Article Title

The Arab Aristophanes


Marvin Carlson


The thirteenth century Egyptian playwright Ibn Daniyal has only recent come the attention of theatre scholars since the first critical edition of his three plays only appeared in Arabic in 1992, and these are still only partly available in translation into any other language. The few scholars who have considered his dramatic work, either in Arabic or other languages, have often referred to Ibn Daniyal as “The Arab Aristophanes,” partly to give him a kind of literary cache by association, as Chikamatsu has often been called “The Japanese Shakespeare,” but also to call attention to the remarkable mixture of elevated lyric poetry and extensive obscenity and scatology found in the plays of both the Greek and Egyptian authors.

This essay provides a brief introduction to Ibn Daniyal but is primarily concerned with a comparative question; which is, what are the arguments for an actual historical connection between these two dramatists, so widely separated in time and space? The last of Ibn Daniyal’s three plays, besides its considerable obscenity, is remarkably similar in structure to the odd and elaborate structure of an Aristophanic comedy, a form utilized by almost no other dramatist. The essay analyzes this play, to demonstrate how closely it conforms to the Aristophanic model, and then goes on to consider whether there is any reasonable justification to posit a possible influence. First the essay discusses the medieval Islamic interest in the Greeks and then goes on to consider the Byzantine empire of Ibn Daniyal’s time, whose leaders were in close contact with Ibn Daniyal’s patrons just as Aristophanes was enjoying a great vogue in Constantinople and just before Ibn Daniyal wrote his plays.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.