Jurji Zaidan


Jurji Zaidan was born in
Beirut, Lebanon, on December 14, 1861. His family belonged to the Greek Orthodox community, but religion does not seem to have played an important role in the daily life of the family. Zaidan described his family as living in "average circumstances", but his autobiography indicates that he grew up in very modest conditions. He received a rudimentary education as his father sent him to work in the small family restaurant from age 11. Zaidan senior, himself illiterate, did not encourage any education beyond simple reading and writing. However, at the age of nineteen Jurji took the entrance examination of the Syrian Protestant College and enrolled in its school of medicine. From these beginnings, Zaidan went on to become a well-established scholar and respected member of the community.

He was a self-made man, and in his autobiography he frequently uses terms as "hard work", "perseverance", "punctuality", and “discipline". In his letters to his son Emile, Zaidan writes how reading "about the life of men who reached the top through their efforts and struggle and reliance upon themselves alone" excited him so much, that he never was able to read the whole book through. He felt the stories in the book reflected exactly his own situation and provided advice on how to rise above such conditions.

Zaidan was a prolific writer. He introduced the historical novel into Arabic literature, and was the first to serialize novels in a magazine. His purpose was not just literary entertainment but also national education. The twenty one novels he wrote dealt all with different aspects of Arab history. They intended to familiarize the reader in an easy popularized form with his own past. Though these novels cannot compare in their literary quality to the achievements of later generations, they were the basis for later developments and are still popular with Arab readers. Several new editions have been published in recent years. He tried to educate and instruct his Arab contemporaries about the modern world, as well as about the Arab past and national identity. He is considered to have laid down the foundation for a pan-Arab national identity.

He helped pioneer new forms of literature and style in Arabic. He founded one of the earliest, and most successful, monthly journals, al-Hilal. In it he discusses aspects of modern life, science and technology, literature, history and culture in general. In 1990 in its 98th year, the magazine was still popular and the Dar al-Hilal publishing house in Cairo is one of the largest in the Arab world.

In addition to the fictionalized form of history writing Zaidan wrote more than a dozen scholarly works. Most dealt with Arabic language, literature, and history. Noteworthy is a five volume work in which he attempted to provide, for the first time, a secular national interpretation of Arab history, as distinguished from the traditional Muslim religious interpretation of the past.

Bibliography of Zaidan’s works:


• Ta"rikh al-masuniya al-"amm, Cairo 1889
• at-Ta"rikh al-"amm, Cairo 1890
• Ta"rikh al-yunan wa"r-roman, Cairo 1899
• Ta"rikh ingiltera, Cairo 1899
• Ta"rikh at-tamaddun al-islami 5 vols. Cairo 1901-1906
• Qabla l-islam, Cairo 1907
• Misr al- "uthmaniya, unpublished manuscript in the collection of unpublished papers at AUB.


• al-Alfaz al-"arabiya wa"l-falsafa al-lughawiya, Beirut 1886
• Ta"rikh al-Iuga al-"arabiya bi"itibariha ka"in hayy khadi" linamus al-¬irtiqa’ , Cairo 1904
• Ta"rikh adab al-lugha al-"arabiya, 4 vols. Cairo 1910-1913


• Mukhtasar jurafiyat misr,. Cairo 1891
• Tabaqat al-umam, Cairo 1912
• "’Ilm al-firasa, Cairo 1901


• Tarajim mashahir ash-asharq fi’l-qarn at-tasi’ashar, 2vols. Cairo 1907


• Mudhakkirat Jurji Zaidan, Salah ad-Din, Beirut 1966
• "al-madrasa al-kulliya", second part of the Autobiography, 1967


• al-Hilal , Cairo 1892-1914


• al-Mamluk ash-sharid, Cairo 1891
• Asr al-mutamahdi, Cairo 1892
• Istibdad al-mamaluk, Cairo 1893
• Jihad al-muhibbin, Cairo 1893
• Annanusa al-misriya, Cairo 1896
• Fatat ghassan 2 vols. Cairo 1897/98
• "Adra"quraish, Cairo 1899
• 17 Ramadan, Cairo 1900
• Ghadat Karbala’, Cairo 1901
• al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, Cairo 1902
• Fath al-andalus, Cairo 1903
• Sharl wa "Abd ar-rahman, Cairo 1904
• Abu Muslim al-khurasani, Cairo 1905
• al-"Abbasa ukht ar-Rashid, Cairo 1906
• al-Amin wa"l-Ma"mun, Cairo 1907
• "Aruss farghana, Cairo 1908
• Ahmad ibn Tulun, Cairo 1909
• "Abd ar-Rahman an-Nasir, Cairo 1910
• al-lnqilab al-"uthmani, Cairo 1911
• Fatat al-qairawan Cairo 1912
• Salah ad-din al-ayyubi, Cairo 1913
• Shajarat ad-Durr, Cairo 1914

Reference: Thomas Philipp (Ed-Translator), The Autobiography of Jurji Zaidan, Three Continents Press, Washington DC, 1990.