Project Group A: Frontiers and Transitions, Project A6.II

The Image of the Bedouin in Arabic Literary Culture:
Perceptions of the Nomadic Culture and Arabic Heritage in the Middle Ages

Subject II:
The Image of the Bedouin in Popular Epic Narratives


Through their ambivalent image of the Bedouins, the Arabic popular epics, the so called siyar sha'bîya, convey us an insight in the way popular identy discourses dealt with Bedouins and their way of life.

Starting with the Sîrat 'Antar, I plan to analyze the contents and form of the representations of Bedouins also in other popular epics related to the Bedouin milieu, especially the Sîrat Banî Hilâl. These siyar which were mostly directed at an urban, but sometimes also at a rural public with some connections to nomadic groups, received their decisive shape at the time of the Crusades. Thus subject II leads us in later times than subject I and may complement the results obtained there.

Dealing with monumental epics such as the Sîrat 'Antar and the Sîrat Banî Hilâl means from the beginning on to aim at a selective analysis on the basis of chosen criteria. First I analyze passages which reveal the the author(s)' position from the omniscient narrator's perspective. Second, I examine different types of Bedouin actors, their characteristics and specific actions. Third, social hierarchy (noblemen, free men, women, slaves, etc.) and political organisation, especially forms of power and how decisions are made and imposed, are examined. Modes of social behaviour which wich play an important role in epic narratives, are registered and analyzed according to the aims of the action (conflict, reconciliation, alliance, etc.) and the social affiliation of the actors. Finally, aspects of culture, customs, festivities, faith, economy and material culture are described and analyzed.

This image of the Bedouin in some popular Arabic epics as analyzed in my work is interpreted as a construction through which a socially meaningful image of Bedouin values and manners was integrated in a sedentary, predominantly urban-inspired Arab society of the Ayyûbid, Mamlûk und Ottoman periods.


Prof. Dr. Stefan Leder

Nomaden und nomadische Lebensformen in arabischer Begrifflichkeit – Eine Annäherung. In: Materialien des SFB "Differenz und Integration" 1 (2002), 11–40.

Wathâ'iq as-samâ'ât li-Mu'jam as-samâ'ât ad-dimašqîya al-muntakhaba min sanati 550 ilâ 750. Receuil de documents fac-similée des certificats d’audition à Damas, 550–750 h./1155 à 1349. Damaskus 2000.

(ed.) Story-telling in the framework of non-fictional classical Arabic literature. 2. Johann-Wilhelm-Fück Kolloquium Halle 1997. Wiesbaden 1998.

Mu'jam as-samâ'ât ad-dimašqîya al-muntakhaba min sanati 550 ilâ 750. Les certificats d’audition à Damas, 550–750 h./1155 à 1349. Damaskus 1996.

Das Korpus al-Haitham ibn 'Adî (st. 207/822). Herkunft, Überlieferung, Gestalt früher akhbâr-Texte. (Habilitationsschrift Frankfurt 1988.) Frankfurt 1991.

Die arabische Ecloga. Das vierte Buch der Kanones der Könige nach Makarios. Frankfurt 1985 (Forschungen zur Byzantinischen Rechtsgeschichte 12).

Ibn al-Gauzî und seine Kompilation wider die Leidenschaft. Der Traditionalist in gelehrter Überlieferung und originärer Lehre. Wiesbaden 1984 (Beiruter Texte und Studien 32).

Dr. Thomas Herzog

The First Layer of the Sîrat Baibars – Popular Romance and Political Propaganda. In: Mamluk Studies Review 7 (2003), 137–148.

An-naql an-nâqil oder Ein Volksepos als "Über–setzer" am Beispiel der Sîrat 'Antar b. Šaddâd. In: Materialien des SFB "Differenz und Integration" 1 (2002), 45–50.

La Sîrat Baibars: Non-fictionalité prétendue d'un texte fictionnel. In: S. Leder (ed.): Story-Telling in Non-Fictional Arabic Literature. Wiesbaden 1998, 258–264.

Legitimität durch Erzählung: ayyûbidische und kalifale Legitimation mamlûkischer Herrschaft in der populären Sîrat Baibars. In: In memoriam Ulrich Haarmann. Sektion Geschichte und Kultur der Mamlûkenzeit auf dem 27. Deutschen Orientalistentag in Bamberg. Kiel. In preparation.

Die Sîrat Baibars: Geschichte und Imaginaire. Genese, Überlieferung und Bedeutung im sozio-politischen Kontext. Wiesbaden. In preparation.