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An Ayyubid Renaissance: Saladin, from Knighthood to Nahda.

This article explores Arabic treatments, including translations, of Walter Scott's Talisman in the years 1890-1920, a span of time critical to the Nahda, or "Arab Renaissance." It argues that Arab authors and translators saw didactic potential in modern English literature about the Crusades, which scholarship on Arabic has tended to neglect. Ya'qub Sarruf, Najlb al-Haddad, and Farah Antun used Scott's literature of moral values and produced political, ethical instructions for a growing Arab public sphere. Their work with chivalry and the Crusades compels us to review the idea of Arabic adab, whose customary translation as belles-lettres proves insufficient as we closely read didactic literature.


In the fields of Middle East Studies and literary history, we take it as given that writers of the Nahda era (the "Arab Renaissance," ca. 1830-1940) sought to educate their readers with belleslettres. These intellectuals working in late-Ottoman Egypt and the Levant were consciously didactic. Translating and adapting European literature into Arabic, while also composing original works of drama, poetry, fiction, and argumentative prose, they knew that the burgeoning Arabic press would allow them to reach many generations of readers, the population of which noticeably grew in the early twentieth century. (1) Since their project concluded, though, scholars have been insufficiently clear on what kinds of teaching these Nahda writers wished to accomplish. The present article seeks to address that problem by examining one of the favored motifs of the era, namely the Crusades in historical fiction.

By examining Arabic translations and adaptations of Walter Scott's 1825 novel The Talisman, a cornerstone of historical fiction on the Middle Ages, I hope to illustrate some of the ethical range of Arabic didactic literature and theater. (2) The conceptual limits we have thus far imposed on the Nahda's educational program are unnecessarily restrictive, and this article seeks to push these limits outward. The authors and translators at the center of this study are Najlb al-Haddad (1867-1899), Ya'qub Sarruf (1852-1927), and Farah Antun (1874-1922). I argue that they saw in Scott's chivalric concept the potential for a new medieval court. Even in the ferment of a developing print culture, mass readership, and nationalism, the icon of the court could compel an audience. For these three writers, the discourse between knights, on either side of the Crusades' imaginary front lines, could teach modern Arabs about identity, language, politics, and social behavior--a didactic project minimally explored in literary histories of modern Arabic yet extremely important to the literature itself. All three authors, most notably Sarruf, were attentive to the power of translation to marshal Crusades-themed discourse. But this new version of courtly ideology takes full shape, I argue, in theatrical performance, a specialty of al-Haddad and Antun.

Crusades-themed literature gained the favor of bourgeois Arab audiences from about 1890 onward. Prior to that, the martial, diplomatic, and cultural aspects of counter-crusading had been related in Arabic through Classical historical accounts; poetry; semi-anthropological anecdotes; and the sira or folk epic, especially the Syrian-Egyptian saga glorifying the Mamluk king al-Zahir Bay bars's (1223-1277) military exploits. Although Baybars had been his own subject of Romance-language lyric and narrative in the century after his reign, it was his gloried predecessor from a century before, Saladin (1137-1193), who became synonymous with the chivalry and diplomacy of the late Middle Ages (see Jubb; O'Callaghan 20). Saladin's Latinized persona, who innately understood all fellow knights regardless of their origin, fascinated European audiences from the end of the Middle Ages through late modernity. With the translation movement of the Nahda, Arab writers well acquainted with Saladin's historical identity recognized the instrumental value of this more fanciful version of the sultan. They identified Saladin, the boundary-crossing chivalric figure in European discourse, as a means by which they could recast purportedly medieval ideals as a uniquely modern instructional, artistic spectacle. With his courtliness, masculinity, strategic intelligence, and Classical Arabic education, Saladin made the perfect center-point around which Nahda writers could build exemplary courts for their audiences. Along with his courtiers, and at times together with antagonistic Crusaders, Saladin embodied and updated the concept of adab, one of the most richly multivalent terms in Arabic. Adab has, throughout its centuries of usage, encompassed literature, erudition, moral behavior, and a whole range of courtly ideals from the Classical tradition. For the Nahda, it was flexible while still appearing monolithic and thus ideologically useful. Creating fictional and theatrical scenes of its practice at court was a way to bridge European historical fiction with Classical Arabic discourse and, ultimately, the dynamic category of Arab modernity. This article will first attempt to historicize adab, then explicate Nahda-era techniques both for reworking Scott's Crusades model and for designing new courts to edify their late-colonial audiences. I argue that Nahda writers provided their audiences with a form of ethical training well beyond the education work that scholars have generally attributed to modern, secular Arabic literature. The Middle Ages represent not so much a vague backdrop to the Nahda's innovations, but instead a critical, operative tool for developing literate national subjects.

Cultures of Performance

Two moments in Arab modernity inform this article's approach to the Nahda. One is an event in the history of theater, the other is a recent critical intervention in World Literature studies. Both instances are attempts to understand adab.

Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, Najib al-Haddad's adaptation of The Talisman, debuted in 1893 at Egypt's Royal Opera House, though we learn more about its impact from North African theater. In the years 1911 to 1913, a new troupe formed in Tunisia, and would go on to lay a substantial part of the foundation of modern drama throughout the region. Its members chose to call their new company al-Adab al-'Arabiyyah. Adab, the plural of adab, is used most commonly in the moral, behavioral register of possible meanings, thus we might think of the name as the Arab Values Troupe. As with much of the Maghreb region during the advent of national independence, urban scholars and arts collectives in Tunis were keen to engage the Arabic literary activity of the Levant, which they viewed as providing theoretical blueprints on the larger movement toward self-rule (Kannun 17). By calling itself al-Adab al-'Arabiyya, this company was appealing to Arabic as a set of geographically wide cultural mores and as a formal educational ideal that would benefit an emerging nation. Al-Adab al-'Arabiyya had broken off from an earlier group, al-Shahama al-'Arabiyya (Arab Valor), and succeeded where its predecessor had foundered: Salah al-Din al-Ayyubl became the first Arabic-language play to be staged in any Tunisian permanent theater space. Then, in the 1920s, Moroccan and Sudanese institutions followed suit, casting nationalist figures and elite school children in productions of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi. (3) All this took placeduring a time when Arabic-language formal theater was a rarity in the region. The late-colonial era of performance arts in the Maghreb and Sudan, as they promoted Arabic literature among the emergent bourgeoisie, represents a wide and largely unexplored space for critical study. This article will excavate discrete elements of that theater via al-Haddad's script for Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, but future archival research on the regional productions themselves would galvanize the fields of Arabic, Performance Studies, and Comparative Literature.

In that Tunisian theatrical opening, we might imagine how the director, cast, and audience mentally connected their modern sense of adab with the overall mission of the troupe, and ultimately with the dramatic personas of the knights occupying the stage. Since the reign of Salah al-Din or Saladin, European poets, fabulists, and authors of instructive prose wrestled with the sultan's dual identity as a fierce antagonist to Crusader armies and his reputation as a compunctious, highly moral knight. The complex version of Saladin to emerge in late modernity proved extraordinarily useful to Arab writers like al-Haddad, reading from that literary tradition while, at the same time, familiar with the reverent chronicle-style Classical Arabic adab practiced by Saladin's contemporaries and near-contemporaries. (4) Al-Haddad, a Francophile and avid student of English literature, was one in a series of Arab playwrights and translators to adapt from predominantly European chivalric fiction. Why is this courtly, dramatic version of the sultan so appropriate, at least in the eyes of the paradigmatic Tunisian troupe, for the project of cultivating adab on stage? How does al-Haddad, along with several fellow giants of the Arab Renaissance (hereafter the Nahda), construct a literary audience in the process of literary translation and adaptation? (5)

It is not coincidental that Michael Allan's article "How Adab Became Literary," the second discursive moment informing the present study, deals with al-Haddad's era and specifically with the intellectual community that subsequent scholars label the Nahda. Allan traces debates over adab and the term's protean nature in late modernity. The most important, contentious claim in his study, especially for our purposes here, is that authors and critics' attempt to define and promote adab pivots on the question of how audiences should read Arabic texts, rather than any specific content that would distinguish a text as literary. From Nahda figureheads such as Husayn al-Marsaft and Jurji Zaydan to Orientalists like H. A. R. Gibb, critical interventions on adab consistently take a curricular shape. Allan notes that "the distinction between theory and pedagogy, between literary history and the question of what is literature, gets entirely blurred" (182). Reading for an ethical understanding of adab vis-a-vis World Literature, he concludes that the thinkers who comprised, and commented upon, the Nahda had developed ideas of literariness, not so much as a fixed object within a text but instead as a disciplining tool for readers. In other words, at the nucleus of modern adab discourse are the goals of official institutions of reading and critique, seeking to produce national readers. Because adab is so prevalent a term in the Classical Arabic tradition, Allan cautions us not to assume that the late-modern link between adab and literariness has held a stable, single position over centuries nor even decades. And, most germane to the present article, he reminds us how critics and literary commentators across language traditions can scarcely help but prescribe in some way what it is that makes a fit reader, even when they do so subconsciously and against any populist inclinations that they might have.

With these two historical and conceptual interventions in mind, my goal is to turn from theory to the prescriptive potential within the dynamic literary category to which Allan alludes, and especially such potential in translation and performance. The theoretical texts of interest to Allan argue with one another, gesturing toward ideal readerships, while the self-consciously fictional works of Arab Renaissance literature do parallel work. Their methods and goals differ, but fiction writers and translators at the turn of the century were altogether sensitive to the institutional pressure that we now associate with World Literature (Al-Baghdadi 446). In other words, they responded to very much the same sorts of mandates under which Allan's theorists and educators were writing, in order to shape communities of literate, literary citizens. Among their varying techniques for this project, I wish to focus upon their crafting of Crusades-themed dramas. ("Crafting" here acts as an umbrella term, to mean both translation and the composition of new works that clearly adapt preexisting pieces of World Literature.) My contention is that major writers in the Nahda period were less interested in the Crusades as a set of wars or a cultural intermingling than as a potential disciplining experience for a modern Arab audience. While an Arab middle class emerged in the advent of national independence, its members were beginning to see their history anew, a revision that included the era of Islamic empires. In the early twentieth century, writers imbued the dramatic text with entertaining but nonetheless heavily didactic performances of adab. Their project has drawn more attention for its use of the burgeoning field of translated European literature rather than their didactic style of theater, but I argue that the cosmopolitan nature of the Nahda contributes to these prescriptive performances of the Classical Arabic tradition.

