Beatrice Gruendler

Professor, Arabic Language & Literature


Beatrice Gruendler (D.E.U.G. Strasbourg, 1985; B.A. Tübingen, 1987; M.A. 1989, Ph.D. Harvard, 1995) is active in four areas of research: the development of Arabic script, classical Arabic poetry and its social context, the integration of modern literary theory into the study of Near Eastern literatures, and early Islamic book-culture (3rd/9th century C.E.) viewed within the history of media.

She wrote her first book on The Development of the Arabic Scripts, in which she demonstrates their Nabatean origin and traces their early Islamic forms, based on dated texts (Atlanta, Georgia 1993, see link “Publications” below for full citation). Articles on Arabic script appeared in the Encyclopedia of the Qur'an (2001a, 2004c) and the Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (2006c). A recent article on the various uses of the Arabic consonantal alphabet (abgad) throughout the history of the Arabic language, in collaboration with the School of Advanced Research, St. Fe, appeared in the volume The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change, edited by Stephen D. Houston (2012c).

In classical Arabic poetry, Gruendler produced a book-length study on the panegyrics of Ibn al-Rumi (d. 896) and his iconology of literary patronage (Medieval Arabic Praise Poetry, London, 2003, paperback 2010). Related articles discuss the ode (qaṣīda) and its emulation (muʿāraḍa) in Muslim Spain (2000c, 2008c) and the love lyric (ghazal) as a genre as well as its independently surviving motifs (2005b). Gruendler explored the interrelation between rulership and literature in different literary genres in a colloquium, the proceedings from which she has co-edited with Louise Marlow, Wellesley College as Writers and Rulers: Perspectives from Abbasid to Safavid Times (Wiesbaden 2004). Currently she researches literary accounts (akhbār) to throw light on the often practical functions performed by poetry in the ninth century and its reigning cultural esthetics, and the role of philologists. Articles treat the search for patronage (2005c ), the intersection between literature and law (notably apostils, tawqīʿāt) or finance (2009a), the metamorphosis of odes in performance and transmission (2007b), the controversy about the abstract style (takhyīl) between scribes and philologists (2008d, 2011b, and in press), and the social tension caused by the graphic urban love lyric (ghazal) (2011a).

She sees the integration of literary theory into pre-modern Near Eastern literatures as an ongoing task of the field and has co-hosted with Verena Klemm, Leipzig University, the section on Arabic language and literature (Arabistik) at the meetings of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (DOT) 2001-10. Under the title Understanding Near Eastern Literatures (Wiesbaden: Reichert 2000), parts of these projects have formed the pilot volume of the series Literaturen im Kontext: Arabisch – Persisch - Türkisch, edited by Angelika Neuwirth and others and devoted to innovative approaches to Near Eastern literatures.

Together with Julia Bray, Université de Paris VIII-Saint Denis, she has convened two conferences to rethink the role of Arabic as a cosmopolitan language avant la lettre and the classification of its literary genres, entitled “Conceptualising Literary History: Foundations of Arabic Literature,” with a first meeting at Yale, April 16-18, 2010 (see and a second meeting at the Université de Paris VIII St. Denis/INALCO, November 25-27, 2010.

She has contributed a study on the Malady of the Hearts of al-Kharāʾiṭī (d. 938) to an interdisciplinary colloquium at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin), which appeared under the title Martyrdom and Modernity: Visions of Death and Meaningful Suffering in Europe and the Middle East from Antiquity to Modernity (ed. F. Pannewick, Wiesbaden 2004). Another recent project was an encyclopedia of cultural concepts, entitled Classical Arabic Humanities in Their Own Terms (Brill 2007), in honor of Wolfhart Heinrichs.

As a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Advanced Institute of Berlin) during the academic year 2010-11 she began her book project The Islamic Age of Communication. The rise of book culture in the Near East of the ninth century AD, spurred by the introduction of paper and the growth of Arabic into a cosmopolitan lingua franca, occasioned a fundamental shift in the dissemination of knowledge, methods of teaching and publishing, and literary life in general, which had heretofore relied mainly on oral ways. The project draws from the copious preserved written sources (akhbār) the contemporary perceptions of the changing ways in which poets, writers, critics, and audiences availed themselves of the new media (paper slips, notebooks, and codices in rough or redacted form) and how communication and the uses of text by the different social and professional classes diversified as a result. Both the court and new venture publishers became factors in book production, with whom authors had to negotiate. Conversely, books were not necessarily intended to spread information, but could equally well control it and restrict its use. Further phenomena were the coexistence of the spoken and written word, used in many complementary ways, and the new professional status of authors and copyists, affording them independence from patronage. Excerpts of the first chapter appeared as "Book Culture before Print: The Early History of Arabic Media" (The American University of Beirut, The Margaret Weyerhaeuser Jewett Chair of Arabic. Occasional Papers, 2012; for a related lecture-conversation with Michael Marx, BBAW, “Papyrus, Parchment, Paper: Medial changes of Arabic book culture,” see

In another project she investigates the manifold roles of Christ in Classical Arabic poetry. A recent article discusses the parallels between sententiae attributed to Aristotle and verses of the poet al-Mutanabbi (d. 965) (2012a). The concept of the home (waṭan, awṭān) and its alternatives is the subject of an article to appear in the volume Visions and Representations of the Homeland in Modern Poetry and Prose, edited by S. Günther and S. Milich (in press). She is further in the process of planning a collective critical edition of the classical Arabic mirror of princes in fable form, Kalīla wa-Dimna in collaboration with Louise, Marlow, Wellesley College and Istvan Kristo-Nagy, University of Exeter. A survey of the state of research and the type of problems to be considered is in press in the volume Énoncés sapientiels et littérature exemplaire, edited by M. Bornes Varol and M. Ortola. She also participates in the launching of a new bilingual translation series, the Library of Arabic Literature, by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute with an English rendition of al-Ṣūlī’s Akhbār Abī Tammām (expected 2013).

