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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 635 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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LABID is the only one of these poets who embraced Islam. His Mo`allaga, however, like almost all his other poetical works, belongs to the Pagan period. He is said to have lived till 661, or even later; certainly it is true of him, what is asserted with less likelihood of several others of these poets, that he lived to a ripe old age. The seven Mo'allaqat, and also the poems appended to them, represent almost every type of ancient Arabian poetry in its excellences and its weaknesses. In order rightly to appreciate these, we must translate ourselves into the world of the Bedouin, i See Tabari's Geschichte der Perser and Araber . . . iibersetzt von Th. Niildeke (Leiden, 1879), p. 171. 2 See Niildeke's Tabar-a, pp. 170,172. 2 Ibid. p. 311.and seek to realize the peculiar conditions of his life, together with the views and thoughts resulting from those conditions. In the Mo'allaqa of Taraf a we are repelled by the long, anatomically exact description of his camel; but such a description had an extraordinary charm of its own for the Bedouins, every man of whom was a perfect connoisseur on this subject down to the minutest points; and the remaining parts of the poem, together with the other extant fragments of his songs, show that Tarafa had a real poetic gift. In the Mo'allaqat of `Amr and Harith, for the preservation of which we are especially grateful to the compiler, we can read the haughty spirit of the powerful chieftains, boastfully celebrating the splendours of their tribe. These two poems have also a certain historical importance. The song of Zuhair contains the practical wisdom of a sober man of the world. The other poems are fairly typical examples of the customary gasida, the long poem of ancient Arabia, and bring before us the various phases of Bedouin life. But even here we have differences. In the Mo'allaqa of `Antara, whose heroic temperament had overcome the scorn with which the son of a black slave-mother was regarded by the Bedouins, there predominates a warlike spirit, which plays practically no part in the song of Labid. It is a phenomenon which deserves the fullest recognition, that the needy inhabitants of a barren country should thus have produced an artistic poetry distinguished by so high a degree of uniformity. Even the extraordinary strict metrical system, observed by poets who had no inkling of theory and no knowledge of an alphabet, excites surprise. In the most ancient poems the metrical form is as scrupulously regarded as in later compositions. The only poem which shows unusual metrical freedom is the above-mentioned song of `Abid. It is, however, remarkable that `Abid's contemporary Amra'al-Qais, in a poem which in other respects also exhibits certain coincidences with that of `Abid (No. 55, ed. Ahlwardt), presents himself considerable licence in the use of the very same metre —one which, moreover, is extremely rare in the ancient period. Presumably, the violent deviations from the schema in `Abid are due simply to incorrect transmission by compilers who failed to grasp the metre. The other poems ascribed to `Abid, together with all the rest attributed to Amra'al-Qais, are constructed in precise accord with the metrical canons. It is necessary always to bear in mind that these ancient poems, which for a century or more were preserved by oral tradition alone, have reached us in a much mutilated condition. Fortunately, there was a class of men who made it their special business to learn by rote the works either of a single poet or of several. The poets themselves used the services of these rhapsodists (rawl). The last representative of this class is Ilammad, to whom is attributed the collection of the Mo'allaqat; but he, at the same time, marks the transition of the rhapsodist to the critic and scholar. The most favourable opinion of these rhapsodists would require us to make allowance for occasional mistakes: expressions would be transposed, the order of verses disarranged, passages omitted, and probably portions of different poems pieced together. It is clear, however, that Hammad dealt in the most arbitrary fashion with the enormous quantity of poetry which he professed to know thoroughly. The seven Mo'allaqat are indeed free from the suspicion of forgery, but even in them the text is frequently altered and many verses are transposed. The loose structure of Arabic poems was extremely favourable to such alterations. Some of the Mo-'allaqat have several preambles: so, especially, that of `Amr, the first eight verses of which belong not to the poem, but to another poet. Elsewhere, also, we find spurious verses in the Mo'allaqat. Some of these poems, which have been handed down to us in other exemplars besides the collection itself, exhibit great divergences both in the order and number of the verses and in textual details. This is particularly the case with the oldest Mo'allaqa—that of Amra'al-Qais—the critical treatment of which is a problem of such extreme difficulty that only an approximate solution can ever be reached. The variations of the text, outside the Mo'allaqat collection, have here and there exercised an influence on the text of that collection. It would be well if our manuscripts at least gave the Mo'allaqat in the exact form of flammad's days. The best text—in fact, we may say, a really good text—is that of the latest Mo'allaqa, the song of Labid. The Mo'allagat exist in many manuscripts, some with old commentaries, of which a few are valuable. They have also been several times printed. Especial mention is due to the edition of Charles (afterwards Sir Charles) Lyall with the commentary of Tibrizi (Calcutta, 1894). Attempts to translate these poems, verse for verse, in poetical form, could scarcely have a happy result. The strangeness, both of the expression and of the subjects, only admits of a paraphrastic version for large portions, unless the sense is to be entirely obliterated. An attempt at such a translation, in conjunction with a commentary based on the principles of modern science, has been made by the present author: " Ftlnf Mo'allagat iibersetzt and erklart," in the Sitzungsberichte der kais. Akad. d. Wiss. in Wien. Philos.-hist. Classe. Bde. cxl.—cxiv. A supplement to this is formed by an article, by Dr Bernh. Geiger, on the Mo'allaqa of Tarafa, in the Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde des Morgenlands, xix. 323 sqq. See further the separate articles on the seven poets. (Tx. N.)
End of Article: LABID
LABID (Abu 'Agil Labicl ibn Rabi'a) (c. 56o-c. 661)...

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