From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 390-396.
ANTAR OF ANTARAH BEN SHEDAD EL ABSI; a famous classical Arab poet; born about the middle of the sixth century A.D.; died about 615 A.D. He is the author of one of the seven celebrated “suspended poems.” He lauds the beauty of his mistress, and rehearses the story of his adventures in Arabia. Portions were translated into English verse by Terrick Hamilton (1820).
NOW Antar was becoming a big boy, and grew up, and used to accompany his mother, Zebeeba, to the pastures, and he watched the cattle; and this he continued to do till he increased in stature. He used to walk and run about to harden himself, till at length his muscles were strengthened, his frame altogether more robust, his bones more firm and solid, and his speech correct. His days were passed in roaming about the mountain sides; and thus he continued till he attained his tenth year.
[He now kills a wolf which had attacked his father’s flocks, and breaks into verse to celebrate his victory.]
[His next adventure brought him to the notice of the chief of the tribe, — King Zoheir. A slave of Prince Shas insulted a poor, feeble woman who was tending her sheep; on which Antar “dashed him against the ground. And his length and breadth were all one mass.” This deed won for Antar the hatred of Prince Shas, the friendship of the gentle Prince Malik, and the praise of the king, their father. “This valiant fellow,” said the king, “has defended the honor of women.”]391
From that day both King Zoheir and his son Malik conceived a great affection for Antar, and as Antar returned home, the women all collected around him to ask him what had happened; among them were his aunts and his cousin, whose name was Ibla. Now Ibla was younger than Antar, and a merry lass. She was lovely as the moon at its full; and perfectly beautiful and elegant. . . . One day he entered the house of his uncle Malik and found his aunt combing his cousin Ibla’s hair, which flowed down her back, dark as the shades of night. Antar was quite surprised; he was greatly agitated, and could pay no attention to anything; he was anxious and thoughtful, and his anguish daily became more oppressive.
[Meeting her at a feast, he addressed her in verse.]
When the breezes blow from Mount Saadi, their freshness calms the fire of my love and transports. Let my tribe remember I have preserved their faith; but they feel not my worth, and preserve not their engagements with me. Were there not a maid settled in the tents, why should I prefer their society to absence? Slimly made is she, and the magic influence of her eye preserves the bones of a corpse from entering the tomb. The sun as it sets, turns towards her, and says: “Darkness obscures the land; do thou rise in my absence;” and the brilliant moon calls out to her: “Come forth; for thy face is like me when I am at the full, and in all my glory!” The Tamarisk trees complain of her in the morn and the eve, and say: “Away, thou waning beauty, thou form of the laurel!” She turns away abashed, and throws aside her veil, and the roses are scattered from her soft fair cheeks. She draws her sword from the glances of her eyelashes, sharp and penetrating as the blade of her forefathers, and with it her eyes commit murder, though it be sheathed: is it not surprising that a sheathed sword should be so sharp against its victims! Graceful is every limb, slender her waist, love-beaming are her glances, waving is her form. The damsel passes the night with musk under her veil, and its fragrance is increased by the still fresher essence of her breath. The lustre of day sparkles from her forehead, and by the dark shades of her curling ringlets night itself is driven away. When she smiles, between her teeth is a moisture composed of wine, of rain, and of honey. 392 Her throat complains of the darkness of her necklaces. Alas! alas! the effects of that throat and that necklace! Will fortune ever, O daughter of Malik, ever bless me with thy embrace, that would cure my heart of the sorrows of love? If my eye could see her baggage camels, and her family, I would rub my cheeks on the hoofs of her camels. I will kiss the earth where thou art; mayhap the fire of my love and ecstasy may be quenched. Shall thou and I ever meet as formerly on Mount Saadi? or will the messenger come from thee to announce thy meeting, or will he relate that thou art in the land of Nejd? Shall we meet in the land of Shureba and Hima, and shall we live in joy and happiness? I am the well-known Antar, the chief of his tribe, and I shall die; but when I am gone, history shall tell of me. —
When Ibla heard from Antar this description of her charms, she was in astonishment. But Antar continued in this state for days and nights, his love and anguish ever increasing.
[Antar resolves to be either tossed upon the spear-heads or numbered among the noble; and he wanders into the plain of lions.]
As soon as Antar found himself in it, he said to himself, Perhaps I shall now find a lion, and I will slay him. Then, behold, a lion appeared in the middle of the valley; he stalked about and roared aloud; wide were his nostrils, and fire flashed from his eyes; the whole valley trembled at every gnash of his fangs — he was a calamity, and his claws more dreadful than the deadliest catastrophe — thunder pealed as he roared — vast was his strength, and his force dreadful — broad were his paws, and his head immense. Just at that moment Shedad and his brothers came up. They saw Antar address the lion, and hear the verses that he repeated; he sprang forward like a hailstorm, and hissed at him like a black serpent — he met the lion as he sprang, and outroared his bellow; then, giving a dreadful shriek, he seized hold of his mouth with his hand, and wrenched it open to his shoulders, and he shouted aloud — the valley and the country round echoed back the war.
