The Greek Death of Imruʾ al-Qays

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Teddy J. Fassberg



It is commonly remarked, as a curiosity, that Imruʾ al-Qays’s traditional death resembles that of Heracles, but it has never been meaningfully discussed. This article undertakes to do so, arguing for the Greek provenance of his death tradition and discussing the implications of the Islamic construction of a Greek death for “the greatest Arab poet.” One implication involves his biography more generally, which is argued to have originally formed a different kind of narrative serving particular Islamic interests, later adapted to a biographic mold. The second stems from the recognition that the legendary Greek death of Imruʾ al-Qays is neither incidental nor isolated, which suggests that the horizons of Greco-Arabic studies are unduly narrow: alongside the transmission of written scientific texts, there were also oral popular traditions of Greek origin that left a deep imprint on Islamic culture.

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