A Literary History of The Arabs

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Item Code: NAG987
Author: Reynold A. Nicholson
Language: English
Edition: 2021
ISBN: 9788171511945
Pages: 538
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 820 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

A Literary History of the Arabs" prepared especially for the students of Arabic, occupies an eminent place in the literary field. The author strictly revised and presented it without alteration. In this book the chief aim of the author is to sketch in broad outlines what the Arabs thought, and to indicate as far as possible the influence which moulded their thoughts. As the work especially devoted to the literature, almost all poetic conditions relating to the pre-Islamic time and after the Islamic period explained in detail. An effort has been made to make it more comprehensive in changing the method of transliteration in Arabic terms. Of course, this work will be useful for students and teachers of the same faculty.



A Literary History of the Arabs published by T. Fisher Unwin in 1907 and twice re-issued without alteration, now appears under new auspices, and I wish to thank the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press for the opportunity they have given me of making it in some respects more accurate and useful than it has hitherto been. Since the present edition is printed from the original plates, there could be no question of revising the book throughout and recasting it where necessary; but while only a few pages have been rewritten, the Bibliography has been brought up to date and I have removed several mistakes from the text and corrected others in an appendix which includes a certain amount of supplementary matter. As stated in the preface to the first edition, I hoped "to compile a work which should serve as a general introduction to the subject, and which should be neither too popular for students nor too scientific for ordinary readers. It has been my chief aim to sketch in broad outlines what the Arabs thought, and to indicate as far as possible the influences which moulded their thought. . . .Experience has convinced me that young students of Arabic, to whom this volume is principally addressed, often find difficulty in understanding what they read, since they are not in touch with the political, intellectual, and religious notions which are presented to them. The pages of almost every Arabic book abound in allusions to names, events, movements, and ideas of which Moslems require no explanation, but which puzzle the Western reader unless he have some general knowledge of Arabian history in the widest meaning of the word. Such a survey is not to be found, I believe, in any single European book; and if mine supply the want, however partially and inadequately, I shall feel that my labour has been amply rewarded. . . . As regards the choice of topics, I agree with the author of a famous anthology who declares that it is harder to select than compose (ikhtiydru' I-kalam as'abu min ta'Iifihi). Perhaps an epitomist may be excused for not doing equal justice all round. To me the literary side of the subject appeals more than the historical, and I have followed my bent without hesitation; for in order to interest others a writer must first be interested himself . . . Considering the importance of Arabic poetry as, in the main, a true mirror of Arabian life, I do not think the space devoted to it is excessive. Other branches of literature could not receive the same attention. Many an eminent writer has been dismissed in a few lines, many well-known names have been passed over. But, as before said, this work is a sketch of ideas in their historical environment rather than a record of authors, books, and dates. The exact transliteration of Arabic words, though superfluous for scholars and for persons entirely ignorant of the language, is an almost indispensable aid to the class of readers whom I have especially in view. My system is that recommended by the Royal Asiatic Society and adopted by Professor Browne in his Literary History of Persia; but I use z for the letter which he denotes by dh. The definite article al, which is frequently omitted at the beginning of proper names, has been restored in the Index. It may save trouble if I mention here the abbreviations 'b.' for 'ibn' (son of); J.R.A.S. for Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society; Z.D.M.G. for Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgen landischen Gesellschaft; and S.B.W.A. for Sitzungsberichte der Wimer Akademie. Finally, it behoves me to make full acknowledgment of my debt to the learned Orientalists whose works I have studied and freely 'conveyed' into these pages. References could not be given in every case, but the reader will see for himself how much is derived from Von Kremer, Goldziher, Noldeke, and Wellhausen, to mention only a few of the leading authorities. At the same time I have constantly gone back to the native sources of information."

There remains an acknowledgment of a more personal kind. Twenty-two years ago I wrote "my warmest thanks are due to my friend and colleague, Professor A. A. Bevan, who read the proofs throughout and made a number of valuable remarks which will be found in the footnotes." Happily the present occasion permits me to renew those ties between us; and the book which he helped into the world now celebrates its majority by associating itself with his name.



The Arabs belong to the great family of nations which on account of their supposed descent from Shem, the son of Noah, are commonly known as the 'Semites.'

This term includes the Babylonians and Abyssinians, the Hebrews, the Phoenicians, the Aramaeans, the Abyssinians, the Sabseans, and the Arabs, and although based on a classification that is not ethnologically precise the Phoenicians and Sabaeans, for example, being reckoned in Genesis, chap. x, among the descendants of Ham it was well chosen by Eich-horn (1827) to comprehend the closely allied peoples which have been named. Whether the original home of the undivided Semitic race was some part of Asia (Arabia, Armenia, or the district of the Lower Euphrates), or whether, according to a view which has lately found favour, the Se mites crossed into Asia from Africa, is still uncertain. Long before the epoch when they first appear in history they had branched off from the parent stock and formed separate nationalities. The relation of the Semitic languages to each other cannot be discussed here, but we may arrange them in the chronological order of the extant literature as follows:

1. Babylonian or Assyrian (3000-500 B.C.).
2. Hebrew (from 1500 B.C.).
3. South Arabic, otherwise called Sabaean or Himyarite (inscriptions from 800 B.C.).
4. Aramaic (inscriptions from 800 B.C.).
5. Phoenician (inscriptions from 700 B.C.).
6. Ethiopic (inscriptions from 350 A.D.).
7. Arabic (from 500 A.D.).

