Saif al-Dawla, the Hamanid Ruler of Aleppo was a great patron of arts and learning. He attracted to his Court some of the greatest intellectual luminaries of his time, including the encyclopaedist Abu Nasar Farabi and poet Mutanabbi.
Mutanabbi, one of the greatest panegyrists of all times came to the Court of the Hamanid Chief in 948 A.C. and stayed there for about nine years. He accompanied the Ruler during his campaigns against the By-Zantines and Bedouins add wrote some of his best panegyries personifying him as the ideal Arab Chief-courageous, magnanimous and generous.
Saif al-Dawla never treated the over-sensitive poet with arrogance and frequently loaded him with gifts. But, Mutanabbi’s difficult character and over-sensitive nature soon earned him many enemies at the Hamanid Court. Their leader was his rival, the celebrated poet Abu Firas. Saif al-Dawla who, at first paid no heed to these complaints, soon got wearied and Mutanabbi, finding his life not safe there, secretly left Aleppo for Damascus in 957 A.C.
Abu Taiyib Ahmad bin Al Husain, Al Mutanabbi was born in al-Kinda quarters of Kufa in 915 A.C. His family originated from Yemen, hence he always claimed the linguistic superiority of the Southern over the Northern Arabs.
Mutanabbi was brought up in humble circumstances, receiving education only in his native town. But he soon distinguished himself by his keen intelligence, prodigious memory, and supremacy as a poet. When Kufa was sacked by Carmathians, his family migrated to Samawa, where they remained for two years. This short stay among the Bedouins enabled the young Mutanabbi to have a profound knowledge of the Arabic language.
On return to Kufa in 927 A.C. Mutanabbi decided to devote himself entirely to poetry, to which he had a natural inclination. He was much impressed by the works of the celebrated panegyrists, Ibn Tamim and al-Buhturi.
A born poet as he was, Mutanabbi found in poetry a good means of earning fame and wealth. Abul Fazal of Kufa was his first patron and the poet dedicated a short piece to him.
Mutanabbi had a chequered career. His over-sensitive nature and vanity did not permit him to stick to one place. He was a convert to Carmathicism and later adopted a stoic and pessimistic philosophy, “The world is made of seductions which the death destroys”.
He found himself completely out of harmony with the world which he contacted. The consciousness of his talent increased his vanity to an inconceivable degree and created a bitterness in his works. He coveted all his life the riches and power which he scorned in his heart. But, despite this apparent contradiction in his nature, he stands out from his contemporaries for his rigid morality and austerity.
He set out to Baghdad in 928 A.C. in order to conquer the world with his poetic talents and became a panegyrist of Muhammad Ubaidullah Alawi. He did not stay there for long and soon left for Syria where, for two years, he led the life of a wandering troubadour. His poems of this period, though not of lasting value, carry the imprint of his genius.
Lack of recognition of his exceptional merit produced despondency and irritation in his nature. He forsook the work of paid panegyrist for some time and led the life of a religious revolutionary. He was, therefore, put behind the bars for two years being regarded as a Carmathian agitator.
The poems composed by him during this period are distinguished for the flight of imagination, spontaneity, and vigour of their expression. The poet took much liberty with poetic forms.
He got the epithet of Mutanabbi and was fully convinced that poetry alone could lead him to glory and realize his ambitious dream of prosperity.
On release from the prison, he resumed his profession of panegyrist, getting at first little success. For several years he led a wandering life, obtaining a precarious existence on the subsistence of minor officials of Damascus, Aleppo, and Antioch. His fame continued to grow and the brightness in him yearned for an opportunity to show his greatness as a poet. This he got in 939 A.C. when he became the Court poet of Amir Badr al-Kashani, Governor of Damascus. He regarded Badr as the Maccenes for whom he was waiting so far. His poems written in praise of Badr bristled with sincerity of thought and spontaneity of expression.
But Mutanabbi’s stay with Badr lasted hardly for 12 years and was disturbed by the intrigues of his jealous rivals. The poet had to take refuge in the Syrian desert and returned to Damascus, soon after Badr had left the place.
The fame of Mutanabbi had by this time traveled far and wide. He was invited by the Hamanid Ruler of Aleppo, Saif al-Dawla, a great patron of learning. Here the poet stayed for nine years and passed the best period of his life. He earned the sincere admiration of his patron who fully recognized his greatness as a poet.
Mutanabbi wrote some of his finest panegyrics in the praise of his patron, Saif al-Dawla whom he idealized as the best Arab Ruler. But the difficult nature of the poet, obliged him to flee from the Hamanid Court to Damascus.
His poems of this period reveal his supremacy as a poet and place him among the greatest panegyrists of all time. In-flight of imagination and sublimity of thought, in the spontaneity of expression and grandeur of diction, he ranks high among his contemporaries. His poems are fuller and epic in style than those of Abu Firas.
He arrived in Egypt from Damascus and obtained the patronage of Ikhshidid Kafur, whom he did not like at heart. He did not stay there for long and secretly left for Iraq after writing a biting satire of Kafur.
Hereafter, he was constantly on move. He visited Kufa and settled down in Baghdad for some time. Later went to Susiana, where he was welcomed by the Buyid Minister, Ibn al-Amid. In 941, he went to Shiraz where he obtained the patronage of Buyid Ruler, Adud al-Dawla, and wrote some of his best panegyrics in praise of his new patron.
He was returning to Baghdad from Shiraz when he was attacked by the marauding Bedouins and was killed in August 955 A.C. Thus ended the chequered career of Mutanabbi, one of the greatest panegyrists of all time, who exercised considerable influence over the later Arabic poetry, which owed much to him.