Teaching Arabic to the Angels: a Scherzo by al-Maʿarrī on Heavenly Morphology

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The Risālat al-Malāʾika (‘Epistle of the Angels’) is a treatise that Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī composed in his old age, to answer some morphological questions raised by one of his disciples. It is preceded by a fictional introduction in which the author imagines embarking on a grammatical discussion with some angels in a last attempt to delay his fateful hour. In the part translated and commented in this article, al-Maʿarrī, together with some men of letters, tries to convince the Guardian of Paradise to grant them access to heavenly joys because of their linguistic skills. He discusses in particular the derivation and the morphological behaviour of some objects that can be found in Heaven, such as the Tūbā tree or the houris. The passage offers an interesting picture of the method followed in ‘ilm al-taṣrīf (‘morphology’), a field of scholarship which received considerable attention by the first generations of grammarians, but came later to be partially neglected in favour of other disciplines. At the same time, the introduction of the Risālat al-Malāʾika, whose chronological relation to the Risālat al-Ġufrān remains hard to define, is a deeply ironic text, targeting Islamic popular beliefs concerning the Afterword, grammar and grammarians and, most importantly, the author himself.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteApproaches to the History and Dialectology of Arabic in Honor of Pierre Larcher
Numero di pagine20
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016

Serie di pubblicazioni



  • Arabic Lexicography
  • Escatologia islamica
  • Islamic Eschatology
  • Lessicografia araba
  • al-Maʿarrī


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