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Islamic Kingship and Arabic Panegyric Poetry in the Early 9th Century

Author(s): Stefan Sperl


Source: Journal of Arabic Literature, Vol. 8 (1977), pp. 20-35
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4182977
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Journal of Arabic Literature,

III

ISLAMIC KINGSHIP AND ARABIC PANEGYRIC


POETRY IN THE EARLY 9TH CENTURY
I
Among the ceremonial features of 'Abbasid court life was the
recitation of poems in praise of the Caliphs and notables. These
followed a clearly preordained pattern in their composition, and on
recitation in the presence of the assembled court their authors were
not seldom richly rewarded with money and robes of honour.
In the following article I have undertaken to interpret the significance of this practice through a study of the poetry and its thematic
structure. The authors I have considered are Abui '1-cAtdhiya,1
Muslim b. al-Walid,2 Abu1Tammam 3 and al-Buhturi.4 Together their
works span the period from 770 to 890 A.D.
Analysis is limited to poems written in praise of the Caliphs, for,
even though they are a minority in the Diwans, their portrayal of the
sovereign's authority reveals much about the nature of the panegyric
as such.
They also provide a picture of the different cultural components
which formed the institution of the Caliphate. Old Arab, Islamic
and non-Islamic heritage is reflected in the formulae and epithets
which describe the power of the monarch. There are three types,
to which I have given the headings "virtue", "divine sanction" and
"mythic power".
1. Virtue. The moral qualities ascribed to the Caliph in the
poems correspond to a standardised set: 'atm, resolution, Fabr,
equanimity, karam, nobility, juid, generosity, are frequent examples.
Most of them had long been part of the poetic tradition, and refer
to the heroic virtues celebrated in pre-Islamic poetry.
The change of meaning they have undergone reflects the cultural
transition. Sabr, the steadfastness with which the pre-Islamic hero
faced the hardship of nomadic existence refers in the 'Abbasid
1 cf. Kildb al-Agbhni, Cairo, 1285, III, p. 156-7.

Diwdn Sari" al-Ghawdni (Muslim b. al-Walid), Dar al-Macarif, Cairo, 1958.


Diwan Abi Tammdm bi-Sharb al-Kha/ib al-Tabrizi, Dar al-Ma'arif, Cairo,
1951-.
4 Diwin al-Bubhuri, Dar al-Mac'rif, Cairo, 1963-.
2

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ISLAMIC

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21

context to the equanimity of the ruler as he bears the burden of


government. Jfld, the generosity which made the pre-Islamic bard
slaughter his camels to feed the poor of the tribe comes to mean the
bounty with which the Caliph nourishes his subjects.
Thus the old tribal virtues are transferred into an imperial context,
and the human ideal they express is represented in the person of the
Caliph. It follows that the poems' portrayal of the Caliph's personality
is the expression of an ideal vision: as supreme leader he is of supreme
virtue.
Yet this also encompasses a sphere of human excellence not part
of the old 'heroic' virtues: the sanctity of religious leadership.
2. Divine sanction. The 'Abbasid Caliph was the heir of an
ancient royal tradition-the kingship of Mesopotamia and Iran. The
combination of religious and secular power which distinguished these
monarchies also became a hallmark of the Caliphate. Like the Sassanian King who was the high priest of the state, the Caliph assumes
his office by divine sanction.
The insignia of his power symbolize the sacredness of his authority:
they are the burdaand the qadib, the staff and mantle of the Prophet.
Both are mentioned in the poetry. Al-Buhturi describes the Caliph
al-Mu 'tazz as
41

X1

"the heir of the Mantle, the Staff and the authority of God".5
The line relates the insignia of power to the divine sanction of which
they are a symbol.
The religious nature and the legitimacy of the 'Abbasid Caliphate
are also emphasized by reference to the origin of the dynasty in the
family of the Prophet. Numerous panegyrics bestow praises on al'Abbas and his descendants, asserting the 'Abbasid claim to power.
Thus the Caliph is protrayed as the undisputed ruler of the Islamic
community and subservient only to God. In the words of Abui
Tammam

"subordinateto God, commanderof the people".6


5 al-Buhturi, II, 729.
6

Abil Tammam, III, 153.

