Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
Encouraged by his success, Monzar now resolved to formally declare war against Chosroe; but he was induced to defer his
purpose by the counsel of his sagacious old vizier, Amru, who undertook to proceed to the Persian capital, and ascertain how the tidings of Khosrewan's death had been received. Amru finds the courtiers of Chosroe in a state of great excitement, in consequence of the arrival of a renowned knight, called Badhramoot, who had recently come thither, as the champion of the Emperor of Greece, to do battle for the Christian faith against the knights of Persia. The Emperor was preparing to send his yearly tribute of treasure to Chosroe, when Badhramoot arrived at his court, from Syria, where he had long been distinguished for his warlike prowess; and the indignation of the Christian champion was roused at the sight of so much wealth intended for a prince who was not of the true faith. Badhramoot proposed to convey the tribute, and deliver it only if he was vanquished in single combat by a Persian knight. The Emperor accepted his offer, and the champion accordingly departed for Persia with 500 horsemen in his suite. Monzar's vizier learns that Badhramoot had been engaged during fifteen days in single combat with the flower of Persian chivalry, and had overthrown all his antagonists. Chosroe was almost in despair: should none of his knights be able to vanquish the champion of the Emperor, his supremacy was gone. Amru contrives to acquaint him, through a friend at court, of the lion-hero Antar, who had lately slain his satrap Khosrewan, and routed his warriors, sent to chastise Monzar; and he sends to Hirah for Antar.
In the meantime Bahram, the famed knight of Deelem, encounters Badhramoot, and holds his own against the Greek for two successive days. On the morning of the third day, when the champions were about to renew the combat, King Monzar and Antar, accompanied by a hundred Arab horsemen, appeared on the plain.
The Arabian prince and the Absian hero having been ushered into the presence of Chosroe, after Monzar had duly saluted
him, Antar stepped forward, and thus addressed the Persian monarch in verse:
May God avert from thee the evils of fortune, and may thou live secure from calamities!
May thy star be ever brilliant in progressive prosperity, and increase in glory!
May thy sword be ever sharp, and cleave the necks of thy foes, O thou King of the age!
May thy renown be ever celebrated in every land; for thou art just and beneficent!
So mayst thou ever live a sovereign in glory, as long as the dove pours forth its plaintive note!
Chosroe was filled with admiration at the hero's eloquence, and was astonished to perceive his prodigious form: here, at last, thought he, was come the destined conqueror of Badhramoot. The king then gave orders that Monzar and Antar should be treated with all kindness and hospitality. But when it was proposed to pitch the tents, in order that they might repose till the next day, Antar declared that he would not rest until he had slain the Greek chief, and at once prepared for the combat. Badhramoot, having been apprised of the new champion who was come to oppose him, eagerly entered the lists, and Antar, as he advanced towards him, exclaimed:
This day will I aid King Monzar, and I will exhibit my powers and my prowess before Chosroe:
I will break down the support of Greece from its foundations, and I will sever Badhramoot's head with my scimitar.
I will exterminate every lion-hero with my sword;—let him vaunt, let him boast, let him scoff!
Is it not known that my power is sublime on high?—is it not among the stars in the vicinity of Jupiter?
I am he whose might is uncontrollable in battle;—I am of the race of Abs—the valiant lion of the cavern!
If thou art Badhramoot, I am called Antar among men!
It was easy for me to vanquish the armies of Chosroe in the contest; and soon will I overthrow Cæsar's self with my spear.
Hear the words of an intrepid lion—resolute, undaunted, all-conquering:
I am he of whom warriors can bear witness in the combat under the turbid battle-dust.
My sword is my companion in the night-shades, as are also my Abjer and my lance and my spear in the conflicts.
Night is my complexion, but Day is my emblem: the sun is unquestionably the mirror of my deeds.
This day thou shalt feel the truth of what I have said; and I will prove that I am the Phœnix of the age!
He then rushed down upon the Greek, and wonderful was the combat that ensued. Badhramoot soon found that in the Absian hero he had met with no common warrior;—all his skill and prowess were of no avail when opposed to the agility and strength of Antar, who evaded his most deadly spear-thrusts with the utmost ease. Bahram, the knight of Deelem, an envious spectator of the combat, foreseeing that Antar should achieve a victory which had been denied to himself, basely threw
a dart at him while both combatants were obscured in a cloud of dust. But Antar's ever-watchful eyes saw the action, and catching the missile as it approached him, he hurled it against Badhramoot with such force that it pierced his chest and issued out at his back, and the Greek fell lifeless from his horse.