In al-Haddad's concept, and yet more pointedly for that of his contemporary Farah Antun, the ideological value of the Crusades went beyond the fact that they had ultimately failed against Muslim armies--even though that was key to the production of hugely popular heroic stories in Post-Classical Arabic (Sublet 144-50). Nahda writers felt compelled to fictionalize the Crusades because they noticed the productive ways in which European writers had fetishized the protracted battle for Jerusalem. Those fetishes centered around chivalry, and Scott's Talisman memorably put them into service for English sovereignty, which he depicted as badly tested, both by other European kingdoms and by Richard Lionheart's immoderate shows of bravery. When the novel was first translated and published by Sarruf in the Egyptian press during the years 1886-1887, al-Haddad and Antun appreciated how much language Scott dedicated to praising knights, the intricate depiction of their physical comportment, and the diplomatic abilities of a great knight like Saladin, whose persona in The Talisman models the intercultural sensibility of an idealized, cosmopolitan translator. To Scott, the Crusades represented "exploits of national knight-errantry ... undertaken on the very principles which actuated the conduct of individual knights adventurers" (Miscellaneous Prose Works 1:25-26), in other words, a noble undertaking doomed to failure by a lack of unity among Christian knighthoods. The spectacle of knights in contention with one another, and Scott's notion that Saladin needed to teach his European adversaries some of the finer points of chivalry, fascinated Arab elites in the Nahda. As a growing press, academic institutions, and diplomacy spurred the translation of a wide array of European literature during the late Ottoman and Mandate periods, al-Haddad and a handful of other Arab dramatists saw those Crusades tropes as the material for a new adab of courtliness--historical dramatic fiction, part translation, part adaptation. (6) For these dramatic pioneers, the very act of assembling audiences, whether as individual readers or as theater-going communities, became a question of how to reshape courtly displays of high culture into a modern virtue. Although European literary cliches of the knighthood transferred only awkwardly into Arabic drama, they offered Nahda writers a tool for conceptual bridge-building. Employing creative narratives of the Crusades, these litterateurs connected three facets of emergent Arab modernity: the glories of an imagined Middle Ages; the colonial present moment; and, probably most important to their audience, a national, literate future.

Refiguring The Talisman and Saladin

Critics of modern Arabic literature tend to view Nahda-era translations and dramatic works as the prelude to a more robust, interesting phase of fiction writing, especially the development of the novel. The theory holds that these pieces of historical fiction have primitive beginnings, despite the intellectual prowess of their authors. Al-Haddad's 1893 script for Salah al-Din alAyyubi and Sarruf's 1896-1897 Talisman translation are held up as examples of this inchoate literary movement, which would gradually acquire more sophistication in the two decades following. Antun's play, first published in 1914, but especially Jurji Zaydan's 1913 novel Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (a project he initiated as early as 1891, and now in translation as Saladin and the Assassins), receive higher praise than their predecessors. Recalling the Tunisian debut of al-Haddad's play, 1913 clearly seems to represent a climactic moment of press and theatrical activity around Crusades fiction in Arabic. But the fact that Zaydan's effort now towers over those of his colleagues in the critical imagination, hailed as the telos of Nahda historical fiction and as a bold imagining of Arab nationalism while almost no current scholarship focuses on the other works mentioned here, speaks to the shortcomings of our historiography. Neither the overlapping artistic events of 1913, nor the entire span of forty years when Saladin fiction fascinated late-colonial Arab readers and theatergoers, are well understood now as the results of an intertextual process. From a critical standpoint, the merits of any single work are less important than is the conversation between artistic forms, texts, authors, performers, and audiences. (7) Although Zaydan is indeed a towering figure among writers of the Nahda, and his fictional work with Saladin deserves the lengthy study it has received, the translation and dramatic composition that preceded his novel can hardly be characterized as mere preambles to his accomplishment. As I will demonstrate, translation and dramatic composition occupied their own central position in the formation of Arab historical consciousness leading to national independence. They were not prefatory at all in their moment. It follows that we will not fully recognize their epistemological role without moving away from lingering academic biases towards Arabic fiction, which valorize composition over translation and the early novel over early drama.

