Persian in Arabic Poetry Identity Politics and Abbasid Macaronics

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Lara Harb



Notable examples of macaronics, the insertion of foreign vocabulary into poetry, are attributed to the well-known eighth-century poet, Abū Nuwās, who experimented with mixing Persian in his Arabic poetry but whose motivation remains unclear. This article looks at a selection of his and other macaronic verses ranging from the seventh to tenth centuries and argues that Persian was inserted deliberately as a marker of a Persian identity, standing for the “foreign Other.” Far from being a sign of a pro-Persian shuʿūbī sentiment, the employment of Persian only reinforces the established hierarchy of the two identities in that period. By the tenth century, however, this hierarchy is cleverly flipped on its head in a macaronic poem by the popular Iraqi poet, Ibn al-Ḥajjāj. While many of the examples are comic and even obscene in character, this article shows that the employment of Persian in Arabic poetry was a deliberate practice with serious and meaningful implications.

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