Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
King Zoheir had soon cause to wish for the presence of the champion of Abs and Adnan. Having refused to give his daughter in marriage to Numan, King of Hirah, the latter sends his brother, Prince Aswad, with a large army to lay waste the land of Abs; and Antar patriotically resolves to assist his sovereign and old friend in repelling the invaders. The army of Prince Aswad was destroyed by a stratagem of Shiboob, who contrived to obtain access to their water-bags, and, cutting them open, allowed all the water to escape. Weakened by thirst, they were easily vanquished by a very small force of Absians, and, among others, Prince Aswad was taken prisoner.
Meanwhile the renowned female warrior, Jaida, who had been captured by Antar and afterwards escaped, set out from her own country to take vengeance on the hero for the death of Khalid. She did not meet Antar, however, but, attacking a party of Absians, she took Malik and Abla prisoners; then she went to Irak, and delivered them to Numan, who declared that he would hang Abla beside Antar, and would not leave a single Absian alive. But when he heard of Antar's great victory over his brother's army, he despatched a satrap to the hero, offering to exchange Abla and the other Absian women for Prince Aswad and his companions. The royal messenger returned with the answer, that Abla and all her jewels must be restored before he would release Prince Aswad; and Numan, hearing from his satrap a fearful account of Antar's exploits and prodigious courage, at once complied with the hero's demand. As soon as Abla and her father were restored to their tribe, Antar proceeded to release his prisoners, among whom was Maadi Kereb, a cousin of Jaida.
"Having now entered the mountains, Antar ordered Shiboob to set at liberty Prince Aswad and his people. And Shiboob released them. But Antar cut off Maadi Kereb's hair with his own hand, saying: 'O Maadi Kereb, I have cut off your hair in revenge for Jaida's insults towards my cousin Abla'; and he ordered the slaves and attendants to turn out the prisoners bare-footed, and naked, and bareheaded. And as they were executing Antar's commands,—'Art thou not ashamed, O son of Shedad,' cried Aswad, 'to drive us away in this condition? We have not a horse to ride on! We have nothing to eat or drink!'—'By the faith of an Arab,' said Antar, 'reproach me not for my conduct towards any one of you; for you are all going to assemble in a body against me, and you will return a second time to fight me, and the horses I should give you, verily I shall have to fight you for them. As to eatables, you will find on your way green weeds that you may graze on, and drink out of the puddles; but we at all events are a tribe entrenched within the mountains, and in the day of battle
a small supply will feed us. Ay, and most of you say of me that Antar is a black slave and a bastard;—these are the expressions you and others make use of towards me, and would do so were I to release you a thousand times: my best plan would be to kill you all at once—thank God you are alive.'—'Do not act thus, O Aboolfawaris,' said Aswad; 'for indeed I cannot walk on foot, no, not a quarter of a mile; so do give me something to carry me, or put me instantly to death, and deliver me from this ignominy.'—'Hola, Ebe Reah!' said Antar to Shiboob, 'bring here a she-camel; let him mount it and quit my presence, or I shall never be able to keep my sword off his neck.' So Shiboob ran off, and, with his usual ingenuity and sagacity, he chose out a she-camel, foundered and quite worn out—horn lame and blind—weasy and broken-winded—grunting, loose-lipped, and toothless—crop-eared and spavined. When it was presented to the Prince his soul was most indignant.—'Come, Prince,' cried Shiboob, 'mount, whilst I hold the bridle, for I am terribly afraid she will fly away; for indeed she is one of that celebrated breed of Asafeer camels!'—'May God curse the bowels that bore thee!' cried the Prince; 'away with it, for I want it not'; and he rushed out from the mountains, blaspheming the fire."
Nushirvan, King of Persia, hearing of Antar's exploits against his vassal, Numan, of Hirah, sends his satrap, Wirdishan, with a large army, to humble the champion of Abs. A fearful battle takes place between the Persians and the Absians, in the Valley of Torrents, in which Wirdishan (like his renowned predecessor, Khosrewan) is slain by the irresistible Antar, and the Persians are completely routed.
