History of the Arabic Written Tradition. Volume 1
HISTORY OF THE ARABIC WRITTEN TRADITION – Book Sample
The Task of Literary History – HISTORY OF THE ARABIC WRITTEN TRADITION
| In its widest sense, one may call “literature” everything that has been written, or spoken and then written down, for the purpose of having it remembered. For this reason, A. Boeckh suggested including inscriptions as part of a people’s literature.
In cases where the history of a dead language is written using a limited number of monuments one can also employ charters, letters, and the like. But when a language has such a rich abundance of examples as does Arabic, then one will, from among these, only regard those that address themselves from the outset to a larger audience, with the aim of affecting its mood or enriching its knowledge, as literature.
Among the “civilised” nations these manifestations have accumulated to such a degree that the literary historian is compelled to limit himself purely to poetry.
However, Arabic poetry did not have the same significance for the development of human culture and knowledge as a whole compared to the achievements of scholars writing in Arabic for the development of the sciences. This is because the Arabic language was not limited to a single nation, but was the bearer of all culture and education in the vast area where Islam penetrated as a religion, from the banks of the Pontus to Zanzibar, from Fez and Timbuktu to Kashgar and the Sunda islands, ceding this role only belatedly to various national languages, and then only in part. |
This is why the historian of Arabic literature must draw all these manifestations into his orbit; it is only for the outputs of the modern era, in which the world of Islam has become | more and more aligned with European culture, that one can limit oneself to poetry alone.
Given that Arabic literature will only be considered here insofar as it is a manifestation of Islamic culture, all works by Christians and Jews that were only directed at their co-religionists will be excluded. Furthermore, the amount of material, which is in any case enormous, forces us to focus mainly on those works that do survive, and, from the vast multitude of works that are no longer extant but known to us through later citations, to only draw attention to those that had an important impact and influence on the later development of literature.
The study of literature in the elevated sense of the word1 is a means by which modern scholars try to understand both the literary heritage of a people in terms of it being part of its culture as a whole, and how the circumstances of its composition and personalities of authors are reflected in individual works. This is why, at present, it is only possible to deal with individual areas of Arabic literature, employing the same methodology that was used by Goldziher in the field of ḥadīth. |
Anyone hoping to give an account of the field as a whole will have to limit themselves, at least for the time being, to the outward phenomena of any literature as reflected in the lives and times of its authors and their works, thereby preparing the ground for future study of its origins and development.
Sources and Early Accounts of the Literary History of the Arabs
With the exception of those monographs that will be mentioned in their proper places throughout these volumes, the most important biographical and bibliographical sources for the field as a whole are as follows:
| 1. Biographical works
Ibn Khall. = Ibn Khallikān (p. 326), Wafayāt al-aʿyān, Būlāq 12991; Vitae illus-trium virorum, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Göttingen 1835–40; Ibn Khallikan’s biographi-cal dictionary translated from the Arabic, by MacGuckin de Slane, 4 vols., Paris-London 1843–71.
Fawāt = Muḥammad b. Shākir al-Kutubī (II, 48), Fawāt al-wafayāt, 2 vols., Būlāq 1299.
2. Bibliographical works
Fihr. = Kitāb al-Fihrist, hsgb. von G. Flügel, nach dessen Tode besorgt von …
From the Beginnings until the Appearance of Muḥammad
The oldest preserved anthology is the Muʿallaqāt, i.e. those poems that, by | their brilliance, had been elevated to a place of honour. As recognised by Nöldeke (Beitr. XVIIff., Enc. Brit. XVI, 536), a literal interpretation of this term gave rise to the belief that these poems had been recognised as masterpieces in pre-Islamic times, and as such had been suspended on the Kaʿba.
In reality, however, this collection originated with Ḥammād al-Rāwiya. It is not unani-mously agreed which poems belong to the Muʿallaqāt. Five are included by all, those written by Imraʾ al-Qays, Ṭarafa, Zuhayr, Labīd, and ʿAmr b. Kulthūm. ʿAntara and al-Ḥārith b. Ḥilliza usually appear sixth and seventh, although al-Mufaḍḍal replaced them with al-Nābigha and al-Aʿshā.
