jeudi 23 octobre 2008


Translation: Fatiha ZAÏCH


1. A short outline of literary life in the West of al-Andalus

The Gharb al-Andalus shared a common history with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim domination until the mid-13th century. This common destiny in the economic, political and social field existed in the artistic, and more particularly the literary, domain as well. A history of Arabic literature specific to this part of the Andalusian territory which later became Portugal is still to be written. This essay aims to be a modest contribution to such a project. A thorough research work must be undertaken in order to highlight the distinctive features of the literary heritage left by the men of letters born or having lived at some time or other in Badajoz, Mertola, Silves or Shantamariyyat al-Gharb .

Whilst acknowledging the features they had in common with the poetry and prose written in Cordoba or Seville, such a work would lead us to take into account the particular social and cultural background in which the writers of Al-Gharb evolved. On the other hand, poets choose their subject matter in the heritage left by their predecessors as well as from their own sensibility which is reliant on their specific human and natural environment. Thus, the landscapes, the colour of the soil, the types of flora, the flow and meandering of the streams and rivers around Silves or Mertola have certainly left imprints and nuances we have to detect in the descriptions of nature written by Ibn ‘Ammâr or Ibn Hârûn.

Like any other art, Andalusian poetics has evolved in its techniques of expression as well as in its objectives. Therefore, it would be useful to make as clear as possible the reasons which allowed it to develop in one direction or other, to determine the causes which favoured the predominance of one theme or other, and to analyse the conditions which could have enabled the emergence of one poet or other. Of course, we cannot assert that each panegyric, for instance, is totally determined in its contents or its form by the historical context in which it was produced. But it is obvious that even when he weaves the threads of his poem according to his own genius, the poet draws his linguistic and thematic matter from a common fund born with the first bards of the desert of Arabia and gradually enriched by successive generations of Shu‘arâ’. In spite of the quarrels between “Ancients” and “Moderns” or between “Orientals” and “Andalusians”, we must not be induced into ignoring the common features shared by all these parties. We would also be mistaken if we denied the specificity of the poetical production of the Gharb.

It is true, as it has too often been said, that all the poets of al-Andalus were at first faithful to, or even fascinated by, the Oriental literary productions, especially in poetry. Abû Nuwâs, al-Buhturî, and above all al-Mutanabbî were then regarded as unsurpassable models. For a long time, it was believed that there could be no poetical creation (nazm) outside the rules of the ancient qasîda, elaborated and codified in the Orient. As for the themes dealt with at the beginning of the Muslim settlement, we can assume that they were imposed by the situation in which the first Arab poets of the time lived. They celebrated military exploits, lamented the heroes dead in combat, exalted the courage of tribe members engaged in battle and expressed their nostalgia for their fatherland . Aren’t we allowed to say that this is precisely the first manifestation of the Andalusian soul ? At first « conquerors », then « exiles », these poets discovered, and took root in, a country which Ibn Khafâdja declares to prefer to Eternal Paradise itself :

« O dwellers of al-Andalus, how blessed you are to have waters, shade, rivers and trees ;
the Garden of eternal Bliss is nowhere else than on your territory ;
If I were allowed to do so, I would rather choose the latter . »

Thus, we can assert that in spite of their efforts to imitate their peers in the Mashriq, the Andalusian men of letters conveyed a view of the world which was quite specific to them. This is what I intend to demonstrate in this work. It is also what al-Hidjârî and Ibn Sa‘îd did by giving their anthologies so evocative titles as al-Mushib fî gharâ’ib al-Maghrib and al-Mughrib fî hulâ al-Maghrib.

These two works are the best examples of the emergence of an Andalusian particularism in the literary field in the Iberian Peninsula. But such a cultural phenomenon could only occur after a slow social transformation which was made possible by the nature of the ethnic composition of the « Andalusian people ». Whatever their importance, the Berbers who came from the Maghreb, and the Arabs who arrived with the conquest, reinforced by the influx of the Syrian djund and by immigrants from Asia during the Umayyad emirate of Cordoba, were a minority. They were not numerous, not only compared to the « Christian » natives, but above all –and this is of the utmost importance- compared to the new Muslims who were called muwalladûn . The latter had converted to Islam in order to enjoy a personal status which was more profitable than that of dhimmî .On the other hand, marriages with indigenous women, and the play of walâ’ gave birth to an important number of Andalusians who claimed an Arab origin. The muwalladûn became perfect Arabic-speakers and integrated in the Muslim society out of an often sincere attachment to Islam.

As the population grew more and more homogeneous, the Umayyad sovereigns held literary courts where men of letters and poets gradually started to free themselves from the Oriental cultural influence. Encouraged by the pensions they received from the monarchs, many poets found an atmosphere which was favourable to literary creation . A typically Andalusian sensibility began to appear in poetry and would reach its peak with the works of al-Ramâdî or al-Kumayt whose poems were remarkable for their exquisite and refined descriptions of love.

