Expiatory humor in a pre-Islamic poem by ʿIlbāʾ b. Arqam*

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This article argues that the pre-Islamic poet ʿIlbāʾ b. Arqam al-Yashkurī used humor in his poem Aṣmaʿiyya no. 55 in order to mitigate the wrath of King al-Nuʿmān III (580–602 AD). He did so in order to seek mercy for the killing of a ram that the king had ordered should not be harmed. This article presents an analysis of the poem’s content and structure with reference to the anecdote that relates the story of ʿIlbāʾs offence. It explains why certain elements in the poem should be read as humorous and related to an ʿAbbāsid-era comic poem by Abū Dulāma (d. 161/778). As the poem is highly challenging lexically, an annotated edition of the Arabic text as well as a full English translation will be provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-224
Number of pages19
JournalMiddle Eastern Literatures
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Abū Dulāma
  • Humor
  • al-Nuʿmān III
  • al-Ḥīra
  • apologetic poetry
  • classical Arabic poetry
  • nasīb
  • praise poetry
  • pre-Islamic poetry
  • ʿAbbāsid poetry
  • ʿIlbāʾ b. Arqam

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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