BELLES-LETTRES The growing refinement of social life in the 8th and 9th cen turies is reflected in the rise of a prose literature intended to entertain the reading public, supply the elements of polite edu cation (adab), and convey moral instruction in a palatable form. The earliest books of this class were the translations by Ibn Muqaffa` (d. 76o) of two old Persian works on manners, and of the Fables of Bidpai (q.v.), under the name of Kalila wa-Dimna. The last work has ever since been regarded as a classic. The de velopment of the essay, a medley of citations and reminiscences from poetry, history, traditions, etc., was due to the genius of Jahiz (q.v.). Its contents were more systematically organized by Ibn Qutaiba (q.v.), especially in his Wynn al-Akhbar, which was the model for the most famous work of its kind, the `I qd al-Farid of Ibn `Abd Rabbihi (q.v.), of Cordova. In the follow ing century the Faraj ba`d ash-Shidda and Nishwar al-Muhadara of Tanukhi (d. 994; latter ed. Margoliouth, London, 1921) mark the growing predominance of the anecdote. Of the numerous later works of this class the most famous is the Mustatraf of Abshihi (d. 1446).
With the introduction of rhyming prose (saj`) Arabic belles lettres reached their most characteristic form. The credit for this given to Abu Bakr Khwqrizmi (d. 1002), whose Letters in this style set a fashion followed amongst others by Hamadhani (q.v.) and Abu'1-`Ala. Hamadhani was also the creator of the Maqama or "Assembly," than which probably no more elaborate literary exercise has ever been conceived. The central figure of the Maqamdt is always a witty vagabond, who in various as semblies of scholars puts all his rivals to shame by his wit, elo quence, scholarship and poetic gift. The most famous Maqamat are those of Hariri (q.v.).
The last class of works which may be included under this head ing are the popular romances and story-cycles which found their way from the most diverse sources into Arabic literature. Of these works of entertainment the most familiar are the Thousand and one Nights (q.v.; see also SINDBAD THE SAILOR), and a col lection of fables related to those of Aesop and ascribed to Luqman (q.v.). The historical romances are dealt with in the following section. (H. A. R. G.) Historical Composition.—The early Arabic historians differ from all others in the unique form of their compositions. Each event is related in the words of eye-witnesses or contemporaries, transmitted to the final narrator through a chain of intermediate reporters, each of whom passed on the original report to his suc cessor. Often the same account is given in two or more slightly divergent forms, which have come down through different chains of reporters. Of ten, too, one event or one important detail is told in several ways on the basis of several contemporary state ments transmitted to the final narrator through distinct lines of tradition. The writer, therefore, exercises no independent criti cism except as regards the choice of authorities, and sometimes he states which of several accounts seems to him the best. A second type is that in which an author combines the different traditions into one continuous narrative, but prefixes a statement as to the lines of authorities used or followed. In this case the writer recurs to the first method, already described, only when the different traditions are greatly at variance with one another. In yet a third type of history the old method is entirely forsaken, and we have a continuous narrative only occasionally interrupted by a citation of the authority for some particular point. But the principle still is that what has been well said once need not be told again in other words. The writer, therefore, keeps as close as he can to the letter of his sources, so that quite a late writer often reproduces the very words of the first narrator.
The appearance of the Prophet with the great changes that ensued, the conquests that made the Arabs lords of half the civi lized world, supplied a vast store of new matter for relations. Thus it came about that at Madina, where the Prophet had lived so long, and where his first successors and the majority of his companions continued to live, a school was gradually formed, where the chief part of the traditions about Mohammed and the rise of Islam took a form more or less fixed, supplemented by the traditions of various provincial schools. Thus by the end of the I st century of Islam many dictata were already in circulation.
Early Compilations.—In the 2nd century (719-816) real books began to be composed. The materials were supplied in the first place by oral tradition, in the second by the dictata of older scholars, and finally by various kinds of documents, such as treaties, letters, collections of poetry, and genealogical lists. The oldest extant history is the biography of the Prophet by Ibn Ishaq (q.v.), at least in the revision of Ibn Hisham (q.v.). This work is generally trustworthy, though in dealing with Moham med's early life and the story of his ancestors it is mixed with tables and illustrated by spurious verses. A second life of the Prophet, by Ibn `Oqba (d. 758), exists only in fragments. We fortunately possess the Book of the Campaigns of the Prophet by Waqidi (q.v.) and the important Book of Classes of his dis ciple Ibn Sad (q.v.). Waqidi had much more copious materials than Ibn Ishaq, and though he gives way much more to a popu lar and sometimes romancing style of treatment, the additional details he supplies set various events before us in a clearer light. The monographs of Abu Mikhnaf (d. 748) and Mada'ini (d: 84o) are known only by excerpts contained in the works of later writers. A just estimate of the relative value of the historians can only be reached by careful comparison in detail. This has been essayed by Brunnow in his study on the Kharijites in which the conclusion is reached that Abu Mikhnaf and Mada'ini are both well-informed and impartial. Of the other early sources, the narratives of Sayf b. Omar have been thoroughly ex amined by Wellhausen, and found to be inferior in accuracy. Along with these should be mentioned Abu `Ubaida (q.v.), and Azraqi, whose excellent History of Mecca was the first of many histories of the Holy cities. A further important point to notice in the 2nd century is that in it Persians began to take part in the creation of Arabic historical literature. Ibn Muqaffa` translated the great Book of Persian Kings, and others followed his example. Tabari and his contemporaries preserve to us a good deal of the information about Persian history transmitted through such translations.
The 14th and I sth centuries are remarkable for the appearance of encyclopaedic compends, intended as handbooks for the official classes. The two earliest, the Encyclopaedia of Nuwayri (d. 133 2) and the Masalik al-A bsar of Ibn Fadlallah (d. 1348) , are in course of publication at Cairo, a later work, the Sub h al-A`shd of Qalqashandi (d. 1418) having already been printed there in 14 large volumes (1913-19) . Though the writing of memoirs and of historical compendiums (generally beginning with the Creation) continued during the following centuries, few works outside those of the writers already mentioned attained any note, until the pub lication of the History of Egypt and the Diary of Jabarti (Gab arti, d. 1825), who may be regarded as the last (and not the least worthy) representative of the old school of Arabic histori ography.
Distinct from these are the popular romances, which have never been taken for serious history. The most famous are the Story of `Antar, a romance of Arabian desert life (see under ANTARA) ; the Story of Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan, centred on Yemen and Abyssinia ; and the Story of the Bani one of the Arab tribes which took possession of the Libyan desert in the II th cen tury. (M. J. DE G. ; H. A. R. G.)