Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies



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Crossing enemy boundaries: al-Buhturi's ode on the ruins of Ctesiphon re-read in the light of Virgil and Wilfred Owen


STEFAN SPERL a1
a1 School of Oriental and African Studies

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Abstract

This article seeks to gain a better understanding of a famous ode by the ‘Abbasid court poet al-Buhturi (d. 897) by comparing it with two other works which exhibit a similar thematic development. One is an extract from The Aeneid by Virgil (d. 19 BC), the other a poem by Wilfred Owen (d. 1918). The three texts emanate from imperial identities (Roman, Arab and British) in a state of crisis, which in turn paves the way for cathartic encounters with an alien other that each involves an act of recognition. The comparison uncovers certain similarities in the psychological impact of this encounter and thereby throws a new light on the carefully crafted structure of al-Buhturi's ode. The experience described by the three texts emerges as an expression of man's universal quest for his lost self, and its recovery—however momentarily—in the very heart of his supposed foe.

(Published Online September 19 2006)



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