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 The Ring Of The Dove
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ibn Hazm
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THE Arabs carrying Islam westwards to the Atlantic Ocean first set foot on Spanish soil during July 710 the leader of the raid, which was to prove the forerunner of long Moslem occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, was named Tarif, and the promontory on which he landed commemorates his exploit by being called to this day Tarifa. The main invasion followed a year later; Tariq Ibn Ziyad, a Berber by birth, brought over from the African side of the narrows a comparatively small army which sufficed to overthrow Roderick the Visigoth and to supplant the Cross by the Crescent; he gave his name to that famous Rock of Gibraltar (Jabal Tariq, the Mountain of Tariq), which has been disputed by so many conquerors down the ages, and over which the British flag has fluttered since the early years of the eighteenth century. 

      When Ibn Hazm, the author of the book here translated, was born on 7 November 994, Islam had been established in Andalusia for nearly three hundred years. Since 756 Cordova, his birthplace, had been the capital of the Umaiyad rulers of this now independent kingdom;’ for it was in the far West of the Moslem Empire that the remnant of the first dynasty of Caliphs found shelter and renewed greatness after being supplanted in Baghdad by their conquerors the Abbasids.

 The two centuries which followed the inauguration of the Western Caliphate witnessed the rise of a brilliant civilization and culture which have left an ineradicable impress on the peninsula, embodied in so many fine Moorish buildings; the Cathedral Mosque of Cordova, founded in 786, mentioned several times in the pages of this book, was converted into a Christian cathedral by Ferdinand III in 1236, but its familiar name ” La Mesquita ” still recalls the purpose for which it was originally erected. It was during Ibn Hazm’s own lifetime that the Umaiyad Caliphate was finally extinguished. 

      Abu Muhammad `Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Sa’id Ibn’ Hazm, to give our author his full name-for the Arabs call a man first after his son, secondly by his own name, and thirdly after his father and his ancestors-belonged to a notable family converted from Christianity several generations before. His father was a high official in the service of al-Mansur, regent of Hisham II, and of his son al-Muzaffar; al-Mansur and al-Muzaffar were members of the Banu ‘Amir who had succeeded in arrogating to themselves all the power and privileges of the Caliphate but its name. Being the son of such a man, to whom he always refers as ” the late vizier “, Ibn Hazm enjoyed a happy though secluded childhood, and the advantages of an excellent education; he tells us that most of his early teachers were women. The fall of the Banu ‘Amir led soon after to the dismissal and house-arrest of their faithful minister, who died four years later on 22 June 1012. The Umaiyads were now near their end; Andalusia was in a state of anarchy; in 1013 the Berber insurgents seized and sacked Cordova, and on 13 July of that year Ibn Hazm fled from the city of his birth and set out upon extensive wanderings, of which he gives us fascinating glimpses in the pages of this book. In 1 o 16 `Ali Ibn Hammud proclaimed himself Caliph, but did not long survive his usurpation of power. The next fourteen years were chaotic in the extreme, as Umaiyad and Hammudid pretenders struggled for possession of the precarious throne. In 1030 the citizens of Cordova, weary of so much disorder, declared the Caliphate to be at an end and set up in its place a sort of republic; but the authority of Cordova had meanwhile dwindled away, and Andalusia was split between numerous independent principalities. The way was being

prepared for the Reconquista. The fall of Granada in 1492 drove the Moslems from their last foothold in the Iberian Peninsula. 

      Ibn Hazm’s first refuge after his flight from Cordova was Almeria, where he lived quietly and in comparative security for a time. But in 1016 Khairan, the governor of that city, having made common cause with `Ali Ibn Hammud against the Umaiyad Sulaiman, accused Ibn Hazm of harbouring Umaiyad sympathies, and after imprisoning him for some months banished him from his province. Our author made a brief stay at Aznalcazar, and then betook himself to Valencia, where `Abd al-Rahman IV al-Murtada the Umaiyad had just announced his succession to the Caliphate. He served al-Murtada as vizier and marched with his army to Granada; but the cause he supported was not successful, and he was captured and thrown into prison. However his release was not long delayed; and in February 1019 he returned to Cordova, after an absence of six years, to find al-Qasim Ibn Hammud in power. In December 1023 the Umaiyads again seized the Caliphate, and Ibn Hazm became vizier to ‘Abd al-Rahman V al-Mustazhir. He had only seven weeks’ enjoyment of this turn of fortune, for al-Mustazhir was assassinated and he himself was once again in jail. History does not record how long his new incarceration lasted; we only know that in 1027 he was in Jativa, where he composed the present book. He appears to have kept clear of politics for the rest of his days, which ended on 15 August 1064; but he by no means kept clear of trouble, for his religious views were in conflict with the prevalent orthodoxy and his writings were publicly burnt in Seville during his lifetime. 