The first example of Crusades-related historical fiction I wish to discuss vividly illustrates these academic tendencies to minimize the aesthetic worth of Nahda-era translation. Despite the fame of the translator Ya'qub Sarruf himself, the text Qalb al-asad ("Lionheart," his 1897 translation of The Talisman) receives minimal treatment from critics, on the grounds that its abridgements indicate a lack of depth. No less prominent a source than the Encyclopaedia of Islam calls Sarruf a purveyor of second-rate fictional prose. In the encyclopedia's entry on the novel form, Orientalist Charles Vial criticizes Sarruf as an exemplar of the "translation-adaptation" trend, which produced light entertainment, to Vial's mind--intellectually flimsy material, even while clearly didactic. Vial concludes that the digests and serial translations that Sarruf and his contemporaries made of European stories had the cumulative effect of hampering more sophisticated forms of creative prose writing during the early twentieth century (Vial n. pag.). Other major critics, like Matti Moosa and Roger Allen, echo Vial, although they are milder in their assessment of the translation movement. More recently, Sarruf has been reappraised, a welcome move, although his empirical writing attracts much more scholarly attention than does his work with narrative fiction. (8) It is true that Sarruf was best known for his science-oriented journalism, specifically his establishment of the influential journal al-Muqtataf and the arguments he composed on scientific theory. He was one of the Arab public sphere's major champions of Darwinism, both on questions of natural history and of human social trends. But he was also a significant figure among fiction writers at the turn of the twentieth century. He and al-Haddad worked with The Talisman contemporaneously, although evidence of discussions they might have had on their respective projects seems to be lacking. Antun saw Sarruf as foundational, not just as a thinker in the public sphere but specifically in his capacity as a translator. (9)

In 1900, three years after al-Muqtataf had published it in serial form, Qalb al-asad appeared as a bound book. Its juxtaposition of King Richard Lionheart with the Sultan Saladin intersected with the political trends of the moment. Kaiser Wilhelm had just visited Damascus in 1898, famously praising the sultan as "a fearless knight, beyond reproof, who often had to teach true chivalry to his [own] enemies" (Mohring 122; my translation). During this moment, in which Arabs were becoming increasingly aware of how potent a fictional figure Saladin was for their European neighbors, the Arabic press saw the opportunity to revisit Crusades historiography. Sarruf offered a digest of Scott's complex martial story, highlighting the two contrasting chivalric figures of Richard Lionheart and Saladin. The great sultan secures the loyalty of his Muslim armies with righteous violence: When subjects in his kingdom became treasonous, "greed having corrupted their ethics [adabahum] and weakened their integrity, his sword made an example of them" (Qalb al-asad 27). He wins the courtly friendship of Richard with the palliative powers of courtly actions, for he smuggles a magical talisman behind enemy lines, applying its healing properties to the ailing crusader-king.

Antun lauded Sarruf's work in a brief commentary-cum-promotion appearing in the periodical al-Jami'a. So famous was Sarruf, Antun claimed, that "the writer/translator's name needs no description or praise.... We urge teachers and parents to place this edifying novel in the hands of their students and their children; they will learn valor [al-shahama] and courage from it" ("Al-Taqriz" 419). In addition to the price, which Antun makes sure to point out is easily affordable, note his use of al-shahama as an enticement. As we saw with the Tunisian theater troupe from which al-Adab al-'Arabiyyah sprang, Antun selects shahama for its martial undertones and its strong association with chivalry. (10)

Antun had ample motive for framing the Sarruf translation as a tool for teaching morals. Even though the play that Antun would later write on the Crusades, Al-Sultan Salah ai-Din wa-mamlakat urshalim, imagines the relationship between Saladin and Richard very differently, the common thread between it and Qalb al-asad is that they present an ideal medieval ruler as modeling key aspects of statesmanship across historical epochs. In The Talisman, Richard, who had fallen ill, recovers with the help of medicine surreptitiously delivered by Saladin across enemy lines. When Richard mounts his horse in front of his armies to show his strength, Sarruf poses Christian knights in conversation next to him, contemplating the essence of kingship. Swearing to avenge Richard against any courtiers who might have sought advantage over him during his illness, they describe the true king as qa'iduna wa-imamuna--two synonyms for "our leader" but, idiomatically, "our leader and imam" (Qalb al-asad 120). Without calling attention to this move, Sarruf blurs the lines between Christian and Islamic forms of authority, and the division of power between king and clergy. Therefore, when these knights promise to purge the court of disloyal subjects, they are cleansing the court as a functional and moral space. The universal quality of Sarruf's fictional sovereign figure encompasses chivalric virtues and the overarching pious ideals of Islam and Christianity, regardless of the particular king's religious affiliation. As we will see subsequently, even as Anton applauded Sarruf's moral vocabulary and the broad ethical vision of kingship in Qalb al-asad, he would ultimately diverge from its universalist approach.

For Scott and then for Sarruf, the most pitched struggle that gave meaning to other struggles within the court was that which went on in the background of individual knights' struggles, that is to say, the large-scale hostilities of the Crusades. Providing a panoptic, novelistic (but vague) overview of the struggle for Jerusalem and the Levantine coast, Scott seeks to showcase the intimacy of Richard Lionheart's special rapport with Saladin. By the logic of Crusades chivalry, which Scott reconstructs from a long set of European legendary narratives, Richard and Saladin are not just kings by birth but also exemplar-knights by their comportment (Irwin qtd. in Bentley 141-42). Scott extends that near-hagiographic treatment. In his introduction to the novel, he explains how his research in European sources led him to the conclusion that the English king needed refinement at the hands of his Kurdish peer:

Richard I, wild and generous, a pattern of chivalry, with all its extravagant virtues, and its no less absurd errors, was opposed to that of Saladin, in which the Christian and English monarch showed all the cruelty and violence of an Eastern sultan, and Saladin, on the other hand, displayed the deep policy and prudence of a European sovereign, whilst each contended which should excel the other in the knightly qualities of bravery and generosity. (Redgauntlet 520)

