Arabic Calligraphy: From Bordeaux to Norman

One of the highlights of my time in Bordeaux was the chance to learn Arabic calligraphy at a weekly atelier. The Algerian teacher and the other students took me in with open arms. We displayed our work at a couple of campus exhibition and gathered at other events hosted either by the club or by the Algerian consulate. It was a convivial group of people who were surprised and delighted by an American girl who spoke both French and Arabic.

Even though I was still a definite amateur when I left, I felt confident enough to start a calligraphy club through the Arabic Flagship program this semester. I was delighted by the enthusiasm and dedication of my students, who progressed rapidly through the alphabet. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching as well as the calligraphy, and not just because I got to do calligraphy in chalk on the blackboard. Hopefully my students enjoyed the background music I chose and the odd vocabulary I used for practice. I am very glad that I could fulfill my promise to my calligraphy teacher back in France and pass on the lessons on the other side of the Atlantic.

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Ancient Scripts in the Arab World

During my visit to Paris after finishing up at Bordeaux, I followed up on a recommendation from a friend and visited the Institute of the Arab World, which was absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the part of the collection that explained the early history of the Arabian peninsula and the Levant, as it introduced me to scripts and languages that I was previously unaware of, such as Sabean, Thamudic, and the Ancient South Arabian script.

Recently, I came across an article in the New Yorker (via languagehat) and a podcast from UT about Ahmed Al-Jallad, who researches and deciphers inscriptions in the Safaitic script, which are written in an older, pre-Islamic form of Arabic. The Safaitic alphabet is primarily found in Syria and Jordan, and Al-Jallad theorizes that forms of Arabic were present in this region before the rise of Classical Arabic on the Arabian peninsula. In the podcast, Al-Jallad discusses pre-Islamic inscriptions written in the Arabic alphabet. Those found to this point are generally associated with a Christian identity, rather than a pagan one. I would highly recommend reading the article and podcast (with transcript) if you are interested in Arabic history, linguistics, or just generally get excited about deciphering ancient scripts and languages. Al-Jallad also has an interesting discussion of Safaitic with photos and translations on his Twitter account.

 

Babylonian Tales

I have included a few stories from the Mythology and Folklore class I took last semester, but I never posted my final project. I had a lot of fun retelling Babylonian myths in different contexts: historical fiction set in the Civil War, modern day life, poetry, and science fiction. The narrator is the scribe god Nabu, who has lived to the present day and wants to try his hand at being an author. I am quite pleased with the final result, which you can read here: Babylonian Tales: The Book of Nabu.

Carving of Nabu

Nabu