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22

ISLAMIC

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POETRY

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ISLAMIC

KINGSHIP

AND ARABIC PANEGYRIC

POETRY

23

Accordingly the panegyrics describe him as an instrument of God;


the victories he achieves and the protection he gives to the righteous
appear as expressions of divine will.
The religious nature of his power is also evident in the titles with
which he is addressed in the poems: Khalifat Allah (God's Caliph),
Amin Allah (God's Trustee), Kawkab al-.Haqq (Star of Truth),
Imdm al-Huda (Master of Guidance) etc.
The spiritual welfare of his subjects is vouchsaved by his tutelage,
as is the reproach of those who dare doubt:
A4

ueJ L AJ

Jl

"You have illuminated the worlds with the taper of Guidance.


Woe unto him who is not guided!" 7
3. Mythic Power. In the ancient Near East it was a widely held
notion that on ascending the throne the King defeats the forces of
darkness and death and brings justice, fertility and happiness to the
world. This "mythic power" is the result of the harmony he establishes and maintains between the divine forces and humanity. The
inviolability of his person (attested both in Sassanian and 'Abbasid
times) 8 is a natural consequence: when the King, as secular and
religious pivot of society, is killed or harmed the whole world order
may collapse, diseases and catastrophes may afflict the land.
This shows that in the face of the vicissitudes of Time a divinely
endowed Kingship was considered the only guarantor of continuity
and prosperity.
The soteriological nature of Kingship was thus celebrated in
numerous rituals in the ancient Near East, e.g. the Horus Osiris
ritual in Egypt, the Babylonian and Iranian New Year festivals, and
the Israelite enthronement festival as it is reflected in the royal psalms.
There may be no specific Islamic equivalent to these but it is clear
from panegyric poetry that the Caliph was held to possess a power
not unlike the mythic reviving power of the ancient Kings. Often
the prosperity of the realm is directly attributed to the divinely
inspired righteousness of the Caliph. How old the ancestry of such
forms of praise is can be illustrated by some quotations:

7 Abiu Tammam, II, 49.


8

Cf. Goldziher, Muhammedanische


Studien,Halle, 1889-90, II, 64.

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"Worship King Nimaat Re ( ...)


He is one who makes the land greener than (does) a high Nile,
For he has filled the two lands with strength and life."
(From a stele of the Middle Kingdom 9)
"Hammurabi,the shepherd, called by Enlil am 1,
The one who makes affluenceand plenty abound."
(From the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi10)
"Give the King Thy judgement, 0 God, (...)
In his days shall the righteous flourish
And abundanceof peace as long as the moon endureth."
(From Psalm LXXII

11)

Each of these passages means something distinct in its own cultural


context, but all stress the divine status of Kingship and see in the
King the source of prosperity for the land.
The following extract from the Diwan of al-Buhturi is one of
many similar examples from the Arabic tradition. The poet addresses
the Caliph al-Mutawakkil:
L'A.P %1.l L:1

A.Z-9,

1JU;T! b

L
L4$1~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Li
L~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~s
L~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~L
.G J~~~~~~~~~~,
: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~K
U
L
421 L4L,
; ~~~~~~~~~~1Ji
1J 4it11
L4iJ