[Those who were watching were astonished at his prowess, and began to fear Antar. The horsemen now set off to attack the tribe of Temeem, leaving the slaves to guard the women.]
Antar was in transports on seeing Ibla appear with the other women. She was indeed like an amorous fawn; and when Antar was attending her, he was overwhelmed in the ocean of his love, and became the slave of her sable tresses. They sat 393 down to eat, and the wine-cups went merrily round. It was the spring of the year, when the whole land shone in all its glory; the vines hung luxuriantly in the arbors; the flowers shed around ambrosial fragrance; every hillock sparkled in the beauty of its colors; the birds in responsive melody sang sweetly from each bush, and harmony issued from their throats; the ground was covered with flowers and herbs; while the nightingales filled the air with their softest notes.
[While the maidens were singing and sporting, lo! on a sudden appeared a cloud of dust walling the horizon, and a vast clamor arose. A troop of horses and their riders, some seventy in number, rushed forth to seize the women, and made them prisoners. Antar instantly rescues Ibla from her captors and engages the enemy.]
He rushed forward to meet them, and harder than flint was his heart, and in his attack was their fate and destiny. He returned home, taking with him five-and-twenty horses, and all the women and children. Now the hatred of Semeeah (his stepmother) was converted into love and tenderness, and he became dearer to her than sleep.
[He had thenceforward a powerful ally in her, a fervent friend in Prince Malik, a wily counsellor in his brother Shiboo. And Antar made great progress in Ibla’s heart, from the verses that he spoke in her praise; such verses as these: —]
Antar’s astonishing valor gained him the praise of the noble Absian knights, and he was emboldened to ask his father Shedad to acknowledge him for his son, that he might become a chief among the Arabs. Shedad, enraged, drew his sword and rushed upon Antar to kill him, but was prevented by Semeeah. Antar, in the greatest agony of spirit, was ashamed that the day should dawn on him after this refusal, or that he should remain any longer in the country. He mounted his horse, put on his armor, and travelled on till he was far from the tents, and he knew not whither he was going.
Antar had proceeded some way, when lo! a knight rushed out from the ravines in the rocks, mounted on a dark-colored colt, beautiful and compact, and of a race much prized among the Arabs; his hoofs were as flat as the beaten coin; when he neighed he seemed as if about to speak, and his ears were like quills; his sire was Wasil and his dam Hemama. When Antar cast his eye upon the horse, and observed his speed and his paces, he felt that no horse could surpass him, so his whole heart and soul longed for him. And when the knight perceived that Antar was making toward him, he spurred his horse and it fled beneath 394 him; for this was a renowned horseman called Harith, the son of Obad, and he was a valiant hero.
[By various devices Antar became possessed of the noble horse Abjer, whose equal no prince or emperor could boast of. His mettle was soon tried in an affray with the tribe of Maan, headed by the warrior Nakid, who was ferocious as a lion.]
When Nakid saw the battle of Antar, and how alone he stood against five thousand, and was making them drink of the cup of death and perdition, he was overwhelmed with astonishment at his deeds. “Thou valiant slave,” he cried, “how powerful is thine arm — how strong thy wrist!” And he rushed down upon Antar. And Antar presented himself before him, for he was all anxiety to meet him. “O thou base-born!” cried Nakid. But Antar permitted him not to finish his speech before he assaulted him with the assault of a lion, and roared at him; he was horrified and paralyzed at the sight of Antar. Antar attacked him, thus scared and petrified, and struck him with his sword on the head, and cleft him down the back; and he fell, cut In twain, from the horse, and he was split in two as if by a balance; and as Antar dealt the blow he cried out, “Oh, by Abs! oh, by Adnan! I am ever the lover of Ibla.” No sooner did the tribe of Maan behold Antar’s blow than every one was seized with fear and dismay. The whole five thousand made an attack like the attack of a single man; but Antar received them as the parched ground receives the first of the rain. His eyeballs were fiery red, and foam Issued from his lips; whenever he smote he cleft the head; every warrior he assailed, he annihilated; he tore a rider from the back of his horse, he heaved him on high, and whirling him in the air he struck down another with him, and the two instantly expired. “By thine eyes, Ibla,” he cried, “to-day will I destroy all this race.” Thus he proceeded until he terrified the warriors, and hurled them into woe and disgrace, hewing off their arms and their joints.