Saladin's act of donning disguises in order to be ferried into Richard's camp is probably the most starkly individual, subtle chivalric move in the narrative, a motif of benevolent spycraft much employed in European Saladinic legends since the end of the Middle Ages. When he and Richard speak to each other, their measured discourse maintains a delicate intimacy in their shared courtly moments. Scott, in turn, does not allow the reader to forget that scores of commoners wait to hear their commands. Meanwhile, less wise leaders in the campaign, particularly Germans and Austrians, quarrel and allow their differences to seep into the lower ranks. Their followers drink excessively, the disheveled Christian masses growing "more noisy and intrusive than they were permitted to be in better regulated society" (Talisman 104). One of the only characters who tests Richard's sense of reserve is Archduke Leopold of Austria, who leads a drinking party and "makes with his pot-companions some procession through the camp." Below is the king's response, in the original and Sarruf's translation:

"The drunken fool!" exclaimed King Richard; "can he not keep his brutal inebriety within the veil of his pavilion, that he must needs show his shame to all Christendom?" (110)

[phrase omitted]

Sarruf's tendency to simplify The Talisman's, flowery language is well documented. It provides a basis for much of the disparagement his translation has received, which we noted earlier, and it reinforces Anton's characterization of Qalb al-asad as an educational text for minors. Here, Richard's quip that Leopold will "show his shame to all Christendom" comes out in Sarruf's text as "yaj'al nafsahu udhuka bi-1-nas," meaning simply "he makes himself a laughingstock among the people." But the economy of Qalb al-asad becomes yet starker just after that narrative moment, when Richard desecrates the Austrian banner. Aghast that an Austrian (or a German, since both of those armies marched together to Palestine) had planted Leopold's banner at equal height to the English one, Richard stands before the entire retinue so that he might trample the Austrian flag in spectacular fashion. "Is there a knight among your Teutonic chivalry dare impeach my deed?," he asks them. The narrator points out that the silence lasted only briefly, for "there are no braver men than the Germans" (113). Sarruf translates Richard's challenge as

[phrase omitted]

That is, "Will any of your knights challenge me for what I've done?" Qalb al-asad also omits any such description of the German forces as the world's bravest. So, although Antun promotes the book as offering lessons on chivalry, SarrOf makes an effort to tone down The Talisman s most strident, specific remarks on the qualities of the ideal knight, as well as Scott's pointed references to the discrete communities from which knights are chosen. Qalb al-asad manages to be simultaneously instructional and paratactic, simplifying Scott's convoluted narrative and appealing to a youthful audience outside of al-Muqtataf s adult core readership.

In the same era of Qalb al-asad's serial publication and the collection of its installments into a bound book, Antun and al-Haddad attempted to reshape legends of the Second Crusade in the minds of nascent Arab bourgeois communities. Sarruf had succeeded in communicating the essential Scottian story, wherein Saladin functions as a kind of tutor to European knights, even to Richard himself, perfecting the manners and morals of the English court amidst the bellicosity of the armies themselves. For the elite of the Arabic press, the mere fact of Sarruf's translation had subtly domesticated The Talisman as a kind of adab. He had achieved this both by establishing an episodic rhythm in the installments that originally appeared in al-Muqtataf and by Arabizing the ethical rules by which knights operated in the fictional Crusades. Terms like shahama and adab were not static or mimeographic labels for Scott's own images of the ideal medieval knighthood, but instead distinctly Arab prescriptive words for how intelligent people should behave and speak. (11) Finally, Sarruf's episodic organization of The Talisman in Arabic is at least as important as his terminology. Much as the wide swath of theater companies to produce al-Haddad's play tells us that elite Arabs were interested in seeing Saladin legends performed, al-Muqtataf s popularity suggests that The Talisman kept its new Arab readers engaged over many weeks. (12) As we now move on to drama readings, it is worth considering precisely how al-Haddad and Antun exploited the growing appreciation for Saladin's chivalric legend, which had also enjoyed extraordinary longevity in Romance and Germanic languages.

Performative Contradictions: Crusader Adab

We have seen Sarruf s technique of muting The Talisman's, grandiose language, a move that also effaces the translator's own ideology. Sarruf's translation gains more potency from the overall activity around The Talisman and Crusades literature generally than it does from the durable, fixed object of his text. Most importantly, his work acquires new political significance as part of the Nahda's nationalist curriculum, in which Antun enthusiastically placed it with his praise of Sarruf in al-Muqtataf. Sarruf would not have described his work as subversive to European hegemony, especially that of the British, given his sympathetic stance toward colonialism in Egypt (Elshakry 94-97). Al-Haddad and Antun, on the other hand, saw in the multicultural appeal of chivalry an avenue by which to promote Arabness. They magnified Saladin as an awe-inspiring stage presence. Each of the two plays showcases conspicuously different versions of martial high culture in Arabic. Al-Haddad's composition hews closely to the imaginative territory of Scott and Sarruf, adapting The Talisman's, set of durable Crusades legends, especially that of Saladin's secret mission to heal Richard in Ascalon. By contrast, Anton's al-Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem) portrays the royal Ayyubid court mostly as a strategic space, where Muslim elites mentally comprehend Jerusalem and its soon-to-be-ousted Crusading rulers. What they share in common is their appropriation of Scott's overall ethical vision. It fascinated them that Scott, following his antecedent litterateurs in European modernity, would pose Saladin in an instructional role vis-a-vis his putative enemies in the Crusader courts, showing Richard and his followers true practices of the chivalric code. Al-Haddad reproduced that action fairly faithfully; Antun, as we will see, turned it into a lesson imparted on the Muslim masses.