Antar would then have taken a terrible revenge on the treacherous Bahram, had not Chosroe prevented him by despatching his satraps to conduct the hero before him; when, having presented Antar with an imperial robe, he commanded that all the gold and jewels and beautiful slave-girls that came with Badhramoot should be delivered to him.
Next day, at a magnificent feast, the slave-girls employed all their blandishments to divert Antar, but in vain; for his heart was filled with the image of Abla; which his friend Monzar observing, he rallied the hero on his attachment to an absent Arab girl, reminding him that he was now raised to a station of glory which all the chiefs of Arabia would envy. Antar replied that even the grandeur which surrounded him had no charm in his eyes: nothing could cause him to forget his own land, and his beloved Abla; and thus he continued in verse:
The fresh breeze comes in the morn, and when it blows on me with its refreshing essence, it is more grateful to me than all which my power has obtained in nightly depredations—than all my property and wealth.
The realms of Chosroe I would not covet, were the phantom of my love to vanish from my sight.
May the showers of rain ever bedew the lands and mounds of Shurebah!—lands, where the brilliancy of the veiled full moons may be seen in the obscurity of their sable ringlets—where my heart chases among them a damsel whose eyes are painted with antimony, more lovely than the Houri.
Thou mayst see in her teeth a liquor when she smiles, where the wine-cup is studded with pearls.
The fawn has borrowed the magic of her eye, and it is the lion of the earth that chases its prey for her beauty.
Lovely maid—delicately formed—beauteous—enchanting! and at her charms is the brightness of the moon abashed.
O Abla! the anguish of absence is in my heart—thou mayst see the shafts of Death driven through my soul!
O Abla! did not thy visionary form visit me by night, I should pass the night in sorrows and restlessness.
O Abla! how many calamities have I endured, and have plunged into them with my highly-tempered falchion, whilst the charging steeds and undaunted warriors dive into the ever perilous ocean of death!
The hero's return to his own land, for which he so eagerly longed, was delayed from day to day by the grateful hospitality of Chosroe. He accompanies the king on a hunting expedition, and narrowly escapes being foully slain by Bahram, still envious of his good fortune in having vanquished the Greek champion. Antar eludes his stroke, and dashes him senseless to the earth. Bahram's myrmidons rush upon the hero, who defends himself against them all, until Chosroe comes up, and orders his satraps to seize the dastards and strike off their heads. They were accordingly taken and pinioned. "But Antar, seeing Bahram's attendants thus disgraced, dismounted from Abjer, and advanced towards the great King, and kissing the earth before him, begged him to pardon them, saying:—'O my lord, pardon is becoming in you, and most suitable for such as you—here I kiss
your noble hands, praying you to forgive them this crime, for to-morrow I intend to return home: my objects and wishes with respect to you are accomplished, and I do not wish to be mentioned after my departure, but for virtuous deeds; and let it not be said of me, I went unto a tribe, and left it in disgrace, and clothed with shame.'" The king, admiring Antar's magnanimity, granted his request, and set Bahram's followers at liberty.
The same day Antar was present at a great feast given by Chosroe in a splendid pavilion erected in the royal gardens: "It was a superb palace, like a fairy pavilion, ninety cubits in length, and seventy cubits wide, built of marble and red cornelian. In the centre was a fountain filled with rose-water and purest musk; in the middle of it was a column of emerald, and on its summit a hawk of burnished gold; its eyes were topazes and its beak jasper; around it were various birds, scattering from their bills, upon Chosroe and all that were present, musk and ambergris. The whole edifice was scented with perfumes, and the ceilings of the palace glittered with gold and silver. It was one of the wonders of the period, and the miracle of the age."
Chosroe pressed the hero to drink freely of wine, and to take pleasure in the strains of the singing-girls; but amidst all this regal splendour Antar's heart was far away, in the land of Shurebah, and thus he recited:
Wine cannot calm my heart; sickness will not quit my body; my eyelids are ever sore—tears ever stream in torrents from them.
The songstress would soothe my heart with her voice; but my love-sick heart loathes it.
The remembrances of Abla draw off my mind from her song, and I would say to my friend: This is all a dream!
In the land of Hejaz are the tents of my tribe, and to meet them again is forbidden me.
Amongst the tents of that people is a plump-hipped damsel, that never removes her veil; and under her veil are eyes that inspire sickness, and the pupils of her eyes strike with disease.
