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Verse 13 refers to the Ghassānid custom of offering wine mixed with water.
The toponym al-Barīṣ appears in this verse, and possibly Barada, the river of
Damascus (the Abana of the Bible).27 Barada has also been read not as a proper
noun but as ice,
Significantly, in verse 14 wine is considered a
diryāq, an antidote, that coun-
teracts poison or disease. Here, the reference is to the medicinal use of wine; this is
one of the earliest appearances of the Greek loanword θηριακή in Arabic.28
In verse 16 Ḥassān describes his journey from the area of Barīṣ to his
Ghassānid host, with whom he reclines in a
manzil, either a tavern or a banquet
hall, surrounded by pleasant companions. So here is a reference to a symposium of
Verse 17 provides more detail on the drinking party: there was a songstress,
musmiʿa, who both sang and played an instrument, as well as a nājūd,29 a goblet
or the beaker of wine.
Kurūm in this verse may be either a toponym or a common
noun, meaning “vineyards.”
In the quintet on wine in the tavern, Ḥassān refers to wine as
khamr, in the
ḥānūt; it is pure and ṣahbāʾ, reddish, in color. Wine is brought to him in a cup
In verse 23, he asks the server to give him wine that has not been mixed with
In verse 24, he goes on to say that the two varieties of wine, mixed and pure,
have been well pressed but asks the server to give him a glass,
zujāja,30 full of the
wine that is better at loosening his joints.31
26 A Syriac/Aramaic term; see Fraenkel,
Die aramäischen Fremdwörter, 172.
27 Cf. Richard Lovelace’s reference to a river in a similar context in “To Althea, from Prison” (1649):
“When flowing cups run swiftly round / with no allaying Thames.”
28 The term is attested again in Ḥassān as
diryāqa; see Dīwān, I, 106, verse 13. The Greek medi-
cal term thus entered Arabic in pre-Islamic times, either through Syriac in Bilād al-Shām or through
Aramaic in Mesopotamia, since the poet al-Aʿshā of Bakr uses it, probably transliterated directly from
Greek, at the medical school of Jundīshāpūr in Sasanid territory. The entire corpus of Greek medical
literature was translated into Arabic in Baghdad and Samarra in Abbasid times; see the present writer
in “Islam and Byzantium in the IXth Century: The Baghdad-Constantinople Dialogue,” in
Contacts in Building a Universal Civilisation: Islamic Contributions, ed. E. Ihsanoğlu (Istanbul, 2005),
29 Another Syriac/Aramaic term in Ḥassān’s lexicon of wine; see Fraenkel,
30 A Syriac/Aramaic term; ibid., 64.
31 Ḥassān’s partiality for the variety of wine that loosens his joints is repeated in
Dīwān, I, 106,
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
In verse 25, he further describes the glass he desires—one in which the wine
“dances” in its bottom with whatever had been thrown into it, such as saffron, to
enhance its taste.
In the last verse (33) of this poem Ḥassān says that he drank wine with his
Ghassānid host in the morning (
bākartu) in a glass cup, zujāja, and that the wine
came from the best of vineyards, where the vines were possibly trellised,
3. Poem 18 is a septet in which the poet describes a
convivium that he attended
in Ḥijāz as a guest of a certain Ṣāliḥ ibn ʿIlāṭ from the group Sulaym.32
Verse 5 describes the wine party, composed of attractive ladies, fair com-
plexioned and luxuriating in
riyāṭ (plural of rayṭa), literally a precious robe of
Verse 6 describes boon companions,
nadāma, also fair-complexioned and
Verse 7 describes the wine as
kumayt; it was vintage wine that had been kept in
its cask for a long time (
ʿuttiqat) and it came from the country of the Nabataeans—
in Byzantine terms, the Provincia Arabia. It is described as
sulāfa, that is, “the best
In verse 8 the poet lauds the host, Ṣāliḥ ibn ʿIlāṭ,34 for spending money to buy
Verse 9 returns to the songstresses (
qiyān) who remained around him, playing
on their instruments (
Verse 10 describes these songstresses circling to offer the cup (
kaʾs) of wine to
the drinking party (
sharb); carpets, anmāṭ (plural of namaṭ), covered the floor of
Finally, in verse 11, the host gives these songstresses away to Ḥassān and his
It is possible that the Ghassānids had similar
convivia, models for those in
4. Poem 23 is an octet that describes a drinking party in a tavern,
Verse 8 describes the wine as
ṣahbāʾ, “reddish.” Its provenance is Bayt Rās
(Capitolias), and it was old wine that had been left for a long time,
sealed casks (
verse 13. The relaxation induced by wine recalls the epithet Lyaeus, Greek Λυαῖος, sometimes used of the
Greek god of wine, Dionysus, in Greek and Latin poetry—so Horace describes Teucer’s temples as
Dīwān, I, 91, verses 5–11.
