Fables in Premodern Arabic Literature

The fable is one of the lesser studied genres of premodern Arabic literature. Except for fables included in collections that constitute more or less direct translations from Greek tradition, such as the fables attributed to the legendary sage Luqmān, fables in premodern Arabic literature occur mainly in two distinct areas: first, a fair amount of fables is documented in authored or "elite" literature, such as predominantly Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ's Kalīla wa-Dimna, largely an adaptation of the ancient Indian mirror for princes, the Pancatantra; other works of a similar nature, albeit less impactful, include Ibn Ẓafar's Sulwān al-mutāʿ or Ibn ʿArabshāh's Fākihat al-khulafāʾ; and second, fables are cited as single items or in small collections as relating to a predominantly anonymous "folkloric" tradition, with some of them being quoted in historically attested situations of oral performance. Probably around 100 fables of the latter type are documented in Arabic belles-lettres as well as historiographical or biographical literature prior to the nineteenth century. Although there is a limited overlap, there appears to be a relatively clear boundary between the two areas whose exact nature remains to be defined. The present research project aims at a comprehensive assessment of the "folkloric" fables.