When scholars battle (in a bottle) over the world’s first “novel,” some point to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Others tip their hats to Ibn Tufayl‘s Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Hayy [Alive], son of Yaqzan [Awake]), which was translated into Latin and English in the latter half of the 17th century and may have served as an inspiration for Defoe’s 1719 adventure novel.
Ibn Tufayl was an Andalusia-born novelist, philosopher, theologian, physician, and court official, and many of these experiences can be found in Hayy. The novel was not only popular in the Arabic-reading world, but also was a best-seller throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is credited with influencing a number of European philosophers.
The novel tells the story of an orphaned boy, Hayy, who is raised in the wild by a gazelle. The University of Minnesota website notes: “The death of his gazelle mother sends Hayy on a voyage of scientific inquiry and self-discovery.” Some scholars peg it as the first coming-of-age novel.
Further, from the University of Minnesota release:
In his solitude, the character Hayy uses reason and science to understand the world around him, but comes to an understanding of religious truth without formal education. And when he finally encounters civilization he finds their religious beliefs insubstantial.
Now, Iranian-American director Mohammed Ghaffari has adapted the novel into a play called Journey, which will premiere later this month at the University of Minnesota.
Initial performances will be free at the University’s Rarig Center; additional performances will be held at the Minneapolis-based Children’s Theater Company in March.
A (free) English translation of Hayy ibn Yaqzan: