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 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 second volume is a point-by-point reply to Ibn
al-Qarih’s letter using al-Ma?arri’s characteristic mixture of erudition,
irony, and admonition, enlivened with anecdotes and poems. Among other things,
he writes about hypocrites; heretical poets, princes, rebels, and mystics;
apostates; piety; superstition; the plight of men of letters; collaborative
authorship; wine-drinking; old age; repentance; pre-Islamic pilgrimage customs;
and money. This remarkable book is the first complete translation in any
language, all the more impressive because of al-Ma?arri’s highly ornate and
difficult style, his use of rhymed prose, and numerous obscure words and
"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
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