I &J-.j.Li
;sL~J

~~~~~~LJ
si-L~

&;i

"Through you the expanses of the land have become fertile.


How can the world be barrenwhen you are its protector?
Whatever bounty God guides towards us
So that its onset and beginning is ours (comes)
From your face which joyfully shines on us
And from your hand the gifts of which shower upon us." 12
Among the ancient monarchs King Solomon appears in the early
'Abbasid panegyrics as an example of such righteous sovreignty.
As opposed to Pharaoh and the Sassanian Kings, he was considered
a believer in the Islamic sense and is mentioned as such in the Quran.
Al-Buhturi makes reference to these Quranic passages in his panegyrics. Solomon's kingship appears in his works as a model for the
Islamic ruler, and the legendary palace he built for the Queen of
Sheba is shown to be recreated in the royal buildings of the Caliphs. 13
9 Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, Princeton,

1969, 431.
10 Ibid., 164.
11 Psalm LXXII, 1 and 7.
12
13

al-Buhturi, III, 1631.


Cf. e.g. al-Buhturi, VI, 2416.

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Thus the panegyric of the 'Abbasid court poets depicts the authority
of the Caliphs as resting on the heroic virtues of the ancient Arabs,
the divine sanction of Islam and the mythic power of Near Eastern
Kingship. The last of these three is reflected in the thematic structure
of the poems.
II
Most panegyric poems are divisible into two parts: an introduction
containing a certain number of themes, and a section of praise, the
madib. For the purpose of this study I have called them strophe and
antistrophe, to avoid the notion that one is preponderant over the
other and to point to the contrasting relationships that link the two.
Themesof the Strophe:
In the diagram on page 22 I have listed a number of the themes
which occur in the first part of the panegyric. There are:
1 a)
A spring description with passages on the blessings of rain and
the beauty of spring flowers (wasf al-rabic).
2 a)
A "bacchanal" (khamrtyya): the poet, in the prime of youth,
pursues al-abwd', the physical passions, as he is drinking wine with
friends and flirting with the ganymedes.
3 a)
A desert journey (rabil) where the travellers face hardship and exhaustion which they overcome with perseverance and courage.
4 a)
A description of an unhappy love (nasib). The poet expresses his
passion for a lady he has met in the past. She has rejected his courtship
and they are separated but his attachment is undiminished, and he
gives vent to his grief and his passion for her.
5 a)
A description of the desert encampment (a/ld) where the poet met
his beloved. Wind and rain have altered and destroyed the site, plants
and wild animals have returned to it The spectacle makes the poet
aware of the relentless passage of time and he weeps with sorrow.

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6 a)
A description of the poet's hoariness which leads to a gloomy
contemplation of old age (dhikr al-shayb). The women he desires
deride him; he is cast down with sickness and despair, and oppressed
by the thought of death.
7 a)
A contemplation of the inevitability of death which afflicts all
living things (dhikr al-mawt). Sometimes this passage may take the
form of an elegy (rithad), more often it develops out of the theme of
the campsite (5 a) or old age (6 a).
In the poems these themes are combined in many different ways
The nasib is the most frequent single component and may be linked
with any of the other six themes. (e.g. atldl-nasib-khamriyya;nasibshayb-dhikr al-mawt; etc.) Certain poems also possess strophes in
which only one of these themes is treated (e.g. nasib; khamrfyya;
rithd' etc.).
Thus the order in which I have arranged the themes in the diagram
does not correspond to any particular order in the poems. It is obvious
though that the themes of the strophe encompass the major experiences of man's life. Between the spring description which celebrates
the birth of new life, and the contemplation of death, there are descriptions of endurance and despair, and portrayals of youth, love and,
old age.
Themesof the Antistrophe:
These have an equally wide range. They fall into two categories:
themes of peace and themes of war. Peace in the context of the
panegyric means the prosperity the monarch bestows on his loyal
subjects, war means the destruction he inflicts on his enemies.
In the diagram I have tried to arrange these themes in such a way
as to make the relationship between strophe and antistrophe apparent.
Depending on whether the madih theme is one of peace or war, it
can be seen to relate to a theme of the strophe by contrast or congruence.