Under the Mulûk al-tawâ’if , poetry achieved an exceptional development. Many party-princes granted a choice position to the art of nazm . With a view to propaganda, any self-respecting prince would surround himself with poets whose function is to extol his qualities in fashionable gatherings (madjâlis al-uns) where poets, women singers, scientists and fuqahâ’ assembled. This court life, which was extremely refined, was particularly developed by the Banû al-Aftas in Badajoz (414/1022-488/1094) and the Banû ‘Abbâd in Silves, then in Seville (414/1023-484/1091), to mention only these two cases. These dynasties gave al-Andalus two prince-poets whose destiny was tragically similar : al-Mutawakkil and al-Mu‘tamid . This period produced a man of letters from the town of Santarem who left his mark in medieval Arab history : Ibn Bassâm , the author of the famous Dhakhîra fî mahâsin ahl al-Djazîra « which is the most valuable literary and historical document for the period of the fitna and of the reyes de taifas. He is not content with giving a biographical note and quoting lines for each writer he studies, but he records, about historical events, long extracts from a lost work by Ibn Hayyân, al-Matîn . (...)Throughout his work, he does not miss an opportunity to insist on the superiority of Andalusians over Orientals. »

The material and moral incentives poets received from the taifas princes gave birth to many vocations. Poetry writing became a highly valued position and many skilled poets came forward, not only from the upper classes but from the working classes as well. It is obvious that these poets, originating from the lower classes, enriched this art of « feeling », or fann al-shi‘r with new words, new images, and comparisons taken from everyday life. Thus, the poetry of the « people », valued by monarchs who were proud of their Andalusian origin, was admitted into palaces where refined connoisseurs gave it an opportunity to blossom.

About sixty years later, the period of the reyes de taifas (423/1031-488/1095) is brought to an end by the attacks of the Christian armies and the Almoravids’conquest. The rivalry which existed between many princes, who sought to attract the most prestigious poets and men of letters, was the reflection in the literary field of the hegemonic ambitions of some mulûk, such as the Banû ‘Abbâd or the Banû al-Aftas, in the political field. Indeed, although the increase in the number of princely courts had a beneficial effect on literary development in Badajoz, Beja, Lisbon or Silves, the fragmentation of political power facilitated the Catholic monarchs’offensive. The consequence will be a play of alliances which will allow the Christian kings to intervene more and more in Muslim territory.

The Muslim princes, unable to oppose the « Catholic » Reconquista, then turned to the Berbers of the Maghreb. The latter, led by Yûsuf Ibn Tashfîn, formed an alliance with the armies of the Muslim princes and won the battle of Sacralias in 479/1086, which put an end to Christian forays. But, taking advantage of their military and political superiority, the Almoravids deposed the taifas princes one by one, thus becoming the new masters of the country.
But, conquered with arms, al-Andalus triumphed over its conquerors thanks to the gentle pleasures of its life. The direct descendants of Yûsuf Ibn Tashfîn quickly adopted the way of life of the late Andalusian courts and organized again literary cénacles of men of letters and poets. Therefore, the idea according to which literary, and particularly poetical, life underwent a decline under the Almoravids, is belied by the importance of the poetical production during the reigns of ‘Alî b. Yûsuf (500/1106-537/1143) and Tashfîn b. ‘Alî (537/1143-539/1145). Thus, the torch of poetry will be taken over by the Banû al-Qabturna, but also by Ibn al-Rûh ,
who belonged to the inner circle of Ibrâhîm b. Yûsuf b. Tashfîn.

Later, when the power of the Almoravids began to decrease, new disagreements appeared in Algarve, as well as in the rest of the country. Ibn Qâsî reorganized a taifa in Mertola, which was recognized by Ibn Wâzîr in Evora and Beja, Muhammad al-Mundhir in Silves and Yûsuf al-Bitrûdjî in Niebla. But the independence of this principality did not last and Ibn Qâsî, being betrayed by his former allies, called for the Almoravids’ help. The latter sent an army to Algarve and subjugated all the kinglets of the area. Until the mid-13th century, the cities of Al-Gharb changed hands many times but the Muslim power was never seriously threatened. However, in 1232, with the conquest of Mora and Serpa, and in 1250, with the fall of Faro into the hands of Alphonso III, al-Gharb lived the last years of its common history with the rest of the Muslim territory.

