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 hamāsah (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 ’Alqama, Zuhair or A’shā; Nābigha is represented only by two pieces (pp. 408 and 742 of Freytag's edition) of four and three verses respectively; ’Antara 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 ’Amr 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 Rabi'a) 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 ’Abdallah ibn Ṭāhir, whom he praised and by whom he was rewarded; on his journey home to ’Irak 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 Dinawar named Abu-l-’Awādhil, 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.
The Ḥamāsa has been rendered with remarkable skill and spirit into German verse by the illustrious Friedrich Riickert (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-Tibrizi, as well as the Mu'allaqas of Zuhair and 'Antara, the Lāmiyya of Ash-Shanfara, and the Bānat Su'ād of Ka'b, 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 Abu Tammam, as the first and most famous of the name, is meant; but several collections of a similar kind, also called Hamzisa, 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
same name, formed on the model of Abū Tammām's compilation, are mentioned by Hājjī Khalīfa. Besides these, a work entitledḤamasat ar-Rāh (“the Ḥamāsa of wine”) was composed of Abu-l-'Alā al-Ma'arrī (d. 429 A.H.).