1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ḥamāsa
ḤAMĀSA (Ḥamāsah), the name of a famous Arabian anthology compiled by Ḥabīb ibn Aus aṭ-Ṭā’ī, surnamed Abū Tammām (see Abū Tammām). The collection is so called from the title of its first book, containing poems descriptive of constancy and valour in battle, patient endurance of calamity, steadfastness in seeking vengeance, manfulness under reproach and temptation, all which qualities make up the attribute called by the Arabs ḥamāsah (briefly paraphrased by at-Tibrīzī as ash-shiddah fi-l-amr). It consists of ten books or parts, containing in all 884 poems or fragments of poems, and named respectively—(1) al-Ḥamāsa, 261 pieces; (2) al-Marāthī, “Dirges,” 169 pieces; (3) al-Adab, “Manners,” 54 pieces; (4) an-Nasīb, “The Beauty and Love of Women,” 139 pieces; (5) al-Hijā, “Satires,” 80 pieces; (6) al-Aḍyāf wa-l-Madīḥ, “Hospitality and Panegyric,” 143 pieces; (7) aṣ-Ṣifāt, “Miscellaneous Descriptions,” 3 pieces; (8) as-Sair wa-n-Nu’ās, “Journeying and Drowsiness,” 9 pieces; (9) al-Mulaḥ, “Pleasantries,” 38 pieces; and (10) Madhammat-an-nisā, “Dispraise of Women,” 18 pieces. Of these books the first is by far the longest, both in the number and extent of its poems, and the first two together make up more than half the bulk of the work. The poems are for the most part fragments selected from longer compositions, though a considerable number are probably entire. They are taken from the works of Arab poets of all periods down to that of Abū Tammām himself (the latest ascertainable date being A.D. 832), but chiefly of the poets of the Ante-Islamic time (Jāhiliyyūn), those of the early days of Al-Islām (Mukhaḍrimūn), and those who flourished during the reigns of the Omayyad caliphs, A.D. 660–749 (Islāmiyyūn). Perhaps the oldest in the collection are those relating to the war of Basūs, a famous legendary strife which arose out of the murder of Kulaib, chief of the combined clans of Bakr and Taghlib, and lasted for forty years, ending with the peace of Dhu-l-Majāz, about A.D. 534. Of the period of the Abbasid caliphs, under whom Abū Tammām himself lived, there are probably not more than sixteen fragments.
Most of the poems belong to the class of extempore or occasional utterances, as distinguished from qaṣīdas, or elaborately finished odes. While the latter abound with comparisons and long descriptions, in which the skill of the poet is exhibited with much art and ingenuity, the poems of the Ḥamāsa are short, direct and for the most part free from comparisons; the transitions are easy, the metaphors simple, and the purpose of the poem clearly indicated. It is due probably to the fact that this style of composition was chiefly sought by Abū Tammām in compiling his collection that he has chosen hardly anything from the works of the most famous poets of antiquity. Not a single piece from Imra ’al-Qais (Amru-ul-Qais) occurs in the Ḥamāsa, nor are there any from ʽAlqama, Zuhair or Aʽshā; Nābigha is represented only by two pieces (pp. 408 and 742 of Freytag’s edition) of four and three verses respectively; ʽAntara by two pieces of four verses each (id. pp. 206, 209); Ṭarafa by one piece of five verses (id. p. 632); Labīd by one piece of three verses (id. p. 468); and ʽAmr ibn Kulthūm by one piece of four verses (id. p. 236). The compilation is thus essentially an anthology of minor poets, and exhibits (so far at least as the more ancient poems are concerned) the general average of poetic utterance at a time when to speak in verse was the daily habit of every warrior of the desert.
To this description, however, there is an important exception in the book entitled an-Nasīb, containing verses relating to women and love. In the classical age of Arab poetry it was the established rule that all qaṣīdas, or finished odes, whatever their purpose, must begin with the mention of women and their charms (tashbīb), in order, as the old critics said, that the hearts of the hearers might be softened and inclined to regard kindly the theme which the poet proposed to unfold. The fragments included in this part of the work are therefore generally taken from the opening verses of qaṣīdas; where this is not the case, they are chiefly compositions of the early Islamic period, when the school of exclusively erotic poetry (of which the greatest representative was ‘Omar ibn Abī Rabiʽa) arose.
