Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 11, 2020

Zaynaddīn Ibn al-ʿAǧamī’s (591–674/1195–1276) Kitāb iʿǧāz al-munāǧī fī l-alġāz wa-l-aḥāǧī: A Thirteenth-Century Arabic Riddle Book

Nefeli Papoutsakis


This article presents a hitherto unnoted and unpublished thirteenth-century Arabic work on riddles. Zaynaddīn Ibn al-ʿAǧamī’s (591–674/1195–1276) Kitāb iʿǧāz al-munāǧī fī l-alġāz wa-l-aḥāǧī (The Confidant’s Bemusement: On Riddles and Charades) is the first surviving Arabic collection of literary riddles by a single author. The Aleppine littérateur and religious scholar Ibn al-ʿAǧamī composed this book for al-Malik an-Nāṣir Yūsuf, the last Ayyubid ruler of Aleppo and Damascus (r. 634–658/1236–1260). The work is an extensive collection of riddles in verse and prose. All the riddles were composed and subsequently solved and explained by Ibn al-ʿAǧamī himself. The book, which testifies to the popularity of this genre in Ayyubid Syria, survives in a unique manuscript that has been falsely catalogued as a copy of an earlier work on riddles. Despite its importance for the history of the Arabic literary riddle, its existence has therefore remained unknown.


I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of the Asiatische Studien for their constructive comments and for improvements to the English style.

Appendix: A Riddle in Rhymed Prose[45]

اللغزُ التاسِعَ عَشَرَ

في المعْنَى القايم في الذاتِ الموْضُوع لِلراحَةِ واللَّذاتِ وَهْوَ

ما تَقُولُ يا رايةَ العِلمِ وغايةَ الحلمِ في صاحبٍ يُريحُ جُودُه ويُزيح وُجُودُهُ ويَرُوقُ عِناقُه ويُؤَرِّقُ

فِراقُه ويَشُوقُ وِصالُهُ ويَشُقُّ فِصالُهُ فَيتَردّدُ في الناظِر تَردُّدَ الخَيالِ في الخاطِر ويَدِبُّ في

النُفوسِ دَبيبَ المآ في الغُروس فَتنتَعِشُ بنايلهِ الغَمر وَتمتَزِجُ به امتزاجَ المآ بالخَمر بسِرايةٍ

خَفِيَّةٍ ولَطافةٍ وفِيَّةٍ تَستَولى عَلَى عقْلِ الحَيوانِ في كثير منَ الأحيان وَما هو جَسَدٌ سَويٌّ

ولا جسمٌ مَرْئِيٌّ يُلمَحُ بحَدِيد الأبصار ويُوضَحُ بجَدِيدِ الأعصارِ بَل هُوَ مَعنًى قايمٌ بالذاتِ وُضِعَ

لِلراحَةِ واللذَاتِ لا يُدرَكُ وَهْوَ خلافُ العادةِ عندَ تَحقُّقِ الإرادةِ في السَّفَر والحضَر إلّا بكفِّ

النَظرِ ولا يوجَدُ في المحسوس إلّا بإعدام النُفُوس فَلا يُعقَلُ حُضُورهُما مَعَا عندَ مَن فَهِمَ

وَوَعَى بَلْ إذا أُثبتَ أحدُهُما انتفَى الآخرُ معنَى فبيّنهُما لي ورأيُك أسما وأسنَى والسَّلامُ

الجَوابُ عن الرايق عنَاقهُ المؤرّق فرَاقهُ وَهْوَ

اعلَم أيُّها الوافرُ عِلمُهُ السَّافِرُ حلمُهُ أنّ هذا الذي وَقَعت إليه الإشارةُ واتسعَتْ فيه العبارةُ

وارِدٌ يَغشَى الأرواحَ فيَسْلُبها الغُدُوَّ وَالرواحَ ويزُورُها عندَ المسآ بَعدَ صَلاةِ العشآ وتَارةً يَقصدُها نَهارًا

ويَرْصدُها جهارًا فيَقبِضُها إلَيهِ عِندَ إقبالها عَلَيهِ ويُلقي أجسادَها عِندَ لقآيه بما يَرُدّ مَن تلقآيه وَيَكفُّها عن

التّصرُّفِ لا بكَفّهِ مَعَ قُوّتها وَضَعْفِهِ وَإذا أرَدتَّ كَشفَهُ وَقد أَخطأكَ نُورُه فتَوهّمتَ كسْفَهُ فتَطلَّبْهُ

في يَوم غَيَّرتُ أَوّلَه ولا تتَأولِ النصَّ فَما أصابَ مَن أَوَّلَهْ والسَّلامُ

The Nineteenth Riddle on the Notion That Exists by Itself and Was Created for Rest and Pleasures

What do you say, o banner of knowledge and the utmost end of forbearance, about a companion whose largesse offers rest and whose existence eliminates, whose embrace delights and whose separation causes insomnia? One longs to be united with him, to separate oneself from him is difficult. He presents himself often to the eye the way the beloved’s apparition visits the mind. He creeps into souls the way water creeps into plants, so that souls become revived thanks to his abundant gift and they mix with him the way water mixes with wine – in a clandestine night travel and with great delicateness that truly often overwhelms the minds of living beings. It is not a well-proportioned body nor one that sharp eyes can see or that becomes visible every time a new day begins. Rather, it is a notion that exists by itself and was created for rest and pleasures. It cannot be achieved – and this is extraordinary – when the wish for it materializes on a journey or at home unless (this is done) with obstructed eyes. Furthermore, it does not exist in the perceptible world unless the souls are effaced. The presence of these two together (the companion and the souls, i. e. self-awareness) is inconceivable to those who are knowledgeable and cognizant. Rather, whenever one of the two is affirmed, the other is negated as a notion. Identify these two to me, for your judgment is most lofty and radiant. Regards.

The Solution Regarding Him Whose Embrace Delights and Whose Separation Causes Insomnia

Know, o you who possess ample knowledge and whose forbearance is a mediator, that the one to whom the indications point and about whom ample explanation has been given is someone who comes and overwhelms the souls and steals them in the mornings and the evenings. He visits them at close of day after the evening prayer and sometimes comes to them in the day, lies in wait for them in public and embraces them as they turn to him and pelts their bodies, when he encounters them, with something that repels those who confront him and prevents them from acting freely – but not with the palm of his hand – and despite their strength relative to his weakness. If you wish to uncover him but his light has so far missed you so that you think that it has been eclipsed, search for him in (the word) yawm (day) the first letter of which I have changed (i. e. search for the solution in the word nawm=sleep). And do not interpret this clear text – for he who interprets it, misses the target. Regards.


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Published Online: 2020-11-11
Published in Print: 2020-11-18

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