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DOI 10.12887/29-2016-2-114-17

Barbara OSTAFIN – Struggle, Questioning, Erring: The Life of Burzuwayh, a Persian Physician, in the Light of the Work Kalīla wa-Dimna

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Kalīla wa-Dimna is a work that played a crucial role in the shaping of literary Arabic prose in the Middle Ages. The book originates from India and was translated into Pahlavi in the 6th century, and soon afterwards into Syriac. In the 8th century Ibn al-Muqaffca, a man of letters of Persian origin at the Abbasids’ court, translated the work from Pahlavi into Arabic. His translation played the key role in spreading the work across Europe, since it became the source of nearly all the subsequent medieval translations of the text in question.

The work, known in India as Panchatantra, is believed to have been brought to the Sassanid Persia by the king’s physician called Burzuwayh (in Arabic). The introductory chapters of Kalīla wa-Dimna tell a story of Burzuwayh’s voyage to India, of his life and his search for truth. One of these stories, the basis of the present considerations, is told by Burzuwayh himself and it may be considered as the first autobiography in Arabic literature.

The structure of the discussed chapter is not homogenous; it consists of the frame story, four long parables and some shorter ones. Three different types of transmission build the frame story: the narrative part (which presents important events from the life of Burzuwayh) is juxtaposed with the physician’s dialogue with his soul and his inner monologue. All the three forms of literary expression reveal Burzuwayh’s efforts to find the proper way guiding him towards the ultimate reward. On this way Burzuwayh experiences some turning points shifting his attitude towards the world and his beliefs. Despite his efforts he does not reach the truth, but earns hope to find the proper way in life.

Keywords: Pantchatantra, Kalīla wa-Dimna, Burzuwayh, medieval Arabic prose

Contact: Katedra Arabistyki, Instytut Orientalistyki, Wydział Filologiczny,
Uniwersytet Jagielloński,
al. Mickiewicza 3,
31-120 Cracow, Poland

E-mail: barbara.ostafin@uj.edu.pl

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» 114_Ostafin.pdf

  1. ISSN 0860-8024
  2. The Republic of Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education Value: 20.00
  3. Quarterly “Ethos” is indexed by the following databases: EBSCO, CEEOL, Index Copernicus (ICV 2017: 55.26), Philosopher’s Index, ERIH Plus.
  4. DOI Prefix 10.12887