Notwithstanding that Arabic is thus, in a sense, the youngest of the Semitic languages, it is generally allowed to be nearer akin than any of them to the original archetype, the 'Ursemitisch,' from which they all are derived, just as the Arabs, by reason of their geographical situation and the monotonous uniformity of desert life, have in some respects preserved the Semitic character more purely and exhibited it more distinctly than any people of the same family. From the period of the great Moslem conquests (700 A.D.) to the present day they have extended their language, religion, and culture over an enormous expanse of territory, far surpassing that of all the ancient Semitic empires added together. It is true that the Arabs are no longer what they were in the Middle Ages, the ruling nation of the world, but loss of temporal power has only strengthened their spiritual dominion. Islam still reigns supreme in Western Asia; in Africa it has steadily advanced; even on European soil it has found in Turkey compensation for its banishment from Spain and Sicily. While most of the Semitic peoples have vanished, leaving but a meagre and ambiguous record, so that we cannot hope to become intimately acquainted with them, we possess in the case of the Arabs ample materials for studying almost every phase of their development since the sixth century of the Christian era, and for writing the whole history of their national life and thought. This book, I need hardly say, makes no such pretensions. Even were the space at my disposal unlimited, a long time must elapse before the vast and various field of Arabic literature can be thoroughly explored and the results rendered accessible to the historian.

From time immemorial Arabia was divided into North and South, not only by the trackless desert (al-Rub' al-Khali, the 'Solitary Quarter') which stretches across the peninsula and forms a natural barrier to intercourse, but also by the opposition of two kindred races widely differing in their character and way of life. Whilst the inhabitants of the northern province (the Hijaz and the great central highland of Najd) were rude nomads sheltering in 'houses of hair,' and ever shifting to and fro in search of pasture for their camels, the people of Yemen or Arabia Felix are first mentioned in history as the inheritors of an ancient civilisation and as the owners of fabulous wealth -spices, gold and precious stones which ministered to the luxury of King Solomon. The Bedouins of the North spoke Arabic that is to say, the language of the Pre-islamic poems and of the Koran-whereas the southerners used a dialect called by Muhammadans 'Himyarite' and a peculiar script of which the examples known to us have been discovered and deciphered in comparatively recent times. Of these Sabaeans -to adopt the designation given to them by Greek and Roman geographers-more will be said presently. The period of their bloom was drawing to a dose in the early centuries of our era, and they have faded out of history before 600 A.D., when their northern neighbours first rise into prominence.

It was, no doubt, the consciousness of this racial distinction that caused the view to prevail among Moslem genealogists that the Arabs followed two separate lines of descent from their common ancestor, Sam b. Nub (Shem, the son of Noah). As regards those of the North, their derivation from 'Adnan, a descendant of Isma'il (Ishmael) was universally recognised; those of the South were traced back to Qahtan, whom most genealogists identified with Yoqtan (Joktan), the son of 'Abir (Eber). Under the Yoqtanids, who are the elder line, we find, together with the Sabaeans and Himyarites, several large and powerful tribes e.g., Tayyi', Kinda, and Tanukh which had settled in North and Central Arabia long before Islam, and were in no respect distinguishable from the Bedouins of Ishmaelite origin. As to 'Adnan, his exact genealogy is disputed, but all agree that he was of the posterity of Isma'il (Ishmael), the son of Ibrhim (Abraham) by Hajar (Hagar). The story runs that on the birth of Isma'il God commanded Abraham to journey to Mecca with Hagar and her son and to leave them there. They were seen by some Jurhumites, descendants of Yoqtan, who took pity on them and resolved to settle beside them. Isma'il grew up with the sons of the strangers, learned to shoot the bow, and spoke their tongue. Then he asked of them in marriage, and they married him to one of their women. The tables on the opposite page show the principal branches of the younger but by far the more important family of the Arabs which traced its pedigree through 'Adnan to Isma'il. A dotted line indicates the omission or one or more links in the genealogical chain.




  Preface ix
  Introduction xv
1 Saba and Himyar 1
2 The History and Legends of The Pagan Arabs 30
3 Pre-Islamic Poetry, Manners, and Religion 71
4 The Prophet and The Koran 141
5 The Orthodox Caliphate and the Umayyad Dynasty. 181
6 The Caliphs of Baghdad 254
7 Poetry, Literature, and Science in the 'Abbasid 285
8 Orthodoxy, Free-Thought, and Mysticism. 365
9 The Arabs in Europe 405
10 From The Mongol Invasion To The Present Day 442
  Appendix 471
  Bibliography 477
  Index 487

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