The Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (d. 1037), known in Europe as Avicenna, was arguably the greatest master of Aristotelian thought in the Muslim world. The symbolical ‘Poem on the Soul’ (Qasidat al-nafs), which portrays all earthly human souls as in temporary exile from heaven, is traditionally attributed to him. renowned for his encyclopaedic treatments of philosophy, Avicenna also experimented with a variety of intellectual genres and discourse styles, including a small number of mythopoeic texts. Among those, the brief Qasida drew the particular attention of commentators on account of its aesthetic impact, popularity and the ostensibly esoteric character of its teachings. it depicts the human soul as a strayed dove, which can only return home after retrieving awareness of its celestial origin. the text therefore expresses metaphorically the need for a philosophical perspective in life and for philosophy as a path to salvation.
One of the most important commentaries on the Qasida was written by 'Ali b. Muhammad b. al-Walid (d. 1215), a major early representative of the Tayyibi Ismaili tradition, which emerged and flourished in medieval Yemen. In his view, the poem encapsulated the highly distinctive and esoteric beliefs of his own school. At the heart of this system lies a cosmological myth, aptly named the ‘drama in heaven’, according to which our imperfect universe results from a rupture in the celestial world and a subsequent fall. Avicenna’s Allegory on the Soul presents an edition of the Arabic text of Ibn al-Walīd’s commentary, ‘The Useful Epistle’ (al-Risala al-mufida), alongside an English translation and extended introduction. It offers invaluable insight into esoteric Muslim thought and a deeper understanding of Avicenna’s substantial intellectual legacy.