Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina): With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina): With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina): With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina): With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

Synopsis

Islamic allegory is the product of a cohesive literary tradition to which few contributed as significantly as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the eleventh-century Muslim philosopher. Peter Heath here offers a detailed examination of Avicenna's contribution, paying special attention to Avicenna's psychology and poetics and to the ways in which they influenced strains of theological, mystical, and literary thought in subsequent Islamic-and Western-intellectual and religious history.

Heath begins by showing how Avicenna's writings fit into the context and general history of Islamic allegory and explores the interaction among allegory, allegoresis, and philosophy in Avicenna's thought. He then provides a brief introduction to Avicenna as an historical figure. From there, he examines the ways in which Avicenna's cosmological, psychological, and epistemological theories find parallel, if diverse, expression in the disparate formats of philosophical and allegorical narration. Included in this book is an illustration of Avicenna's allegorical practice. This takes the form of a translation of the Mi'raj Nama (The Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven), a short treatise in Persian generally attributed to Avicenna.

The text concludes with an investigation of the literary dimension Avicenna's allegorical theory and practice by examining his use of description metaphor. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna is an original and important work that breaks new ground by applying the techniques of modern literary criticism to the study of Medieval Islamic philosophy. It will be of interest to scholars and students of medieval Islamic and Western literature and philosophy.

Excerpt

This book explores the interaction among allegory, allegoresis, and philosophy in the thought of the premodern Muslim philosopher Avicenna (Ibn Sînâ, 370/980-428/1037). This is a question of some complexity, and each of the four parts of this study tackles it from a slightly different perspective.

Part One focuses on historical issues. Chapter One offers a preliminary sketch of how Avicenna's writings fit into the context of the general history of Islamic allegory, on the one hand, and the study of the interaction between philosophy and allegory, on the other. Chapter Two introduces Avicenna as a historical figure.

The three chapters of Part Two turn to details of doctrine and their respective modes of representation by examining the degree to which Avicenna's cosmological, psychological, and epistemological theories find parallel, if diverse, expression in the different formats of philosophical exposition and allegorical narration. Experts on Avicenna's philosophy will find some material in these chapters familiar (as in Chapter Two), but I consider it important to provide this overview for audiences less well- versed in premodern Islamic philosophy. Avicenna's psychology and noetics receive especially full attention because of the degree to which they influenced strains of theological, mystical, and literary thought in subsequent Islamic cultural history.

Part Three illustrates the philosopher's allegorical practice by offering a translation of the Mi'râj Nâma (The Book of the Prophet Muḥammad's Ascent to Heaven), a short treatise in Persian generally attributed to Avicenna. A discussion concerning the authenticity of this text may be found in Appendix B, where I argue in support of this attribution. I recognize that a final decision on this question is probably premature at this stage of our philological recovery of Avicenna's texts, but whatever its origin the Mi'râj Nâma indisputably reflects Avicenna's philosophical views and offers a good example of principles and techniques typical of his hermeneutic approach. From this perspective, the issue of the authenticity of the treatise is less relevant here than its usefulness in providing a representative sample of methods of allegoresis characteristic of the philosopher.

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