī Nuwās of Ibn Wāṣil, as a substitute for the “missing” article on the ‘Abbāsid poet in the Aghānī itself.21 The Beirut edition, in 25 volumes, includes the Top Hundred songs in its cumulative indices, which take up the last two parts. In other respects, however, it is less satisfactory than the Dār al-kutub edition. There are more printing errors, the notes are less extensive, and the indications of subjects given in the margins of the Dār al-kutub edition have been placed in the body of the text, thus giving the impression that they belong to the original Aghānī.22
Back in Egypt the decision was taken to complete the Dār al-kutub edition, and in 1964, as a first step, the Ministry of Culture and National Guidance had the existing 16 volumes reprinted by offset, although they took the inexplicable step of tacitly omitting the indices. But when volume XVII appeared some years later, it was presented as part of a new project, namely to bring out a new edition of the whole work under the auspices of a supervisory committee (or Lajna). This new edition was to consist both in the publication of the remaining text with indices according to the original Dār al-kutub system, and in the revision of the first 16 volumes, so that at last the Aghānī would be available in a scholarly edition.23
Between 1970 and 1974 volumes XVIII–XXIV were brought out according to the plan set out in volume XVII.24 They incorporated the articles from Brünnow’s volume according to their place in the original text, as this can be determined from the extant manuscripts. At the same time the committee embarked on the revision of the Dār al-kutub edition. Volume I of this edition, which is presented as revised, lists MSS from Russia, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Patna and the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, microfilms of which the editors consulted in the Arab League’s Institute of Manuscripts in Cairo.25 Volume II appeared in the same year. Both these volumes have the same range of indices as the original Dār al-kutub edition and the Lajna’s volumes XVII–XXIV. But although one or two more volumes came out around the same time, the Lajna has fallen far short of its intention to bring out the whole of the Aghānī in a thoroughly scholarly edition.
Nor is the Lajna’s failure simply a matter of not having published the complete text. Much more serious is that its work in no sense represents an advance on that of the Dār al-kutub editors. Anyone who uses the Dār al-kutub’s volumes I–XVI and the Lajna’s XVII–XXIV cannot fail to notice the decline in quality of the notes, comments and cross-references and the decrease in variants given after volume XVI. In view of this, it comes as no surprise that the so-called “revised” edition started in 1970 shows no significant advance on what Dār al-kutub published in 1927. The text is the same, the footnotes are almost identical, and there has been no attempt to incorporate the microfilms of the MSS supposedly consulted in the Arab League’s Institute into the lists of variants.26 All that can be said is that the Lajna’s volumes are fully indexed. The Lajna’s failure to complete its project has meant that in practice scholars who rely on the Cairo edition are in fact using a combination of Dār al-kutub’s27 and the Lajna’s work.28
A further edition of the complete Aghānī was undertaken by Ibrāhim al-Abyārī,29 and published by Dār al-sha‘b.30 It runs to 33 volumes and has continuous pagination. For volumes I–XIV it follows the Dār al-kutub division, but afterwards the parts become smaller. The article on al-Mutalammis, which concludes the work and is incomplete in the Dār edition, has been supplemented from an unnamed source, and the Akhbār Abī Nuwās added. Curiously, the articles from Brünnow’s 21st volume have all been placed at the end of the text, even that on Ḥāritha ibn Badr, which, as al-Abyārī admits, belongs after Jamīla’s biography in volume VIII.31 The indices at the end list the contents of the articles, the subjects in alphabetical order, poets, transmitters, singers and transmitters of songs. Although it was produced cheaply for a wide public, the notes are more scholarly than those of the Lajna; they give more variants, frequently include parallels to individual passages (though without stating the editions used) and indicate other sources for the subjects of articles. They are also less inclined to explain the meaning of words; the Dār al-sha‘b’s readership is assumed to have a better grasp of Arabic than the Lajna’s. In fact the Dār al-sha‘b approach represents the continuation of the Dār al-kutub tradition.32
The size of the Aghānī has prompted various attempts to compile indices to it. The best known of these is that undertaken by the Italian scholar Ignazio Guidi, who together with eight colleagues from various countries drew up the Tables alphabétiques du kitāb al-agānī, comprising indices of poets, rhymes, personalities, tribes and events and place-names. Although there is no subject index, the entries on personalities usually indicate the contexts in which they play an important part. Guidi and his team based themselves on the Būlāq edition, Brünnow’s 21st volume and the fragment published by Wellhausen in the ZDMG.33
Later on frustration with the omission of the indices in the Dār al-kutub reprint led the Syrian scholar ‘Abd al-Mu‘īn al-Mallūḥī to draw up his own indices to the articles in the complete Dār/Lajna edition; they list the titles of the articles volume by volume, and then the subjects of articles alphabetically.34 The fairly obvious step to bring together the indices from the old Dār al-kutub and the Lajna volumes was taken by a Beirut publishing house, Dār iḥyā’ al-turāth al-‘arabī, in 1985.35 Unfortunately, however, these Fahāris fall short of their model, for not only do they not indicate the line on a page where the item is found, which is understandable, but they do not reproduce all the page numbers in the original indices. A complete index to the Dār/Lajna edition has therefore yet to appear.
A specialised index to the words glossed by Abū l-Faraj in the Aghānī was compiled by Ḥasan Muḥsin.36 These glosses concern obscure items in poetry, and foreign, especially Persian, words among other things.
Another kind of access to the Aghānī’s contents is to be found in ...

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