      The Ring of the Dove was Ibn Hazm’s only experiment in the field of elegant literature; for he was primarily interested in theology and law, on which he wrote voluminously. Its survival hangs upon the tenuous thread of a single manuscript, itself in fact an epitome rather than a complete transcription of the original. This precious codex, which is dated Rajab 738 of the Mohammedan reckoning, or February 1338 of the Christian era, is preserved in the fine Leiden collection, and was first studied by R. Dozy, the eminent historian of Moslem Spain. In 1914 the Russian savant D. K. Petrof published the text, which was reprinted as it stood, at Damascus in 1931. The editio princeps was necessarily somewhat defective textually, for the copyist of the manuscript was not very careful; but many improved readings were proposed by a succession of learned reviewers, prominent among them being I. Goldziher, C. Brockelmann, W. Marcais and A. R. Nykl. In 1931 an English translation was published by Nykl at Paris; ten years later M. Weisweiler produced an amiable German rendering, which has had a very considerable success. In 194.9 F. Gabrieli offered an Italian version; and in the same year L. Bercher issued at Algiers a revised edition of the text, accompanied by an interleaved French translation. Finally in 1952 an elegant Spanish translation was published by E. Garcia Gdmez. 

      The present writer is profoundly indebted to the labors of these his distinguished predecessors, which have illuminated most of the obscurities that disfigured Petrof’s text. He has been eclectic, he hopes judiciously, in his interpretations of those not infrequent passages where scholars have been in conflict; and he has taken into his translation a few emendations of his own. He feels reasonably confident, though by no means complacent, that all but a very small number of cruxes have now been resolved. 

      The extremely interesting and learned introduction with which Nykl prefaced his meritorious but inelegant and somewhat unsatisfactory rendering disposes of the necessity of covering the same ground again; in brief, that most widely-read and humane scholar has discussed the relationship between The Ring of the Dove and the writings of the Troubadours, a subject which he has studied further in his excellent Hispano-Arabic Poetry (Baltimore, 194,6). My own intentions are in any case more modest; I have aimed at making an accurate and, I trust, tolerably readable translation for the perusal of the general public, and not so much for the consideration of experts. I do not propose therefore to adventure into the perilous arena of comparative literature, and shall confine the remainder of these brief comments to a discursive appreciation of the contents of Ibn Hazm’s book. 

      Arabic literature, which is exceedingly extensive in bulk, does not abound in books of the sort that modern taste finds readable. The explanation of this paradox is fairly obvious. Before the advent of Islam the Arabs appear to have had no tradition of writing and reading, and their literary instinct was satisfied by the composition of poetry and proverbial sayings, all transmitted by word of mouth. The fast book to be compiled in Arabia was the Koran; and that, according to native report, was put together by an editor after the death of Mohammed. Though poetry was regarded as a suspect pursuit by the narrowly orthodox, even they could not deny its value as an instrument of religious propaganda; and since religion in Islam soon became entangled with politics, the age-old forms of panegyric and satire continued to flourish in the brave new age of faith in action. Meanwhile the requirements of dogma, ritual and law encouraged the growth of a kind of literature which soon found acceptance as a respectable and indeed a meritorious occupation; wandering scholars made it their care to collect the traditional sayings of Mohammed, carried into remote provinces of the far-flung Moslem empire by the victorious expeditionaries of the cause. These traditions were in time organized into digests following a set pattern, the arrangement being by topics of ritual and law. In this way the Arabs came to regard the book as a collection of anecdotes written down in accordance with a premeditated scheme; though some still considered the memory to be a superior medium of transmission to the written word. 

