From Fiction to Fact: The Curious Evolution of an Arabic Epic
A British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship
The Tale of al-Barraq Son of Rawhan is an anonymously-authored heroic epic and song cycle set in the fifth century, CE, about a knight-in-shining-armour who rescues his beloved Layla, a young Arab woman who has been kidnapped and threatened with forced marriage to a Persian king. It seems to have emerged as a fictional narrative by the beginning of the 18th century and was misconstrued as history by scholars in the 19th century, who extracted the poems recited by Layla in the epic as some of the earliest examples of Arabic women's verse. While the original tale of al-Barraq is now somewhat obscure, Layla's persona and her poems live on in various guises in popular Arabic culture. This website, with its virtual exhibit of texts, images and songs featuring Layla "the Chaste," is part of an effort to raise awareness of this peculiar history and to consider its ramifications.