1902 Encyclopedia > Hariri

(Al-Hariri of Basra)
Mediaeval Arab poet and language scholar
(1054–1122 AD)

HARIRI. Abu Mohammed al Kasim ibn All Ibn Mohammed ibn 'Othman, surnamed EL HARIRI, was born at Bussorah 1054-55 A.D. and died in 1121 or 1123, being therefore contemporary with the first crusade. His native city was renowned for its school of grammar, a most important science amongst a people whose every rule of religion and of life depended upon the accurate interpreta-tion of some word or passage of the Koran, or some saying of the prophet. The rival school of Kufa was the only one that approached it in fame or glory, and in all the numerous disputes that took place between the two academies Bussorah is generally allowed to have had the advantage. His name Hariri signifies silk-merchant, and was probably derived from his father's occupation, as, in spite of the assertion of his biographers to that effect, he appears not to have ever engaged in trade, but to have devoted himself exclusively to literary pursuits. His great object was to investigate the niceties of the Arabic language, and he composed several treatises on the subject, amongst which the best known are Molhat el 'Irab (Beauties of Desinential Syntax) and Durrat el Ghaivwds (The Diver's Pearl), in which he criticizes certain common faults of language in vogue amongst the educated. Portions of both these works have been pub-lished by De Sacy in his ChrestomatJiie, and the Durrat el Ghawwds has been edited by H. Thorbecke (Leipsic, 1871). But his great work is the Makámát, or " Assemblies," in which a series of anecdotes of a very slight character in the career of an imaginary learned vagabond afford the oppor-tunity for the display of vast philological and literary learning. The plan was not original, having been already invented and used by Badf az Zamán el Hamadáni, who died about 1008. The composition of Hariri's own Makámát is attributed to the following circumstance. Being one day in the mosque of the Beni Haram, in the quarter of Bussorah in which he resided, he noticed an old man enter, shabby and worn with travel, who in answer to the questions of the persons present gave his name as Abu Zeid, and said that he came from Seruj, a city near Edessa, which had recently been devastated by the crusaders. The old man related the incidents of the destruction of his native city and his own domestic losses and exile in so eloquent a strain as to excite general admira-tion and compassion. On reaching his home Hariri wrote out the incident in the form of a makámeh or assembly, in the style of El Hamadáni's work, and it now forms the 48th of his book. When subsequently elaborating the idea he modelled the successive chapters on the same theme; a simple-minded Arab gentleman, El Harith ibn el Hammam, on his travels constantly meets with a vagabond old impro-visatore, Abu Zeid, who, under different characters and disguises, always succeeds in eliciting the sympathy and alms of his audience and the approbation of El Harith him-self. Abu Zeid is always poor, ill-dressed, and crafty, but eloquent in the extreme, and his fraudulently-obtained gains are always spent in some forbidden enjoyment; yet there is ever a good side to his character, and he is not without an exhibition of true feeling, especially when he alludes to the circumstances of his expulsion from his home, and the loss of his daughter, who had been made captive by the marauding Franks. The improvised speeches of Abu Zeid are masterpieces of Arabic learning, every sentence being made to introduce some allusion to Arab history, poetry, or tradition, or the discussion and elucidation of some difficult point of rhetoric or grammar. It is this that gives the value to the book and makes it with its commentary a complete encyclopaedia of classical Arabic literature and philology. It is written in rhymed and rhythmical prose, such as is used in the Koran itself, interspersed with verses of poetry of which the merit is more often in the language than the thought.
The Makámát have been edited by Silvestre de Sacy, with a select Arabic commentary (Paris, 1822), and a new edition of this edition, with numerous French notes, was issued by MM. Reinaud and Derenbourg (Paris, 1853). An English translation of some select "Assemblies" was made by Theodore Preston for the Oriental Translation Fund (London,1850), and an admirable translation of the first twenty-six assemblies by T. Chenery (London, 1867), containing an introduction and notes, and a resume of all the litera- ture of the subject. Of the numerous imitations of the Makámát of Hariri, the best known are the Machberoth Ithiel, a Hebrew work by Yehudah ben Shelomoh al Kharizi, edited by T. Chenery (London, 1872), and the Majma 'at Bahrain (Confluence of the Two Seas), by Nasyf el Yaziji (Beyrout, 1853), an excellent work in Arabic, displaying an immense acquaintance with the ancient literature of the language. (E. H. P.)

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