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The Composition of Mutanabbi's Panegyrics to Sayf al-Dawla.

Studies on the composition and style of classical Arabic poetry are rare, and even a major poet like al-Mutanabbi, and an important genre like the madih are still insufficiently known as to techniques of composition and thematic patterns. Andras Hamori's book fills a gap in our knowledge of the poet and his favorite genre, and, at the same time, opens up new lines of enquiry, which may prove valuable for the study of other poets as well. The basis of his analysis is a sample of 22 texts, the more elaborate sayfiyat, i.e., the panegyrics addressed by al-Mutanabbi to his patron, Sayf al-Dawla of Aleppo, during the years between 337/948 and 345/956. Hamori concentrates on textual analysis, aiming at an identification of recurrent devices and thematic patterns, some of them already noted by medieval critics, others defined by him with an evident predilection for terms from the sphere of music, e.g., cadence,, or `crescendo motif'. Historical questions, problems of content, and comparison with other poets are excluded, except for a short illuminating chapter on the relation of al-Mutanabbi's technique to that of al-Nabigha al-Dhubyani. The analysis is limited to the panegyrical sections of the odes, although some of the sayfiyat are composed with a lengthy amatory prologue. On this point I tend to deplore the limitations Hamori set for himself. The relation of nasib and madih is an intriguing question, and the inclusion of the amatory prologue in the investigation might have provided valuable results. The book has an appendix containing diagrams of selected poems, a list of "cadential occurrences of conditional sentences," and the Arabic texts of the poems quoted in the study.

Hamori begins his analysis with a chapter on closing lines or clausulas (pp. 1-5), which are often gnomic, as already observed by medieval critics with regard to other poets, and are frequently connected with or cast as a conditional sentence. In the next chapter ("Getting to the Chronicle," pp. 6-18) a number of techniques are pointed out which are used by al-Mutanabbi when leading up to narrative sections referring to Sayf al-Dawla's campaigns. There follows a discussion of the phenomenon termed by Hamori "cadence" (pp. 19-34), defined as a type of utterance marking the end of a theme or providing "a threshold before the next" (p. 19). As in the closure, a certain preference for gnomic statements and conditional clauses is apparent. In the following section (pp. 35-40), the means by which al-Mutanabbi effects the transition from chronicle to closure are investigated. This is the usual place for what Hamori calls "crescendo motifs" (p. 40), i.e., themes of high rhetorical and emotional impact (God, fate, ancestry, glory, etc.). Panegyrics without reference to military campaigns and consequently without narrative sections or chronicles are analyzed in chapter five (pp. 51-63), where Hamori is able to establish a number of techniques by which al-Mutanabbi avoids a mere cataloguing or clustering of virtues. Chapter six (pp.64-70) contains the analysis of an individual text celebrating a campaign which was called off on account of weather conditions the poet thus needing an unusual amount of tact and genius to convert it into a success. The two last chapters are devoted to diachronistic problems. Hamori compares the texts of the Aleppo period with al-Mutanabbi's earlier and later panegyrics (pp. 71-75); in his closing chapter (pp. 76-81) he analyzes a panegyric by al-Nabigha al-Dhubyani to Amr ibn Hind of Hira, or possibly to Amr ibn al-Harith of Ghassan (Diwan [Cairo, 1977], 130-36 = Ed. Ahlwardt, no. 27) and draws attention to certain patterns and techniques observed in the panegyrics of al-Mutanabbi. It is a brilliant demonstration of the slogan that books create their own predecessors. Al-Nabigha, the first great court poet in Arabic literature, is seen more clearly in the light of al-Mutanabbi's achievements.

Hamori offers no summary of his results, and, indeed, it would be difficult to do so. To my mind, his book primarily constitutes an introduction to reading al-Mutanabbi. Patterns overlooked up to now gradually emerge, a poet practicing his craft on the highest level is seen at work. Also, one of the most important genres in Arabic literature takes shape before our eyes. The reader who patiently follows Hamori's guidance in reading al-Mutanabbi will be richly rewarded.
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Author:Jacobi, Renate
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1994
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