Undergraduate Module Descriptor

ARA2172: From Holy Text to Sex Manuals in Classical Arabic Literature

This module descriptor refers to the 2016/7 academic year.


NQF Level 5
Credits 15 ECTS Value 15
Term(s) and duration

This module ran during term 1 (11 weeks)

Academic staff






Available via distance learning


This class will cover some of the most influential texts of the classical Arabic literary tradition in translation. The seminar will begin with Jorge Luis Borges’s essay "The Translators of the Thousand and One Nights," read alongside translations of the Qur’an, a text whose unique nature renders translation a virtual impossibility.  Thus we will begin this seminar of texts in translation steeped in awareness of the problems inherent in the act of translation itself.  Next we will read Michel Foucault’s essay, “What is an author?,” alongside orally transmitted hadith (stories of the deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad), whose complex history of transmission problematizes notions of authorship.  We will then move on to questions of fiction and fact, reading fantastical narratives such as those contained in the 1001 Nights alongside ostensibly factual accounts, such as those found in al-Tabari’s History, and discussing various strategies these texts use to mark themselves as fact or fiction.  At the end of the class, we will discuss the idea of marginality in literature, reading the homoerotic love poems of the most famous classical Arabic poet, Abu Nuwas, translated by Jim Colville.  We will end with a discussion of the role of picaresque literature, a European tradition strongly influenced by medieval Arabic literature, in the formation of the modern novel, as well as the reception and bowdlerization of certain “marginal” texts.  The course reading will be accompanied by regular selections from Roger Allen’s The Arabic Literary Heritage and Robert Irwin’s Night and Horses and the Desert, an Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature

Module created


Last revised