Maqamat.With timpani and trumpets, the rogue of Baghdad, Al-Wasiti

Horsemen celebrating the end of Ramadan with flags and trumpets.

The Assemblies of al-Hariri
This manuscript preserves what is arguably the most valuable copy in existence of al-Maqāmāt al-ḥarīriyah (The assemblies of al-Hariri). The author, Abu Muhammad al-Qasim ibn ‘Ali al-Hariri (1054–1122), was an Arab philologist, poet, and man of letters who was born near Basra in present-day Iraq. He is best known for his maqamat (literally: settings, often translated as assemblies or séances), a collection of 50 short narratives that blend social and moral commentary with dazzling expressions of the Arabic language. The genre of maqamat was initiated by Badiʻal-Zaman al-Hamadhani (969–1008), but it was al-Hariri’s assemblies that came to define it best. Written in a style of rhymed prose called sajʻ, and interlaced with fine verse, the stories are meant both to entertain and to educate. Each of the anecdotes takes place in a different city around the Muslim world of al-Hariri’s day, and each is an encounter, typically at a gathering of urbanites, between two fictional characters: the narrator al-Harith ibn Hammam and the protagonist Abu Zayd al-Saruji. The work was copied and commented on numerous times throughout the centuries, but only 13 extant copies are known to have illuminations of scenes from the stories. The present manuscript, completed in 1237, is both copied and illustrated by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, often called the first Arab artist. It contains 99 miniatures of outstanding quality. No other known copy of the work has as many such illustrations. The miniatures are praised for their vivid depiction of 13th-century Muslim life and are considered the oldest Arabic paintings created by an artist whose identity is known. Al-Wasiti, the founder of the Baghdad school of illustration, was also an outstanding calligrapher, a fact evident in his beautiful naskh style. The almost-immediate popularity of the maqamat reached as far as Arab Spain, where Rabbi Judah al-Harizi (circa 1165–circa 1225) translated the assemblies into Hebrew under the title Mahberoth Itiel, and later composed his own Tahkemoni, the so-called Hebrew maqamat. The work was also translated into many modern languages.

The coloring of the group of riders and the music allows the painter to reflect the repressed vitality that makes way for the month of fasting.

The group turns to the preacher and discovers among the crowd of faithful an old man who is familiar to them and is in the company of a woman, although the woman has nothing to do in a space intended for men.

Maqama - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre

The narrator puts his hand to his mouth.

This gesture expresses wonder and curiosity.

Glosario | Historias y anécdotas de al-Ándalus

The scenes are painted in 1237 in Baghdad.

Baghdad is for several centuries the center of Muslim power stretching from China to Spain.

Illustration from The Maqamat of al-Hariri | World History Commons

50 years earlier the crusaders are expelled from Jerusalem.

Paris with 250,000 inhabitants is the largest city in Europe, but Baghdad with 1.5 million is the world’s.

The old man with the white beard puts one hand on the woman’s shoulder and with the other takes out a piece of paper from his pocket, on which he begs for alms and says that he is blind and that he writes from memory.

The narrator recognizes an old acquaintance in him and invites him to eat with his partner.

At the end of the meal the old man asks for some aromatic water.

The narrator leaves the room to go find her and when he returns he finds that his two guests have left.

The old man is called Abu Said and he is among the daring heroes and beautiful women, one of the most popular figures of the ancient Arab world.

He is an itinerant beggar who makes a living with his little scams and his extraordinary eloquence.

Fantasy and lies are mixed in his narratives.

Even when he is accused of lack of truth, he is never punished because he knows how to entertain listeners.

You have different creative strategies.

It has the ability to awaken compassion.

Sometimes he declares himself blind and other times he says he has seen his son, whom his rags, that is to say, his shame prevent him from greeting.

Then the coins rain down.

Elsewhere he says that he cannot pronounce the r and fascinates his listeners with a long speech in which he avoids pronouncing this consonant.

Then the local official offers him a job but Abu Said rejects it, because a corner in the barn is preferable to being appointed to a position of honor.

He continues on his way, personifying a life in freedom and the art of free speech, of storytelling, of the ability to captivate people only with words, so appreciated in the East.

The figure of Al Said is created in 1100 by Al-Hariri, who should not be confused with al-Wasiti who 100 years later copies the text of Al-Hariri and illustrates it with 99 miniatures.

The author is known to have been a civil servant who had a palm plantation and to write a book on Arabic grammar and a book on improper use and Arabic idioms.

But what is famous are the Maqamat, 50 stories starring Abu Said.

Maqamat means session and indicates both place and meeting.

The word designates the situation in which the protagonist acts.

Previously, the figure of the itinerant beggar already exists, but al-Hariri rewrites it in such a way that his Maqamat are part of the most beautiful of the Arabic language.

And not only her, the suras of the Qur’an are versified, the sovereigns make their edicts written in verse and Arabic is very rich in syllables with very similar final sounds.

Al-Hariri not only excels in this field, he constantly discovers images and comparisons, plays on words and unleashes a verbal flow, which covers the whole event until it is unrecognizable.

To do this, it relies on the multi-meaning of Arabic words, difficult to reproduce in more univocal languages.

The al-Hariri maqamat soon became so popular that more than 700 copies were personally licensed.

He died in 1122.

Thirteen illustrated manuscripts of the Maqamat are preserved.

Two of them are from the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, one of the brief periods in which the pleasure of images is greater than its prohibition

Later some of these works have worse luck.

When al Wasiti illustrates the story of Abu Said, Baghdad’s heyday is past.

In 1258 the government capitulates to the Mongols who kill a million inhabitants, loot their homes and throw their libraries into the Tigris.

Fearful that the number of books will overflow the edges they burn the rest of the books.



Publicado por ilabasmati

Licenciada en Bellas Artes, FilologÍa Hispánica y lIiteratura Inglesa.

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