المثل والتمثيل في التراث النقدي ﻭﺍﻟﺒﻼﻏﻲ حتى نهاية القرن الخامس الهجري / Parable and Allegory in the Arab Literary Critical Heritage till the End of the Fifth Century Hejira


Olfat Al-Rouby



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الروبي, ألفة كمال; al-Rouby, Olfat

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Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[This article seeks to investigate the extent to which classical Arab critics and rhetoricians were conscious of allegory in the Quran and the literary heritage in general, especially in the text of Kalīla wa Dimna which was dealt with as a series of parables (amthāl). Parables in the Arab-Islamic tradition are often short narratives that make use of metaphoric discourse and imageries. They relate to proverbs (amathāl), lexically and rhetorically. In an attempt to discover the parable/ proverb (mathal) in Arabic heritage, it becomes evident that the most widespread usage is that which appears in books of proverbs where it is defined as the concise, unchanging and current saying that relies on symbolic or abstract coinage. It may be used in and of itself, or else in circumstances similar to its original usage. Some of the proverbs may include a statement that refers to their origin. In most cases, they have a narrative origin which was shortened to a concise statement implying the moral or practical lesson. Those statements were used, on later occasions, as similes or metaphors. In this sense, the Hadīth of the Prophet, words of wisdom of the elders, and poetic verses by renowned poets became part of the proverb/parable repertoire. Other usages suggest stong connections with narrative forms, especially animal fables like those in Kalīla wa Dimna. Furthermore, the stories in the Quran were also considered parables with moral lessons and didactic elements. However, despite the attention that was given to this repertoire by critics, philosophers and interpreters alike, none of them heeded the characteristics of allegorical narrative in any of these texts. This was the case because all of them focused primarily on the abstract idea behind the allegorical, so much so that the full signification of the text shrunk to become a short statement closer to a proverb or an adage. Hence, the concept of proverb/parable in classical literary critical literature oscillates between partial signification (practical point or wise dictum) and total signification (story with moral). Likewise, it oscillated between sensory meaning in the story and rational meaning in the moral. As for the proverb/parable in rhetoric, the understanding of the concept was limited to partial signification, where it was considered a tool for rhetorical representation similar to the simile and the metaphor. Thus, the rhetoricians did not benefit from the writings of the literary critics as regards the total signification of the proverb/parable and hence could not develop an understanding of allegorical narrative.]

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