17. Hayy ibn Yaqzan.

He kept up the fire with dry grass and a good supply of firewood, tending it day and night because it seemed such a wonderful thing. He liked it best at night when it took the place of the sun, giving warmth and light. It meant so much to him he fell in love with it and was convinced that of all the things he had, this was the best. Seeing how it always moved upwards, as though trying to rise, he supposed it must be one of those jewel-substances he saw shining in the sky.

Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan (sometimes translated as “Alive, son of Awake”—though the title is the main character’s name) is a curious philosophical thought experiment from twelfth-century al-Andalus (which is today southern Spain). Hayy grows up on a paradisiacal island where he is the only human, and through his increasing powers of observation and rational thinking he manages to reinvent both philosophy and religion. Chris and Suzanne explore this tantalizing, almost science-fictional work, talk about how it places Hayy in relation to animals, stars, and the divine, and ask what it tells us about the relationship of philosophy and literature.

[content warning: violence towards animals.}

Show Notes.

Ibn Tufayl: Hayy ibn Yaqzan, translated by Lenn Evan Goodman.

Emily Wilson, who spoke with us about her translation of the Odyssey, just won a MacArthur “Genius” Award!

Andrew Marvell: On a Drop of Dew.

The qissa (or “qissa qasira”, sometimes transliterated as kissa) is a term used by some classical Arabic literary scholars that can translate very loosely as “short story”.

Our episode on Plato’s Symposium.

Our episode on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Avicenna [Ibn Sina]: The Canon of Medicine.

Bernardus Silvestris: Cosmographia.

David Markson: Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

Christine Brooke-Rose: Subscript.

The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps on Ibn Tufayl.

An overview of Hayy ibn Yaqzan by Marwa Elshakry and Murad Idris.

Murad Idris: Producing Islamic philosophy: The life and afterlives of Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan in global history, 1882–1947.

Murad Idris recently gave a talk about politics in Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a transcription of which should soon be made available.

Next episode: Margaret Cavendish: The Blazing World [Gutenberg, Librivox].

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