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Imru' al-Qais

Imru' al-Qais

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Imru` al-Qais bin Hujr al-Kindi (Arabic: إمرؤ القيس ابن حجر الكندي / ALA-LC: Imrū’ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr al-Kindī) was an Arabian poet in the 6th century AD, and also the son of one of the last Kindite kings. His qaseeda, or long poem, "Let us stop and weep" (Arabic: قفا نبك) is one of the seven Mu'allaqat
Mu'allaqat
The Mu‘allaqāt is the title of a group of seven long Arabic poems or qasida that have come down from the time before Islam. Each is considered the best work of these pre-Islamic poets...

, poems prized as the best examples of pre-Islamic Arabian verse. Imru' al-Qais was born in the Najd region of northern Arabia sometime in the early 6th century AD. His father was said to be Hujr bin al-Harith (حجر ابن الحارث / Ḥujr ibn al-Ḥārith), the Kindah
Kindah
The kingdom of Kindah was a vassal kingdom which ruled from Qaryah dhat Kahl in Nejd, Central Arabia . The kingdom controlled much of the northern Arabian peninsula in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.-Origin:...

 monarchy's regent over the tribes of Asad and Ghatfan, and it is believed that Imru' al-Qais was born in the territory of Asad. His mother was said to be Fatimah bint Rabi'ah al-Taghlib
Taghlib
Banu Taghlib or Taghlib ibn Wa'il were a large and powerful Arabian tribe of Mesopotamia and northern Arabia. The tribe traces its lineage to the large branch of North Arabian tribes known as Rabi'ah, which also included Bakr, 'Anizzah, Banu Hanifa and Anz bin Wa'il .The tribe's ancestral...

i (فاطمة بنت ربيعة التغلبي / Fāṭimah bint Ranī‘ah al-Taghlibī).

Legend has it that Imru' al-Qais was the youngest of his father's sons, and began composing poetry while he was still a child. His father strongly disapproved of this habit in his son, believing poetry to be an unseemly pastime for the son of a king. His father also disapproved of Imru' al-Qais' scandalous lifestyle of drinking and chasing women, and eventually banished him from his kingdom, or so the legend goes. Later, when the tribe of Asad rebelled and assassinated his father, Imru' al-Qais was the only one of his brothers to take responsibility for avenging his death. Renouncing wine and women, he fought the tribe of Asad until he had exacted revenge in blood, and spent the remainder of his life trying to regain his father's kingdom.

Like many figures of early Arabia, which at that time lacked a formal writing system and relied on the oral transmission of stories, the details of the life of Imru' al-Qais are hard to determine with any certainty. Even so, historians have been able to compare the various stories written down by later biographers with clues from Imru' al-Qais' own poems and information about major historical events in the Persian and Byzantine
Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 empires to reconstruct a probable account of the life and ancestry of this most famous of the Jahili (pre-Islamic) poets.

According to one account, his full name and ancestry was Imru' al-Qais, son of Hujr, son of al-Harith, son of 'Amr, son of Hujr the eater of bitter herbs, son of Mu'awiyya, son of Thawr of the tribe of Kindah (Arabic: إمرؤ القيس ابن حجر ابن الحارث ابن عمرو ابن حجر اكل المرار ابن معاوية ابن ثور الكندي). He was also referred to as "The Lost King" (الملك الضليل / al-Malik aḍ-Ḍalīl), because he was never able to recover his father's throne.

Ancestry


The tribe of Kindah had its origins in the mountains of southern Arabia and migrated north to Najd
Najd
Najd or Nejd , literally Highland, is the central region of the Arabian Peninsula.-Boundaries :The Arabic word nejd literally means "upland" and was once applied to a variety of regions within the Arabian Peninsula...

 sometime in the 4th or 5th century AD. Sometime in the 5th century they asked the king of Yemen to select them a king, and Hujr the "eater of bitter herbs" became the first Kindite king. He was succeeded by his son 'Amr, who was succeeded by his son al-Harith, who was the greatest of all the Kindite kings. One of al-Harith's sons was Hujr, and he made him regent over the tribes of Asad and Ghatfan, and Hujr was the father of Imru' al-Qais.

Of al-Harith, it is told that when the Persian emperor Kavadh I adopted the teachings of the religious revolutionary Mazdak
Mazdak
Mazdak was a proto-socialist Persian reformer and religious activist who gained influence under the reign of the Sassanian Shahanshah Kavadh I...