Again the order of the themes in the diagram is an abstraction
and does not correspond to any order in the poems. Each individual
poem is a free but coherent combination of the themes mentioned.

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1 b)

The counterpart of the Spring theme recalls the short extract from
the Diwan of al-Buhturi quoted above: "through you the expanses
of the land have become fertile". The action of the monarch is like
the action of Spring as he brings fertility and prosperity to the land.
One line by Abui Tammam sums up the connection between Spring
and Caliph:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~w
~

w
_

jI4jbj

y 4;gr19

"There are innate qualities that face us in Spring like the innate
qualities of the Imam and his fortunate guidance."14
7 b)
The counterpart of waff al-rabic among the strophic themes is
dhikr al-mawt, the contemplation of death. This theme also is balanced
in the antistrophe by the Caliph's power of revival. The prosperity
and justice he brings make life renew itself and the grief of death is
forgotten.
The panegyric Abfi Tammam wrote on the accession of the Caliph
al-Wathiq provides an example. The strophe consists of an elegy on
the previous Caliph al-Mu'tasim which dwells on the omnipotence
of death. In the antistrophe aJ-Wathiq's accession is described and
the people's joy is boundless:

5A;

J1
Jj_
v$
,bi ,

,J

Li

W.,4o

"When you called them forth to take their oaths, 'Iraqi and Syrian
were transported with joy, as if one of them had returned from a
long absence and the other had been told of the birth of a son." 15
This image of resurrection and birth poignantly symbolizes the
renewal of life in the rise of the new ruler.
The other two themes of the strophe which form a pair, youth
and old age, are also linked by corresponding themes in the antistrophe.
2 b)

The poet's youthful excesses are counterbalanced by the wisdom


"4
16

Abui Tammam, II, 196.


Abui Tammam, III, 206.

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of old agewhich the Caliphpossesses. He is "as if he had been an old


man since before he was weaned",and he gives solace to those whom
the folly of youth has deceived.'6
2 c)
As to the correspondingtheme of war, the enemies are paralysed
by fear in the face of his Majesty,or destroy themselves by rashness
and confusion.
6 b)
The poet's sicknessand ageare overcome by the rejuvenating
powers
of the King. The latter's generosity and the radianceof his might
make the poet forget his grievances and, as the poems say, "a new
flameis kindled in his flint".
6 c)
The correspondingtheme of war shows the Caliph in possession
of the prowess of youth with which he crushes his enemies. Here
again the poet's weakness is overcome.
Thus the antistrophecounters the strophe by treatingthe negative
and positive qualitiesof youth and old age accordingto a meaningful
pattern: the Caliphpossesses the prowess and potency of youth and
the wisdom of age, while his enemiesare markedby the folly of youth
and the impotence of age. With youthful prowess the Caliph fights
his enemies, with wisdom he gives solace to his subjects.'7
The remainingthree strophicthemes (3a, 4a, 5a) are relatedto the
antistropheby similar correspondences.
3 b)
The hardship of the desert journey is overcome, the endurance
of the travellers rewarded,by the reception which greets them on
arrivalin the Caliph'spalace. He heals all wounds and his generosity
satisfiesthe needs of everyone.
3 c)
In the theme of war the notion of arrival is contrasted by the
notion of departuresymbolized in the flight of the enemy after his
defeat.
Thus the friends arrive and are nourished while the enemies are
suppressedand depart.
16 Cf. Kitdb al-Aghdni, III, 157.
17 For parallels to this cf. George Dumezil, Mi/ra
Varuna, Essai sur deux
RepresentationsIndo-Europiennes de la Souvrainti, Gallimard 1948,

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5 b)
The ruins of the campsite are contrasted with the state which the
Caliph protects, constructs, or restores to its former greatness. This
action is symbolized by the "House of Glory" (bayt al-majd) which
he "builds" for himself and his subjects.'8
5 b)
The powers of destruction on the other hand are reserved for the
enemies: the Caliph is the "key to every well-defended fortress",
"the emptier of the houses of his enemies". Thus while he constructs
the state, he destroysthe strongholds of his foes.
Since the nasib is the most important strophic theme, its relationships to the antistrophe are multiple and complex. I mention only
those that seem to me the most important.
Among the experiences the poet describes in the nasib, two are
