‘Excellence of the Arabs’: Ibn Qutaybah and the Cultural Authority of Poetry

Arabic Literature (in English)

Peter Webb, a lecturer in Arabic literature and culture at the University of Leiden, is author of Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam (2016), and editor-translator of the entertaining second part of the Library of Arabic Literature’s The Excellence of the Arabs, “Excellence of Arab Learning.”

In a two-part discussion with Webb’s co-translator Sarah Savant (one, two), we talked about the challenges of translating Ibn Qutaybah, his central place in Western scholarship, and his apparent incapacity for humor. 

In the first part of a two-part discussion with Webb, he talked about the construction of Arab identity during the early period of Islam, the importance of translating Ibn Quataybah, and why this book should be interesting to those who study medieval history.

In the second part of this discussion, Webb talks about poetry as proof, the roles of women in…

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