Under the Almohads, after a short period of religious zeal and austerity, the life of luxury and pleasures of al-Andalus finally had the upper hand over the puritanism of the new conquerors. The successor of ‘Abd al-Mu’min, Abû Ya‘qûb (who died in 581/1184),surrounded himself with scientists and men of letters. He was a cultivated prince who ordered many books for the library of Cordoba. In Seville, his favourite city where he often sojourned, he immersed himself in Andalusian culture by associating with the greatest Arab thinkers of the time : Ibn Tufayl (who died in 579/1185) and Ibn Rushd (who died in 595/1198).
The richness of literary life at that time is testified by the authors of the Mughrib. Indeed, the Gharb had many men of letters with undeniable talent, such as Ibn Munakhkhil1, Ibn Abî Habîb and Ibn Wâzîr of Silves, or Ibn al-A‘lam who was a qâdî at Shantamariyyat al-Gharb . All these men of letters, coming mostly from families of notables, wrote poetry on all subjects, and left their followers exquisite pieces on love, satire, war or on the profession of kâtib.

2. The problem of sources : from the Mushib to the Mughrib

To help Portugal get its medieval Arabic literary heritage back, it is necessary to examine all the written accounts available. But then, as Lévi-Provençal noted in one of his lectures : « An important part of Andalusian Arabic poetry reached us only in the form of quotations, in great anthologies assembled in Spain : the Dhakhîra of Ibn Bassâm, or the Qalâ’id al-‘iqyân of Ibn Khâqân, or the Mughrib of Ibn Sa‘îd, or the Nafh al-tîb of al-Maqqarî, which was written a little later. On the other hand, a good many lines were passed on to us by chroniclers or biographers. As for the dîwâns proper, that is the poetical collections elaborated and ordered by the poets themselves or by their commentators, their number is not important. »

The Gharb, which has become known as Portugal, having separated from the rest of al-Andalus by the mid-13th century , the sources concerning its literary heritage are naturally fewer and less rich in texts and biographies. In addition to this, many written accounts have disappeared, such as the Kitâb al-Hada’iq by Ibn Faradj al-Djayyânî , or the Mushib by al-Hidjârî, even though some passages from these works have been saved. This explains the importance of Ibn Sa‘îd’s Mughrib.

This work is the continuation of al-Hidjârî’s , which was started more than a century earlier under the title of al-Mushib fî gharâ’ib al-Maghrib. It was ordered by ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Sa‘îd, an ancestor of the famous historian and anthologist, who was the governor of the Qal‘a of the Banû Sa‘id, in the suburbs of Granada. Indeed, al-Hidjârî, having eulogized Ibn Sa‘îd in a poem which filled the latter with enthusiasm, the governor rewarded him and became his friend. Impressed by al-Hidjârî’s knowledge about Andalusian men of letters and their productions in prose and verse, he asked him to write a book on the Andalusian literary heritage.

Al-Hidjârî started writing al-Mushib toward 530/1135. The book contained information on the events that took place between the conquest of Spain and that date. When he gave it to his sponsor, the latter completed it with his own knowledge in that field. The book then became ‘Abd al-Malik’s two sons’ property, Ahmad (who died in 558/1163), and Muhammad (who died in 591/1225), and finally ‘Alî b. Mûsâ’s, who enriched it with new information. The book was completed in Egypt in 641/1243 and became known under the title of Kitâb al-Mughrib fî hulâ al-Maghrib .

The history of this invaluable document is closely related to its last author’s life. After spending his youth in Seville, sharing his time between a life of pleasures and traditional studies, the man who was to become known as Ibn Sa‘îd al-Maghribî left Spain with his father in 638/1241 for the pilgrimage. Being a man of great intellectual curiosity, he spent long hours in the libraries of the towns where he stayed, completing his knowledge in various fields, such as geography, history, and literature. When they arrived at Alexandria in 640/1242, his father died. Ibn Sa‘îd was welcomed by Egyptian men of letters who were well aware of his reknown and his family’s. At that time, he already had the precious Kitâb al-Mughrib fî in his possession.

The part devoted to al-Andalus in the Mughrib fî is composed of three « books » (kutub). Each book is subdivided into five parts entitled as follows :
- « Al-minassa » : the tribune ;
- « al-tâdj » : the crown ;
- « al-silk » : the administrative or diplomatic body ;
- « al-hulla » : the robe ;`
- and finally « al-ahdâb » : the tails of the robe.

The Mughrib’s advantage over other anthologies is its being organized according to a geographical structure. The men of letters mentioned in it are presented according to the area
where they lived. It was thus very easy to find those who « belonged « to the Gharb . The name of each person mentioned is preceded with a number that I have kept in my translation. In this connection, it is important to note that I have tried to be as faithful as possible to the literary texts, which inevitably makes the translation less elegant than the original. But I thought it important to provide non-Arabist readers with a translation of a book which is fundamental for the literary history of the Gharb.

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