Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Time: 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm talk, including Q & A
Online Platform: Zoom
The popular Arabic epic Sīrat ‘Antar, which spotlights the heroic exploits of the half-Ethiopian, half-Arab 6th-century warrior and poet ‘Antarah ibn Shaddād, is the most well-known source of its kind for modern readers in the Arabic-speaking world and beyond. It is also based on the life and words of a real historical figure. But what did it mean for ‘Antarah to be half-Black—both in his own lifetime and in his legendary legacy as an Arab-Muslim epic hero? This talk analyzes how racial constructs and the social structures that manage and perpetuate them change from the pre-Islamic period through Islam’s formative centuries, spanning when the historical ‘Antarah was alive and when the existence of his epic is first attested in the 1100s. Throughout the talk, we will explore the ways that using popular literary sources can illuminate aspects of racial representation that are not as present elsewhere in the premodern Arabic register, and consider why this might be so.