In the all-important encounter between the two kings--Richard ailing, Saladin masquerading as a doctor from the Ayyubid high court in order to deliver the talismanic cure--al-Haddad writes Saladin's dialogue as a lesson to both Muslims and Christians. Diverging slightly from The Talisman's account, al-Haddad's script has the great court writer 'Imad al-Din al-Isfahanl accompanying the sultan into enemy territory. When the great Scotsman William receives them, warning them that he suspects them of plotting to kill Richard rather than heal him, he makes the mistake of referring to Saladin as a haqir, or low-life. 'Imad al-Din allows his anger to get the better of him:

[phrase omitted]

['Imad al-Drn: Don't you say "low-life!"

Saladin: Hush, 'Imad al-DTn, or else we'll be found out.

'Imad al-DTn: How can he call you a low-life?

Saladin: He doesn't know the secret. [To William:] Go ahead, knight, ask your sovereign if I might meet him. Have no fear that we'd do any harm, for I'm at your mercy here. And [Richard] may wish me to give him medical treatment.]

Saladin's composure, and his ability to correct his fellow Muslim subject 'Imad al-Din, is then mirrored on the other side of the door, where William dutifully relays the request to Richard, and the king's boon companion Thomas De Vaux intercedes, taking a menacing posture toward Saladin:

[phrase omitted]
   [Richard (from his sick-bed): Who's that talking?
   You, De Vaux! You wake me up so I might writhe in
   my pain?

   De Vaux: No, Sire! This doctor has been sent by the
   sultan to you. He seems to think he can come to see you
   but I'm preventing him from coming in [to your room].
   Richard: Saladin sent him but you block his way?
   Come here, Doctor, come! Everything I know of
   your sultan speaks to his manly virtue [muru'a] and
   valor [shahama], so he and his messenger deserve
   nothing but welcome.]

Even disguised as 'Imad al-Din's peer, Saladin is capable of correcting him in demure courtly behavior--all the more useful here, since courtliness is not just politeness but also the mental faculty of devising sound strategy. Similarly, Richard corrects de Vaux, even when consigned to his bed by disease. The two sovereigns praise one another, via their network of subjects. In so doing, they model the speech their knights ought to use: moderate in volume; omitting descriptions like haqir except in extraordinary circumstances; and of course repeating those words that confirm the integrity of the court, like muru'a and shahama. The ideal knight's sense of propriety allows him to become intimate with fellow knights. It is therefore only natural that, when Richard and Saladin are united in the room serving as an infirmary, they become drinking companions of a sort. Following Scott's narrative, al-Haddad stages the moment of Richard's treatment as him sipping from a vial that the undercover Saladin has brought along, prepared with the famous Talisman (al-Haddad carefully avoids detailing its magic properties, which would imply that Saladin practiced un-Islamic arts). Al-Sultan Salah al-Din then diverges from Scott's original, in memorable fashion, by including an appreciative Classical Arabic poem that Richard recites upon drinking the elixir. A moment such as this underscores the difference between witnessing a performance during the first decades of a work's circulation on the one hand, and the critical labor of reading a script on the other. Scholars are correct that al-Haddad drew much of his material from Scott's English, but here is the reverse cultural transfer, much clearer on stage than in print: Richard rhapsodizes in Arabic, using Classical meter and rhyme, as if he had been taught both chivalry and Arab cultural heritage by his Muslim interlocutor.

Antun's technique, in turn, is to efface much of the European framework of The Talisman and Salah, al-Din al-Ayyubi, such that the audience views Saladin's court as all-powerful from the beginning of the play. It is as if the great amounts of moral cachet that Scott, Sarruf, and al-Haddad had scrupulously deposited in the figure of Saladin were now available to Antun in the form of a large-scale Ayyubid victory over its Christian antagonists. Richard all but disappears from this narrative, and the mission to heal him with the talisman is replaced by Crusaders seeking to ingratiate themselves to the sultan and his subjects--sometimes for reasons of love across battle lines, sometimes for the sake of learning political goings-on in Cairo. Through it all, Saladin rebuffs their attempts and insistently focuses his commanders on maintaining Muslim unity. He also oversees the build-up of his forces on the Levantine coast, leading to the battle of Hattln in northern Palestine that allowed him to take Jerusalem. He has little time for the niceties of Scott's Saladin. "The Sultan's palace is not a hospital [phrase omitted]," he declares to a half-crazed slave, alerting his subjects to the limits of his open-handedness to supplicants, and also intertextually speaking to the other texts we have scrutinized in this study. Antun's project effectively ends the comforting, fanciful talisman story in Saladinic literature. The sultan marshals his courtly knowledge for the central task of humiliating the Crusaders.

