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The ERC-funded Starting Grant AnonymClassic (2018-2023) and its sibling project ALC - Arabic Literature Cosmopolitan (2020-2027) supported by the Leibniz Prize of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaftform is the first-ever comprehensive study of Kalila and Dimna. This book of wisdom minted in the shape of fables is a key text of premodern world literature, its spread being comparable to that of the New Testament. Kalila and Dimna's Arabic versions, produced in the 8th century when Arabic was the lingua franca of the Near East, then became the source of all further translations up to the 19th century. The work’s multilingual history involving circa forty languages has not been systematically studied before. The absence of available research has made world literature ignore it, while the barrier of how to tackle its widely diverging manuscript versions had scholars of Arabic avoid it: To date, the actual shape of the Arabic key versions are still in need of investigation. The research endeavour led by Beatrice Gruendler at Freie Universität Berlin explores a number of ‘high-risk’ propositions, including three key hypotheses:

The anonymous Arabic copyists of Kalila and Dimna are 1) 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. The project's methodology is supported by a synoptic digital edition and relies on a cross-narratological analysis of the Arabic versions (and their medieval translations), 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, this 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. The Berlin research team aims at introducing a new paradigm of an East-Western literary continuum with Arabic as a cultural bridge. Against our contemporary background of Europe’s diversifying and multicultural society, AnonymClassic & ALC purpose to integrate pre-modern Near Eastern literature and culture into our understanding of global culture.