Arabian Satire

Arabian Satire

Poetry from 18th-Century Najd

206 Pages

April 2020

ISBN: 9781479885169




Ḥmēdān al-Shwēʿir was an early eighteenth-century poet from the region of Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Marcel Kurpershoek is a senior research fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi. A specialist in the oral traditions and poetry of Arabia, he is the author of the five-volume Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia, as well as several books on Middle Eastern history and culture. He served as Netherlands ambassador to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Poland, and as special envoy to Syria until 2015.

Jane Tylus, a specialist in late medieval and early modern European literature, religion, and culture, is Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at Yale University.

Satirical verse on society and its hypocrisies

A master of satire known for his ribald humor, self-deprecation, and invective verse (hijāʾ), the poet Ḥmēdān al-Shwēʿir was an acerbic critic of his society and its morals. Living in the Najd region of the Arabian Peninsula, Ḥmēdān wrote in an idiom widely referred to as “Nabaṭī,” here a mix of Najdī vernacular and archaic vocabulary and images dating to the origins of Arabic poetry. In Arabian Satire, Ḥmēdān is mostly concerned with worldly matters and addresses these in different guises: as the patriarch at the helm of the family boat and its unruly crew; as a picaresque anti-hero who revels in taking potshots at the established order, its hypocrisy, and its failings; as a peasant who labors over his palm trees, often to no avail and with no guarantee of success; and as a poet recording in verse how he thinks things ought to be.

The poems in Arabian Satire reveal a plucky, headstrong, yet intensely socially committed figure—representative of the traditional Najdī ethos—who infuses his verse with proverbs, maxims, and words of wisdom expressed plainly and conversationally. Ḥmēdān is widely quoted by historians of the Gulf region and in anthologies of popular sayings. This is the first full translation of this remarkable poet.

An English-only edition.


  • "Colorful contrasts abound. . . . Quite entertaining."

    The Complete Review

  • "[Ḥmēdān's] gift for the memorable turn of phrase has ensured that his poetry has never been forgotten… A handsomely produced volume of 'melodic verses that swell and roll / like roaring waves on a pitch-black sea.'"

    IASA Bulletin