This Arabocentric version of a struggle for the Holy Land means that Saladin himself now oversees a streamlined, utilitarian court. He and his officers are more concerned with strategy than with the niceties of friendship, lyric poetry, and contests of hospitality. Antun holds on to the chivalric motif, having seen its uses in previous Crusades narratives, but reshapes it to suit a new age. Now, writing during the years leading up to the First World War, with the Ottoman Empire fully disintegrating, Antun makes Saladin into a bracing, reassuring figure. Perhaps he anticipated that the theater-going classes of Arabs would be unsettled by the new political reality, especially in Egypt during a time of recalcitrance toward the Ottomans and the British. Whatever his reasons, the kind of knight he embodies is now abstemious, immune to the distractions of wine-song and love intrigues.

When the court becomes poetic, Saladin allows himself the indulgence of madh, or praise poetry, from his courtier Abu 'All al-Hasan al-Juwayni. Joyous Arab subjects urge Abu 'All to vocally celebrate their victory at Hattin--by extension, hailing the reconquest of Jerusalem--so the poet recites Classical verses ending with a call to the divine:

[phrase omitted]
   [When God folds away the record of human beings,
   may He leave unfolded His records [diwan] of Saladin's
   true worth!]

The court and Muslim soldiers begin repeating a simplified version of Abu 'All's felicitous construct: May God unfold His record of Saladin, May God unfold His record of Saladin! [phrase omitted]. The Egyptian and Levantine populace erupts with cheer. A pleased Saladin gently corrects them, saying:

[phrase omitted]
   [It's unfair when an army is victorious that the commander gains
   honor without crediting the infantry [gestures at soldiers] who
   brought him that victory. The truly just thing is for the Great
   Prophetic Record [al-diwan al-'azizi al-nabawi] and its two
   prophets [Jesus and Muhammad] to note the names of those heroes who
   have aided the Sultan!]

The adoration that Saladin gains from this magnanimous speech does more than entertain the modern Arab audience. Antun makes the knighthood, and the Crusades themselves, serve a new purpose in Arabic. Recalling how Sarruf and al-Haddad retold Saladin's delicate, risky individual mission to cure Richard, and especially the poetic result in al-Haddad's script, we gain an appreciation of how revelatory Anton's move was in the early twentieth century. His Saladin spurned the Frankish enclosure of Richard's court and instead made himself a public, populist figure to his own army. Saladin's knighthood, and the equally elitist discipline of Classical Arabic praise poetry, became an ecumenical tribute to his soldiers, who were gathered to take Jerusalem.

Late in his career, caught between his socialist leanings and the conservative pressures of the Egyptian khedivate and its successor monarchy, Antun doubted the success of his oeuvre. Al-Sultan Salah al-Din wa-mamlakat urshalim was published only in censored form (Najm, Masrahiyya 334, n. 34). Antun's subsequent attempts to provide theatrical audiences with light, humorous material won him neither acclaim nor a boost in revenue, as he had hoped. But, as we reflect upon the end of three seminal decades of Arabizing and dramatizing Crusades literature, his epistemological achievement comes into sharper view. In Arabic as well as in European fictional works, the medieval court hosted a wide array of debates, legal contests, translations, intimate exchanges, and poetic performances. It served as an instructional space, a site for legislation, and at times the venue for public punishment of unruly subjects. But it admitted little or no large-scale egalitarian unity. Antun pressed it into a new form of service, and demanded that the playhouse become a kind of large, capacious court. Beyond Scott's allegiances to English sovereignty, Sarruf's social Darwinism, and al-Haddad's ambivalence on colonialism, Antun's Saladin redirects praise poetry from himself outward, to the populace. Abu 'All is credited with composing the poem, but Saladin performs the era's most memorable and politically charged moment of adab.


In certain key respects, this article falls in line with conventional histories of the Nahda. There is nothing new in tracing the progression toward nationalist arts from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. The major distinction that I hope to have shown is a formal one, and it suggests that the Nahda will need a new teleology. Sarruf's translation of The Talisman, and the dramatic texts of al-Haddad and Antun, realized an artistic mission quite different than the enabling of the Arabic historical novel. They vividly show the inadequacy of the critical paradigms that we have inspected in the current article. (13) While they indeed offered some content and stylistic cues for historical fiction masters like Jurji Zaydan who wrote about the Crusades, they were primarily interested in the immediate effects that their works would have on literary communities, rather than in attempting to shape literary tradition into an indigenous novel form. For al-Haddad and Antun in particular, the main project was to incite and instruct their dramatic audiences, and then to offer a useful, generalizable template for Arab theatrical companies. It follows that their legacy, that site of fascination and anxiety for us twenty-first century readers who wish to unravel strands of the Nahda, is embedded in the performance culture of the stage itself.

There remain few textual artifacts from the Egyptian, Tunisian, Moroccan, and Sudanese productions of al-Haddad's Salah al-Din, but its appeal to late-colonial Arabs is clear. During the play's three-decade span (1893-1921) of debuting across Arabophone Africa, literary retrospect on the Crusades came into fashion alongside the rise of official, staged theater in Arabic. It is not tenable to acknowledge those two facts without noting their deep interrelation. The printed, bound text remains an essential object in our critical narratives of the Nahda. But the surging popularity of Crusades fiction, from the turn of the century onward, must be understood as part of a different narrative: the more fluid processes of adapting texts, for the express purpose of engaging audiences in organized gatherings of performers and citizens. Al-Haddad and Anffin's dramas provide a counterpoint, not just formal but also social, to Sarruf's reverent translation of Scott. In these plays, the exclusive confines of medieval knighthood gradually open, hinting that the court might soon become a nation.


