Ibn Hamdis

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Ibn Hamdis (c. 1056 – c. 1133) was a Sicilian Arab poet.

A 12th century representation (Cappella Palatina) of a Muslim(Saracen) musician-poet at the Norman court in Palermo, Sicily

Ibn Ḥamdīs al-ʾAzdī al-Ṣīqillī was born in Syracuse, south eastern Sicily, around 447 AH (1056 AD). Little is known of his youth, which can be reconstructed only through a literal reading of scattered verses in his dīwān. His poetry displays a thorough mastery of the Arabic poetic canon, as well as a sophisticated linguistic knowledge, which points to an elite education. It is probable that Ibn Ḥamdīs was raised in a prosperous family, likely landed gentry, who settled the Val di Noto early after the Muslim conquest. Ibn Ḥamdīs enjoyed the benefits and reaped the fruits of such privileged upbringing.

However, the prosperity of the Muslims of Sicily was not to last. In the second half of the 11th century the political stability of Muslim Sicily had been severely compromised by decades of internecine struggle. The Kalbid court of Palermo and its ephemeral splendour had long been effaced by squabbles between contender warlords, who had partitioned the island into three fiefdoms. The Normans, under the joint leadership of Robert and Roger Guiscard, were taking advantage of this political weakness, and advancing steadily in their conquest of the island. Ibn Ḥamdīs was about five years old when the Norman armies, aided and abetted by the Sicilian Arab warlord Ibn al-Thumna, disembarked at Messina and moved westward to Palermo. When the city fell in 1072, the hopes for a revival of Muslim sovereignty on the island began to wane. A diaspora of Muslim Sicilians began. Ibn Ḥamdīs, like so many others, set sail with his wife and sons to North Africa, to reach some of his relatives in Sfax. Not long after, the poet travelled again to al-Andalus, attracted by al-Muʿtamid Ibn ʿAbbād's reputation as a generous patron of the arts. Ibn Ḥamdīs made his way to Seville and was received by al-Muʿtamid, who admitted the young poet to his entourage of panegyrists. The poet spent thirteen years in al-Andalus, participating in the political events that involved the taifa kingdoms; the Christian onslaught coming from the North, and the looming Almoravid conquest. In 1091, Ibn Ḥamdīs witnessed, together with the dismayed population of Seville, the arrest and deportation of his patron and friend al-Muʿtamid to North Africa. Also in 1091, as the Andalusian taifas fell to Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn’s armies, Sicily fell irremediably to the Normans, who, in that year, completed their conquest of the island. The new lords of al-Andalus, the Almoravids (from the Arabic al-murābiṭūn, or “inhabitants of monasteries”) were suspicious of poetry and other urban refinements, deemed religiously reproachable. Ibn Ḥamdīs elected to leave again. After a perilous sea-journey, in which his boat was shipwrecked, causing his beloved slave-girl, Jawhara, to drown (to her he devoted some of his finest elegies), the poet settled once again in North Africa. He found new patrons at the Zirid court of Mahdīya, in modern-day Tunis. There he eulogized the Zirids Tamīm ibn al-Muʿizz (1062-1108), Yahyā b. Tamīm (1108–1131), ‘Alī b. Yahyā (1115–1121) and the latter's son al-Ḥasan b.‘Alī (1121–1152). He also praised the Hammadid al-Manṣūr ibn al-Nāṣir at Bijāya (modern-day Algeria) although his exact movements between the two courts are not clear. According to Ḥājī Khalīfa's 'Kashf al-ẓunūn ʾan asāmī al-kutub wa-al-funūn',[1] Ibn Ḥamdīs died in 527 H.(1132-33 AD),aged seventy-seven, in Majorca (to the amir of the island he dedicated two panegyrics). Although the many poems on old age penned by Ibn Ḥamdīs suggest that the poet was over eighty years old. He may have been buried close to his old friend of the Seville brigade Ibn al-Labbāna (d.1113), and to his compatriot, ʾAbū al-ʿArab (d.?)[2]

The Sicilian scholar Ibn Ẓāfar (d. 1169 ca.) states that Ibn Ḥamdīs compiled his dīwān by his own hand.[3] Two manuscript copies of the dīwān are extant and were both used by ʾIḥsān ʿAbbās to establish his edition (Beirut 1960). The first copy is kept at the Vatican Library, Rome (447). The second is preserved in Saint Petersburg, Asiatic Museum (294). Other scattered poems by Ibn Ḥamdīs are found in Ibn Bassām's "Dhakhīra fī Maḥāsin ʾAhl al-Ǧazīra". Some of these poems are taken directly from the dīwān, others are unique, while others still are variant readings which differ from the dīwān.[4]


  1. ^ Ibn Ḥamdīs, Dīwān. Ed. ʾIḥsān ʿAbbās. (Beirut, 1960). 22
  2. ^ Granara, W. 'Ibn Ḥamdīs and the Poetry of Nostalgia', The Literature of Al-Andalus. (Cambridge, University Press, 2000). 388 13. 180-183
  3. ^ Ibn Ḥamdīs, Dīwān. Ed. ʾIḥsān ʿAbbās. (Beirut 1960) 22
  4. ^ Ibn Ḥamdīs, Dīwān, Ed. ʾIḥsān ʿAbbās (Beirut, 1960). 23