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A.Z. Foreman
Mega-thread about the portrayal of poets and poetry in the Qur'an. Why are šāˁir and šiˁr the words for poet and poetry in Arabic? Etymologically, these two words ought to mean "one who knows/perceives" and "knowledge" respectively. And indeed šiˁr does have the latter meaning,
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
particularly in the fossilized phrase layta šiˁrī "would that I knew, would that mine were knowledge (of)". This usage is quite an old one, and occurs in the transmitted Jāhilī material. For example, the Ḥamāsa attributes to Ta'abbaṭa Šarrā's mother a poem containing the verse
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
"layta šiˁrī ḍallatan ayyu šay'in qatalak" (would that I knew what thing it was that killed you wrongly). It is likely that this sense of "know(ledge), sense" is old, and the sense of poetry is a semantic innovation. How and why did this happen? One good place to start looking
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
for an answer is the Qur'ān, which uses the words šiˁr and šāˁir. Interestingly, the Qur'anic voice not only disdains the šāˁirs' (26:224 "The šāˁirs have only a following among the wayward"), but is moved on multiple occasions to highlight the fact that the Messenger isn't a
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
šāˁir. (E.g. "we have not taught him šiˁr, nor would it be right for him. This is only a reminder, and clear Qur'ān" at Q 36:69). It has previously been remarked that Qur'ān is not likely to have been mistaken for šiˁr if the word at that time meant what it means in
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
later Arabic. In later Arabic, of šiˁr "poetry" refers above all else to language that is metrically regulated. So much so that even so esteemed a pre-Islamic poem as the muˁallaqa attributed to ˁAbīd b. Al-Abraṣ might be dubbed "almost non-poetry" (kāda allā takūna šiˁran) on
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
account of its failure to use one of the canonically recognized meters. If the audience of the Qur'anic Messenger had understood šiˁr in this way, it is difficult to see what the problem would be At minimum, whatever else šiˁr meant, it included some kind of linguistic
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @Safaitic
performance close enough in form to the Qur'ān to be mistaken for it. Ergo it was not restricted to metrically regulated language. 's suggestion that the qaṣīda tradition has its roots elsewhere is very likely, and the possibility that it may have been originally
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
appropriated from some Old South Arabian language(s) is raised to a mighty height by a south Arabian description which I am 99.9999% certain is metrical.
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
Indeed, one cannot take for granted that linguistic performance in quantitative verse was known to the Messenger's audience at all. But the fact that they would use the word šiˁr to describe a performance in Qur'an-like form, with cadenced, rhymed (but not metrically regulated)
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
language does not exclude their knowledge of (and application of the same word to) a metrical verse tradition of the qaṣīda-type. So the question of whether the Messenger's audience was familiar with a qaṣīda tradition is as yet without answer.
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
(I doubt they were entirley unfamiliar with it, though perhaps they did not practice it themselves. It may been current among the non-sedentary populations of the Hijaz. The Messenger is allied with an urban populace and the Qur'an treats the 'aˁrāb with suspicion and hostility.
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
Jāhilī verse attributed to town-dwellers is rare.) There are Qur'anic passages that shed light on what kind of šiˁr was specifically at issue.
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
"This is the speech of a noble apostle. 
It is not the speech of a šāˁir. Little do you believe.
It is not the speech of a kāhin. Little do you believe."
(69:40-42). Kāhin and šāˁir are linked by syntactic parallelism, here, and this is not the only place where they
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
lie in close proximity. At Q 52:29 God reminds the Messenger that "By Grace of God you are neither a kāhin nor a madman possessed (majnūn)", and in the subsequent verse the hard-headed are referenced with "Do they say 'He's a šāˁir and we await a foul turn of fate for him'?"
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
A kāhin is usually thought to have been a kind of soothsayer with some religious function. (Cognates in other Semitic languages often mean "priest" or the like). Many have suggested — rightly, I believe — that the kāhins had a tradition of producing cadenced, rhymed oracular
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
utterances purporting to be the words of the divine, with information about the disposition of the heavens, spelling out what future disasters (or, if proper propitiations are made, delights) lie ahead. It is not hard to see how the Messenger's audience might make the mistake of
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
taking the Qur'ān to be this kind of language. In fact, if anything it would be hard to definitively prove this to be a mistake at all. A true prophet of the Abrahamic tradition would need his Message to explicitly and pointedly distinguish him from those who might well
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
be called "prophêtai" in the pre-Christian sense of thee Greek word. The Qur'ān does not spell out any formal differences between itself and šiˁr, or between the latter and whatever the kāhins were producing. Rather, the it distinguishes itself from them on the grounds of
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
epistemic and technical superiority: the šāˁir and/or the kāhin is a liar who invents things (Q 52:33 et al.) The Messenger does not. His Message really is divine in origin, as proof of which it is stated that nobody can create a single sūra like it (with an explicit challenge to
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
doubters to go ahead and try all they want). But whatever uniqueness is asserted cannot be a generic one. If nothing at all resembling the Qur'an were known to the Messenger's audience, there would be no need for his Message to expressly state what kind of language it was not,
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
nor would there be any earthly sense to the explicit assumption that the Messenger was at risk of being confused with the wrong sort of person on account of his linguistic medium. So, inasmuch as the Message claims linguistic uniqueness, it is (a) a unique excellence rather than
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
unique form, and (b) a uniqueness that was either not obvious or not uncontested. (If the Message’s uniqueness could go without saying, it is odd that it’s uniqueness needs to be spelled out more than once.)
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
But the šāˁir and the kāhin are not the same person, though the Qur'an makes a point of distinguishing the Messenger from both. A tradition of non-oracular linguistic art in Qur'anesque form, perhaps involving legendary figures or ancestors, may have also existed and counted
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @PhDniX
as šiˁr. The rhyming habits of the Qur'ān are not haphazard, and has shown that they obey well-defined phonological constraints of a kind reminiscent of the "featural rhyme" of Old Irish verse.
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @PhDniX
Such consistently-obeyed formal compositional features do not simply spring into existence out of nothing. This was a type of rhyming whose constraints the Messenger and his audience were already quite familiar with. For the Messenger's audience then šiˁr probably could be
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
labeled "poetry" in the Modern English sense if not in the Classical Arabic sense. They likely knew a poetic tradition, one in which verse-length was not strictly regulated, where rhyme was a matter of assonance rather than being built around repetition of the same syllable coda,
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @Safaitic
and where narrative was a major feature (the qaṣīda tradition is conspicuous for just how rare truly "narrative" passages are). has given a very compelling interpretation of a previously undeciphered inscription
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
which is obviously mythological in nature with thematic connections to Northwest Semitic epic narrative verse, in irregular line-length with verse-constituents bound together by loose rhyming, much like the ˁEn Avdat inscription:
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
This kind of language may well have been deemed šiˁr by the Messenger's audience. Its purely formal features have much in common with Qur'anic style, but little if any with the Qaṣīdah. Which brings us back to etymology. If šiˁr was originally "knowledge" or "sense",
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A.Z. Foreman Sep 8
Replying to @azforeman
then perhaps one stage in its semantic development was "lore to be told" or else "that which is sensed, apprehended." A šāˁir might at one time have been either a "knower of tales" or an "apprehender of things".
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