It Came from Arabia: Genres Born in the Middle East

I’ve got five more weeks of school, which means I’ve got five more weeks in which to find a job so I don’t wind up starving to death or throwing garbage at people outside the Tedeschi. In light of that, I’m asking for your forbearance. I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule in a month, I promise. In the meantime, here’s something I put together for my advanced writing class last semester.


Arabian literature

Largely unknown to Western audiences, the Arabian literary tradition is nevertheless a long and colorful one. Indeed, though many Americans may not be able to name a single work of Arabic fiction, most will be familiar with these genres invented in the Middle East.

Layla and Majnun

Tragic romance

The story of Layla and Majnun hails from the 7th century and shares many features in common with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In fact, a French translation of Layla and Majnun is said by some scholars to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Unlike their Elizabethan counterparts, Layla and Majnun never marry or consummate their love. Like Romeo and Juliet, however, they meet with a tragic end.

The Three Apples

Murder mystery

“The Three Apples” is one of the 1001 stories Scheherazade tells her husband to forestall her execution. This mystery tale centers on a caliph named Harun al-Rashid, who purchases a locked chest from a local fisherman. Opening the chest and discovering a dismembered female corpse inside, the caliph instructs his vizier, Ja’far, to solve the riddle of the woman’s murder. Plot twists abound in what is arguably history’s oldest detective story.

Theologus Autodidactus

Science fiction

The science fiction genre is often considered a product of the Victorian period, but Theologus Autodidactus predates that era by several centuries. Ibn al-Nafis’ 13th century story uses spontaneous generation, futurology, and apocalyptic themes as a vehicle for the author’s knowledge of science and sociology. Translated into English in the 1900’s, the work was discovered to include accurate descriptions of the human metabolism and pulmonary circulation.

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