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IN SEARCH OF THE UNICORN: THE ONAGER AND THE ORYX IN THE ARABIC ODE

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In its rahīl section the classical (pre-Islamic and Mukhadram) qasīdah may have images, or "stories" of quite specific animals, the wild ass/onager and the wild bull or cow/oryx, conforming always to very formalized appearance and behavior. Structurally, they are integrated into the qasīdah as similes of the journeying poet's she-camel/nāqah. The purpose of the present article is first of all to define the two animals, the onager and the oryx, as acting agents in the rahīl structure and "story" and, once defined, to reach deeper, beyond their separateness, in order to uncover their implicit coalescence into a composite, syncretic imaginary, and ultimately symbolic, figura of the unicorn. The essential characteristic of this "revealed" Arabic unicorn is that it has no other existence than its existence in the poem/qasīdah, within which, however, it simultaneously continues to be a simile, a metaphor, an allegory, and a symbol—all this aside from being one of the fields of glory of Arabic descriptive poetic art.

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