These are the | poets who are usually also considered to have been the most famous. The only excep-tion to this is al-Ḥārith b. Ḥasan. The reason for Ḥammād’s including him in his collection was discovered by Nöldeke: Ḥammād was a client of the tribe of Bakr b. Wāʾil.
In ancient times, this tribe was engaged in constant warfare with the Taghlib tribe. The poem written by ʿAmr b. Kulthūm, included in Ḥammād’s collection, was devoted to the glorification of this latter tribe, and due to the universal presence of the Taghlib this poem was held in high regard. Since there was no way for Ḥammād to avoid including this song in his collection, he was forced to counter it with another one that would glorify his own lord and master, Bakr b. Wāʾil.
Thus, he chose a song by one of their common tribesmen, the otherwise little-known Ḥārith. Later compilers, who did not have the same tribal interests, replaced him with poets of greater fame. Furthermore, other compilers counted nine Muʿallaqāt, a figure they came to by adding the two selected by al-Mufaḍḍal to those chosen by al-Ḥammād.
Septem Moallakat, ed. F. Arnold, Leipzig 1850; L. Abel, Wörterverzeichnisse zur altarabischen Poesie I, Berlin 1891, on which see G. Jacob, Dr. Abels Muʿallaqāt-Ausgabe nachgeprüft, Studien in arabischen Dichter I, Berlin 1893/4. On the commentaries, see Supplement.
2. Al-Mufaḍḍaliyyāt. See Supplement I.
Commentary by al-Tabrīzi, d. 502/1108, p. 279, also Berl. Brill M 295, Fātiḥ 3963 (MFO V, 502).
4. The Ḥamāsa of Abū Tammām, commentary 2. al-Tanbīh fī sharḥ mushkil abyāt al-Ḥamāsa, also Patna I, 200,789.
| 7. Al-Sukkārī also compiled a work in which he collected the poems of famous Bedouin robbers. Among these was the dīwān of Ṭahmān b. ʿAmr al-Kilābī, who flourished under ʿAbd al-Malik. This dīwān was published by W. Wright in Opuscula Arabica, Leiden, London, and Edinburgh | 1859, pp. 76–95, on the basis of MS Leiden 582.
Ibn Ḥazm (Ṭawq al-ḥamāma, 65,17) studied the commentary by Abū Jaʿfar al-Naḥḥās (no. 3) under Saʿīd al-Fata ̓l-Jaʿfarī in a mosque in Cordova.
Other poems by Ṭahmān are found in Bodl. Nic. 315,1 Esc.2 363,1 466.1 Further fragments of the Akhbār al-luṣūṣ are found in Yāqūt’s geographical dictionary, in Tabrīzī’s commentary on the Ḥamāsa, etc….
Chapter 9. Jewish and Christian Poets before Islam
The Jewish colonies in the northern Hijaz were most probably founded by refugees from Palestine after the crushing of their revolt by the Roman emperors Titus and Hadrian. Even though they had been completely Arabised and had also adopted members of authentic Arab tribes into their midst they remained connected to their country of origin not only by their written laws, but also through the further development of these in Halakha and Haggada. |
Notwithstanding the fact that they were indispensable to the Arabs as farmers and craftsmen, notably goldsmiths, they were generally held in low esteem.
The most important of their poets was Samawʾal b. ʿĀdiyāʾ. However, some sources regard him as a true Arab while, according to others, his mother at least was from the tribe of Ghassān. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that he was committed to Judaism. He lived in the castle of al-Ablaq, in or near Taymāʾ.
He did not owe his fame as much to his talents as a poet as to his loyalty to Imraʾ al-Qays, a loyalty that he upheld by sacrificing his own son, an act that was praised by al-Aʿshā, Dīwān, 25,5ff. Apart from a number of fragments, we also find a beautiful, proud song in his name in the Ḥamāsa, pp. 49ff., a song that is, however, more justifiably attributed to ʿAbd al-Malik b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ḥārithī.
