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literature

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Middle Eastern Literature: Arabic  
 
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Such exercises were often associated with spiritual "concerts," and songs and verses celebrating the beauty of and love for a boy as a metaphor for God's beauty became a significant subgenre of mystical Arabic poetry, though it was to achieve far greater popularity in Persian. Religious conservatives, however, continued for centuries to attack both the "permitted gaze" and the martyr tradition.

Al-Khubza'aruzzi and Ibn Waki'

In the century following Ibn Dawud, two poets stand out for their particular contributions to the homoerotic lyric.

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The first, al-Khubza'aruzzi (died ca 938), was an illiterate baker of rice-bread in Basra, in lower Iraq, whose delicate lyrics on the beautiful young men of the city attracted the admiring attention of the aristocratic court poets, who would visit his bakery in order to hear him declaim his verses.

Two generations later, in the city of Tinnis in Egypt, Ibn Waki` al-Tinnisi (died 1003) charmed his contemporaries with his poetic evocations of gardens, wine, and boys, recalling both the waggishness of Abu Nuwas and the elegance of Ibn al-Mu`tazz.

The Anthologies of al-Tha'alibi

Extensive selections from the poetry of both al-Khubza'aruzzi and Ibn Waki` are preserved in several works by the indefatigable anthologist al-Tha`alibi (died 1038). Among al-Tha'alibi's collections the one entitled The Book of Boys is unfortunately lost, but it was of considerable influence in later centuries, when a series of literary figures compiled similar "beauty" anthologies, beginning with al-`Adili's (mid-thirteen century) A Thousand and One Boys and its heteroerotic companion A Thousand and One Girls.

Ibn Hazm

The parallel popularity of heteroerotic and male homoerotic love poetry (with lesbian poetry a rare anomaly) was as true of Islamic Spain as of elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world.

Of particular interest in Andalusian literature is the best known of the "love theory" books, The Ring of the Dove by the jurist Ibn Hazm (died 1064), which eschews the anthology form, previously standard, for a mixture of the author's own verse with prose anecdotes about his contemporaries and their affairs, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Aside from its final moralizing chapters condemning the evils of heterosexual fornication and sodomy, this work offers in its matter-of-fact way a valuable picture of love among the aristocracy and in the Andalusian courts.

Turkish Dominance: The Post-Classical Period

The classical period in Arabic literature closes with the twelfth century. The subsequent post-classical period is much less well known but remained at least as rich in homoerotic literature as the preceding centuries.

The increasing domination of Turks and Circassians in Arabic-speaking lands resulted in a perceptible shift in the canons of beauty, narrow "Turkish" eyes, for example, coming into fashion for both sexes.

The increasingly prevalent system of military slavery, which culminated in the Mamluk (slave) sultanate in late medieval Egypt, seems to have encouraged the cultivation of homosexual attachments in the barracks, and the young Turkish slave soldier, perhaps a bit older than his classical counterpart, became the ideal love object.

These developments are reflected in the encyclopedias and anthologies that this age of literary systematization produced in prodigious quantities, including regular series of "beard" books, "beauty" books, and general erotica, the best known example of the last of these being The Perfumed Garden by al-Nafzawi (fifteenth century).

Ibn Daniyal and al-Safadi

The range of homoerotic literature produced in the late medieval period, much of which remains to be discovered, is perhaps best illustrated by two works from fourteenth-century Egypt.

The Cairene eye physician and poet Ibn Daniyal (died 1310) exploited the popular art of the shadow play (in which translucent figures held against a backlighted screen served as characters for a kind of Punch and Judy show) to produce three extraordinary scripts virtuosic in style and licentious in genre.

The third of these plays, The Lovelorn (al-Mutayyam) mocks romantic convention by portraying an affair between the sex-obsessed title character and a standoffish Turkish slaveboy, which degenerates into an orgiastic banquet at which a series of characters representing a variety of sexual tastes declaim poetry before passing out from intoxication.

At the opposite extreme, al-Safadi (died 1363) composed a romantic maqama, comprising some seventy-five pages in elegant rhymed prose, in which a narrator tells of his falling in love with a young Turkish soldier whom he encountered hunting in a pleasure park, and of their subsequent tryst, whose physical consummation is left tantalizingly ambiguous.

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