, al-Harith converted to Mazdakism with him. This caused Kavadh to make al-Harith king of the Hirah, a region in the south of modern-day Iraq, and expel his previous Arab vassal al-Mundhir. Kavadh's son Khosrau I
Khosrau I
Khosrau I , also known as Anushiravan the Just or Anushirawan the Just Khosrau I (also called Chosroes I in classical sources, most commonly known in Persian as Anushirvan or Anushirwan, Persian: انوشيروان meaning the immortal soul), also known as Anushiravan the Just or Anushirawan the Just...

 rejected Mazdakism and rebuked al-Harith, restoring al-Mundhir to the throne of the Hirah. It is not known for sure how al-Harith died, but some reports indicate he was captured by al-Mundhir as he fled al-Hirah, and then killed along with two of his sons and more than forty of his kinsmen. Imru' al-Qais mourns this tragedy in one of the poems attributed to him:
Weep for me, my eyes! Spill your tears
And mourn for me the vanished kings
Hujr ibn 'Amru's princely sons
Led away to slaughter at eventide;
If only they had died in combat
Not in the lands of Banu Marina!
No water was there to wash their fallen heads,
And their skulls lie spattered with blood
Pecked over by birds
Who tear out first the eyebrows, then the eyes.
(Diwan, Poem 2)


In 525 AD Yemen was occupied by the Negus (Emperor) of Habash (modern-day Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

). With their sponsor destroyed, the Kindah
Kindah
The kingdom of Kindah was a vassal kingdom which ruled from Qaryah dhat Kahl in Nejd, Central Arabia . The kingdom controlled much of the northern Arabian peninsula in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.-Origin:...

 monarchy quickly fell apart. It is probably during this period that the tribe of Asad rebelled and killed Imru' al-Qais' father, Hujr.

Early life


Historians are divided as to the year of Imru' al-Qais' birth, but but one estimate is that he was born sometime around 526 AD. He was said to be the youngest of the sons of Hujr, king over the tribes of Asad and Ghutfan. Some historians have pointed out that his father had other wives and concubines than his mother, in accordance with the custom of kings at this time, and it is possible that he received little fatherly attention. He began composing poetry from an early age, an activity that his father strongly disapproved of because it was not considered appropriate for the son of a king. Al-Tahir Ahmad Makki comments that "among the northern tribes, likewise, each tribe had its chief and its poet, and the two were hardly ever the same."

Another source of friction with his father was Imru' al-Qais' excessive dedication to lewd drinking parties and his scandalous pursuit of women. One story says that, concerned with his son's lack of responsibility, Hujr tried putting Imru' al-Qais in charge of the family's camel herds, an experiment which ended in disaster. Another story says that Hujr finally disowned his son after Imru' al-Qais publicly courted his cousin 'Uzayzah, and after failing to win her hand in marriage, managed to enjoy her affections in secret, which caused a considerable scandal in the family. Yet other stories say that Imru' al-Qais may have written some lewd verses about his father's wives or concubines, and that this was the cause of their falling out. Whatever the reason, most of the stories agree that Hujr became exasperated with his son's behavior and expelled him from his kingdom. In his exile Imru' al-Qais wandered with his group of rebellious friends from oasis to oasis, stopping to drink wine, and recite poetry, and enjoy the performance of the singing-girls, sometimes tarrying for days before packing up to wander again.

Imru' al-Qais' adventures with women also formed an important part of his early life, consisting according to some records of dozens of marriages, divorces and affairs, all ending badly for one reason or another. Imru' al-Qais' lovers feature large in his poetry, as he praises their graces, lambasts their cruelty, and laments their absence and the longing in his heart.

The death of his father


Some stories tell that Imru' al-Qais was in his father's army fighting the tribe of Asad when his father was slain, but this is not agreed by all the biographers. The most popular story comes to us from ibn al-Kalbi (d. 826 AD). Ibn al-Kalbi holds that Imru' al-Qais was still in exile at the time of his father's death, and that the news reached him while he was in the midst of a party with his friends. Upon hearing the news, he said "May God be merciful to my father. He let me stray when I was small, and now that I am grown he has burdened me with his blood. There will be no alertness today, and no drunkenness tomorrow," followed by perhaps his most famous quote: "Today is for drink, and tomorrow for serious matters." (Arabic: اليوم خمر وغداً أمر)

