The Life and Times of Abu Tammam

The Life and Times of Abu Tammam

296 Pages

November 2018

ISBN: 9781479868025




Abu Bakr al-Suli (d. 335 or 336 H/946 or 947 AD) was a courtier, companion, and tutor to Abbasid caliphs. His works on caliphal history, on poetry generally, and in particular on the “modern” poets, are a major contribution to Arabic literature."

Beatrice Gruendler is Professor of Arabic at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her books include The Development of the Arabic Scripts (1993), Medieval Arabic Praise Poetry (2003), and the edited collections Understanding Near Eastern Literatures (2000) with Verena Klemm, and Classical Arabic Humanities in Their Own Terms (2008) with Michael Cooperson.

Terence Cave is Emeritus Professor of French Literature and Emeritus Research Fellow, St John's College.

A robust defense of a poetic genius

Abu Tammam (d. 231 or 232/845 or 846) is one of the most celebrated poets in the Arabic language. Born in Syria to Greek Christian parents, he converted to Islam and quickly made his name as one of the premier Arabic poets in the caliphal court of Baghdad, promoting a new style of poetry that merged abstract and complex imagery with archaic Bedouin language. Both highly controversial and extremely popular, this sophisticated verse influenced all subsequent poetry in Arabic and epitomized the “modern style” (badi'), an avant-garde aesthetic that was very much in step with the intellectual, artistic, and cultural vibrancy of the Abbasid dynasty.

In The Life and Times of Abu Tammam, translated into English for the first time, the courtier and scholar Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Suli (d. 335 or 336/946 or 947) mounts a robust defense of “modern” poetry and of Abu Tammam’s significance as a poet against his detractors, while painting a lively picture of literary life in Baghdad and Samarra. Born into an illustrious family of Turkish origin, al-Suli was a courtier, companion, and tutor to the Abbasid caliphs. He wrote extensively on caliphal history and poetry and, as a scholar of “modern” poets, made a lasting contribution to the field of Arabic literary history. Like the poet it promotes, al-Suli’s text is groundbreaking: it represents a major step in the development of Arabic poetics, and inaugurates a long line of treatises on innovation in poetry.


  • "Another welcome addition to the Library of Arabic Literature....In the field of Arabic poetry and poetics in general, and classical Arabic poetry and criticism in particular, I expect the impact of this project to be groundbreaking. The study of Arabic poetry, both modern and classical, has the potential of being significantly affected by the introduction of voices like al-Sulis, especially when presented in fresh and timely translations as is the case here."

    Hoda Fakhreddine, Journal of the American Oriental Society