Appel à communication: Prophets, Viziers, and Philosophers: Figures of Wisdom in Arabic Literature (8th–11th centuries)

10-11 October 2014, Berlin, Freie Universität

Early Arabic literature stands at the crossroad of multiple influences:
South-Arabian, Persian, In­dian, Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian. Wisdom may
therefore take the shape of divine knowl­edge, practical discipline,
scientific achievements, moral teachings, ethics, etc. Furthermore, the
literary genres used for transmitting sapiential, ethical, and philosophical
materials are diverse: bi­ographies of prophets, saints, sages, ascetics and
philosophers; mirrors for princes; collections of sayings (gnomologies);
philosophical commentaries, etc. Thus, sapiential material in Arabic medie­val
literature is to be found in both religious texts and in secular works.

            Important agents in the creation and transmission of this
multifarious material are Wahb ibn Munabbih, Ibn al-Muqaffaʻ, Hunayn ibn
Ishaq, and al-Kindi. Their works, often lost, have at times been partially
preserved in later epitomes and compilations, in larger historical
encyclopaedias and in phi­losophical compendiums. Through the translations of
such works as the pseudo-Aristotelian Sirr al-asrar (Secretum Secretorum) and
Mubashshir ibn Fatik’s Mukhtar al-hikam (Bocados de Oro), ex­amples of this
literature – which often echoed works already available in Greek and Latin
– were passed to Europe, where they were avidly read in translations all
along the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period.

            This conference aims at discussing the multifarious representation
of wisdom and the phenom­ena of translation, adaptation, and transmission that
can be found within this kind of litera­ture, bringing together scholars from
different fields. We welcome papers on any work related to the early stages of
Arabic sapiential/philosophical literature. The Syriac transmission of Pagan
and rhetorical material could also be considered. Furthermore, we welcome
papers on the European ver­sions of the Adab al-falasifa, the Sirr al-asrar
and the Mukhtar al-hikam.

            Questions that may be asked include: Why were Arabic speaking
authors interested in this type of literature? How did they pick their material
to fit their actual religious, political, social, and literary contexts? Which
sages were their favourites? And which ones did they neglect? How were these
Arabic texts received in other literatures, within and without the Middle East?
What usages were made of these texts? Were they considered as handbooks for
scholars, as belles-lettres, or as a kind of resources to be used in order to
produce new texts?

Conference languages are English, German, and French.
Speakers will get free accommodation and will be reimbursed for their travel
Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to 
Emily Cottrell ( 
and Regula Forster ( by 1st March 2014. 

Contact: Dr Emily Cottrell and Prof Dr Regula Forster 
Seminar für Semitistik und Arabistik 
Freie Universität Berlin Altensteinstr. 
34 14195 Berlin 

Camille Rhoné

Agrégée d'histoire, titulaire d'une thèse de doctorat en histoire de l'Islam médiéval ("Défendre le territoire en Iran nord-oriental - Khorassan et Transoxiane -, IXe-XIe siècle"), Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

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