Al-Fārābī, the Melancholic Thinker and Philosopher Poet

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Peter E. Pormann



Some scholars have tried to distinguish between historical fact and legend in the biographical information about al-Fārābī that can be gleaned from medieval Arabic sources; by reinterpreting accounts in the bio-bibliographical literature and by presenting new evidence from a contemporaneous medical source; this article argues that such a distinction is problematic. In the eyes of some of his contemporaries, al-Fārābī exemplified the character type of the melancholic thinker, who succumbs to the disease because of excessive study. Arguing that the poetry attributed to al-Fārābī fits well with the picture that the new medical source paints of him, the article also underscores that the topics of literature are the topics of life, and that it is therefore doubtful whether we will ever be able to disentangle myth from reality in the biographical information about al-Fārābī.

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