You can edit almost every page by Creating an account. Otherwise, see the FAQ.

Imitation From Greek Culture to Arabic Literature

From EverybodyWiki Bios & Wiki

Imitation is a foundational concept in the creation and study of literature. The fundamental assumptions embedded in imitation create a distinct and divisive method of perception. Imitation requires a basic belief in separation: appearance apart from reality, form apart from content. Literary works possess a dual existence, where the surface becomes most useful in its ability to reveal the substance contained within. Because the truth remains concealed, it can only be discerned or discovered through imitation. Thus, imitation exists as an intermediary in a variety of artistic representations, each aspiring for an accurate depiction of meaning, perhaps even the basic truths of human existence.

The term "imitation" is not prominent in the vocabulary of criticism today. In such use as it still has, it serves to segregate the bad from the good in art rather more frequently than to set the boundaries of art. Yet as late as the eighteenth century, imitation was the mark and differentia of the arts, or at least of some of them. To the critics of that century, literature and painting were imitative arts, and it was still important to debate whether or not music was an art of imitation. The term had begun to slip into disrepute in writings on the philosophy of art even before critics of art found it cumbersome or inappropriate, and substitutes for it with more familiar philosophic justification have long since been found, if it does occasionally return to use, with the proper protection of a warning that it does not mean literal representation of its object, it is seldom extended to include music or literature.

At a larger perspective we can say that the use of the term has decreased but the meaning of it still remains intact as new replacements are being emerged for it. The argument for its application in different forms of arts remains an untrodden area of discussion and need further grounds to elaborate it.

Aristotle and Poetics

In the opening sentence of the 'Poetics', Aristotle tells us that he is going to deal with poetry itself, its kinds and their powers, and so on. He then turns to a discussion of imitation or representation. Thereafter the treatise is an examination of imitation in general and in certain of its forms, namely tragedy and epic. We are thus led to believe that, for Aristotle, poetry is imitation, or that this is his answer to the question “what is poetry? This is indeed what scholars have thought.

As being one of the most prominent works of Aristotle there are a series of arguments related to it and some high profiled critic commentary regarding it. Some being in its support and some discarding it completely, on the whole, the academic arena of Greek philosophy and literature is filled with Aristotelian information, be it its translation, its commentary, etc.

Some critics agree that imitation for Aristotle is of actions, but they also argue that the word 'actions' must have a very broad sense as it is used in the 'Poetics': An act viewed merely as an external process or result, one of a series of outward phenomena, is not the true object of aesthetic imitation. The art seeks to reproduce is mainly an inward process, a psychical energy working outwards; everything that expresses the mental life, that reveals a rational personality, will fall within this larger sense of 'action'. From which all the arts draw is human life, its mental processes, its spiritual movements, its outward acts issuing from deeper sources; in a word, all that constitutes the inward and essential activity of soul.

Aristotle’s ‘mimesis’ does not refer to the imitation of idea and appearances, like that of Plato. He argues that each area of knowledge is imitation in the sense that as a human being we all learn through imitation. However, he carefully makes a distinction between different kinds of knowledge. For instance, he claims that art and philosophy deal with different kind of truth; philosophy deals with concrete and absolute truth, whereas art deals with aesthetic and universal truth. The difference, for instance, between mimetic poetry and history is stated as ‘one writes about what has actually happened, while the other deals with what might happen’. Art, unlike science, doesn’t abstract universal form but imitates the form of individual things and unites the separate parts presenting what is universal and particular. Therefore, the function of poetry is not to portray what has happened but to portray what may have happened in accord with the principle of probability and necessity. Since poetry deals with universal truth, history considers only particular facts; poetry is more philosophical and deserves more serious attention. In addition, aesthetic representation of reality is not technical, factual, philosophical, and historical.

Imitation and aesthetics

A good many aestheticians, ' symbolist ' poets and critics most notably, seek to maintain the widest possible gulf between the language of philosophy, science and plain description of the world on the one hand, and the language of poetry on the other. Ideally, on their view, poetry should approximate to the art of the dancer.[1] Leaving the aestheticians for the moment, and turning to the philosophers, we find quite a few writers recently suggesting that metaphysics is ' a kind of poetry ' or at least that there are strong and illuminating analogies between the two. Like poetry, we are told; metaphysics can provide ways of seeing the world afresh. Both crucially employ revealing paradoxes, and in each a vital part is played.[2]

The Poetics in its Logical Context

The inclusion of the Poetics in the logical curriculum of late-antique Greek and Syriac texts is well attested. As early as A.D. 500, Ammonius’s commentary on the Analytica Priora included a statement to the effect that logic is divided into two major divisions: the syllogistic (including the apodictic, dialectical, and sophistical) and the asyllogistic (including the non-metrical rhetorical logic, and the metrical poetic logic).[3] This statement can be well proven by what al Imām AhmedAS has stated in Ikhwān al Ṣafā’ that the logical sciences are of five kinds :[4] poetics, rhetoric, topics, analytics, and sophistry.[5] By these two commentaries it can be well said that poetics is an essential part of logical science and it is more evident for a literary work to be more logical.

Arabic culture and their take on Imitation

There are a plethora of books on Arabic literary criticism all hovering around the main focal point of how to determine the good from the bad. Which is the aim of imitation in contemporary literary criticism studies, as discussed earlier.