The hero's fair enemy, Jaida, still burning to avenge the death of her husband, Khalid, again takes the field at the head of the warriors of Zebeed; and having brought them face to face with the Absians, thus she addressed them:
O by my tribe! tears have festered my cheeks, and in the greatness of my agony sleep has abandoned me.
These mourning garments have debilitated my energies, and sickness has weakened my bones and my skin;
For I had a hero whom a black slave by his oppression and violence made to drink of death:
The full moon indeed fell to the earth when the arrow was aimed at him, sped from the hand of the slave.
Now he is gone, I am left to my afflictions and griefs, and I endure my distresses in solitude. The sword mourns him, now he is gone, and in the sheath it bewails its condition.
O thou dead!—mourners have wept him in the mountains of Fala and the land of Nejd!
He was like a branch in form—the revolutions of Fortune cut him off—alas! how cut him off!
O by my tribe! who will assuage my sorrows, and will regard his engagements with me, now Khalid is gone?
When she had finished, "the tribe of Zebeed sent forth one general shout that made the mountains tremble—they remembered the death of their chief Khalid—they poured down upon Antar, uncovering their heads, and lightening their garments, to the number of five thousand, and about two thousand of the tribes of Lakhm and Juzam followed them; they all attacked, led by Maadi Kereb, bellowing like a lion." But Antar, with only three hundred horsemen, resolutely received their attack, and defeated the whole seven thousand—Jaida and Maadi Kereb flying for their lives.
King Numan, having sent another army against Abs, which was driven back by the noble Antar and his lion-warriors, now
became anxious for peace, and renewed his proposal for the hand of Zoheir's daughter. Antar, grateful to Numan for having released his father Shedad, who had fallen into his power, strongly advised Zoheir to consent, and peace was proclaimed, and Numan duly married to Zoheir's daughter.
But Prince Aswad misrepresents his brother Numan's conduct in the late war to Nushirvan, who deposes him, confers his kingdom on Aswad, and sends his son Khodawend with fifty thousand Persians to destroy the Absians. At the same time the chief Hijar and the warriors of Kendeh advance to lay waste their lands. Antar obtains information of their movements from the ubiquitous Shiboob, and, putting himself at the head of three thousand horsemen of Abs (leaving Prince Cais with a party to protect the women and property of the tribe in the mountains), goes forth to give the enemy a warm reception. The noble hero's reflections on the march found expression in these verses:—
Our country is laid waste, and our lands despoiled: our homes are ravaged, and our plains are devastated!
Let us halt; let us mourn for them: for there is no friend in that quarter, and the country is ruined.
Fate has fallen upon our companions, and they are dispersed as if they had never alighted at their tents.
In sportive merriment they tucked up the garments of joy, and their spears were spread along their tents.
The wand of happiness was waving over us, as if Fortune had been favourable, and our enemies thought not of us.
O Abla! my heart is rent with anguish on thy account: my patience is fled to the wastes!
O Hijar!—hey! I will teach thee my station: thou shalt not dare to fight me, disgraced as thou art!
Hast thou forgotten in the Vale of Torrents the deeds of my valour, and how I overthrew the armies, undaunted as they were?
I precipitated them with the thrust, and I abandoned them and their carcasses to be trampled on by the wild beasts!
Shall I not behold thee in anguish to-morrow?—ay!—thou shalt not escape from me to the arms of thy beloved!
I will leave the brutes of the desert to stamp over thee, and the eagles and the ghouls shall mangle thee!
I am Antar, the most valiant of knights—ay, of them all; and every warrior can prove my words.
If you have a milch-camel, milk her; for thou knowest not to whom her young may belong.