Between her lips is the purest musk, and camphor diluted with wine.
My love and madness are dear to me; for to him who loves, sweet is the pang of love.
O daughter of Malik! let my foes triumph in my absence—let them watch or sleep!
But in my journey I have encountered events that would turn children gray in their cradles.
Pleasures have succeeded to difficulties; and I have met a monarch whom no words can describe: A King to whom all the creation is a slave, and to whom Fortune is a vassal; whose hand distributes bounties, so that I know not whether it is the sea or a cloud.
The sun has invested him with a crown, so that the world need not fear darkness.
The stars are his jewels, in which there is a moon, brilliant and luminous, as at its full.
Mankind is corporeal, and he is spiritual;—let every joint and every member laud his name! Live for ever! Prince of the horsemen!—long as the dove pours its plaintive note, live for ever!
Delighted with these beautiful verses, Chosroe took the tiara from his brow and presented it to Antar, as a gift to Abla on her
bridal day; he also gave him a canopy of pure silver, richly adorned with the rarest gems. And Antar took the opportunity of interceding for his friend king Monzar, who was graciously pardoned, and reinstated in power.
Rostam, the king's famous wrestler, envious of these princely honours bestowed upon a stranger, challenges Antar to wrestle with him before Chosroe. But Antar is reluctant to accept his challenge, lest it should be said of him that, after being the recipient of Chosroe's bounties, he had slain one of his subjects in his own presence—for, if he did wrestle with Rostam, who sought his life, assuredly he would kill him. The king advises Rostam to withdraw his challenge, but the wrestler insists upon the contest, and Nushirvan at length grants his permission. Rostam then stripped off his clothes, but Antar merely tucked his skirts into his waistband, and advanced to his antagonist.
"Rostam bent himself like an arch, and appeared like a burning flame. He rushed upon Antar with all his force, for he looked on him as a common man, and he did not know that Antar, even in his youth, used to wrestle with he and she camels in the plains and the rocks. They grasped each other with their hands, they butted with their heads, they assaulted with their whole might, like two lions, or two elephants. Then Rostam stretched out his hand at Antar's waistband, and clung to it, and attempted to lift him up in his arms, but he found him like a stone fixed in a tower, and he tottered before him. Then he repented of what he had done, and of having provoked Antar. He slackened his hold, and he ran round him for an hour, in the presence of Chosroe and his attendants. He then sprang behind him, and thrust his head between his legs, and attempted to raise him on the back of his neck and to dash him on the ground; but Antar knew what were his intentions and his secret designs; so he closed his knees on Rostam's neck, and almost made his eyeballs start from their sockets, and nearly deprived him of life. Rostam was terrified, and wished to escape from between his legs, but he could not; every attempt failed: Antar was like a block of stone growing on a desert
or a mountain. Antar seized him and clung to him, and raised him up in his hands like a sparrow in the claws of a bird of prey, and walked away with him among the multitude, wishing to wrestle quietly before the king. But Rostam, when he saw his life was in Antar's hands, like a young child, was abashed and mortified before the warriors and satraps and the great King. He clenched his fist, and struck Antar on the ear. Antar soon recovered from the blow,—he returned to the threshold of the palace, and dashed him on the ground, and smashed him to atoms."
The king then announced that Rostam had been justly slain for having transgressed the laws of fair battle, and assigned to Antar all the wrestler's property and wealth.
Shortly afterwards, the eventful day being spent, Monzar and Antar retired to their lodgings, where they were presently joined by Mubidan, the chief-priest of the Fire-worshippers, who, in compliance with the hero's urgent request, introduced him to the Temple of Fire.
"There he beheld a magnificent building, of yellow brass, raised on pillars of steel, with precious stones in the interstices,—the wonder of the age, to astonish the wisest of men. It had three storeys, and to each storey were three portals, and to each portal were slaves and servants, stationed over the edifice. Antar gazed at these men with glittering forms; and round the waists of each were leather coverings in the form of short breeches; and they were standing at the doors of the Temple, some near, and some at a distance. In their hands were pokers of steel, with which they raised the flame, heedless of the God of the two worlds, and uttering Magian words that ravished the soul; whilst their sheikh, seated on a bench of skin, chanted in his own tongue. The fire blazed before him; the fuel was of aloe-wood; towards which they all addressed their prostrations, saying: 'I and you, we laud the adored God!'"