Gruendler teaches undergraduate courses on classics of the Arabic-Islamic world in translation and together with John Darnell (NELC) and Michael Fischer (Computer Science) she offers a media history course, "From Pictograph to Pixels: Changing Ways of Human Communication." She regularly contributes guest lectures on the Koran, the Arabic ode (qaṣīda), the love lyric (ghazal), and The 1001 Nights to the Literature Major’s course on World Poetry/Performance.

Her graduate teaching comprises an introduction to the methodology of Arabic and Islamic studies and seminars on Classical Arabic linguistics, literature (e.g., Layla and Majnūn, Abbasid poetry and its social context, al-Mutanabbi, the Maqāmāt), poetics, Islamic geography, and the history of the Arabic language worldwide from the time before Islam to the present.



Arabic Literature



The Development of the Arabic Scripts Medieval Arabic Praise Poetry Understanding Near Eastern Literatures



Writers and Rulers Classical Arabic Humanities


From left to right, top row:

a. The Development of the Arabic Scripts: From the Nabatean Era to the First Islamic Century. Harvard Semitic Studies 43, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993.

This book provides an overview of the genesis of the Arabic alphabet and serves as a reference tool for dating early Arabic manuscripts. It presents the gradual shift of the alphabet from the early Nabatean stage (second century B.C.E.), its appropriation for the Arabic language, and its early Islamic development until 100 A.H./720 C.E. It includes chronological charts with analyses of the form, alignment, connection, and diacritical marking of each graph and a discussion of the emergence of the early Arabic scripts.

b. Medieval Arabic Praise Poetry: Ibn al-Rûmî and the Patron’s Redemption, London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003 pb 2010 (

The book gives an insight into panegyrics (madîh), a genre central to understanding medieval Near Eastern society. Poets in this arabophone multi-ethnic society would address the majority of their verse to rulers, generals, officials and the urban upper classes, its tone ranging from celebration to reprimand and even to threat. This panegyric genre is represented by Ibn al-Rûmî, who dedicated many of his poems to the last Tâhirid governor of Baghdad. Ibn al-Rûmî’s work is ideally suited to this study, as it addresses the issue of literary patronage and provides a self-portrait of the artist and his social position.

c. Understanding Near Eastern Literatures: A Spectrum of Interdisciplinary Approaches, eds. Beatrice Gruendler and Verena Klemm. Literaturen im Kontext, vol. 1, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2000 (

This book offers an interdisciplinary perspective on Near Eastern literatures and participates in the ongoing dialogue with literary theory. It presents nineteen different readings of Arabic, Persian and Turkish works from the classical and modern periods, throwing new light on the texts as well as discussing chosen theoretical models, their applicability and interconnection.


From left to right, second row:

d. Writers and Rulers: Perspectives from Abbasid to Safavid Times, eds. Beatrice Gruendler and Louise Marlow. Literaturen im Kontext, vol. 16, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2004 (

Nine essays explore how Arabic and Persian literature from the ninth to the seventeenth century often served dual functions: it conveyed didactic, ethical and ideological concerns to rulers, and it secured the subsistence, status and protection of authors. To conterbalance his addressee’s greater power, the writer invested himself with the authority of religious law and ethical ideals, imparted criticism, and touted the value of his own art. In their adaptations of lament, panegyric, quatrain, love lyric, epistle, statutes of government, dynastic history, mirror of princes and shadow play, authors further pursued a place in the literary tradition, while rulers sought the public display of their culture and largesse and lasting memory.

e. Classical Arabic Humanities in Their Own Terms: Festschrift Wolfhart Heinrichs for his 65th Birthday, ed. Beatrice Gruendler with the assistance of M. Cooperson, Leiden: Brill 2007 The volume brings together approaches to different elements of Arabic-Islamic civilization, mainly in the areas of linguistics, literature, literary theory, and prosody, but also including religion, ritual, economics, and zoology. Contributions also touch upon the adjacent fields of the Old Iranian, Persian, Greek and Byzantine written traditions. Some take as their points of departure specific Arabic words (cat, giraffe) or morphemes; others explore literary genres (oration, ode, macaronic poem, travel narrative) or figures within them (the trickster, the devil). Cultural concepts such as wishing, gift-giving or discourse are treated, as are aspects of broader phenomena, such as the role of gender in dream interpretation or the relative merits of luxury goods and mass-produced commodities.


See a list of publications here: List of Publications

To visit Beatrice Gruendler's page on Academia, see