The compiler was himself a distinguished poet in the style of his day, and wandered through many provinces of the Moslem empire earning money and fame by his skill in panegyric. About 220 A.H. he betook himself to Khorasan, then ruled by ʽAbdallah ibn Ṭāhir, whom he praised and by whom he was rewarded; on his journey home to ʽIrāk he passed through Hamadhān, and was there detained for many months a guest of Abu-l-Wafā, son of Salama, the road onward being blocked by heavy falls of snow. During his residence at Hamadhān, Abū Tammām is said to have compiled or composed, from the materials which he found in Abu-l-Wafā’s library, five poetical works, of which one was the Ḥamāsa. This collection remained as a precious heirloom in the family of Abu-l-Wafā until their fortunes decayed, when it fell into the hands of a man of Dīnawar named Abu-l-ʽAwādhil, who carried it to Iṣfahān and made it known to the learned of that city.
The worth of the Ḥamāsa as a store-house of ancient legend, of faithful detail regarding the usages of the pagan time and early simplicity of the Arab race, can hardly be exaggerated. The high level of excellence which is found in its selections, both as to form and matter, is remarkable, and caused it to be said that Abū Tammām displayed higher qualities as a poet in his choice of extracts from the ancients than in his own compositions. What strikes us chiefly in the class of poetry of which the Ḥamāsa is a specimen, is its exceeding truth and reality, its freedom from artificiality and hearsay, the evident first-hand experience which the singers possessed of all of which they sang. For historical purposes the value of the collection is not small; but most of all there shines forth from it a complete portraiture of the hardy and manful nature, the strenuous life of passion and battle, the lofty contempt of cowardice, niggardliness and servility, which marked the valiant stock who bore Islām abroad in a flood of new life over the outworn civilizations of Persia, Egypt and Byzantium. It has the true stamp of the heroic time, of its cruelty and wantonness as of its strength and beauty.
No fewer than twenty commentaries are enumerated by Ḥājjī Khalīfa. Of these the earliest was by Abū Riyāsh (otherwise ar-Riyāshī), who died in 257 A.H.; excerpts from it, chiefly in elucidation of the circumstances in which the poems were composed, are frequently given by at-Tibrīzī (Tabrīzī). He was followed by the famous grammarian Abu-l-Fatḥ ibn al-Jinnī (d. 392 A.H.), and later by Shihāb ad-Din Aḥmad al-Marzūqī of Iṣfahān (d. 421 A.H.). Upon al-Marzūqī’s commentary is chiefly founded that of Abu Zakarīyā Yaḥyā at-Tibrīzī (b. 421 A.H., d. 502), which has been published by the late Professor G. W. Freytag of Bonn, together with a Latin translation and notes (1828–1851). This monumental work, the labour of a life, is a treasure of information regarding the classical age of Arab literature which has not perhaps its equal for extent, accuracy, and minuteness of detail in Europe. No other complete edition of the Ḥamāsa has been printed in the West; but in 1856 one appeared at Calcutta under the names of Maulavī Ghulām Rabbānī and Kabīru–d-dīn Aḥmad. Though no acknowledgment of the fact is contained in this edition, it is a simple reprint of Professor Freytag’s text (without at-Tibrīzī’s commentary), and follows its original even in the misprints (corrected by Freytag at the end of the second volume, which being in Latin the Calcutta editors do not seem to have consulted). It contains in an appendix of 12 pages a collection of verses (and some entire fragments) not found in at-Tibrīzī’s recension, but stated to exist in some copies consulted by the editors; these are, however, very carelessly edited and printed, and in many places unintelligible. Freytag’s text, with at-Tibrīzī’s commentary, has been reprinted at Būlāq (1870). In 1882 an edition of the text, with a marginal commentary by Munshi ‘Abdul-Qādir ibn Shaikh Luqmān, was published at Bombay.
The Ḥamāsa has been rendered with remarkable skill and spirit into German verse by the illustrious Friedrich Rückert (Stuttgart, 1846), who has not only given translations of almost all the poems proper to the work, but has added numerous fragments drawn from other sources, especially those occurring in the scholia of at-Tibrīzī, as well as the Muʽallaqas of Zuhair and ʽAntara, the Lāmiyya of Ash-Shanfarà, and the Bānat Suʽād of Kaʽb, son of Zuhair. A small collection of translations, chiefly in metres imitating those of the original, was published in London by Sir Charles Lyall in 1885.
When the Ḥamāsa is spoken of, that of Abū Tammām, as the first and most famous of the name, is meant; but several collections of a similar kind, also called Ḥamāsa, exist. The best-known and earliest of these is the Ḥamāsa of Buhturi (d. 284 A.H.), of which the unique MS. now in the Leiden University Library, has been reproduced by photo-lithography (1909); a critical edition has been prepared by Professor Chlikho at Beyreuth. Four other works of the same name, formed on the model of Abū Tammām’s compilation, are mentioned by Hājjī Khalīfa. Besides these, a work entitled Ḥamasat ar-Rāh (“the Ḥamāsa of wine”) was composed of Abu-l-‘Alāal–Ma‘arrī (d. 429 A.H.). (C. J. L.)
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