History of Literature


Eastern Literature

Arabic Literature


Ahmad ibn-al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi


Abou-t-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi (Arabic: أبو الطيب احمد بن الحسين المتنبّي‎) ‎ (915 – 23 September 965) was an Arab (Iraqi-born) poet. He is regarded as one of the greatest poets in the Arabic language. Most of his poetry revolves around praising the kings he visited during his lifetime. Some consider his 326 poems to be a great representation of his life story. He started versifying when he was nine years old. He is well known for his sharp intelligence and witness. Al-Mutanabbi had a great pride in himself through his poetry. Among the topics he discussed were courage, the philosophy of life, and the description of battles. Many of his poems were and still are widely spread in today's Arab world and are considered to be proverbial.

His great talent brought him very close to many leaders of that time. He praised those leaders and kings in return for money and gifts. His powerful and honest poetic style earned great popularity in his time.

Al-Mutanabbi was born in the town of Kufah in Iraq, he was a son of water carrier. In his youth, Al-Mutanabbi was educated in Syria Damascus. His nickname Al-Mutanabbi means "The one who wants to become a Prophet", the reason for this controversial nickname is not entirely known, some say that he climed to be the predecessor of prophet Saleh. Others claim it is his political activities that won the young poet the unusual nickname when he lead a revolutionary movement in his home town in 932. The revolt was suppressed and the young man was imprisoned. It is during this period that he began to write his first known poems. Al-Mutanabbi had great political ambitions to be Wali, to fulfill his ambitions he joined the courts of Sayf al-Daula and Abu al-Misk Kafur but his ambitions failed.

Al-Mutanabbi lived at the time when the Abbasid Caliphate started coming apart, many of the states in the islamic world became politically and militarily independent from the weak Abbasid Caliphate. Chief among those states was the Emirate of Aleppo. Ruling this greatly independent state at the time of Al-Mutanabbi was Sayf al-Daula.

Al-Mutanabbi joined the court of Sayf al-Daula in 948. Sayf al-Daula was greatly concerned with fighting the Byzantine Empire in Asia minor where Al-Mutanabbi fought along side him. During his nine years stay at Sayf al-Daula's court, Al-Mutanabbi versified his greatest and most famous poems.

During his stay in Aleppo, great rivalry occur between Al-Mutanabbi and many scholars and poets in Sayf al-Daula's court, one of those poets was Abu Firas al-Hamdani, Sayf al-Daula's cousin. In addition, Al-Mutanabbi lost Sayf al-Daula's favor because of his political ambition to be Wali. Al-Mutanabbi had no other choice but to leave Aleppo heading toward Egypt.

Al-Mutanabbi joined the court of Abu al-Misk Kafur, but the latter did not bestow the visiting poet as he expected. At that time Al-Mutanabbi realized that his hopes of becoming Wali were not going to be materialized so he left Egypt in 960. After leaving Egypt he heavily criticized Abu al-Misk Kafur with very satirical poems. As a result of those poems Abu al-Misk Kafur will always be associated with those satirical poems throughout history.

Al-Mutanabbi was killed because one of his poems that contained great insult to a man called Dhaba al-Alasdi (Arabic: ضبة الأسدي). Dhaba along with his Uncle Fatik al-Alasdi (Arabic: فاتك الأسدي) determined to kill Al-Mutanabbi because of that poem with contained a great insult for his nephew, they managed to intercept Al-Mutanabbi, his son Muhassad Arabic: محسد), and his servant near Bagdad and killed them all in 965.


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