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 8thcentury, 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.
Medieval Arabic literature (adab) is full of animals. The most famous example is Kalila wa-Dimna, a collection of stories about talking animals and humans. This text is usually described as "fables" or as a Mirror for Princes (Fürstenspiegel). However, the rich diversity of animal stories beyond Kalila wa-Dimna and the role these animal stories play in the broader adab tradition are not well understood.
The graphic of the project logo "AnonymClassic" is set in type "B Esfehan Bold", a modern adaptation of the Arabic Kufi script. It combines the Arabic initials of "Kalila and Dimna" (Kāf and Dāl). Both symbols, in the style of Arabic calligraphy, are combined to form a compact shape that is simultaneously open at the top and left.
Who was the author or the authors of Kalila and Dimna? The question of authorship is indeed an intriguing one. Kalīla and Dimna, it is true, belongs to a broad group of translations from Sanskrit (via Middle Persian) to Arabic of works that had been transmitted orally over centuries and have no known authors.
When he adapted the Middle Persian version of Kalīla and Dimna, at a time when the book was a newly introduced data carrier in Arabic-Islamic culture, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. 757) found it necessary to accompany this with a preface to explain what a book was for, and this book in particular. According to Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, reading was a serious endeavor, and to be done mindfully, even though he envisaged different ways of reading by different audiences.
The manuscript Rabat MM 3655 is one of many treasures of the Royal Library of Morocco. It has been dated by Bernard O'Kane (Early Persian Painting, London 2013) to the second part of the thirteenth century (between 1265 and 1280), which makes it one of the oldest codices of Kalīla and Dimna.
Illustrations are an essential element in the textual history of Kalīla and Dimna; they do not only increase the material value of manuscripts, but also provide an important source of information for their date and place of production and their relation to other manuscripts.
Kalīla and Dimna was not only widely copied in the pre-modern period. It was also adapted and reconceived by dozens of other authors. The rich and diverse tradition of writing about talking animals beyond Kalīla and Dimna is not well known, but these adaptations informed how readers and copyists thought about Kalīla and Dimna. The May 2019 workshop, entitled "Animals, Adab, and the Abbasid Fictive Tradition," seeks to bring together leading scholars of animal writing in the Adab tradition to further explore this tradition of writing.
When Kalila wa Dimna was read, copied, translated and rewritten in more than 40 languages, the structure and content underwent significant transformations, since it had to be transferred into very diverse linguistic, cultural and religious contexts. To approach these complexities adequately, AnonymClassic views translation as an active process of acculturation and adaptation, i.e. as cultural translation.
AnonymClassic understands the variations in Kalīla and Dimna as being part of its textual history. Its multiple and diverse versions make Kalīla and Dimna an oscillating text that calls for a redefinition of the notion of “copyist” in Arabic literary culture.
Marginal notes, a common ingredient of Arabic manuscripts, are not frequent in the circa 100 manuscripts of Kalila wa-Dimna so far identified.
Short citations of Kalīla and Dimna have been identified in thirty classical works. The 9th-century century History (Ta’rikh) by Ya’qubi (d. 897), even provides an entire table of contents with a brief summary and the didactic purpose of each chapter and constitutes an early witness for the shape of the book as a whole.
AnonymClassic will challenge the prevalent Western theoretical lens on world literature conceived ‘from above’ confronting it with the view ‘from below,’ based on the attested cross-cultural network constituted by the many versions of this text that circulated beyond religious, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. AnonymClassic will thus introduce a new paradigm of an East-Western literary continuum with Arabic as a cultural bridge.
Using LERA, instances of chapters from multiple manuscripts can be collated for close reading and comparison. Furthermore, selectable filters can be used for automatic detection of text variations some of which can be adjusted as in the shown example from the chapter “The Ascetic and His Guest,” in which words receive unique colorings if exclusively shared between exactly two manuscripts.
We know of a Syriac-Aramaic translation/redaction of the lost Middle Persian copy, and there is a Syriac-Aramaic version of a rather early Arabic text variant. Comparative analysis will lead to an insight into tradition and early stages of the book.
Kalīla and Dimna was a paradigmatic work of Classical Arabic belles-lettres. To understand this text's reception, we must understand how readers theorized fictive writing and how they situated this text vis-à-vis other kinds of fictive writing.
raven king talking to viziers
Beatrice Gründler is not only an eminent scholar of medieval Arabic, a leader in her field, and an expert in the history of the book in the Islamic World, but also a capacious thinker across humanistic disciplines. As the Principal Investigator of this project, she especially draws on her philological expertise, her familiarity with Arabic palaeography and codicology as well as her interest in digital humanities for Arabic philology.
