The Epistle of Forgiveness

The Epistle of Forgiveness

Volume One: A Vision of Heaven and Hell

464 Pages

August 2013

ISBN: 9780814763780

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Abu l-'Ala
al-Ma'arri (363-449 H/973-1058 AD) was a major poet and prose writer of the
late Abbasid period. Born near Aleppo, Syria, he lost his eyesight in childhood
and was renowned for his asceticism.

Geert Jan van Gelder was Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford from 1998 to 2012. He is the author of several books on classical Arabic literature, including Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem and Of Dishes and Discourse: Classical Arabic Literary Representations of Food.

Gregor Schoeler was the chair of Islamic Studies at the University
of Basel from 1982 to 2009. His books in the fields of Islamic Studies and
classical Arabic literature include The
Oral and the Written in Early Islam, and Paradies und Holle, a partial German translation of The Epistle of Forgiveness.

One of the most unusual books in classical Arabic literature, The Epistle of Forgiveness is the lengthy reply by the prolific Syrian poet and prose writer Abu l-?Ala? al-Ma?arri (d. 449 H/1057 AD), to a letter written by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony, The Epistle of Forgiveness mocks Ibn al-Qarih's hypocrisy and sycophancy by imagining he has died and arrived with some difficulty in Heaven, where he meets famous poets and philologists from the past. He also glimpses Hell, and converses with the Devil and various heretics. Al-Ma?arri—a maverick, a vegan, and often branded a heretic himself—seems to mock popular ideas about the Hereafter. This book, the first of two volumes, includes Ibn al-Qarih’s initial letter to al-Ma?arri, as well as the first half of The Epistle of Forgiveness.

This translation is the first complete translation in any language and retains the many digressions, difficult passages, and convoluted grammatical discussions of the original typically omitted in other translations. It is accompanied by a comprehensive introduction and detailed annotation. Replete with erudite commentary, amusing anecdotes, and sardonic wit, The Epistle of Forgiveness is an imaginative tour-de-force by one of the most pre-eminent figures in classical Arabic literature.


  • "Van Gelder and Schoeler present one of the most complex and unusual texts in Arabic literature, by al-Ma'arri (d. 1057 AD), maverick, poet and vegetarian."

    Banipal Magazine

  • "While casual readers can pick upThe Epistle of Forgivenessand enjoy a few pages of ancient satire and puns, more academic readers of eschatological literature and Arabic linguistics will appreciate the formidable efforts entailed in this translation's . . . present[ation of]a prose by 'one of the great poets in Arabic literary history'to contemporary readers."

    Al Jadid