Translating a Flawed Masterpiece of Arabic Literature: The Epistle of Forgiveness (Risalat al-Ghufran) by al-Ma'arri (d. 1057)
Dr. Geert Jan van Gelder
March 14, 2013, 7:00pm
SFU Surrey Campus
250-13450 102nd Ave, Surrey
The Epistle of Forgiveness by the Syrian poet and prose writer Abu
l-‘Ala’ al-Ma‘arri (d. 1057) is one of the most unusual books in
classical Arabic literature. It is the lengthy reply to a letter written
by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony, The Epistle
of Forgiveness mocks Ibn al-Qarih’s hypocrisy and sycophancy by
imagining he has died and arrived with some difficulty in Heaven, where
he meets famous poets and philologists from the past. He also glimpses
Hell, and converses with the Devil and various heretics. Al-Ma'arri—a
maverick, a vegan, and often branded a heretic himself—seems to mock
popular ideas about the Hereafter. The first complete translation will
appear in 2013; it will include the many digressions, difficult
passages, and convoluted grammatical discussions of the original that
are typically omitted in other translations, for obvious reasons. It
will also include the second part, which is also usually omitted: a
point-by-point reply to Ibn al-Qarih’s somewhat rambling letter.
Translating the book poses many problems. The interpretation is,
moreover, hampered by al-Ma‘arri’s pervasive use of irony.
Click here to download the event poster.
Click here to read Dr. Van Gelder's translation of Risalat al-Ghufran (The Epistle of Forgiveness).
See Dr. Van Gelder's lecture here.
Click here to view photos from the lecture.