Friday Finds: ‘Epic of the Commander Dhat al-Himma’

The University of Iowa Library has published an open-source excerpt of Epic of the Commander Dhat al-Himma as introduced, edited, and translated by Melanie Magidow:

The bilingual, facing-page extract — part of a longer work-in-progress — has been made available as part of the “Medieval Feminist Forum” series, edited by Mary Dockray-Miller.

As the introduction opens, Magidow acknowledges the word amira, which she’s translated as commander, mght also be translated as princess, warrior woman, or lady. Sira could be translated simply as story, and “Dhat al-Himma,” she notes, could be translated as “’she of ambition,’ or alternatively, ‘resolve,’ ‘perseverance,’ or ‘valor.'”

Another translation, by Shawki Abd al-Hakim, is titled, Princess Dhat Al Himma : the princess of high resolve. The title of Magidow’s translation leaves out gender, focusing on the genre (epic), the role she plays (commander), and a given name (Dhat al-Himma).

The events in the sira take place between the late seventh and ninth centuries, Magidow writes, “with allusions to later events of the tenth century,” adding that, “Composition of the epic began at an unspecified date, but Claudia Ott suggests between 1100 and 1143 in northern Syria.”

Part of the appeal of the Epic of the Commander is its focus on women warriors, and Magidow suggests that it “highlights women warriors more than any other Arabic work.”

Interestingly, Magidow also makes available a chart showing the Arabic and four English “translations,” including hers, which shows the tradition’s heavy emphasis on summation rather than translation.

In Magidow’s translation, it opens:

Before becoming Dhat al-Himma, the famed warrior woman, she was merely Fatima. First she had to endure some of the greatest challenges of her era. It happened like this.

Read the full extract at the University of Iowa website.