Jāḥiẓ Kitāb Bayān wa Tabyīn

It is his four-volume treatise of Bayān (expression) and Tabyīn (discernment) that will serve as the basic foundation for the poetics of Jāḥiẓ. Though he did not dedicate a separate work to poetics, many of the thoughts that are relevant to the matter and structure of poetry can be recovered from this great miscellany, which seems “to consist of a loose collection of quotations; anecdotes, witticisms, fragments of poetry, inter larded with remarks by the author himself.”[6] The vagrancy of the text does not necessarily equate to a lack in underlying thematic coherency; the Kitāb Bayān wa Tabyīn is, at its core, a defense and development of the notion of Arabic eloquence, and secondarily, a “response to the shuʿūbi [non-Arabic, including Greek and Persian language] attack on Arabic oratory.”[7] To defend Arabic against the other language traditions, it is necessary not only to establish a canon of authenticated poetry, but also to establish a method of discerning just what makes a certain literary or oral work superior. In so doing, the groundwork is laid for a much larger program, one that essentially allows for the differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ use of language. We see a great example of his use of the term tamyīz (distinguish), interestingly enough, when he is discussing the literary value of Aristotle. Jāḥiẓ “observes of Aristotle that ‘the master of logic was himself a man of few words, not known for eloquence, even though he was versed in discernment of discourse, its divisions, meanings and characteristics.[8] It is clear in this context that Jāḥiẓ’s tamyīz is a function of the critic that has nothing to do with authentication, but rather to do with the assessment of the quality of speech and writing. Aristotle and his thoughts about language and speech (particularly logical and dialectical discourse) were certainly in the background behind much of Jāḥiẓ’s work. Some have also suggested that the Kitāb Bayān wa Tabyīn was informed to a large degree by Aristotelian rhetoric.[9]

Qudāma b. Jaʿfer Kitāb Naqd al-Shʿair

The ideas introduced by Qudāma b. Jaʿfer in the Kitāb Naqd al-Shʿair (The Criticism of Poetry) represented both a continuation and a break from the tradition of Arabic poetics. The very first lines of Qudāma’s work boldly mark out a new discipline for the science of discerning good poetry from bad. There are five divisions to the study of poetry: its prosody and meter; rhyme and internal rhyme; lexicography and language; meaning and intention; and its goodness and badness.[10] Since people have written extensively about the first four of these divisions, but not about the last, which he sees to be the most foundational of the lot, he has taken on the responsibility himself.[11] A whole section is devoted to exposing the bad qualities of poetry, the ʿuyūb. In this section on the general flaws incurred in meaning, he mentions corrupted categorization (fasād al-qism), the unnecessary repetition of an entity that is contained in the definition of the previous entity. he gives the following line as an example:

لله نعمتنا تبارك ربنا * رب الانام ورب من يتأبد

Qudāma argues that the poet could only have desired the particular (man) in the second line to indicate a rational human being, since the particle man is not applied to animals that don’t have the ability to speak. Therefore, we have an unnecessary redundancy in the second line, since man yataʾabbadu(“he who endures”) is already included within the logical category of mankind. It is worth noting how in this example alone Qudāma employs a grammatical argument, that informs a logical argument, that ultimately informs an aesthetic argument. This complicated nexus of grammar, logic, and literary criticism, was hardly confined to Qudāma’s work, but rather became a ubiquitous and pervasive part of Arabic intellectual life in the 4th/10th -7th/13th centuries.[12]


  1. Arthur Symons, quoted by Frank Kermode, Romantic Image, (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), p. 73
  2. Hepburn, R. (1958). Literary and Logical Analysis. The Philosophical Quarterly, 344
  3. Black, D. (1990). Logic and Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics in medieval Arabic philosophy, p. 31.
  4. The five sciences making up the logical group actually correspond to the five types of syllogism as inherited from Aristotle, in the following order: poetical (imagination), rhetorical (persuasion), dialectical (presumption), demonstrative (certitude), and sophistical (falsehood). On this, see Baffioni, On Logic, p.3
  5. Prof. Carmela Baffioni, On Logic: An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistles 10-14, p. 110, The institute of Ismaili Studies, (Oxford University Press).
  6. Van Gelder, G. J. H. Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherenceand Unity of the Poem. Leiden: Brill, 1982, p. 37
  7. Ouyang, Wen-chin. Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture: The Makingof a Tradition. Edinburgh, 1997, p. 103.
  8. JāḥiẓKitābBayānwaTabyīn, vol.3 pg. 27
  9. “The absence of any hard, philological evidences that Jāḥiẓ quoted Aristotle’s Rhetoric in Arabic does not rule out the possibility that he may have been familiar with the ideas which this work represents.” Montgomery James. The Vagaries of the Qaṣīdah: The Tradition and Practice of Early Arabic Poetry. Cambridge, 1997, p. 101.
  10. It is worth noting here that these are the principals laid by Imām AhmedAS in the Epistles of Logic, they have not been laid down together but can be identified out in various texts of the Epistles.
  11. Qudāma b. Jaʿfer,Kitāb Naqd al-Shʿair p. 1-2.
  12. Also refer the book of Ibn QutaybahKitāb al shʿairwashoʿarā’, His first requirement in determining which poetry is of value, then, is whether its composer was one of “the famous ones,” one who would be “known by the best of the men on letters,” and secondarily, if it “has some value for lexicography or grammar or deciphering the Holy Book and ḥadīth of the Prophet.

This article "Imitation From Greek Culture to Arabic Literature" is from Wikipedia. The list of its authors can be seen in its historical and/or the page Edithistory:Imitation From Greek Culture to Arabic Literature. Articles copied from Draft Namespace on Wikipedia could be seen on the Draft Namespace of Wikipedia and not main one.