800-1100 CE

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Ki no Tsurayuki

 Ki no Tsurayuki (884-946 CE) compiled the second great Anthology of Japanese poetry, the Kokinwakashiu, and also wrote a preface to it that became the basis for Japanese poetics. He was a skilled poet himself, a prose writer, and also an able administrator, becoming Governor of Tosa. In his preface to the anthology (also referred to as the Kokinshiu or the Kokin), Tsurayuki sees the anthology as preserving something special for humanity: in it, people may forever take pleasure from the form of the poems and profit from their content.



Al-biruni (973-1048 CE) was born in Khwarizm, the modern Khiva (Uzbekistan).  He was well grounded in mathematics, physics, astronomy and ancient medicine. A meticulous observer of natural and social phenomena, he recorded information about calendars, festivals, theories, and practices among many nations. Some of these were dying out as he wrote, and he is thus often our only source of historical information about them. He concluded that most countries, including his own, had an unjustifiably hostile view of neighboring countries.



Abu 'l'Ala Ahmad ibn 'Abdallah al-Ma'arri (973-1057 CE) was born in Ma'arra, south of Aleppo, and  achieved fame as one of greatest of Arab poets. He created the Luzumiyyat, a large collection of verses that contrasted with traditional works in its irregular poetic structures and in the opinions it contained.  Al-Ma'arri wrote "My aim is to speak the truth. Now, the proper end of poetry is not truth, but falsehood, and in proportion as it is diverted from its proper end its perfection is impaired. Therefore I must crave the indulgence of my readers for this book of moral poetry." 


Samuel ha-Nagid

Samuel ha-Nagid (Samuel ha-Levi ben Joseph ibn Nagrela, 993-1056 CE) was born in Cordoba. He subsequently settled in Malaga, part of the Berber province of Granada. He was appointed vizier in 1027. He was at one and the same time, poet, rabbi, statesman, and general, and distinguished in each one of these fields. It was his high rank and success in war that led the Jews to call him Nagid (Prince).  Like other poets, he finds himself meditating on the shortness of man’s life and of our reactions to birth and death. His experience in war is also captured in his poetry, where he laments the loss of life it incurs and the suffering it causes.



Bilhana or Chauras (born about 11th Century CE), a young Kashmiri poet, is the subject of a legend in which he and Vidya, the daughter of the local king, had a secret affair.  Bilhana was imprisoned under sentence of death by beheading. While in prison, he composed and recited a series of  verses celebrating his love, the Chauraspanchasika, which can be translated as "The Collection of Fifty Verses by a Love Thief". The collection of verses has been popular for centuries in India. There are numerous commentaries and many local and regional variants. A freely adapted translation by  E. Powys Mathers is quoted here.


Omar Khayyam

Omar Khaiyyam (1038-1123 CE) was born at Naishapur in Khorassan. He lived under the patronage of the Vizier of that time, Nizam-ul-Mulk, “busied,” said the Vizier, “in winning knowledge of every kind, and especially in astronomy, wherein he attained to a very high pre-eminence.” Omar was a mathematician as well as an astronomer and contributed to the reform of the Muslim calendar. He also wrote the verses that Edward Fitzgerald used in a very free translation some seven centuries later. Fitzgerald's poem stressed living for the day,  because of the impossibility of understanding the universe. It emphasized the immensity of space and time and the insignificance of man, and advocated shared friendship and conviviality.


Anna Comnena

Anna Comnena (1083-1155?) was the daughter of Alexius I Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium, and the author of a history of his life. As the first woman historian whose writings have survived, she continues the humanistic tradition of providing a record that reveals the intrigues of politicians and generals, the dominant role in history of greed, deception, and violence, and the failure of governments to protect the governed. Her Alexiad is an ambitious work, exceeding the History of Thucydides in length. It is also in the tradition of Thucydides, rather than in that of the medieval chronicles of the West.