The Epistle of Forgiveness

Volume One: A Vision of Heaven and Hell

464 pages

August, 2013

ISBN: 9780814763780

$40

Cloth

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Authors

Abu l-ʿAla al-Maʿarri (363-449 H/973-1058 AD) was a major poet and prose writer of the late Abbasid period. Born near Aleppo, Syria, he lost his eyesight in childhood and was renowned for his asceticism.

All books by Abu l-Ala al-Maarri

Geert Jan van Gelder was Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford from 1998 to 2012. He is the author of several books on classical Arabic literature, including Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem and Of Dishes and Discourse: Classical Arabic Literary Representations of Food.

All books by Geert Jan Van Gelder

Gregor Schoeler was the chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Basel from 1982 to 2009. His books in the fields of Islamic Studies and classical Arabic literature include The Oral and the Written in Early Islam, and Paradies und Holle, a partial German translation of The Epistle of Forgiveness.

All books by Gregor Schoeler

One of the most unusual books in classical Arabic literature, The Epistle of Forgiveness is the lengthy reply by the prolific Syrian poet and prose writer Abu l-ʿAlaʾ al-Maʿarri (d. 449 H/1057 AD), to a letter written by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony, The Epistle of Forgiveness mocks Ibn al-Qarih's hypocrisy and sycophancy by imagining he has died and arrived with some difficulty in Heaven, where he meets famous poets and philologists from the past. He also glimpses Hell, and converses with the Devil and various heretics. Al-Maʿarri—a maverick, a vegan, and often branded a heretic himself—seems to mock popular ideas about the Hereafter. This book, the first of two volumes, includes Ibn al-Qarih’s initial letter to al-Maʿarri, as well as the first half of The Epistle of Forgiveness.
 
This translation is the first complete translation in any language and retains the many digressions, difficult passages, and convoluted grammatical discussions of the original typically omitted in other translations. It is accompanied by a comprehensive introduction and detailed annotation. Replete with erudite commentary, amusing anecdotes, and sardonic wit, The Epistle of Forgiveness is an imaginative tour-de-force by one of the most pre-eminent figures in classical Arabic literature.

Reviews

  • "While casual readers can pick up The Epistle of Forgiveness and enjoy a few pages of ancient satire and puns, more academic readers of eschatological literature and Arabic linguistics will appreciate the formidable efforts entailed in this translation's . . . present[ation of] a prose by 'one of the great poets in Arabic literary history' to contemporary readers."

    Al Jadid

  • “Van Gelder and Schoeler present one of the most complex and unusual texts in Arabic literature, by al-Ma'arri (d. 1057 AD), maverick, poet and vegetarian.”

    Banipal Magazine