Freie Universität Berlin
Fachbereich Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaften
Seminar für Semitistik und Arabistik
Kalila and Dimna
AnonymClassic is the first ever comprehensive study of Kalila and Dimna (a book of wisdom in fable form), a text of premodern world literature. Its spread is comparable to that of the Bible, except that it passed from Hinduism and Buddhism via Islam to Christianity. Its Arabic version, produced in the 8th century, when this was the lingua franca of the Near East, became the source of all further translations up to the 19th century. The work’s multilingual history involving circa forty languages has never been systematically studied. The absence of available research has made world literature ignore it, while scholars of Arabic avoided it because of its widely diverging manuscripts, so that the actual shape of the Arabic key version is still in need of investigation. AnonymClassic tests a number of ‘high-risk’ propositions, including three key hypotheses:
1) The anonymous Arabic copyists of Kalila and Dimna are de facto co-authors,
2) their agency is comparable to that of the named medieval translators, and
3) the fluctuation of the Arabic versions is conditioned by the work’s fictional status.
AnonymClassic’s methodology relies on a cross-lingual narratological analysis of the Arabic versions and all medieval translations (supported by a synoptic digital edition), which takes precisely the interventions at each stage of transmission (redaction, translation) as its subject. Considering the work’s paths of dissemination from India to Europe, AnonymClassic will challenge the prevalent Western theoretical lens on world literature conceived ‘from above’ with the view ‘from below,’ based on the attested cross-cultural network constituted by its versions. AnonymClassic will introduce a new paradigm of an East-Western literary continuum with Arabic as a cultural bridge. Against the current background of Europe’s diversifying and multicultural society, AnonymClassic purposes to integrate pre-modern Near Eastern literature and culture into our understanding of Global Culture.