Antar takes Hijar prisoner, and his little army is victorious. But now Khodawend has come with his legions, and in the battles between the Persians and Absians, Antar performs many marvellous exploits. Khodawend, thinking the Absians would willingly surrender on almost any terms, causes his vizier to write a letter to King Zoheir, offering peace if he would give up to him that vile slave Antar. This letter he sends by a satrap, escorted by twenty Persian horsemen, and accompanied by an interpreter called Ocab, the son of Terjem. On reaching the Absian encampment, it chanced that only Antar and another chief were mounted.
"They were in conversation when the satrap came up to them; he did not salute them, but asked for King Zoheir. 'He inquires for King Zoheir,' said the interpreter, 'for he has a letter from Khodawend for him.'—'We, O Arab,' said Antar, 'have read your letter before its arrival: in it your Prince orders us to surrender ourselves without fighting.—Pull that satrap off
the back of his horse,' said he to Shiboob; 'ay, and the rest, too: seize all their property; and if any one dares to struggle with you, treat him thus,'—and at the word he extended his arm, and pierced the satrap through the chest, forcing the spear out quivering through his back, and he hurled him down dead. When his comrades saw what Antar had done, they cried out for quarter, and surrendered themselves to Shiboob, who bound them fast by the shoulders. As to the interpreter, he shuddered. 'May God requite you well,' said he; 'for you have answered us before even reading the letter! If this indeed is the honorary robe for a satrap, let it not be so for an interpreter; for I have children and a family, and I am but a poor fellow. I only followed these Persians but with the prospect of gaining some miserable trifle. I never calculated on being hung; and my children when I am gone will remain orphans.' So he wept and groaned, thus expressing himself:
O knight of the horses of warriors that overthrow; their lion, resembling the roaring ocean!
By your awful appearance you have disgraced heroes, and reduced them to despair.
As soon as the Persian sees you he is dishonoured: if they approach you, and extend their spears against your glory, they must retreat, or there is no security.
Have compassion, then, on your victim, a person of little worth, whose family will be in misery when he is gone!
Not the thrust of the spear or battle is among my qualifications;—I profess no fighting—I have no cleaving scimitar.
My name is Ocab: but indeed I am no fighting man; and the sword in the palm of my hand only chases pelicans.
"Antar laughed at Ocab's verses, and let him go. 'Return to your family,' said he, 'and go no more to the Persian, or you will be in danger; for when they see you safe they will accuse you, and perhaps put you to death.'—'You are very right, my lord,' said he; 'by the faith of an Arab, had I known these Persians would have been thus worsted I would not have quitted you; and probably I might have managed to secure some of their goods, and return with it to my family.'—'Sheikh,' said Antar's companion, 'this business has failed; but come, take the spoils of this satrap, and return to your family, and pass not your evening a dead man.'—'Ay, my lord,' said Ocab, 'he is a wise fellow who returns safe to his friends.'—So he ran up to the satrap and despoiled him. Round his waist was a girdle and a sword, and when Ocab saw all that wealth he was bewildered; and having completely rifled him,—'O my lord,' said he to Antar, 'I will never separate from you again. I wish you would present me to your king, that I may kiss his hand and offer him my services: then indeed I will for ever cleave to your party, and whenever you slay a satrap I will plunder him.' Antar laughed heartily."
A battle of seven days’ duration ensued, which, despite of the heroic exertions of Antar, ended in the discomfiture of the Absians, who, however, still continued to contend with the enemy among the sand-hills and the defiles. Antar himself was wounded in three places, but his spirit remained undaunted, albeit afflictions were multiplied around him. At this crisis King Numan obtains an interview with Khodawend, and clears himself of the false charges brought against him by his brother: Aswad is degraded; Numan restored to power; and peace being proclaimed between the belligerents, the Absians return in joy to their homes. Antar and a select number of his comrades accompany King Numan to Hirah, where they are splendidly entertained for some time; and before they return to their own country, Chosroes Nushirvan, having heard, from his son Khodawend, how the Absians had been saved by Antar's
indomitable prowess, sends the hero a robe of honour and many other rich presents, in token of his renewed friendship.