Mutanabbī, al-

Mutanabbī, al-

▪ Muslim poet
in full  Abū aṭ-Ṭayyib Aḥmad ibn Ḥusayn al-Mutanabbī 
born 915, Al-Kūfah, Iraq
died Sept. 23, 965, near Dayr al-ʿĀqūl

      poet regarded by many as the greatest of the Arabic language. He primarily wrote panegyrics in a flowery, bombastic style marked by improbable metaphors. He influenced Arabic poetry until the 19th century and has been widely quoted.

      Al-Mutanabbī was the son of a water carrier who claimed noble and ancient southern Arabian descent. Owing to his poetic talent, al-Mutanabbī received an education. When Shīʿite Qarmaṭians sacked Al-Kūfah in 924, he joined them and lived among the Bedouin, learning their doctrines and Arabic. Claiming to be a prophet—hence the name al-Mutanabbī (“The Would-be Prophet”)—he led a Qarmaṭian revolt in Syria in 932. After its suppression and two years' imprisonment, he recanted in 935 and became a wandering poet.

      He began to write panegyrics in the tradition established by the poets Abū Tammām (d. 845) and al-Buḥturī (d. 897). In 948 he attached himself to Sayf ad-Dawlah (Sayf al-Dawlah), the Ḥamdānid poet-prince of northern Syria. During his association with Sayf ad-Dawlah, al-Mutanabbī wrote in praise of his patron panegyrics that rank as masterpieces of Arabic poetry. The latter part of this period was clouded with intrigues and jealousies that culminated in al-Mutanabbī's leaving Syria for Egypt, then ruled in name by the Ikhshīdids. Al-Mutanabbī attached himself to the regent, the black eunuch Abū al-Misk Kāfūr (Kāfūr, Abū al-Misk), who had been born a slave. But he offended Kāfūr with scurrilous satirical poems and fled Egypt in 960. He lived in Shīrāz, Iran, under the protection of the emir ʿAḍūd ad-Dawlah of the Būyid dynasty until 965, when he returned to Iraq and was killed by bandits near Baghdad.

      Al-Mutanabbī's pride and arrogance set the tone for much of his verse, which is ornately rhetorical, yet crafted with consummate skill and artistry. He gave to the traditional qasida, or ode, a freer and more personal development, writing in what can be called a neoclassical style.

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Universalium. 2010.

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