History of Literature


Eastern Literature

Arabic Literature


Abu Tammam

Abu Tammam was born in Jasim (Josem), Syria, north-east of the Sea of Tiberias and near Hierapolis Bambyce. He seems to have spent his youth in Homs, though, according to one story, he was employed during his boyhood selling water at a mosque in Cairo. His first appearance as a poet was in Egypt, but as he failed to make a living there he went to Damascus, and then to Mosul. From there he made a visit to the governor of Armenia which was at the time a part of the Arab Islamic empire, where he was well-supported. After 833 he lived mostly in Baghdad, at the court of the caliph Mo'tasim. From Baghdad he visited Khorasan, where he enjoyed the favour of Abdallah ibn Tahir. In approximately 845 he was in Ma'arrat un-Nu'man, where he met the poet al-Buhturi (c. 820–897). He died in Mosul in 845.

Abu Tammam is best known in literature by his 9th century compilation of early poems known as the Hamasah. The Hamasah (Arabic, "exhortation") is one of the greatest anthologies of Arabic literature ever written. Abu Tammam gathered these works together when he was snowbound in Hamadan, where he had access to an excellent library belonging to Abu al-Wafa Ibn Salama. There are ten books of poems in the Hamasah, all classified by subject. Some of them are selections from long poems. This is one of the treasuries of early Arabic poetry, and the poems are of exceptional beauty. A later anthology by the same name was compiled by the poet al-Buhturi, and the term has been used in modern times to mean "heroic epic."

Two other collections of a similar nature are ascribed to Abu Tammam. His own poems have been somewhat neglected owing to the success of his compilations, but they enjoyed great repute in his lifetime. His poems reflect a stylistic break from prevailing oral-based concepts of Arab poetry, often describing historical events and people. They were distinguished for the purity of their style, the merit of the verse, and the excellent manner of treating subjects, and have been linked to the prevailing Mutazilite philosophy of the Abbasid period. His poems were published in Cairo in 1875.

According to the poet Adunis, Abu Tammam "started out from a vision of poetry as a sort of creation of the world through language, comparing the relationship between the poet and the word to the relationship between two lovers, and the act of composing poetry to the sexual act



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