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Philosophy General

On Life, Death, and Languages

An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 29-31

by (author) Eric Ormsby

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2021
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2021
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The Ikhwan al-safa' (Brethren of Purity), the anonymous adepts of a tenth-century esoteric fraternity based in Basra and Baghdad, hold an eminent position in the history of science and philosophy in Islam due to the wide reception and assimilation of their monumental encyclopaedia, the Rasa'il Ikhwan al- safa' (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). This compendium contains fifty-two epistles offering synoptic accounts of the classical sciences and philosophies of the age; divided into four classificatory parts, it treats themes in mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and theology, in addition to didactic fables.

The three epistles in this volume are among the most accessible and appealing of the Brethren of Purity's treatises. In their down-to-earth yet elegant style, they present age-old teachings on three fundamental issues: the nature of death, the truth about pleasure and pain, and the multiplicity of human languages and their origins, beginning with a discussion of natural and mechanical sounds and proceeding to human speech. Here we find outstanding examples of adab in the Arabic literary tradition, refined and genial philosophical discourses that reveal a high degree of sophistication and considerable literary flair.

About the author

Eric Ormsby's poetry has appeared in most of the major journals in Canada, England and the U.S., including The New Yorker, Parnassus and The Oxford American. His first collection of poems, Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems (ECW Press, 1990), won the QSpell Award of 1991. In the following year he received an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award for `outstanding work as a poet`. His collection, Coastlines (ECW Press, 1992), was a finalist for the QSpell Award of that year. A sixth collection, Time's Covenant, appeared in 2006 with Biblioasis. His work has been anthologized in The Norton Anthology of Poetry as well as in The Norton Introduction to Literature.

Eric and his wife Irena currently live in London, England.

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