Ahmad al-Shidyaq: Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two

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Ahmad al-Shidyaq Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two
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    Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two
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    Library of Arabic Literature
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    Классическая проза / на английском языке
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Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of the Fariyaq, alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England, and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussions of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments, freedom of conscience, women s rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European and Arabic literatures, all the while celebrating the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language. Volumes One and Two follow the hapless Fariyaq through his youth and early education, his misadventures among the monks of Mount Lebanon, his flight to the Egypt of Muhammad 'Ali, and his subsequent employment with the first Arabic daily newspaper during which time he suffers a number of diseases that parallel his progress in the sciences of Arabic grammar, and engages in amusing digressions on the table manners of the Druze, young love, snow, and the scandals of the early papacy. This first book also sees the list of locations in Hell, types of medieval glue, instruments of torture, stars and pre-Islamic idols come into its own as a signature device of the work. Akin to Sterne and Rabelais in his satirical outlook and technical inventiveness, al-Shidyaq produced in Leg Over Leg a work that is unique and unclassifiable. It was initially widely condemned for its attacks on authority, its religious skepticism, and its obscenity, and later editions were often abridged. This is the first complete English translation of this groundbreaking work." Humphrey Davies

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Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two


The Library of Arabic Literature series offers Arabic editions and English translations of significant works of Arabic literature, with an emphasis on the seventh to nineteenth centuries. The Library of Arabic Literature thus includes texts from the pre-Islamic era to the cusp of the modern period, and encompasses a wide range of genres, including poetry, poetics, fiction, religion, philosophy, law, science, history, and historiography.

Books in the series are edited and translated by internationally recognized scholars and are published in parallel-text format with Arabic and English on facing pages, and are also made available as English-only paperbacks.

The Library encourages scholars to produce authoritative, though not necessarily critical, Arabic editions, accompanied by modern, lucid English translations. Its ultimate goal is to introduce the rich, largely untapped Arabic literary heritage to both a general audience of readers as well as to scholars and students.

The Library of Arabic Literature is supported by a grant from the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute and is published by NYU Press.

Philip F. Kennedy

General Editor, Library of Arabic Literature


This paperback edition differs in a few respects from its dual-language hard-cover predecessor. Because of the compact trim size the pagination has changed, but paragraph numbering has been retained to facilitate cross-referencing with the hardcover. Material that referred to the Arabic edition has been updated to reflect the English-only format, and other material has been corrected and updated where appropriate. For information about the Arabic edition on which this English translation is based and about how the LAL Arabic text was established, readers are referred to the hardcover.



New York and London

Copyright © 2015 by New York University

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris, 1804?-1887.

Leg over leg or The turtle in the tree concerning the Fariyaq: what manner of creature might he be / by Faris al-Shidyaq; edited and translated by Humphrey Davies.

volume cm — (Library of Arabic literature)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-4798-0072-8 (vols. 1–2: ppk: alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-4798-1329-2 (vols. 3–4: ppk: alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-4798-3288-0 (ebook) — ISBN 978-1-4798-8881-8 (ebook)

1. Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris, 1804?-1887. 2. Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris, 1804?-1887—Travel — Middle East. 3. Arabic language — Lexicography. 4. Middle East — Description and travel. I. Davies, Humphrey T. (Humphrey Taman) translator, editor. II. Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris, 1804?-1887. Saq ‘ala al-saq. III. Shidyaq, Ahmad Faris, 1804?-1887. Saq ‘ala al-saq. English. IV. Title. V. Title: Turtle in the tree.

PJ7862.H48S213 2015

892.7’8503—dc23 2015021915

New York University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and their binding materials are chosen for strength and durability.

Series design and composition by Nicole Hayward

Typeset in Adobe Text

Manufactured in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


While I do not claim to be the first writer in the world to follow this path or thrust a pinch of it up the noses of those who pretend they are dozing, I do notice that all the authors in my bookcase are shackled to a single stylistic chain. . Once you’ve become familiar with one link of the chain, you feel as though you know all the others, so that each one of them may truly be called a chain-man, given that each has followed in the footsteps of the rest and imitated them closely. This being established, know that I have exited the chain, for I am no chain-man and will not form the rump of the line; nor do I have any desire to be at its front, for the latter is an even more calamitous place to be than the former.

— Leg over Leg (1.17.10)

For most Anglophone readers, this will be their first introduction to the writing of Fāris al-Shidyāq (later Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq, born in 1805 or 1806 and died in 1887), a foundational figure in Arabic literary modernity.1 For, although he is the author of at least four published works of literary prose, ten linguistic studies of Arabic, Turkish, English, and French, over 20,000 lines of poetry, and at least four unpublished manuscripts (not to mention his many translations, journalistic and critical essays, or those works that have been lost), his work has never appeared in English until now. For specialists in Arabic literature and many native readers of Arabic, however, he needs little introduction. As belletrist, poet, travel writer, translator, lexicographer, grammarian, literary historian, essayist, publisher, and newspaper editor, he is known as a pioneer of modern Arabic literature, a reviver of classical forms, the father of Arabic journalism, and no less than a modernizer of the Arabic language itself. His masterwork, Al-Sāq ʿalā l-sāq fī mā huwa al-Fāriyāq (Leg over Leg or the Turtle in the Tree concerning the Fāriyāq, What Manner of Creature Might He Be, 1855), is acknowledged as one of the most distinguished works of the nineteenth century and an inaugural text of Arab modernity. It is also among the most controversial: generically impossible to characterize, it is a critical, self-referential, learned, and irreverent book of observations on the lives and manners of “The Arabs and their Non-Arab Peers” that includes scathing attacks on authority, both ecclesiastical and worldly, as well as liberal and libertine discussions of relations between the sexes.

Yet, while virtually all studies of Arabic literature acknowledge his central place in literary history, the works of al-Shidyāq, as Nadia Al-Bagdadi writes, have largely been “merely read, but not seriously known” in Arabophone and Anglo-European academies alike.2 Although a growing number of essays on his work has been published in English, no monograph on his work has yet been written, and, although several biographies and studies exist in Arabic, his oeuvre was still so little known in 1995 that an edited volume of his selected works could be published in a series entitled Unknown Works.3 Leg over Leg itself has been seldom reprinted and often abridged (as often for moral as for aesthetic reasons), making a thorough study of its contents difficult. Moreover, it has suffered from more general scholarly neglect, as the nineteenth century has, until recently, remained one of the lesser-studied periods of Arabic literature. Known as the Nahḍah, a term derived from the verb meaning “to rise” or “to stand up,” it is commonly translated as the “awakening” or “revival” of Arabic literary culture — a flowering often attributed to the salutary influence of European culture, for which reason it has also been called the “Arab rediscovery of Europe,” beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798.4 Following a clearly Eurocentric paradigm, scholarship has tended for many years to emphasize the innovative aspects of the period — most notably the introduction of European genres and styles — and to sideline works following classical models, as well as works that fall between the two. Works such as Leg over Leg have been overlooked by those scholars who have seen it as a transitional curiosity between the “intellectually frivolous” and decadent post-classical literary age and the twentieth-century flowering of the modern novel.5

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