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CSI'S Monday Majlis: Theodore Samuel Beers

Prosimetrum in Naṣr Allāh Munshī’s Kalīla and Dimna

The CSI Monday Majlis is a Monday evening, online event, where invited speakers present on aspects of their current research

Event details

We’d like to invite you to the next online Monday Majlis of the Centre for the Study of Islam, Exeter:
Monday the 27th of February, 17:00-18:30 (UK time)
Theodore Samuel Beers, Prosimetrum in Naṣr Allāh Munshī’s Kalīla and Dimna

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Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Ms. or. oct. 4046, dated 683/1284. The manuscript can be viewed through the following link:
In this relatively early copy of Naṣr Allāh Munshī's version of Kalīla and Dimna, many of the Arabic quotes are given interlinear Persian translations. The image that I selected here is from fol. 208v, and it occurs in the introductory dialogue of the chapter of “The Traveler and the Goldsmith.” The Arabic quote (in large black ink) is attributed in other sources to the caliph Muʿāwiya. (Naṣr Allāh does not give a specific attribution.)

My presentation will analyze the use of prosimetrum—i.e., the mixture of prose and verse—in the landmark sixth/twelfth century Persian translation of Kalīla and Dimna by Naṣr Allāh Munshī. This version of the book of fables was translated from the Arabic attributed to Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. ca. 139/757). Along with rendering the text into Persian, Naṣr Allāh made the work his own through a huge number of changes and additions. He authored a new preface, which argues for the importance of Kalīla and Dimna as a book of practical wisdom, especially within a framework of just Islamic rule. Naṣr Allāh also weaves into the text myriad quotes from the Qur’an and ḥadīth, lines of Arabic and Persian poetry, wisdom sayings, and more. One consequence of these additions is that Naṣr Allāh’s style becomes a kind of prosimetrum. (It is open to debate whether this constitutes “true prosimetrum,” since the text is still mostly in prose, punctuated by frequent snippets of poetry. But the terminological problem may be set aside for the purposes of this presentation.) I will provide an overview of Naṣr Allāh’s practice of incorporating poetry into Kalīla and Dimna, along with discussion of a few key questions, including the following: At what junctures in the text have poems typically been added, and for what purposes? How much of the poetry is taken from other sources, and how much seems to be original? How does Naṣr Allāh manage transitions between prose and verse, in particular when they occur mid-sentence? And what is the significance of the fact that much, if not most, of the poetry is in Arabic—helping to make this effectively a bilingual text?

Theodore S. Beers is a Persian and Arabic philologist and occasional software developer. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he is affiliated with two projects: AnonymClassic and “Closing the Gap in Non-Latin-Script Data.” In the former project, his research focuses on medieval Persian versions of Kalīla and Dimna; in the latter, he is conducting a survey of recent digital humanities projects that have involved processing non-Latin-script textual data. He holds a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago.

In the spirit of the label ‘Majlis’ and also to make the talks even more interesting, we are experimenting with a new format presenting the topic discussed by our speaker as embedded in their own research journey. Please come and enjoy the talks and the discussions. If you’d like to be included in the CSI (Centre for the Study of Islam (Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter) mailing list, please contact the CSI Manager: Sarah Wood (

We’ll be happy to welcome you!

Istvan T Kristó-Nagy