Friday Finds: Abbasid Princess’s Epigram

‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi (777-825 CE) was half-sister to Harun al-Rashid, daughter of Caliph al-Mahdi bi-‘llah and a concubine named Maknuna, and she was remembered for her poetry and music, featuring in al-Isfahani’s Book of Songs:

You can purchase work by Saffa Khan at her website.

A number of ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi’s poems were translated and included in Classical Poems by Arab Women, issued by Saqi in 1999, and recently, artist Saffa Khan created a response to poetry by Ulayya bint al-Mahdi for the exhibition Radical Love: Female Lust.

Now, Yasmine Seale has a fresh translation of an ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi love poem. It opens:

To love two people is to have it 

coming: body nailed to beams,


But loving one is like observing


Keep reading at Youssef Rakha’s Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Also: Matthew Gordon writes interestingly about the role of competition in the lives of songstress-poets of the era, focusing on ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdi and Arib al-Ma’muniyya.