      Contact with other peoples presently made the Arabs aware of the existence of other literatures. The Persians introduced them to the idea of adab, a term most difficult to translate; broadly speaking, adab is a form of prose composition whose primary purpose is not religious but secular, and which is intended not merely for instruction but also for enjoyment. It was the Persians who taught the Arabs to appreciate and to write elegant prose; they also initiated their rude conquerors into the pleasures of amusing fiction, and encouraged them to amorous adventures. From the Greeks the Arabs learned science and philosophy, the art and the delight of discussion and dialectic. Persians and Greeks together persuaded the austere and somewhat joyless Arabs that concubinage could be an Tsthetic and’ intellectual as well as a physical pleasure. They taught them many other things besides, but these are not relevant to the present subject. Many of these lessons were naturally rejected with horror by the strictly religious, but they left their impress on Arabic literature. 

      The Arabs had certainly known and appreciated the joys of the flesh, long before Islam persuaded them that these were inferior to the delights of the spirit. So the poets inform us; and it is significant that poets were the heroes of the numerous desert romances, which now passed into wide circulation. Islam made it increasingly difficult for the situation to develop in which boy meets girl. Love became a complicated and dangerous exploit; though marriage was of course never difficult; the romantic drama acquired its stock characters and conventional scenes. Moreover the puritanical spirit of Islam, making a virtue out of social necessity, discovered as much satisfaction in the quest as in the conquest. The idealization of a sort of. Platonic love, in which the lover never achieved union with the beloved, inspired much of the finest poetry of the Arabs; it supplied the mystics with a favourite theme of meditation, when they substituted the Divine for the human object of the most powerful of man’s natural passions. 

       In The Ring of the Dove we find these various tendencies and influences meeting together, to form a perfect blend of sacred learning and profane delectation. Ibn Hazm never lets us forget that he is a Moslem, with a reverence for and an expert knowledge of the traditional-Moslem values and sciences. He freely illustrates his discourse with quotations from the Koran, and the Traditions of the Prophet, these latter supported by all the paraphernalia of what the Arabs called `ilm al-hadith, those chains of transmission ” which are considered to guarantee the authenticity of the sayings put into Mohammed’s mouth. He contrives to keep the discussion on a high moral level, though he occasionally takes a plunge into more dangerous depths; he rounds off his book with a pair of erudite and ethically irreproachable chapters (though even these contain a shocking anecdote or two) which he hoped would conciliate even the most austere spirit. At the same time he tells his stories, many of them autobiographical, in polished prose, embellished with extracts from his I own poetry; which would have been considerably s more extensive, had they not been drastically pruned by the copyist. In order that he may escape the charge of amusing without instructing, he binds his scattered narratives together with connecting links of theoretical discussion, in which he betrays his acquaintance with Greek philosophy-and we have yet to appreciate the full extent of Plato’s influence on the Arabs-and organizes the whole material into a systematic pattern. He has written not a collection of tales, but a book. 

      Ibn Hazm’s prose, judged by the canons of adab accepted in his day, is of a very high quality; it is learned without becoming frigid, rhetorical without being bombastic, fluent without degenerating into flatulence. His poetry, of which he appears to have had a considerable conceit, is in truth very mediocre, and we need shed few tears over its cavalier treatment at the hands of the scribe; nevertheless it is not wholly lacking in merit, and if in translation it comes out somewhat pedestrian and humdrum-and the fault is not entirely the translator’s-yet for all that it succeeds to some extent in fulfilling the author’s purpose of varying the pitch and pattern of his composition. The book as a whole is a book in our understanding of the word, and as such belongs to the very rare category of Arabic book which merits translation exactly as it stands. 

