Arab poets

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

The classical period of Arab civilization spawned a rich corpus of bacchic poetry which had its roots in pre-Islamic Arabia (ad 530 until the emergence of islam). Wine was celebrated as one of a number of standard topics in the composite odes of pre-Islamic poetry. In its treatment, wine was underpinned by the rigid ethical code (Muruwwa, approximately virtus) that predicated the desert Weltanschauung, and thus gave voice to exaggerated notions of generosity. It was in this period, when wine was often compared to the saliva of women (to represent a kiss), that the seeds of the erotic register of later Arabic wine poetry were sown. Interestingly one such simile is even contained in the ode composed by Hassān Ibn Thābit, the Prophet’s bard, to celebrate the conquest of Mecca shortly before Muhammad’s death in ad 632. Traditional Muslim commentary, basing itself on the Islamic injunction against the consumption of wine, suggests that the simile is interpolated. But this argument is not entirely convincing; for Islam, while criticizing aspects of the culture of poetry, seems to have had little effect in censoring the poetic repertoire.