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Arabic monuments are Seven Poems, which were transcribed upon Egyptian paper, and hung up in the temple of Mecca, thence called Al Modhahabât, or Golden, and Al Moallacât, or Suspended ; yet they were, undoubtedly, written about the beginning of the seventh century. There is also a miscellaneous collection of epigrams, odes, and elegies, called the Hamasa, made in the second century of the Hejra, and containing such poems as were then thought most ancient; though, probably, most of them, if not all, subsequent to Mohammed. A work is still extant, entitled the Amthâl, or Apologues of Lokman, who, according to some Arabian writers, was contemporary with David, though he has generally been thought to have been the same person with the Æsop of the Greeks, on account of the great similarity in the circumstances and fables attributed to each.* Their respective histories bave so much the air of a romance, that no dependence can be placed upon the genuineness of the works which go under their names; and, indeed, the fables themselves have too striking a resemblance to be
* Hottinger, Hist. Orient. lib. i. cap. 3, p. 68. D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, voc. Lokman. Sale's Note to the 31st cap, of the Koran, vol. ii. p. 252. General Dictionary, Art. Lokman.
accounted for otherwise than by a common origin.* In short, the remark of Sir William Jones appears correct, that “ few monuments of antiquity are preserved in Arabia, and of these few the best accounts are very uncertain.” +
The loss of the ancient Arabian compositions was the inevitable consequence of the situation and circumstances of the Saracenic tribes. The art of writing, though known, perhaps, in Arabia much earlier, was certainly very little practised before the Mohammedan æra ;I the productions, therefore, of the older poets could only have been conveyed by oral recitation; but it is surely impossible for either numerous or extensive works to be long preserved by the
* “ On trouve dans les Paraboles, Proverbs ou Apologues de Locman en Arabe, des choses que nous lisons dans les Fables d'ÆÆsope, en sorte qu'il seroit assez mal-aise de decider, si les Arabes les ont empruutees des Grecs, ou si les Grecs les ont prises des Arabes. Il est cependant certain, que cette maniere d'instruire par les fables, est plus conforme au genie des Orientaux, qu'a celuy des peuples de l'Oceident."-(D'Herbelot, ibid.) Whenever Lokman may have lived, the Fables which bear his name have every appearance of being a modern compilation. + Discourse on the Arabs, Works, vol. i. p. 43.
Job, xix. 23, 24. Pococke, Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 159, 161, and Orat. at Carmen Tograi. Sale's Prel. Disc. p. 34. Prideaux's Life of Mahomet, p. 26, Lond. 1808. Robertson, de Ling. Arab. p. 29, et seq. Hunt, de Antiquitate Ling. Arab. p. 11.
unassisted aid of human memory. Astonishing exam. ples, it is true, are recorded of the power of memory; and some have thought it equal to the retention of the Iliad and Odyssey, or the Poems of Ossian.* “ A credulity eager for wonders” may acquiesce in these representations ; but such a prodigious force of reminiscence, if ever possessed, must have been extremely rare. A succession of persons so highly gifted would be little less than miraculous; and, therefore, neither many nor extensive compositions can, in any unwritten speech, be long transmitted from one generation to another. But, if even this were possible among a people so enthusiastically devoted to poetry as the Arabians, yet they must, for the most part, have perished amidst the universal convulsion which followed the establishment of the Mohammedan religion. The wild fanaticism, and the insatiable thirst for conquest, occasioned by the rise of Mohammedism, superseded all other cares; learning and the arts of peace were neglected; and it was not till the empire of the Caliphs began to
* Cicero, Tuscul. Dispat. lib. i. $ 24. Quinctilian, Instit. Orat. lib, xi. 5 2. Xenophon, Sympos. cap. 3, 95. Wolfii Prolegom. ad Homerum, § 24. The modern origin of the Poems of Ossian is proved, with unanswerable force of argument, by Mr. Laing, Diss. at the end of his History of Scotland,
répose from its victories, and to enjoy some degree of tranquillity, that the Arabians returned to the pursuit of literature, and the cultivation of their language.*
In confirmation of this statement it may be observed, that our Arabic Lexicons are mainly extracted from Al Jauhari and Al Firauzabadi, the former of whom lived in the tenth century, and the latter in the fourteenth. Schultens, however, affirms that these lexicographers appeal to authors much older than Mohammed. The preceding observations, I think, clearly prove, that this statement is greatly exaggerated; but, allowing it to be true to a certain extent, the assertion amounts to little, unless it can be distinctly ascertained, that these authors were considerably more ancient; as one, two, or even three centuries would still leave a very great interval between them and Malachi, the latest of the Hebrew prophets. We have, unquestionably, no Arabic prose composition before the Koran; and should it be granted, that we possess a few poems and fragments a century or two more ancient; yet, even in that case, the oldest Arabic writings extant are eight or nine hundred years subsequent to the latest productions of the Hebrew volume. All the remains, moreover, that have ever been considered ancient are but few in number; and to form an adequate conception of the extent and copiousness of the Arabic tongue, we must have recourse to the Koran and later works. What authority, then, can be attributed to a dialect, of which our knowledge is drawn from sources comparatively modern? Had we compositions in it coeval, or but little posterior to those of the inspired writers of the Old Testament, we might appeal to it with less hesitation; but Arabic is only known to us in its comparatively modern state, after it had undergone a great change, as we have every reason to believe, in the long period it continued the unwritten dialect of the semi-barbarous hordes of the Arabian Peninsula.
*“ Atque hinc est quod tot veterum poetarum carmina, quæ non aliis antea, quam fidis hominum memoriis, apothecis servarentur, perierint.”—(Pococke, Specimen, &c. p. 165.) In this he has been followed, as usual, by Sale, Prel. Disc. p. 37, and by Hunt, de Ant. Ling. Arab. p. 18.
+ " Non hauriunt Arabum Lexicographi Linguæ notitiam ex solo Alcorano, et Auctoribus qui Muhammedi æquales, vel posteriores; sed ex fontibus multo vestustioribus, &c."-Origines Hebrææ, par, 2, cap. 6, § 17, p. 278.