On their quitting the Temple, and the fragrant odours, more
exquisite than ambergris, Antar, thinking of his beloved Abla and his own distant land, thus exclaimed in verse:
The logs of aloe sparkle in the fire, and the flames blaze high in the air; the sweetness of its vapour refreshes my heart when it is wafted with a northerly wind:
Its brilliancy and flame are like the face of my beauteous Abla.
But, O Fire, blaze not—burn not—for in my heart is a flame more furious than thee!
Sleep has abandoned my eyes by night, when I behold my friends in the wings of darkness.
Delightful to me would be the abode of my tribe, were I even poor, and not worth a halter;—in a distant land I should feel no more anxiety for the song, though all its cities were in my possession.
The smoke of the herbs at home, when it is scented even with camels dung, is sweeter to me than the aloe-wood, and more brilliant to my eyes in the obscurity of night.
O my lord, my anxiety increases to see my friends, so permit me to depart: thou art my stay and my support; be merciful, and compassionate my situation.
I have no succour in the world but thee, towards the success of my projects.
So grant me my request; and may thou ever live happy: may thou live long, and glorious, and great, in every felicity and every honour!
At length Antar obtains permission of Nushirvan to return to his own country; and the king bestowed on the hero, as his
parting gifts, a vast quantity of treasures, in gold and silver, and precious jewels; a thousand embroidered velvet robes, and a thousand rich silk vests; four hundred white male slaves and four hundred strong black slaves, fit for battle, with all their horses and accoutrements; four hundred Georgian female slaves, four hundred Copht and four hundred Persian slaves, and four hundred slaves of Tibah, each slave mounted on a mule, and under each were two chests of rich silk.
"Thus Antar departed with boundless wealth. The great king also mounted, with Mubidan and all the satraps, to take leave of Antar. And when they were at some distance from Modayin, and had plunged into the barren desert, Antar dismounted from Abjer, and, moving towards the king, kissed his feet in the stirrup, and begged him to return with his attendants, thus addressing him:
O thou, whose station is sublime—in thy beneficence above the height of Sirius and Aries!—
Thou art the King like whom there is no king, and whose munificence is renowned over hill and dale!
O thou, my hope!—thou hast overwhelmed me with favours!
O thou, whose largesses resemble the bounteous rain-cloud!—thou hast bestowed gifts on me whose extent I cannot count:
So liberal is thy hand, O thou, my life and my hope!
Thou art he to whom all kings must submit; and in thy justice thou hast surpassed all thy predecessors!
"'Do not imagine,' exclaimed the King, with augmented delight, 'that we have been able duly to recompense you. What we have given you is perishable, as every thing human is; but your praises will endure for ages.'
"He then kissed Antar between the eyes, and bade him adieu, giving him as a last token a rich robe; and begging him to visit him frequently, he departed."
King Monzar and Antar journeyed on till they reached Hirah, where the hero was sumptuously entertained for some time; and when he was about to depart for his own land, Monzar gave him a thousand Asafeer camels, besides many other valuable gifts. Antar then began his journey homeward, attended by the troops of slaves presented to him by Nushirvan and Monzar. As he traversed the deserts, he reflected on all the adventures and perils he had encountered for the sake of Abla, and on approaching the land of Hejaz, he gave way to his feelings in verse:
Is it the breeze from the heights of the land of Shurebah that revives me and resuscitates my heart, or is it the gale from the tamarisks?
Is it the flame that consumes me for Abla, or is it the lightning flash from her dwelling that deprives me of my senses?
O thou spot where she resides! may thy hillocks be ever inhabited by the families, and may thy plains be ever crowded with friends!
Have thine eyelids been seen to watch at night, as my eyelids have watched ever since I quitted thee?
And has the turtle-dove's moan filled thee with sorrow in thy sleeplessness, as the turtle-dove's moan has distressed me?
I departed from thee not uneasy, or much in anguish; but my uncle has outraged me, and coveted my death.
He has exposed me to a sea of dangers, but I plunged into it with my glittering two-edged blade.
I have cut through the neck of Fortune, and the nocturnal vicissitudes and the nightly calamities have trembled.
My good fortune has seated me in a mansion of glory, man and genii could never attain.
I have encountered in Irak horsemen that may be accounted as whole tribes when the battle rages.
I am returning with the wealth of Chosroe and Caesar—with he and she camels, horses, and slaves;
And when I reach home, my enemies shall weep, as one day they laughed, when Shiboob announced my death.
They indeed sought my destruction in a distant land; but they knew not that Death was—my sword and my spear!