prominent: the frustration of his love and the ultimate separation
between him and his beloved. Both experiences are reflected and
transfigured in the madih.
4 b)
The poet's unrequited love is overcome in the relationship between
him and the monarch. The physical and passionate attachment to
his lady is sublimated by his spiritual and temperate devotion to the
Caliph. In exchange, the sovereign does not reject him as did his
beloved but rewards him by integration into a society of prosperity.
The conclusion here is that the individualistic quest for happiness
in a passionate attachment cannot be successful. Fulfillment is attained by integration into society under the guidance of the monarch,
and by devotion to the ideals of state.
The annulment in the antistrophe of the experience of separation
elucidates this further.
The relationship between poet and beloved remains barren, it is
never consumated since the two are separated. This barrennessis
overcome by the fertility the Caliph brings to his realm. Many poems
describe in lavish imagery the Caliph's generosity which is compared
to the Spring rains and the morning dew, and which revives society,
"making affluence and plenty abound".
The theme is closely related to the counterparts of waif al-rabi' and
dhikr al-mawt in the antistrophe. Al-Mu'tasim's qualities are "like
18

Cf. e.g. Sari' al-Ghawani, 218.

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those of Spring", the joy over al-Wathiq's accession is like "the joy
over a newborn child". Both passages point to the resurgence of life
brought to society by the monarch.
In some poems this newly found fertility is expressed by an image
reminiscent of the pagan "hierosgamos" (the sacred marriage of the
ruler): al-khildfa or al-imama appear as females linked to the Caliph
to stay with him faithfully."' The separation between poet and
beloved is overcome in the union between King and Kingship, the
threat of barrenness banished by its life giving force.
4 c)
The recreation of fertility has an equivalent among the themes of
war. Many poems link the Caliph's slaughter of his enemies with the
creation of new life in his realm. Their death is portrayed as an act
of sacrifice which will ensure prosperity for the land.
The idea has been given a most condensed expression by Abui
Tammam. In the poem on the capture of Armorium which explores
the paradox of the emergence of life from the destruction of death,
he says:

"the two deaths brought about by swords and lances are the waterbuckets of two lives containing water and fodder."20
The source of life for the Caliph's subjects is the death brought to
his enemies.
The contrast between barrenness and fertility in strophe and
antistrophe is illustrated by the imagery of the panegyric. Three
liquids are prominent in the imagery of the nasiband the corresponding
war and peace themes of the section of praise: the tears of the abandoned lover, the dew or rain of generosity bestowed by the Caliph,
and the blood of the slain enemies. Blood and water symbolize the
new fertility which the Caliph creates in the land; they overcome the
grief of barrenness expressed in the tears.
A word must be added about those poems that do not begin with
any of the themes of the strophe but embark at once upon praise of
the sovereign. Despite the absence of the strophe, they revolve
around the same thematic elements as the other panegyrics: the
"I Cf. e.g. Abu Tammam, III, 208. The image figures prominently in the
Diwan of MihyAral-Daylami.
20 Abul Tammam, I, 61.

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creation of prosperity and justice through the defeat of the enemies


of state.
Aba Tammam wrote several such works in praise of al-Muctasim.
One of them starts as follows:

LP

LL

13-l
Ij

Iz

4S

"The forecourt and dwelling places of Kingship have become thronged


with people, its luxuriant gardens are flourishing and its watering
places sweet,
Through one Seeking Refuge with God (Mucfasim billah) who has
become a sanctuary, a refuge (muctasam) and magic stronghold for
each afflicted."21
The imagery of the lines sums up what has been said about the
beneficent role of the Caliph as it appears in the panegyrics: there is
the affluent resurgence of life under his rule, the protection and
nourishment extended to his subjects and the divine approval which
marks his reign.
The lines also illustrate the thematic interaction between strophe
and antistrophe which constitutes the form of the panegyric: the
picture of the dwelling places of Kingship thronged with life and
plenty establishes a deliberate contrast to the traditional beginning