[At the moment of Antar’s victory his friends arrive to see his triumph. On his way back with them he celebrates his love of Ibla in verses.]
[From that day forth Antar was named Abool-fawaris, that is to say, the father of horsemen. His sword, Dhami — the trenchant — was forged from a meteor that fell from the sky; it was two cubits long and two spans wide. If it were presented to Nushirvan, King of Persia, he would exalt the giver with favors; or if it were presented to the Emperor of Europe, one would be enriched with treasures of gold and silver.]
As soon as Geíhdac saw the tribe of Abs, and Antar the destroyer of horsemen, his heart was overjoyed, and he cried out, “This is a glorious morning; to day will I take my revenge.” So he assailed the tribe of Abs and Adnan, and his people attacked behind him like a cloud when it pours forth water and rains. And the Knight of Abs assaulted them likewise, anxious to try his sword, the famous Dhami. And Antar fought with Geíhdac, and wearied him, and shouted at him, and filled him with horror; then assailed him so that stirrup grated stirrup; and he struck him on the head with Dhami. He cleft his visor and wadding, and his sword played away between the eyes, passing through his shoulders down to the back of the horse, even down to the ground; and he and his horse made four pieces; and to the strictest observer it would appear that he had divided them with scales. And God prospered Antar in all that he did, so that he slew all he aimed at, and overthrew all he touched.
“Nobility,” said Antar, “among liberal men, is the thrust of the spear, the blow of the sword, and patience beneath the battle-dust. I am the physician of the tribe of Abs in sickness, their protector in disgrace, the defender of their wives when they are in trouble, their horseman when they are in glory, and their sword when they rush to arms.”
[This was Antar’s speech to Monzar, King of the Arabs, when he was in search of Ibla’s dowry. He found it in the land of Irak, where the magnificent Chosroe was ready to reward him, even to the half of his kingdom, for his victory over the champion of the Emperor of Europe.]
“All this grandeur, and all these gifts,” said Antar, “have no value to me, no charm in my eyes. Love of my native land is the fixed passion of my soul.”
“Do not imagine,” said Chosroe, “that we have been able duly to recompense you. What we have given you is perishable, as everything human is, but your praises and your poems will endure forever.”396
[Antar’s wars made him a Nocturnal Calamity to the foes of his tribe. He was its protector and the champion of its women, “for Antar was particularly solicitous in the cause of women.” His generosity knew no bounds. “Antar immediately presented the whole of the spoil to his father and his uncles; and all the tribe of Abs were astonished at his noble conduct and filial love.” His hospitality was universal; his magnanimity without limit. “Do not bear malice, O Shiboob. Renounce it; for no good ever came of malice. Violence is infamous; its result is ever uncertain, and no one can act justly when actuated by hatred. Let my heart support every evil, and let my patience endure till I have subdued all my foes.” Time after time he won new dowries for Ibla, even bringing the treasures of Persia to her feet. Treacheries without count divided him from his promised bride. Over and over again he rescued her from the hands of the enemy; and not only her, but her father and her hostile kinsmen.
At last (in the fourth volume, on the fourteen hundred and fifty-third page) Antar makes his wedding feasts.”]
“I wish to make at Ibla’s wedding five separate feasts; I will feed the birds and the beasts, the men and the women, the girls and the boys, and not a single person shall remain in the whole country but shall eat at Ibla’s marriage festival.”
Antar was at the summit of his happiness and delight, congratulating himself on his good fortune and perfect felicity, all trouble and anxiety being now banished from his heart. Praise be to God, the disperser of all grief from the hearts of virtuous men.
[The three hundred and sixty tribes of the Arabs were invited to the feast, and on the eighth day the assembled chiefs presented their gifts — horses, armor, slaves, perfumes, gold, velvet, camels. The number of slaves Antar received that day was five-and-twenty hundred, to each of whom he gave a damsel, a horse, and weapons. And they all mounted when he rode out, and halted when he halted.]
Now when all the Arab chiefs had presented their offerings, each according to his circumstances, Antar rose, and called out to Mocriul-Wahsh. “O Knight of Syria,” said he, “let all the he and she camels, high-priced horses, and all the various rarities I have received this day, be a present from me to you. But the perfumes of ambergris, and fragrant musk, belong to my cousin Ibla; and the slaves shall form my army and troops.” And the Arab chiefs marvelled at his generosity. . . .
And now Ibla was clothed in the most magnificent garments, and superb necklaces; they placed the coronet of Chosroe on her head, and tiaras round her forehead. They lighted brilliant and scented candles before her — the perfumes were scattered — the torches blazed — and Ibla came forth in state. All present gave a shout, wile the malicious and ill-natured cried aloud, “What a pity that one so beautiful and fair should be wedded to one so black!”