AL-AḠĀNĪ, KETĀB (“The Book of Songs”), the major work of Abu’l-Faraǰ Eṣfahānī (284-356/897-967). Although thirty-six works are attributed to him (see ʿA. Aṣmaʿī, Abu’l-Faraǰ al-Eṣfahanī wa ketāboh al-Aḡānī, Cairo, 1951, pp. 172-75; EI2 I, p. 118), his reputation rests entirely on al-Aḡānī. In its most recent edition (Cairo, 24 vols., 1927-74), the work runs to over 9,000 pages of text; it thus goes far beyond its original purpose, which was to record 100 songs selected for the caliph Hārūn al-Rašīd, and forms a rich anthology of historical fact, biographical detail, songs, myths, folktales, literary prose and poetry, and criticism. Ebn Ḵaldūn’s description brings out the essential quality of al-Aḡānī; he calls it “the dīvān of the Arabs and the archive which recorded the dispersed beauties they had created in all branches of the art of poetry” (al-Moqaddema, Beirut, 1956, I, p. 1039). The work is a major anthology of both the established poets and the poets of the “counter-culture.” It is also a record of some of the turning points in the history of Arabic literature. It offers many instances of the restrictive attitudes toward poetry in early Islam and creates an impression of an evolutionary process in the poetry of wine, homosexuality, and physical love. It portrays a vivid picture of the caliphal courts, especially during the Omayyad and ʿAbbasid periods. While strongly attacking šoʿūbīya, the anti-Arab sentiment in the ʿAbbasid period (XX, p. 77), al-Aḡānī heightens the role of non-Arabs in Arabic culture by tracing the racial origins of the people he discusses. However, Eṣfahānī records very few concrete instances of Persian influence, either literary or musical. He presents an image of the culture as a melting-pot with contributions from many non-Arabs. Persian and Byzantine musical influences were introduced by a black slave, Ebn Mosǰeḥ (III, p. 276), and a singer of Persian origin, Ebn Moḥrez (I, p. 391 ), while Ebn Sorayǰ, of Turkish and mawālī origin, introduced the lute into Arabic singing (I, p. 259). Ebn Mosǰeḥ’s style, perfected by the Persians Ebrāhīm al-Mawṣelī and his son Esḥāq, formed the classical style until challenged by an Arab modernist, Ebn al-Mahdī (X, p. 69). Ebn Moḥrez was the first singer to set couplets to music and invented the singing style of ramal, which a Persian singer in the time of Hārūn al-Rašīd, named Salmak, introduced into Persian singing by transposing a song by Ebn Moḥrez. This raises the interesting question whether such couplets could have influenced the development of the robāʿī in Persian, particularly as a considerable number of songs consisting of couplets had the rhyming scheme AABA. Other couplets rhyming AAAA were also popular in the ʿAbbasid period (XX, pp. 46, 74, 154 and 7, 144, 155 respectively). While the translation into Arabic of Kalīla wa Demna by Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ seems to have influenced Arabic prose and the whole genre of animal fables, in poetry no specific influences are recorded by Eṣfahānī, although many poets were of Persian origin.


The recent Cairo ed. of al-Aḡānī was begun by the Dār al-Kotob (vols. I-XVI) and completed by al-Hayʾat al-ʿĀmma (XVII-XXIV, 1970-74), which also reissued vols. I-II.

On the earlier ed. of Būlāq and Cairo, see EI2 I, p. 118. See also: Brockelmann, GAL I, p. 146; S. I, pp. 225-26.

Yāqūt, Odabāʾ V, pp. 149-68.

H. G. Farmer, Arabic Music in the Ketab al-Aghani, London, 1940.

Šafīq Jabrī, Abu’l-Faraǰ Eṣfahānī, Cairo, 1955.

Maḥmūd Aḥmad Ḥafnī, ʿElm al-ālāt al-mūsīqīya, Cairo, 1971.

(K. Abu-Deeb)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 28, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, pp. 606-607

Cite this entry:

K. Abu-Deeb, “AḠĀNĪ, KETĀB AL-,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/6, pp. 606-607; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ketab-al-agani (accessed on 16 March 2014).