of many a poem: the picture of the abandoned campsite (often also
called mand.il, theme 5a).
This type of contrast is a sign of the unity of the panegyric as a
poetic mode. The strophic themes are contained in the antistrophe
even when the strophe itself is missing: the Caliph's power is always
portrayed as an assertion of order and prosperity in the face of
barrenness and chaos.
III
I have been concerned to show that the characteristic themes of
the two parts of the panegyric can be arranged in such a way as to
form a meaningful pattern of development. Each theme of the
strophe can be related to a corresponding set of themes in the antistrophe. The common denominator to the various thematic links
between strophe and antistrophe may be found in the relationships
between Caliph and poet, and Caliph and fate.
21

Abiu Tammam, III, 79.

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ISLAMIC KINGSHIP AND ARABIC PANEGYRIC POETRY

Fate or Time (al-dahr, al-ayydm,al-laydli, al-zamdn etc.) is the ruler


of the world in the strophe; in the antistrophe the Caliph as representative of God is the supreme power.
Caliph and fate do not exert their power in the same way nor for
the same ends. Fate is master over life and death, generation and
decay, but its rule is chaotic and arbitrary, amoral and hostile to
human society.
The nature of fate's rule is expressed in the themes of the strophe.
In the "bacchanal" and the section on old age, the poet possesses
both the negative and positive qualities of youth and age. Prowess
and folly characterize his behaviour in the "bacchanal", while the
wisdom of age brings only the awareness of his impotence and death.
The atl/l theme shows the campsite ruined, though life has returned to it in the form of plants and animals. In the nasib fate leads
poet and lady together only to make them suffer the pain of separation,
and in the rakil, the poet is virtuous but nevertheless beset with
hardship and danger. Time's renewal of nature in Spring does not
lead to a renewal of order and justice, and death at the hand of fate
is a cruel end without purpose.
Thus the rule of fate does not follow any principle of order. It
creates life and brings death indiscriminately, and in all situations,
good and bad, negative and positive cancel each other. The human
being is left confused and helpless and human life cannot prosper,
as is shown in the separation between poet and beloved.
The Caliph's rule, however, is not arbitrary but in accordance
with virtue, justice and divine will. His accession to the throne marks
the defeat of fate; as a prize he acquires its power over life and death.
With life-giving powers he protects and nourishes his subjects, the
forces of death he turns against his enemies.
.,,j.=LIJYll

f) jc L..J

"We take delight in his rule despite Time. Can anyone oppose an
order spoken by the one enthroned?
Die he will who offers his heart's core to the edge of a spearhead
whose shaft is brought to action by the hand of God." 22
However the relationship between fate and the sovereign has
an "elegiac counterpoint". Even though he assumes its powers the
22

Abul Tammam, III, 27.

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ISLAMIC KINGSHIP AND ARABIC PANEGYRIC POETRY

33

Caliph can never ultimately defeat fate. Like the pre-Islamic hero he
is enmeshed in constant warfare: unceasingly he is forced to reaffirm
the divine order in the face of erupting chaos.
In this constant struggle the panegyric qa.ida has its place. In it,
fate is always defeated anew, the sovereignty of the monarch reasserted, the ultimate victory made tangible.
The relationship between poet and monarch has similar features.
The poet is the protagonist of the strophe and as such the prime
victim of fate's power. By defeating fate, the Caliph saves the poet
from his afflictions. All the ills he has suffered become those of the
enemies, all his virtues are transfigured in the sacred virtue of the
monarch.
The development suggest that poet and Caliph represent human
nature in the stages of imperfection and perfection. The transfiguration of the poet from an imperfect to a perfect being in the character
of the monarch is a reflection of the identity of King and society.
As the poet is saved, strengthened and rejuvenated in the person of
the monarch, so society as a whole exists and survives through him.
The relationship between Caliph and fate, and Caliph and poet
is thus of similar nature: the sovereign defeats fate and as a perfect
ruler assumes the powers of fate; similarly, he saves the poet and as a
perfect human being assumes and heightens the virtues of the poet.
Thus both poet and fate are transfigured in the person of the monarch.

