The maqāmah as prosimetrum: A comparative investigation of its origin, form and function

Ailin Qian, University of Pennsylvania


This study investigates the prosimetric style of a renowned contribution to Arabic narrative, the Maqamat of Badi' al-zaman al-Hamadh ani (358–398/969–1008). Al-Hamadh ani's Maqam at corpus contains fifty-two short tales that are centered on the words and deeds of a fictitious beggar hero. They are also characterized by a consistent alternation of rhymed prose (saj') and poetry. These two distinct features of the maqamah genre were faithfully imitated by al-Hamadhan i's successors in the following millennium. The origins of the maqamah genre have sparked heated debates among scholars of Arabic literature. Its longevity and versatility also await an explanation. This comprehensive and comparative analysis of the Maqamat 's prose (both rhymed and plain) and poetry can provide new angles through which to consider these issues. By introducing the transfer of function/form, we argue that the prosimetric style could have been affected by the functions that the hero inherited from pre-Islamic soothsayers, who were famed for their linguistic virtuosity in both modes of expression. Analogues from the ancient Chinese, Indian, and Greek literary traditions not only suggest the maqamah's intrinsic performability but also highlight the role of admonishers, i.e., heirs of soothsayers/shamans and performers of prosimetra in these literary traditions. The maq amah's homage to previous Arabic genres such as annals, anecdotes, and mimes, and its impact on so-called modern drama and fiction can both be interpreted by reference to the continuity of generations of admonishers. A detailed analysis of the maqamah's final section (envoi), episode proper, and opening formula illustrates the uniqueness of its prosimetric style which links the Arabic genre's genesis to possible Indo-Iranian and Greek inspirations.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Middle Eastern literature|Near Eastern Studies

Recommended Citation

Qian, Ailin, "The maqāmah as prosimetrum: A comparative investigation of its origin, form and function" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3509392.