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Belles-Lettres

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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.

General Histories.

The 3rd century (816-913) was far more productive than the 2nd in general works, in addition to monographs and works on special branches by various authors. Ya`qubi (q.v.) wrote a short general history of much value and Ibn Qutaiba (q.v.) a useful Handbook of History. Both are sur passed by Baladhuri (q.v.), the author of a valuable narrative of The Arab Conquests and a large genealogical history of the Arabs. All these histories are more or less thrown into the shade by the great Annals of Tabari (q.v.), whose fame has never faded from his own day to ours. As a literary composition they do not rank very high, nevertheless the value of the book is very great. The author's selection of traditions is usually happy, and the most important episodes are treated with most fulness of detail. The Annals soon came to be dealt with in various ways. They were published in shorter form, with the omission of names of author ities and many poetical citations; on the other hand some inter polations were made, one in the author's lifetime and perhaps by his own hand, and many later writers added supplements. Miskawayh (or Ibn Miskawayh, d. 1030), the first writer to compose a general history as an organic structure with the aim of displaying its human and instructive aspects, drew almost entirely on Tabari down to 907 ; the two final volumes (Amedroz and Margoliouth, Eclipse of the Abbasid Caliphate, Oxford, 1920-21) contain original material and show him to be a writer of talent. In 963 an abridgement of the Annals was translated into Persian by Bal'ami, who, however, interwove many fables. Ibn Athir (q.v.) abridged the whole work, usually with judgment, but sometimes too hastily. Many other writers also took Tabari as their main authority, but sometimes consulted other sources and so add to our knowledge, notably Ibn Jawzi (d. I201), who adds many important details. In later times Ibn Athir's abridgement supplanted the original work as a source, e.g., in the works of Abu'l-Feda (q.v.) and Ibn `Amid (al-Makin; see ELMACIN) .

Later Works.

The number of historical and biographical works composed in the later centuries is very large. The most important writers, Mas'udi, Biruni, Ibn Athir, Abu'l-Faraj (see BAR-HEBRAEUS), Ibn Khaldun, Suyuti, Maqqari, and Hajii Khalifa, are the subjects of special articles. Of other works several are worthy of special mention. The Annals of Eutychius (d. 940; ed. Cheikho, Paris, 1906) are important as representing the Christian tradition. The Book of Wazirs of Hilal as-Sabi' (d. 1056; ed. Amedroz, Beyrouth, 1904) is a mine of information for the social life of the 9th and loth centuries. The history of Mahmud of Ghazna (Kitab al-Yamini) of `Utbi (d. 1036) set the fashion of rhetorical composition in history, which was followed by `Imad ad-Din (d. 1201) in his histories of Saladin and of the Saljuq dynasty, and was carried to excess in the History of Tamerlane of Ibn `Arabshah (d. 145o). The later compilers could also draw on numerous local and dynastic histories, many of which are now lost. In most cases these works are of purely technical interest, being either bare statements of facts in chron ological order, or else designed to glorify the dynasty and oozing adulation from every page. Full, scientific, and impartial ac counts, such as was given (over a somewhat wider field) by `Abd al-Latif (q.v.) in his Description of Egypt, are rare. Not all local histories, however, dealt with political events; some were more concerned with local theologians, scholars and saints. Of this class the most important surviving work is the still unedited History of Damascus of Ibn `Asakir (d. 1176), a vast compila tion in 3o volumes, in which history crosses the borderline into biography. Of the great biographical dictionaries proper, one, the famous work of Ibn Khallikan (q.v.), has already gained a rep utation outside the Arabic world, but there are many others which scarcely yield to his in interest. Amongst these are the newly-recovered Dictionary of Men of Letters of Yaqut (q.v ) ; the Lives of the Physicians of Ibn abi Usaibi`a (see IBN USAI BI`A) ; the History of the Philologists of Ibn Qifti (d. ; a number of early Spanish-Arabic biographies; the vast dictionary of $afadi (d. 1363), still scattered in loose volumes through half the libraries of Europe and the East ; not to speak of numerous dictionaries of the early heroes of Islam, of students of tradition, of theologians and jurists of the various rites, and many other classes and groups. The value of these works is that they present to us, as the history-books seldom do, authentic portraits of the lives of the people, and extort our admiration for the many generations of teachers and scholars that patiently knitted up the threads of culture, again and again shattered by war, rapine and pestilence that bound the Mohammedan world together from Morocco to the Indies.

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.

Historical Romances.

A word must be said of the historical romances, the beginnings of which go back to the first centuries of Islam. The veneration paid to the Prophet and love for the marvellous soon gave rise to fables about his childhood, his visit to heaven, etc., which, with many Jewish legends, and the Yemen ite fables circulated by `Abid ibn Sharya in the 1st century, have found their way even into sober histories. Romantic legends clustered round the history of the conquests, and the fortunes of `Ali and his house, and history was often forged for party ends. The people accepted all this, and so a romantic tradition sprang up with a literature of its own. In the oldest specimens, such as the Conquest of Egypt and the West by Ibn `Abd al-Hakam (d. 871; ed. Torrey, Yale univ., 1922), truth and falsehood are mixed. Most of the extant literature of this kind is, in its present form much more recent, e.g., the Story of the Death of Husayn by the pseudo-Abu Mikhnaf and the Conquest of Syria (see WAQIDI). Further enquiry into the origin of these works is needed, but some of them were plainly directed to stirring up fresh zeal against the Christians. In the 6th century A.H. some of these books had gained so much authority that they were used as sources, and thus many untruths crept into accepted history.

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.)

ibn, qv, history, various and historical