      For the sad but plain truth is that extremely few Arabic books translate well. Apart from that passion for the display of traditional religious learning which animated most Arab writers and recommended them to their fellows but inevitably set up a barrier between them and the outside world, grammar and philology were also held to be indispensable weapons in the armory of the ambitious author. The Arabs were fiercely proud of the complexities of “their syntax and the opulence of their vocabulary where learning conflicted with taste, learning generally won the day. Ibn Hazm is therefore surprisingly free of pedantry; it is doubtful whether any other Arab writer so well qualified as he would have resisted, as he does in one striking passage, the temptation to enumerate all that earlier scholars had said on the derivation of the Arabic word for ” passion “. Yet Ibn Hazm was after all only human, and therefore indulges occasionally in poetic images drawn from the technicalities of grammar and syntax or from the obscurities of scholasticism. As a mirror to the society in which he was brought up he is almost uniquely valuable. 

       I have tried to translate as faithfully as possible, given the difficulties posed by the task of rendering a Semitic into an Aryan idiom. I do not think that the prose parts of this version need too much apology; but something ought certainly to be said on behalf of the pieces in metre and rhyme. The first thing to repeat and this is quite honestly not a case of an indifferent workman blaming his tools-is that Ibn Hazm was not a great poet; and as every translator is aware, there is no more baffling labour than to endeavor to do justice to the mediocre; the result is bound to be mediocre at best, and at worst it  may be intolerable. If the translator possesses a sufficient degree of technical dexterity in versifying, he usually finds that indifferent verse is easier to stomach -when put into metre and rhyme than when dissected into strips of prose. And since his original for his part said what he had to say in rhyme and metre, it seems, at least to my way of thinking, that the interpreter should take the same trouble, for there is always the off-chance that he may occasionally produce something memorable. Those modern critics who decry the tradition, established in our own literature over several centuries, of rendering classical poetry into the traditional forms of English verse, have yet to prove, so far at least as Arabic is concerned, that their alternative solution of the problem is either theoretically more sound, or in practice, more successful.


LOVE has certain signs, which the intelligent man quickly detects, and the shrewd man readily recognizes. Of these the first is the brooding gaze: the eye is the wide gateway of the soul, the scrutinizer of its secrets, conveying its most private thoughts, and giving expression to its deepest-hid feelings. You will see the lover gazing at the beloved unblinkingly; his eyes follow the loved one’s every movement, withdrawing as he withdraws, inclining as he inclines, just as the chameleon’s stare shifts with the shifting of the sun. I have written a poem on this topic, from which the following may be quoted. 

My eye no other place of rest

Discovers, save with thee;

Men say the lodestone is possessed

Of a like property.

To right or left it doth pursue

Thy movements up or down, 

As adjectives in grammar do

Accord them with their noun.

       The lover will direct his conversation to the beloved, even when he purports however earnestly to address another: the affectation is apparent to anyone with eyes to see. When the loved one speaks, the lover listens with rapt attention to his every word; he marvels at everything the beloved says, however extraordinary and absurd his observations may be; he believes him implicitly even when he is clearly lying, agrees with him though he is obviously in the wrong, testifies on his behalf for all that he may be unjust, follows after him however he may proceed and whatever line of argument he may adopt. The lover hurries to the spot where the beloved is at the moment, endeavors to sit as near him as possible sidles up close to him, lays aside all occupations that might oblige him to leave his company, makes light of any matter however weighty that would demand his parting from him, is very slow to move when he takes his leave of him. I have put this somewhere into verse. 

No captive for the gallows bound

With more reluctance quits his cell

Than I thy presence, in profound

Regret to say farewell.

But when, my darling, comes the time

That we may be together, I

Run swiftly as the moon doth climb

The ramparts of the sky.

Turn slowly, as from heaven’s height

The fixed stars creep to set.

  Other signs of love are that sudden confusion and excitement betrayed by the lover when he unexpectedly sees the one he loves coming upon him unawares, that agitation which overmasters him on beholding someone who resembles his beloved or, on hearing his name suddenly pronounced. This I have put into verse, as the following extract indicates. 

Whene’er my ranging eyes descry

A person clad in red,

My heart is split with agony

And sore discomforted.

His roguish glance, as I conclude,

Has shed such human blood

That now his garments are imbrued

All saffron from the flood.