His son Gharīḍ, his nephew Saʿīd b. Gharīḍ (Ibn ʿAsākir, Taʾrīkh Dimashq VI, 157), and his grandson Shuʿba were also known as poets. It should also be mentioned here that at the time of the Prophet the Jewish tribe of Qurayẓa in Medina could boast of several poets, fragments of whose works have been preserved in the biographies of Muḥammad.
| Agh. 1VI, 87/8, XIX, 94/102, XXI, 91/3. Th. Nöldeke, Beiträge, pp. 52/86. Franz Delitzsch, Jüdisch-arabische Poesien aus vormuhammedanischer Zeit, Leipzig 1874. A commentary on the qaṣīda of Samawʾal from the Ḥamāsa by Aḥmad al-Sijāʿī (d. 1190/1776) is contained in Berl. 7465.
On the borders of the Syrian desert the Arabs were in constant touch with Christianity, which, in Syria, they encountered in the form of a state religion, and in Mesopotamia as the religion of the—culturally superior—Aramaic rural population. |
Because of this, the Ghassānids of Damascus had converted to Christianity at an early stage, while the Lakhmids of al-Ḥīra later also converted. In Muḥammad’s time Christianity was widespread among the tribes of Quḍāʿa, Rabīʿa, Tamīm, and Ṭayyiʾ, while in the Hijaz and Najd most people had at least heard about this new religion. The Christian hermit or rāhib is a popular figure in poetry.
It may well be that the Christians, and in particular the ʿIbādīs of al-Ḥīra, should be given the credit for having been the first to use the Arabic script. They had also developed their own literature, with ʿAdī b. Zayd as its main rep-resentative.
He belonged to a family of good standing that had been living in al-Ḥīra from time immemorial. His father had been brought up and educated at the Persian court and, after the death of the first Nuʿmān, he had temporar-ily been in charge of the government in al-Ḥīra, before the appointment of al-Mundhir. When the latter made himself loathed because of his greed, the former again assumed the civil administration in his stead.
Together with the son of a marzbān, ʿAdī was brought up in the tradition of the Persian aristoc-racy, living at the court of al-Madāʾin where he was held in high esteem by King Kisrā b. Hurmuz (Khusraw II Parvīz). Apparently, the latter once even sent him on a diplomatic mission to Byzantium. This trip included a stop in Damascus, where his first poem is said to have seen the light of day. When he returned to his homeland his father and the marzbān who had educated him had both passed away. He could have taken the place of his father, but instead he preferred to live according to his fancy, wandering between al-Ḥīra, al-Madāʾin, and the hunting-grounds of Jafīr.
When al-Mundhir | was on his deathbed, ʿAdī was the one who recommended to him his son al-Nuʿmān, whom he is said to have brought to the throne by deception, thus earning him the hatred of the Banū Marīna, who had taken the side of al-Mundhir’s other sons. | Once, when he was again in al-Madāʾin, his enemies succeeded in rais-ing al-Nuʿmān’s suspicion by the accusation that he had scornfully referred to al-Nuʿmān as “his creation.”
Using a fake invitation, al-Nuʿmān enjoined him to come to his territory and then threw him in prison. When the king of the Persians received news of this he sent an emissary to al-Ḥīra to obtain his release but, when the latter arrived, ʿAdī had already been murdered in prison.
Initially, ʿAdī’s genre was the drinking song (Agh. 1VI, 123). Even after 150 years, his poems were still popular among his countrymen. One of them, the ʿIbādī al-Qāsim b. al-Ṭufayl, introduced the caliph Walīd II, whose boon- companion he was, to ʿAdī’s songs.
This induced the ruler to come up with his own songs, which formed the basis for Islamic wine poetry. Often, however, ʿAdī also struck a more serious note, and it is in the surviving fragments of his poems that notions of death and the transient nature of existence predominate.
Agh. 1II, 18/43, 217/40, 3II, 97/154, Khiz. I, 184/6, Jamhara 103. His dīwān is also mentioned in Khiz. II, 20, 5.
A fair number of Christian ideas are also found in al-Nābigha and Zuhayr, and, especially, in Labīd and al-Aʿshā, who both lived some time after them, which
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