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Of Ladies and Lesbians and Books on Women from the Third/Ninth and Fourth/Tenth Centuries

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image of Journal of Abbasid Studies

Information about women in Abbasid society — and especially the subgroups of mutaẓarrifāt, ladies, and saḥḥaqāt, lesbians — is gathered from two extant sources that explicitly deal with the subject: al-Muwashshā, “The Painted Cloth,” by al-Washshāʾ (d. 325/936-7) and Jawāmiʿ al-ladhdha, composed some fifty years later by ʿAlī b. Naṣr al-Kātib. The Jawāmiʿ al-ladhdha is an erotic compendium that relies heavily on earlier sources, al-Muwashshā included; however, most of the works cited are lost. A survey of book-titles from the same period indicates that a good many books about women were written at the time. Representations of ladies and lesbians as they appear from the two sources and surveyed lists of book-titles suggest a complex picture of the lady-lesbian that changed over time. That some of the books dealing with the subject were still available some six-hundred years later shows that the erotic lore of the Abbasids continued to arouse interest for centuries.

Affiliations: 1: University of GothenburgSweden


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