IV
The analysis of the poetic form of the "royal" panegyrics show
that its development is a perfect illustration of the function of Kingship in society. It suggests that this poetry is a liturgical expression
of the basic values and political ideals of the 'Abbasid state. This
conclusion makes it possible to re-evaluate some of the characteristics
of panegyric poetry which in the past have given rise to doubts
about its merit as literature.
The stereotyped structure, the repetitiveness and formalism of the
poems have been seen as the result of a conservative literary public
which stifled poetic genius, or simply as a lack of inventiveness.
The study of the panegyric, however, suggests that these are not
fair judgements. It was not the poet's task to demonstrate his originality by creating new forms, but to re-explore and recast the existing
elements of the qa-ida in order to emphasize the basic meaning of its
structure. How essential this meaning was, has, I believe, been shown.
3

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34

ISLAMIC

KINGSHIP

AND ARABIC PANEGYRIC

POETRY

To search for a different one would have been to seek a lesser thing.
Another factor which has impeded the appreciation of panegyric
poetry on its own terms are the doubts critics have felt about the
sincerity of some poets. When a cruel or undeserving monarch was
praised this was seen as flattery and hypocrisy on the part of the poet
whose work, as a result, was considered to be of little merit.
It is clear, however, that the panegyric does not attempt to portray
the character of individual monarchs. Instead, it extolls the role of
Kingship which an individual assumes. Its thematic development,
its liturgical formalism, and the expression it gives to essential social
values all suggest that the public recitation of panegyric poetry was
an act of ritual.
This ritual celebrated the vision of political authority of the
'Abbasid state: a divinely endowed Kingship as the only guarantor
of peace and stability for the realm.
In the panegyric this essential role of Kingship is recreated and
reaffirmed as the development proceeds from chaos and suffering
to order and prosperity. Its recitation amounts to a public renewal
of faith in the state while reminding the sovereign of the duties of
his high office. The sumptuous reward of the court poet is part of
the ceremony: it is a public demonstration of generosity and symbolizes the life-giving function of the King.
V
The preceding conclusions about the form and function of poems
dedicated to the Caliphs can also be applied, with some modifications,
to the other panegyrics which fill the Diwans of Abui Tammam and
al-Buhlturi: those in praise of notables, military leaders or provincial
governors. Their thematic structure scarcely differs from those of
the royal poems, and the human ideal of social responsibility and good
government which they proffer remains essentially the same. The
difference between the addressees of the panegyrics is one of degree
and not of kind: they are all representative of the authority of state,
persons in power, leaders of men.
Neither is the thematic pattern of interaction between strophe and
antistrophe characteristic only of "Abbasid panegyrics. The ancestry
of this form can be traced back to the earliest surviving Arabic poems.
The same applies to the ritualistic character of the panegyrics. The
societal resurrection brought about by the sovereign is as important

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ISLAMIC

KINGSHIP

AND ARABIC

PANEGYRIC

POETRY

35

a theme in the poems al-Nabigha wrote for the Kings of Ghassan


as it is in the Diwan of Abiu Tamnmam.
The ultimate origin of this ritualistic form and its metaphors of
praise must be sought in the vision of political authority traditionally
celebrated in the ancient Near East. In the royal panegyrics of the
'Abbasid poets this ancient heritage is brought to life with majesty
and splendour. What distinguishes them from all other Arabic panegyrics is the picture they present of the Caliph's authority: like the
King of Babylon and Egypt, he is the ruler of the world, the divinely
chosen source of prosperity and justice for the realm.
L4.jIL---.L--

UJ L4 SLW1;

>,"1 j;, TJ

4jIJT,,~-

-elUl
*L4;t

"You are forever a sea of sustenance to the needy among us!


How can this be, since you face us owning the world and all it holds?
God granted it to you as a right of which he saw you worthy,
And you by the right of God grant it to us." 23
(al-Buhturito the Caliph al-Mutawakkil)
STEFAN SPERL
23

al-Buhtiirl,

IV, 2421.

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