PRINT May 2011


“Gifts of the Sultan”

Folio page from the Shahnama (Book of Kings), 1525–35. “Sindukht Comes to Sam Bearing Gifts.”

THE ANTHOLOGIZING HABITS of medieval Arab authors produced many texts that are as intriguing for their degree of cultural specialization as they are for their deeply suggestive arcaneness. These compendiums range from collections of graffiti left by lonely strangers in foreign lands to anecdotes about gate-crashers, a tome about misers and miserliness, and exhaustive listings of memorable gifts. Of the last, the best-known anthology is Kitāb al-Hadāyā wa al-Tuḥaf (Book of Gifts and Rarities), composed in the eleventh century and attributed to Qāḍī Ībn al-Zubayr. His text is a memory house of famous presents, encompassing raw materials, animals, slaves, and manufactured goods and mostly arranged according to a typology of events, viz. banquets, weddings, parties, circumcisions, marriages, and ambassadorial receptions. Ibn al-Zubayr’s text, made available to non-Arabic readers

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