I recently spoke with translator and scholar Joseph Lowry about his translation of The Epistle on Legal Theory (the Risālah). He also talked about another project he has been working on for the Library of Arabic Literature:
ArabLit: Are there other future projects you’re excited about?
Joseph Lowry: We have another text that we’re trying to translate collectively, which actually we have a draft of, although it needs a lot of work. It’s a work on the lives of the courtesans at the Abbasid court, most of whom were accomplished poets and singers. It’s a literary presentation of their lives, although there’s more than that to it: It talks a little bit about the period before the rise of the courtesans, when the Arab noblewomen were still important, and the period after the rise of the courtesans, when Turkish noblewomen were quite important.
So it’s quite an interesting panorama of the cultural life of women at the Abbasid court from the late eighth century up until the late eleventh and early twelfth century. It’s an important cultural document, and I think it will be interesting for women’s studies and also for gender studies, as well as for people who teach medieval literature. It’s the kind of thing I would hope might find a way into courses on women’s literature in the Middle Ages.
That’s another thing about the Library of Arabic Literature. One could make the case that there is a unified mediaeval culture, stretching from the eastern Islamic lands to Ireland or even Iceland. I think for Western medieval studies, it’s going to be important to have some of these texts to integrate into their thinking about cultural and intellectual life in the West in the Middle Ages.
That text on the lives of courtesans at the Abbasid court would be one such text. And that’s primarily a literary text, literary biographies of these women, and anecdotes from their lives, as well as samples of their poetry, and also the poetry of their patrons. It’s really a fabulous and fascinating snapshot into the cultural world of the Abbasid court.