(1) Marwa Elshakry provides an overview of literacy rates in Egypt and the Levant during the turn of the century. She also notes the concomitant development of Arabic publication activity, whose growth in the early twentieth century was disproportionate to that of the expanding urban literate population (22-23). Although striking a more pessimistic tone than the works of central interest to this study, the work of the great Lebanese Nahda writer Butrus al-Bustani still attests to the vital relationship between author and nascent readerships in the early years of the Arabic press (Khuri 113).

(2) Unless otherwise noted, all Talisman references are to the 2009 Ellis edition.

(3) For insights on Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi's Tunisian and Moroccan de buts, respectively, see Meynier 174; and Amine and Carlson 99. For discussion of its 1921 performance in Sudan, with at least one major revolutionary figure helping to produce the play, see al-Mubarak 70.

(4) Studies of European Saladinic literature abound, but the most thoroughly researched is Margaret Jubb's. Classical accounts of Saladin's exploits are too numerous to index here; Sallam offers a useful guide.

(5) Al-Nahda refers to a broad Arab intellectual movement of literary production, translation, and nationalist theory during the last century of Ottoman rule in the Middle East, ca. 1830-1940. Orientalists dubbed it "the Arab Renaissance." Surveys of the Nahda are to be found in two classics of the field: Hourani and al-MaqdisT. For a critical appraisal of the Nahda's relationship to World Literature theory, more explicitly interested in the problematic idea of an Arab Renaissance than is Allan's study, see Tageldin.

(6) For discussion of the Nahda-era institutions that supported literary translation, see Moosa 96-107 and Zaydan Tarikh 4:164. Samah Selim provides a helpful critique of the qualitative judgments that Moosa and many other scholars put forward about Nahda translation trends.

(7) Scholarly versions of this literary historiography, each telling part of the overarching story privileging Antun and then Zaydan most highly, are to be found in Badawi 72; Najm (who nonetheless criticizes Zaydan), al-Qissa 161; Moosa 99-111 and 197-220; and Sheehi 170.

(8) See Moosa 100, 106. Roger Allen sees Sarruf's work as a kind of pre-preamble, i.e., a move toward the late-Mandate phase of fiction before the two World Wars forced Arab fiction writers to modernize (27-28). Elshakry is one of the few critics to treat Sarruf as meriting sustained, thorough historical study. Ahmad Yazan takes initial steps in approaching Sarruf as a creative writer in his own right (1:40-41).

(9) Antun's high regard for Sarruf's work should not be understood as a sign of political alliance. To gain an idea of their conflicting attitudes toward geopolitics, see "Al-Ishtirakiyyun wa-l-Fawdawiyyun," whose publication Sarruf oversaw and likely wrote some or all of the piece; and Nijmeh Hajjar's overview of Antun's political commitments (108).

(10) Shahama has a rich history of usage and deserves a diachronic study vis-a-vis the central chivalric terms in Arabic, such as muru'a (manly virtue) and furusiyya (chivalry). For examples of shahama's usage in Nahda-era geopolitical discourse through the end of the twentieth century, see Makkl 599; Mostafa 163; Sayyid-Marsot 35; Steward 345; and al-Tahtawi 3:229. For a fascinating commentary on shahama vis-a-vis early national politics in Egypt, see al-Naqqash 30.

(11) The journalists, pundits, and fiction writers responsible for the Nahda's serial publications were deeply concerned with the episodic framework of Classical Arabic that preceded them. The most famous exploration of this formal continuity in a journal is probably that of Muhammad al-Muwaylihl, whose late-nineteenth-century serial masterpiece Fatra min al-zaman (subsequently published as a bound book titled Hadith 'Isa ibn Hisham, whose most recent edition is the bilingual Arabic-English What 'Isa ibn Hisham Told Us) showcases the centuries-long popularity of the Classical maqamat, or short antiheroic anecdotes. At the same time, non-elite, "popular" forms of serial literature and oral stories have played an underappreciated but still substantive role in national consciousness. See al-Musawi 22-24 for remarks on this phenomenon.

(12) Heroic, creative narratives of the Crusades were plentiful in the Arabic sira (folk epic) from the end of the Middle Ages onward, but the predominant heroic figure was the Mamluk king al-Zahir Baybars rather than Saladin. We find instances of Saladin appearing in the oral tradition, but they seem to be more common in short, site-specific stories rather than the lengthy ekphrastic style of epic storytelling (Slyomovics 25-27).

(13) Even if we limit ourselves to the Nahda historiographies that we have seen in the present article, the landmark works of Hourani, al-Maqdisi, Moosa, and Vial all privilege the novel as the Arabs' great national literary art.

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Title Annotation:Arabic treatments of Walter Scott's "Talisman"
Author:England, Samuel
Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Previous Article:Translating Orientalism into the Arabic Nahda.
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