An example of the difficulties and rewards of the search for knowledge

The Maqāmāt literature, like adab anthologies, serves to illuminate all the varieties and foibles of human behaviour in covering all the accepted notions of the difficulties and rewards of the search for knowledge. Here is an example from Badī’s Maqāmah al-ilmīyah:

“Being abroad, I once heard a man asking someone else how he had obtained knowledge, and this was the reply he received: I looked for it and found it far away, not within the reach of hunting arrows, not to be obtained through divination, not to be seen in one’s sleep, not to be retained with a bridle, not to be inherited from paternal uncles, and not to be borrowed from generous men. I got it by tramping through muddy soil and leaning upon rocks, by rejecting annoyance and taking risks, by the assiduous spending of sleepless nights and liking to travel, by much speculation and the application of thought. I found it to be something good only for planting, and only for being planted in the soul, an animal to be hunted that is caught but rarely and trapped only in the bosom, a bird that is deceived only by the snare of words and enmeshed only in the net of memory. I set it upon the spirit and bound it upon the eye. I spent (my) livelihood (on it) and hoarded (it) in the heart. I checked (on its accuracy) through research, and I went from speculation to the assurance of thorough understanding, and from thorough understanding to writing and authorship, relying upon the support of (divine) success. Thus, I heard words that impressed the ear, went to the heart, and seeped into the breast. I said: Young man, whence does the sun rise, and he started to say:

“Alexandria is my home, even though I do not remain there for long, But in Syria I spend the night, and in the Irāq, my day.” [1]

The ceaseless hunt for knowledge, its elusive character, and its conflict with material values are superbly expressed in a few words.

[1] Cf. Badī-az-zamān al-Hamadhānī, Maqāmāt, ed. M. Mu yī-ad-dīn {Abd-al-Majīd, 312–15 (Cairo 1381/1962), ed. Beirut 1965, 202, trans. W. J. Prendergast, The Maqāmāt of Badī{ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī, 152 f. (London and Madras 1915).

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