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Caught Between Aspiration and Anxiety, Praise and Exhortation: An Arabic Literary Offering to the Ottoman Sultan Selīm I

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AbstractThis article deals with a literary offering presented by Ibn Sulṭān (d. 1544)—a Mamluk Damascene ʿālim who eventually became the Ottoman muftī of Damascus—to Sultan Selīm I that dates back to shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Syria. Entitled al-Jawāhir al-muḍiyyah fī ayyām dawlat al-Turkiyyah, this hitherto unpublished work is here made available in a critical edition introduced by an extended literary analysis. With both inter- and contextual corroboration, my close reading of al-Jawāhir identifies an extended double entendre: while a “benevolent reading” shows praise fostered by the author’s ambitions, a “malevolent reading” reveals exhortation stemming from the author’s anxieties, subtly conveyed through the text’s modes of shifting between topics and interweaving of multiple voices of authority. My close reading thus reveals al-Jawāhir to be as much a specimen of a time-honored genre of elite communication as it is a product of its specific author and his time. By recognizing the personalized message conveyed by the author in turning to the highly conventionalized medium of the literary offering, this article adds to the ongoing reevaluation of other seemingly rigid genres, such as the mirror for princes and qaṣīdah.

Affiliations: 1: Ghent University1


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