It is told that of all his father's sons, Imru' al-Qais was the only one to take responsibility for avenging his father. One story tells that the tribe of Asad sent him an emissary and offered him three options-- either that he kill one of their nobles to equal the death of his father, or that he accept a payment of thousands of sheep and camels, or that he make war on them, in which case they asked for one month to make ready. Imru' al-Qais chose the third option. The tribes of Bakr and Taghlib
Taghlib
Banu Taghlib or Taghlib ibn Wa'il were a large and powerful Arabian tribe of Mesopotamia and northern Arabia. The tribe traces its lineage to the large branch of North Arabian tribes known as Rabi'ah, which also included Bakr, 'Anizzah, Banu Hanifa and Anz bin Wa'il .The tribe's ancestral...

 agreed to support him and fought with him against Asad, killing many Asad tribesmen. Bakr and Taghlib withdrew their support once they judged that enough of Asad had been killed to satisfy the requirements of revenge.

Exile and death


After exacting his revenge upon the tribe of Asad and losing the support of Bakr and Taghlib, Imru' al-Qays travelled all over the Arabian peninsula and the Levant
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

, taking refuge with different tribes, running from his enemies and seeking support to regain his father's kingship. His last journey was to Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, to seek support from Emperor Justinian. Al-Harith bin Shamar al-Ghassani
Ghassanids
The Ghassanids were a group of South Arabian Christian tribes that emigrated in the early 3rd century from Yemen to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Holy Land....

 (Arabic: الحارث ابن شمر الغساني), Justinian's north Arabian vassal, sponsored Imru' al-Qays in his appeal, and most accounts indicate that he won some promise of support from the Byzantine emperor, and perhaps even a contingent of troops. Some reports indicate that Justinian pressed the Negus of Habash (modern-day Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

) to support Imru' al-Qais' bid, but that he refused due to the ongoing feud between the Habash Empire and the tribe of Kindah
Kindah
The kingdom of Kindah was a vassal kingdom which ruled from Qaryah dhat Kahl in Nejd, Central Arabia . The kingdom controlled much of the northern Arabian peninsula in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.-Origin:...

.

After leaving Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, Imru' al-Qais travelled until he fell ill near the city of Ankara
Ankara
Ankara is the capital of Turkey and the country's second largest city after Istanbul. The city has a mean elevation of , and as of 2010 the metropolitan area in the entire Ankara Province had a population of 4.4 million....

 in modern-day Turkey. He remained there until he died. There is a story which says that Emperor Justinian became angry with Imru' al-Qais after he left, and sent a messenger with a poisoned jacket, and that Imru' al-Qais wore the jacket and the poison killed him. This story says that Justinian was angry because he discovered that Imru' al-Qais had an affair with a woman in his court. Most historians downplay the likelihood of this account, in favor of the story that Imru' al-Qais actually died from a chronic skin disease, a disease which he mentioned in one of his poems.

The best estimates of the years of Imru' al-Qais' embassy to Justinian and death in Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 are from 561 to 565 AD. It has been said that after the death of Imru' al-Qais the Greeks made a statue of him on his tomb that was still seen in 1262 AD,, and that his tomb is nowadays located in Hızırlık, Ankara

Poetic influences


Makki summarizes the accounts of the biographers in identifying three older poets who Imru' al-Qais could have met and learned from. The first was Zuhayr bin Janab al-Kalbi, a well-known poet who was a friend and drinking companion of his fathers'. It is also possible that Imru' al-Qais learned from Abu Du'ah al-Iyadi, and some accounts say that the young Imru' al-Qais was his reciter (a poet's disciple who would memorize all of his poems). A third possible poetic influence was a 'Amr bin Qami'ah who was a member of his father's retinue, and was said to have later joined Imru' al-Qais' retinue and accompanied him until his death.

Religion


Most historians in the centuries since Imru' al-Qais' death have been content with the assumption that, as an Arab before the advent of Islam, he was pagan. More recently some researchers have called this view into question, most notably Louis Shaykho (c. 1898), a Jesuit missionary, who insisted that Imru' al-Qais was a Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

. The evidence that Shaykho cites to support his claim consists mostly of a handful of references to Christian practices and symbols in Imru' al-Qais' poems, as well as a few instances of the Arabic word for (the one) God (Allah). Other historians have said that references to Christianity can be explained by the presence of monasteries and missionaries along the northern frontier of the Arabian peninsula, and the fact that many Arabs would have been impressed by these scenes without necessarily converting themselves. Others have pointed out that the word "Allah" was in use by the pagan Arabs long before the advent of Islam, and merely referred to the high God (above all the many others).

