Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur (d. 280/893): Merchant of the written word

Shawkat Mahmood Toorawa, University of Pennsylvania


In spite of the considerable attention devoted to the third/ninth century by scholars of Arabic literature, credit for the elaboration of the notion of adab in its wide, if imprecise, meaning of literary culture, is given to and concentrated upon only a handful of writers. The disproportionate emphasis, within and outside the Arabic literary-historical and critical tradition, has been at the expense of certain crucial aspects of that tradition. This study represents an effort to re-evaluate the literary history and landscape of the third/ninth century by demonstrating and emphasizing the significance of an important transformation, namely the one signaled by the transition from a predominantly oral/aural culture to an increasingly writerly, literate, bookish one. This is accomplished by focusing on Ibn Abī Tāhir (d. 280/893), a scholar of Iranian origin, in order to show that oral discourse realigned within a cultural reference system based on the logical priorities of texts, and in order to understand the ways in which this happened. The arrival of the technologies of the word, and the transformation of society from a predominantly oral/aural to an increasingly writerly one, had profound influences on the production of learned and literary culture, on the modes of transmission of learning, on the nature and types of literary production, on the nature of scholarly and professional occupations and alliances, and on the ranges of meanings of certain key concepts, such as sariqah plagiarism. A more nuanced understanding of someone like Ibn Abī Tāhir complicates—in the best sense—the uncomplicated history of Arabic literature in the third/ninth century.

Subject Area

Middle Eastern literature|Literature|Middle Ages|Middle Eastern history

Recommended Citation

Toorawa, Shawkat Mahmood, "Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur (d. 280/893): Merchant of the written word" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9913532.