Since October 2018, Isabel has led the ERC project AnonymClassic as deputy principal investigator. Her focus is on aspects of fictional storytelling and cultural translation.
Matthew works on the theorization of fictive writing in pre-modern Arabic. He holds a PhD from New York University and an M.Phil from the University of Cambridge, UK.
Johannes is a literary historian of the Arabic tradition with a PhD from the University of Bern. He has joined the AnonymClassic team in February 2019. He explores the indirect transmission of Kalila wa-Dimna in Arabic from the 9th century onward and the significance of linguistic variations within the corpus.
Jan has for many years been working on various Syriac projects at various universities. One central topic in most of these projects is Syriac as a bridge culture in the Middle east. Within the AnonymClassic project he is responsible for the edition and translation of the two Syriac versions of Kalīla wa Dimna and its cultural setting.
Khouloud joined the project team "Kalīla wa Dimna – Wisdom Encoded“ in September 2017 then continued on the AnonymClassic project since January 2018. In addition to the transcription and the comparison of Kalīla wa Dimna manuscripts, she focuses on the description and the codicological analyze of the Arabic manuscript versions as well as the digital restoration of parts of some manuscripts.
Mahmoud was part of the project team "Kalīla wa Dimna – Wisdom Encoded“ (2015-2017), then continued on the AnonymClassic project since January 2018. His tasks focus on digital support for the project, providing the conceptual and computational framework based on the LERA programme (in cooperation with the Universität Halle) for the Digital Synopsis and Edition of the Arabic Manuscript versions.
Victoria is a researcher in the field of (modern) Arabic literature as world literature, translation studies and literary theories, currently working on her dissertation on the poetry of Nizar Qabbani (1923–1998). As a research associate, Victoria is responsible for the website of the project as well as public relations and scholarly communication.
From 2015 to 2017, Rima has been part of Professor Gruendler’s team of the pilot project "Kalīla wa Dimna –Wisdom Encoded“. In March 2018, Rima Redwan joined the "Kalīla and Dimna –AnonymClassic" research project where she focuses on Arabic manuscript digitalisation and manuscript research.
Doris Bachmann-Medick, Dr. phil., Permanent Senior Research Fellow at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC), University of Giessen/Germany; works and teaches on Cultural Theory and recent disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transnational developments in the Study of Culture.
Pascal currently works as an IT Architect for Department III of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), where he is responsible for the design and development of RISE & SHINE, a software suite for the secure decentralised exchange of open and licensed digital resources and which aims to facilitate and streamline humanities research through the use of digital tools.
Lecturer in Arabic (retired), Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of California Los Angeles
KITAB provides a digital tool-box and a forum for discussions about Arabic texts. We wish to empower users to explore Arabic texts in completely new ways and to expand the frontiers of knowledge about one of the world’s largest and most complex textual traditions.
As a visiting scholar in January and February 2019, Yoones pursues his research on the issue of flexible textual tradition—“floating texts” as Muriel Roiland and Jacqueline Sublet (2017) call it—within medieval Arabic literature.
Bibliotheca Arabica is dedicated to research on Arabic literatures dating from the years 1150 to 1850 CE, and combines literary and manuscript studies. Within this defined period of investigation, Bibliotheca Arabica focusses on literary production, transmission, and reception, and sets these in relation to the political and social transformations that were taking place at that time.
The research programme "Tradition manuscrite et transmission iconographique : les manuscrits à peintures de Kalîla wa Dimna à la Bibliothèque nationale de France" aims at the description and interpretation of the Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts of Kalila wa Dimna preserved in the Department of Manuscripts of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
LERA is an interactive, digital tool for analyzing variations between multiple versions of a text in a synoptic manner with several differences to other well-known collation tools. It was first developed for printed texts of the French Enlightenment within the SaDA-project at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and since then adopted to other texts and languages
Seeing in the rise of Digital Technologies an opportunity to re-assess and re-establish how the humanities can advance the understanding of the past and to support a dialogue among civilizations.
The AnonymClassic project receives funding from the European Research
Council under the European Union’s Horizon2020 programme; project ID: 742635