MOTANABBI, strictly AL MUTANABBI' (ABU-T-TAYYIB AHMAD IBN AL-HUSAIN OF KUFA) (915/6-965), the most famous represen1 I.e. " he who plays the prophet."
tative of the last period of Arabic poetry, was the son of a watercarrier, and is said to have picked up much of the literary knowledge for which he was afterwards famous by haunting the book-stalls of his native city. He spent too, some years of his youth among the nomads of the Syro- Arabian desert, learning their purer dialect, and becoming imbued with their self-reliant spirit. Thus he grew up a brave proud man, a gallant warrior as well as a poet, not easily satisfied either with wealth or honours, indifferent to the Koran and to the fasts and prayers of Islam, but untainted by the looseness of morals common to the poets of those days. At first he essayed a perilous road to distinction, appearing in the character of a prophet in the desert between the Euphrates and Syria, where he formed a considerable party, but was arrested by the governor of Emesa (Horns). A prison cooled his enthusiasm. The name of al-Mutanabbi clung to him, however, and is that by which he is still commonly known. Regaining his liberty, he had to struggle for a time with poverty and neglect. But his poetical talents at length found him patrons, and in 948 he became attached to the court of the famous warrior and patron of letters, Saif ad-daula, prince of Aleppo, to whom many of the best fruits of his muse were dedicated, and by whose side he approved his valour in the field. But he had rivals who knew how to inspire jealousy between him and the prince, and an angry scene with the grammarian Khalawaih, in which the latter closed a philological dispute by striking Motanabbi, in the very presence of the prince and without rebuke from him, led the poet to leave the court and seek a new career in the realm of the Ikshlds (957). He now took as his patron and the object of his eulogies Kafur, the regent of Egypt a black eunuch who knew how to open the poet's lips by great gifts and honours. Motanabbi, however, sought a higher reward, the government of Sidon, and at length broke with Kafur, wrote satires against him, and had to fly for his life to Kufa (961). His next great patron was 'Adod ad-daula of Shiraz, and on a journey from Shiraz to Kufa he was waylaid and slain by a chieftain of the Asad, whose kinsfolk he had satirized (September 965).
The poetry of Motanabbi is to European taste much less attractive than the verses of the ancient Arab poets, being essentially artificial and generally unreal, though it has great technical merits and displays lively fancy and considerable inventive power.
Oriental taste places him on a very high pedestal, as may be judged from the fact that more than forty commentaries were written on his Dlwan (H. Khal., iii. 306). Dieterici's edition of the poet (Berlin, 1858-1861), gives the commentary of Waljidi (d. 1075) ; the Egyptian edition of 1870 has the commentary of 'Ukbarl (d. 1219). A convenient edition is that published with a commentary of Nasif ul-YazijI at Beirut (1882). See R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History oj the Arabs (London, 1907), pp. 304-313.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)