Abu Nuwas (EoH)

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Abu Nuwas (CA. 757 - CA. 814)

Arab poet. One of the greatest of all Arab writers, Abu Nuwas was the outstandingpoetoftheAbbasidera( 75&1258). Abu Nuwas al-Hasan ibn Hani al-Hakami was born in Al-Ahwaz; his father was from southern Arabia and his mother was Persian. His first teacher was the poet Waliba ibn al-Hubab (died 786), a master who initiated him into the joys of pederasty as well as poetry.

Abu Nuwas continued his education in theology and grammar, after which he decided to try his luck as an author in the capital city of Baghdad. Here he soon acquired great fame as a poet who excelled in lyrical love poetry (ghazal), in lampoons and satire, and in mujun-frivolous and humorous descriptions of indecent or obscene matters. He became the boon companion of the Caliph Al-Amin (ruled 809-8 13)) son and successor of the illustrious Harun ar-Rashid (ruled 786-809). His irresistible humor and irony made him a favorite figure in popular stories of the Arab world, where he played the role of court jester. (He makes several appearances in The Thousand and One Nights.)

Abu Nuwas's favorite themes were wine and boys. He was one of the first Arab poets to write lyrical love poetry about boys, and his genius brought the togreat heights. His preferred type of youth was the pale gazelle, whose face shone like the moon, with roses on his cheeks and ambergris in his long curly hair, with musk in his kisses and pearls between his lips, with firm boyish buttocks, a slender and supple body, and a clear voice. Beardless boys held the greatest attraction-the growth of hair on the cheek was likened to that of apes - here also Abu Nuwas flouted social norms by describing down on the cheek as erotically appealing, since it preserved beauty from indiscreet glances and gave a different flavor to kisses.

The only woman who played an important part in his life was Janan, a slave girl, but, because of his libertine conduct, she never trusted the sincerity of his love. When she asked him to renounce his love of boys, he refused, saying that he was one of the "people of Lot, " with reference to the Arab view that theBiblica1 Lot was the founder of homosexual love. Abu Nuwas was sexually interested in women or girls only when they looked like boys, but even then he considered their vagina too dangerous a gulf to cross. As he said (symbolically): "I have a pencil which stumbles if I use it on the front of the paper, but which takes great strides on the back." Lesbianism he derided as pointless: 'lt is fat rubbed up by fat, and nothing more. And rub as one may, when down to bare skin, there is nothing to rise in response. There is no wicked shaft that is smooth at the tip to drive itself home and sink into place."

Abu Nuwas was notorious for his mockery and satire, in which the sexual intemperance of women and the sexual passivity of men were favorite themes. A lot of people, even those in high places, were verbally "buggered" by him: "Your penis would not be soft if you did not widen your anus!" Such verbal abuse landed him in prison twice; he was also jailed once for drinking wine.

He liked to shock society by writing openly about thingswhich transgressed the norms and values of Islam. For example, he was probably the first Arab poet to write about the taboo subject of masturbation, which he declared to be inferior to the love of boys, but preferable to marriage. He didnot hide his "sinful" behavior behind a cloak of silence, as was expected in Islam; instead he openly boasted of his love of boys and wine: "Away with hypocrisy.. . discreet debauchery means little to me. I want to enjoy everything in broad daylight." Social blame only served as an enticement, and regrets were not to be expected.

At the very end of his life, Abu Nuwas underwent a sudden reformation, and devoted his final days to the composition of verses in favor of Islamic holiness. Yet it is not these verses which brought him his fame.

See also Ghulamiyya; Islam.


Jamel Bencheikh, "Pdsies bachiques d'Abu Nuwas," Bulletin #Etudes Orientales, 18 (1%34), 7-75; William Chris 14:29, 15 August 2006 (EDT)i~In grams, Abu Nuwas in Life and Legend, Port Louis: La Typographic Modeme, 1933; Ewald Wagner, Abu Nuwas: Eine Studie zur Arabischen Literatur der m e n Abbasidenzeit, Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1965.

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