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Abstract

The fifteenth-century rhetorician, litterateur, and belletrist-historian Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿArabshāh (791–854/1389–1450) is known as a biographer of the Central Asian warlord and conqueror, Amir Temür (r. 771–807/1370–1405), Tīmūr, or Tamerlane. Scholarly interest in Ibn ʿArabshāh concerns primarily his ʿAjāʾib al-maqdūr fī nawāʾib Tīmūr (The Wonders of destiny in the calamities wrought by Tīmūr) and his relationship to Timurid historiography. Seldom is Ibn ʿArabshāh himself approached as a participant in and product of the socio-political landscapes of fifteenth-century Syria (Bilād al-Shām) and Egypt in the context of the late medieval sultanate of Cairo. Through the cultural practice of historical writing Ibn ʿArabshāh, like many of his peers, sought to take advantage of new opportunities presented by the emerging political order during the successive sultanates of al-Ashraf Barsbāy (r. 825–41/1422–38) and al-Ẓāhir Jaqmaq (r. 842–57/1438–53) to acquire a patronage position either at the court of the new sultan or elsewhere in the religio-political networks of the time. This article, building on the previous life sketch of Ibn ʿArabshāh and his works established by Robert McChesney, adds a more nuanced layer to the picture by historicizing his panegyric for the sultan al-Ẓāhir Jaqmaq (d. 857/1453), Al-Taʾlīf al-ṭāhir fī shiyam al-Malik al-Ẓāhir al-qāʾim bi-nuṣrat al-ḥaqq Abī Saʿīd Jaqmaq (The Pure composition on the character of the King al-Ẓāhir the supporter of divine truth Abī Saʿīd Jaqmaq). Analysis of the latter text in relation to The Wonders of Destiny will demonstrate ways in which the author may have sought to instrumentalize the Pure Composition during a precise moment of political transformation. Examining the Pure Composition in the context of its creation helps identify and reconstruct some details of the social world in which Ibn ʿArabshāh operated and provides a window into the author’s attempts to expand and define his key relationships in the hope of securing a new patron or better position.

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