       A man in love will give prodigally to the limit of his capacity, in a way that formerly he would have refused; as if he were the one receiving the donation, he the one whose happiness is the object in view; all this in order that he may show off his good points, and make himself desirable. How often has the miser opened his purse strings, the scowler relaxed his frown, the coward leapt heroically into the fray, the clod suddenly become sharp-witted, the boor turned into the perfect gentleman, the stinker transformed himself into the elegant dandy, the sloucher smartened up, the decrepit recaptured his lost youth, the godly gone wild, the self-respecting kicked over the traces-and all because of love! 

       All these signs are to be observed even before the fire of Love is properly kindled, ere its conflagration truly bursts forth, its blaze waxes fierce, its flames leap up. But when the fire really takes a hold and is firmly established, then you will see the secret whispering, the unconcealed turning away from all present but the beloved. I have some verses in which I have contrived to bring together many of these signs, and will now quote from these. 

I love to hear when men converse 

And in the midst his name rehearse; 

The air I breathe seems redolent 

That moment with the amber’s scent, 

But when he speaketh, I give ear 

Unto no other sitting near, 

But lean to catch delightedly 

His pretty talk and coquetry, 

Nor yet, though my companion there 

The Prince of All the Faithful were, 

Permit my mind to be removed 

On his account from my beloved. 

And if, through dire compulsion, I 

Stand up at last to say good-bye, 

Still glancing fondly at my sweet 

I stumble, as on wounded feet; 

My eyes upon his features play 

The while my body drifts away, 

As one the billows tumble o’er 

Yet gazes, drowning, on the shore. 

When I recall how distant he

Now is, I choke in sorrow’s sea, 

Weary as one who sinks, to expire 

In some deep bog, or raging fire. 

Yet, if thou sayest, ” Canst thou still 

Aspire to heaven? ” ” That I will “, 

I answer boldly, ” and I know 

The stairs that to its summit go! “

        Other outward signs and tokens of love are the following, which are apparent to all having eyes in their heads: abundant and exceeding cheerfulness at finding oneself with the beloved in a narrow space, and a corresponding depression on being together in a wide expanse; to engage in a playful tug-of-war for anything the one or the other lays hold of; much clandestine winking; leaning sideways and supporting oneself against the object of one’s affection; endeavoring to touch his hand, and whatever other part of his body one can reach, while engaged in conversation ; and drinking the remainder of what the beloved has left in his cup, seeking out the very spot against which his lips were pressed. 

        There are also contrary signs that occur according to casual provocations and accidental incitements, and a variety of motivating causes and stimulating thoughts. Opposites are of course likes, in reality; when things reach the limit of contrariety, and stand at the furthest bounds of divergence, they come to resemble one another. This is decreed by God’s omnipotent power, in a manner that baffles entirely the human imagination. Thus, when ice is pressed a long time in the hand, it finally produces the same effect as fire. We find that extreme joy and extreme sorrow kill equally; excessive and violent laughter sends the tears coursing from the eyes. It is a very common phenomenon in the world about us. Similarly with lovers: when they love each other with an equal ardour, and their mutual affection is intensely strong, they will turn against one another without any valid reason, each purposely contradicting the other in whatever he may say; they quarrel violently over the smallest things, each picking up every word that the other lets fall and willfully misinterpreting it. All these devices are aimed at testing and proving what each is seeking in the other. 

       Now the difference between this sham, and real aversion and contrariness born of deep-seated hatred and inveterate contention, is that lovers are very quickly reconciled after their disputes. You will see a pair of lovers seeming to have reached the extreme limit of contrariety, to the point that you would reckon not to be mended even in the instance of a person of most tranquil spirit, wholly exempt from rancour, save after a long interval, and wholly irreparable in the case of a quarrelsome man; yet in next to no time you will observe them to have become the best of friends once more; silenced are those mutual reproaches, vanished that disharmony; forthwith they are laughing again and playfully sporting together. The same scene may be enacted several times at a single session. When you see a pair of lovers behaving in such a fashion, let no doubt enter your mind, no uncertainty invade your thoughts; you may be sure without hesitation, and convinced as by an unshakable certainty, that there lies between them a deep and hidden secret-the secret of true love. Take this then for a sure test, a

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