Book Series Transcultural Medieval Studies, vol. 2

Writing the Twilight

The Arabic Poetics of Ageing in Medieval Sicily and al-Andalus

Nicola Carpentieri

  • Pages: approx. 185 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Language(s):English, Arabic
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60053-6
  • Hardback
  • Forthcoming (Sep/23)



Nicola Carpentieri graduated summa sum laude from Ca' Foscari University and obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2012. He is the author of over 60 titles between peer-reviewed articles, edited volumes, scholarly editions and book reviews. He has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, and has been an invited speaker at prestigious venues such as Harvard, Brown and Humboldt university. He currently works at the University of Padova, Italy.


In the eleventh century, as Muslim sovereignty in the Western Mediterranean was eroded by both internal divisions and external attacks, Sicily fell to the Normans. At the same time, al-Andalus fragmented into a series of small kingdoms that were then picked off by powerful conquerors. Against this backdrop, Arabic poets made use of their craft to try and explain the changes in their world. Among them were the Andalusian Abū Ishāq and the Sicilian Ibn Hamdīs, both of whom wrote vividly about their own ageing and mortality, as well as about the broader twilight of the worlds they knew.

Taking these two protagonists as its starting point, this extraordinary volume explores how Abū Ishāq and Ibn Hamdīs, despite their different locations, both made use of poetry. For them, it was a tool to confront their morality, lament their own physical decay, and appeal to their age and experience, as well as a way of juxtaposing their concerns with the political and social dismemberment of their wider societies and the need for a restoration of world order. The result is also a broader discussion of the relationship between poetry and politics in Maghribī Islam, and a reminder of poetry’s importance as a medium to engage with the world.



Introduction. A Poetics of Ageing
I. Arabic Poetry of Old Age: Sources and State-of-the-Art
II. Structure of the Book

Chapter One.The Twilight of Arabo-Muslim Hegemony in the West. The Rise of Abū Isḥāq and Ibn Ḥamdīs as Political Poets
I. Abū Isḥāq: From the Collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate to the Rise of the Taifas
II. From Elvira to Granada: Abū Isḥāq’s Rise as a Public Persona
III. Abū Isḥāq’s Last Years: His Invective Against the Jews of Granada
IV. Ibn Ḥamdīs: A Privileged Upbringing
V. Leaving Sicily
VI. Ibn Ḥamdīs’s Life in al-Andalus: A ‘Sicilian’ Poet?
VII. On the Road Again
VIII. Growing Old in North Africa: ‘Fitna’ and the End of Muslim Sicily
IX. The Last Days of Ibn Ḥamdīs: Fleeting Revenge and Hopes for Revival

Chapter Two. The Poetics of Ageing: Al-Shayb wa-l-shabāb as a Poetic Motif
I. Critical Sources: Medieval Arabic Critics on al-shayb wa-l-shabāb
II. Al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā: The Allure of Old Age and the Idea of ‘Thematic Displacement’
III. Abū Isḥāq: Old Age as Asceticism
IV. Ibn Ḥamdīs: A Strategic Use of Old Age Verse

Chapter Three.  A Poetics of Loss: The Elegies
I. Abū Isḥāq: The Elegy to his Wife 
II. Ibn Ḥamdīs: The Elegy to his Wife
III. The Cycle of Jawhara
IV. The Elegy to al-Fihrī
V. The Elegy to his Daughter

Chapter Four. The Poetics of Withdrawal: Ascetic Verse
I. Withdrawal or Engagement?
II. Abū Isḥāq’s Zuhd: A Late Poetics of Contrasts
III. Ibn Ḥamdīs: Withdrawal and Nostalgia
IV. Abū Isḥāq’s zuhd and Ibn Ḥamdīs’s zuhd


Appendix A: Index of Poems