Maysun bint Bahdal

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Maysūn bint Baḥdal (ميسون بنت بحدل, d. 700), is noted as a wife of Caliph Mu‘āwiya I, and as mother of his successor and son Caliph Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya. In this capacity, she had a significant role in the politics of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Maysūn bint Baḥdal also enjoys a reputation as one of the earliest attested Arabic-language women poets.[1] However, that reputation seems to belong to another woman of a similar name, Maysūn bint Jandal (see below).

Life[edit]

Maysūn bint Baḥdal was a Syriac Orthodox Christian from the Kalb Bedouin tribe,[2] daughter of the Kalb's leader, Bahdal ibn Unayf.[3] Mu‘āwiya's marriage to her, perhaps in 645,[4] was politically motivated, as she was the daughter of the chief of the Kalb tribe. The Kalb tribe had remained largely neutral when the Muslims first went into Syria. After the plague that killed much of the Muslim Army in Syria, Mu‘āwiya, by marrying Maisūn, was able to use the Syriac Orthodox Christians against the Romans.[5] Yazid, born in 646, was, as far as is known, her only child.[6]

In the assessment of Nabia Abbott,

Maisūn somewhat eludes us as a vivid personality. She seems to have been wrapped up in the life of her young son whom she delighted to dress up in fine clothing to gladden the eyes of his affectionate father. She is generally credited with taking an interest in the education of Yazid, whom she took with her to the deserts of the Kalb south of Palmyra. She at one time accompanied Mu'awiyah on an expedition into Asia Minor. All in all, she received Mu‘āwiyah's stamp of approval as maid, wife, and mother.[7]

The poetry of Maysūn bint Jandal[edit]

Maysūn bint Baḥdal, wife of Mu‘āwiya I, is named in some secondary sources as Maysūn bint Jandal.[8] Maysūn bint Jandal seems, however, to have been a different woman, of the Fazārah. This Maisūn is apparently the author of the following celebrated poem, which has often been misattributed to Maysūn bint Baḥdal, enabling the characterisation of Mu‘āwiya I's wife as colourfully committed to country life; the story even circulates that Mu‘āwiya divorced Maysūn bint Baḥdal because of the offence he took at this poem and that she took her young son with her to grow up in the desert.[9] As paraphrased by H. W. Freeland, the poem runs as follows:[10]

I give thee all the treacherous brightness
Of glittering robes which grace the fair,
Then give me back my young heart's lightness
And simple vest of Camel's hair.
The tent on which free winds are beating
Is dearer to the Desert's child
Than Palaces and kingly greeting?
O bear me to my desert wild!
More dear than swift mulo softly treading,
While gentlest hands his speed control,
Are camels rough their lone way threading
Where caravans through deserts roll.
On couch of silken ease reclining
I watch the kitten's sportive play,
But feel the while my young heart pining
For desert guests and watch-dog's bay.
The frugal desert's banquet slender,
The simple crust which tents afford,
Are dearer than the courtly splendour
And sweets which grace a monarch's board.
And dearer far the voices pealing
From winds which sweep the desert round
Than Pomp and Power their pride revealing
In noisy timbrel's measur'd sound.
Then bear me far from kingly dwelling,
From Luxury's cold and pamper'd child,
To seek a heart with freedom swelling,
A kindred heart in deserts wild.

This poem is part of a wider trend of women's verse expressing nostalgia for the desert in the context of an increasingly urbanising society.[11]

Editions and translations[edit]

  • H. W. Freeland, 'Gleanings from the Arabic. The Lament of Maisun, the Bedouin Wife of Muâwiya', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s. 18 (1886), 89-91, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25208818 (edition and translation)
  • Theodor Nöldeke, Delectus veterum carminum arabicorum (Berlin: Reuther, 1890), p. 25, https://archive.org/details/delectusveterum00mlgoog (edition)
  • J. W. Redhouse, 'Observations on the Various Texts and Translations of the so-called "Song of Meysūn"; An Inquiry into Meysūn's Claim to Its Authorship; and an Appendix on Arabic Transliteration and Pronunciation', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n. s. 18 (1886), 268-322, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25208828 (contains five English translations, including the author's own, and reprints several Arabic editions)
  • Classical Poems by Arab Women: A Bilingual Anthology, ed. and trans. by Abdullah al-Udhari (London: Saqi Books, 1999), 78-79 (edition and translation)

References[edit]

  1. ^ E.g. Salahuddin Khuda Bukhsh, Studies: Indian and Islamic (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1927 p. 17.
  2. ^ H.U. Rahman, A Chronology Of Islamic History 570-1000 CE (1999), p. 72.
  3. ^ Crone, Patricia (1980). Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-521-52940-9. 
  4. ^ J. W. Redhouse, 'Observations on the Various Texts and Translations of the so-called "Song of Meysūn"; An Inquiry into Meysūn's Claim to Its Authorship; and an Appendix on Arabic Transliteration and Pronunciation', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n. s. 18 (1886), 268-322 (p. 283), https://www.jstor.org/stable/25208828.
  5. ^ Bosworth, Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 7, p. 265.
  6. ^ Nabia Abbott, 'Women and the State in Early Islam', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1 (1942), 341-68 (p. 342), https://www.jstor.org/stable/543055.
  7. ^ Nabia Abbott, 'Women and the State in Early Islam', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1 (1942), 341-68 (p. 342), https://www.jstor.org/stable/543055.
  8. ^ H. W. Freeland, 'Gleanings from the Arabic. The Lament of Maisun, the Bedouin Wife of Muâwiya', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s. 18 (1886), 89-91; https://www.jstor.org/stable/25208818; Nabia Abbott, 'Women and the State in Early Islam', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1 (1942), 341-68 (p. 342), https://www.jstor.org/stable/543055.
  9. ^ E.g. Joyce Åkesson, Arabic Morphology and Phonology, Based on the Marāḥ al-arwāḥ by Aḥmad b. ‘Alī b. Mas‘ūd, Presented with an Introduction, Arabic Edition, English Translation and Commentary, Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics, 35 (Leiden: Brill, 2001), p. 142; Classical Poems by Arab Women: A Bilingual Anthology, ed. and trans. by Abdullah al-Udhari (London: Saqi Books, 1999), 78; cf. Nabia Abbott, 'Women and the State in Early Islam', Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1 (1942), 341-68 (pp. 342-43), https://www.jstor.org/stable/543055.
  10. ^ H. W. Freeland, 'Gleanings from the Arabic. The Lament of Maisun, the Bedouin Wife of Muâwiya', The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s. 18 (1886), 89-91 (p. 91); https://www.jstor.org/stable/25208818.
  11. ^ Terri Deyoung, 'Love, Death, and the Ghost of Al-Khansā: The Modern Female Poetic Voice in Fadwā Ṭūqān's Elegies for her Brother Ibrāhīm', in Tradition, Modernity, and Postmodernity in Arabic Literature: Essays in Honor of Professor Issa J. Boullata, ed. by Kamal Abdel-Malek and Wael Hallaq (Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 45-75 (p. 48).