Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded, with Risible Rhymes

Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded, with Risible Rhymes

Volume Two

380 Pages

April 2019

ISBN: 9781479829668

$16.00

Paperback

Authors

Yusuf al-Shirbini was a well-educated Egyptian from the eleventh/seventeenth century, thought to originate from the town of Shirbin, then a significant rural center in the eastern part of Delta. Little is known about him--including his social standing and profession--beyond Brains Confounded and two other extant texts: The Pearls (Al-La'ali' wa-l-durar) and The Casting Aside of the Clods for the Unstringing of the Pearls (Tarh al-madar li-hall al-la'ali' wa-l-durar.)

Muhammad ibn Mahfuz al-Sanhuri is an 11th/17th-century author who likely hailed from Egypt’s Fayyum region, although nothing else is known about him.

Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of some twenty works of modern Arabic literature,
among them Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, four novels by Elias Khoury, including Gate of the Sun, and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg over Leg. He has also made a critical edition, translation, and lexicon of the Ottoman-period Hazz al-quhuf bi-sharh qasid Abi Shaduf (Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded) by Yusuf al-Shirbini and compiled with a colleague an anthology entitled Al-‘ammiyyah al-misriyyah al-maktubah: mukhtarat min 1400 ila 2009 (Egyptian Colloquial Writing:
selections from 1400 to 2009). He read Arabic at the University of Cambridge, received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and previous to undertaking his first translation in 2003, worked for social development and research organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Sudan. He is affiliated with the American University in Cairo, where he lives.

Witty, bawdy, and vicious, Yusuf al-Shirbini’s Brains Confounded pits the “coarse” rural masses against the “refined” urban population. In Volume One, al-Shirbini describes the three rural “types”—peasant cultivator, village man-of-religion, and rural dervish—offering anecdotes testifying to the ignorance, dirtiness, and criminality of each. In Volume Two, he presents a hilarious parody of the verse-and-commentary genre so beloved by scholars of his day, with a 47-line poem supposedly written by a peasant named Abu Shaduf, who charts the rise and fall of his fortunes. Wielding the scholarly tools of elite literature, al-Shirbini responds to the poem with derision and ridicule, dotting his satire with digressions into love, food, and flatulence.

Volume Two of Brains Confounded is followed by Risible Rhymes, a concise text that includes a comic disquisition on “rural” verse, mocking the pretensions of uneducated poets from Egypt’s countryside. Risible Rhymes also examines various kinds of puzzle poems, which were another popular genre of the day, and presents a debate between scholars over a line of verse by the tenth-century poet al-Mutanabbi. Together, Brains Confounded and Risible Rhymes offer intriguing insight into the intellectual concerns of Ottoman Egypt, showcasing the intense preoccupation with wordplay, grammar, and stylistics and shedding light on the literature of the era.

Reviews

  • "Lucid and imaginative...the translation is thankfully reliable and delightfully readable...a remarkable achievement in many ways."

    Li Guo, Journal of the American Oriental Society