Makki reports that some historians have suggested Imru' al-Qais could have been influenced by the purported Mazdakism of his grandfather, but also states that, in his opinion, there is little direct evidence to support this.

Cultural impact


To this day Imru' al-Qays remains the best-known of the pre-Islamic poets, and has been a source of literary and national inspiration for Arabic intellectuals all the way into the 20th century. Opening his entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Al-Tahir Ahmad Makki says this about Imru' al-Qais:
The Prince-Poet Imru' al-Qais, of the tribe of Kindah, is the first major Arabic literary figure. Verses from his Mu'allaqah (Hanging Poems), one of seven poems prized above all others by pre-Islamic Arabs, are still in the 20th century the most famous--and possibly the most cited--lines in all of Arabic literature. The Mu'allaqah is also an integral part of the linguistic, poetic and cultural education of all Arabic speakers.


Ibn Sallam al-Jumahi (d. 846 AD) said of Imru' al-Qais in his "Generations of the Stallion Poets" (Arabic: طبقات فحول الشعراء):
Imru' al-Qais was the originator of a great many things the Arabs considered beautiful, and which were adopted by other poets. These things include calling up his companions to halt, weeping over the ruins of abandoned campsites, describing his beloved with refinement and delicacy, and using language that was easy to understand. He was the first to compare women to gazelles and eggs, and to liken horses to birds of prey and to staves. He 'hobbled like a fleeing beast' [a reference to his famous description of his horse] and separated the erotic prelude from the body of his poem. In the coining of similitudes, he surpassed everybody in his generation.


Some historians have emphasized the historical significance of the Kindah
Kindah
The kingdom of Kindah was a vassal kingdom which ruled from Qaryah dhat Kahl in Nejd, Central Arabia . The kingdom controlled much of the northern Arabian peninsula in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.-Origin:...

 monarchy as the first attempt to unite the central Arabian tribes before the success of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, and Imru' al-Qais' tragic place as one of the last Kindite princes. Others have focused on his colorful and violent life, putting it forward as an example of the immorality and brutality which existed in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Iraqi writer Madhhar al-Samarra'i (Arabic: مظهر السامرائي) in his 1993 book Imru' al-Qais: Poet and Lover (Arabic: إمرؤ القيس الشاعر العاشق), calls Imru' al-Qais the "poet of freedom":
The poet Imru' al-Qais had a gentle heart and a sensitive soul. He wanted the best not only for himself but for all the people of his society. The freedom that he struggled for was not confined to the romantic and erotic relations between him and his beloved Fatimah, and was not limited to his demands to lift the restrictions on sexual relations between men and women, but exceeded all this, so that he was singing for the freedom of all mankind-- and from this point we are able to name him, the Poet of Freedom.

Works cited


  • Makki, al-Tahir Ahmad. "Imru' al-Qays." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Ed. Cooperson, Michael and Toorawa, Shawkat. Vol. 311. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005. Print.

  • al-Samarra’i, Mazhar. Imru’ al-Qais: Poet and Lover [Arabic: إمرؤ القيس الشاعر العاشق]. Amman, Jordan: Dar al-Ibda’, 1993. Print.


Further reading

  • Wilhelm Ahlwardt's The Divans of the six ancient Arabic Poets (London
    London
    London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

    , 1870)
  • William McGuckin de Slane
    William McGuckin de Slane
    William McGuckin , known as Baron de Slane was a nineteenth-century Irish orientalist, student of Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, , a teacher also of Jean François Champollion, who was given the French nationality since 31 December 1838,...

    's Le Diwan d'Amro'lkats (Paris
    Paris
    Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

    , 1837)
  • Friedrich Rückert
    Friedrich Rückert
    Friedrich Rückert was a German poet, translator, and professor of Oriental languages.-Biography:Rückert was born at Schweinfurt and was the eldest son of a lawyer. He was educated at the local Gymnasium and at the universities of Würzburg and Heidelberg. From 1816-1817, he worked on the editorial...

    's Amrilkais der Dichter und König (Stuttgart
    Stuttgart
    Stuttgart is the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The sixth-largest city in Germany, Stuttgart has a population of 600,038 while the metropolitan area has a population of 5.3 million ....

    , 1843)
  • Kitab al-Aghani
    Kitab al-Aghani
    Kitab al-aghani , is an encyclopedic collection of poems and songs that runs to over 20 volumes in modern editions by the 8th/9th-century litterateur Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani . Abu l-Faraj claimed to have taken 50 years in writing the work, which ran to over 10 000 pages...

    , vol. viii. pp. 62–77