33 These presumably were the songstresses/hostesses at the
convivium, referred to again in verses 10
34 On Ṣāliḥ ibn ʿIlāṭ, see Ḥassān,
Dīwān, II, 87.
35 Ibid., I, 106–7, verses 8–15.
Verse 9 refers to the tavern where the wine had been kept year after year,
Verse 10 refers to the custom of drinking wine two ways: sometimes undi-
luted and sometimes mixed with other beverages. The ambiance is also described;
the poet drinks in marble houses,
buyūt al-rukhām, in which wine-bibbers could
Verse 11 describes wine’s effect on the body.
Verse 12 refers to the cup,
kaʾs; if an old man drank from it five times, he
would feel like a young man.
Verse 13 mentions the wine’s provenance from Baysān, Bēth-Shān (Skytho-
polis), the city of Dionysus himself, known for its vines and wines. Furthermore,
the poet chose it for its medicinal value as an antidote,
diryāqa—its good effect on
Verses 14 and 15 return to the tavern. The waiter is described as a blond who
burnus (a robe) and a long hat (qalansuwa), and whose belt is tightly tied
around his waist. He is also attentive to the needs of the guests, and quick to serve
them wine. He is the
5. Poem 40 is also ascribed to the Umayyad poet al-Akhṭal, who is more
likely than Ḥassān to be its author. The custom of drinking wine in the morning
6. Poem 41 is a triplet in which the poet advises one who, as a result of exces-
sive drinking, is suffering from a headache.38 He facetiously tells him to drink
again, in view of the fact that transience is the fate of every good thing.
7. Poem 150 is a triplet embedded in a poem, definitely pre-Islamic, in which
the poet takes pride in his clan and in himself.39
Verse 9 relates how he went to the tavern for his morning drink (
order to quaff mixed wine.
Verse 10 describes the morning spent in the tavern together with boon com-
nadmān): reclining on a pillow (mirfaqa), having fun (lahw), listening to
music and song (
Verse 11 declares that the waiter would pour him wine from a full wineskin.
8. Poem 154 is a short poem describing his journey in Ḥijāz, which contains a
couplet on wine.40
The first line of the couplet (verse 7) refers to the
ziq (the wineskin), the nuṭfa
36 Dionysus, Bacchus, was the patron of Baysān/Bēth-shān, one of the cities of the Decapolis. For
diryāq/diryāqa in the poetry of Ḥassān, see note 28, above.
Dīwān, I, 139, verses 1–7.
38 Ibid., 141, verses 1–3.
39 Ibid., 302–3, verses 9–11.
40 Ibid., 310, verses 7–8.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
(the small quantity of wine that remained in it), and the
cup), all of which were ready for the poet.
The more significant second line says that he approached the wine in the
ziq; the verb used is shanantuha, which means either that he poured the wine and
drank it straight or that he mixed it with water before drinking it. All these terms
are of interest for the lexicon of wine lyrics in this pre-Islamic period.
Ḥassān also refers to wine as
qahwa, the term also used in later Islamic times
for wine, and much later for coffee. The term is fairly rare in pre-Islamic poetry.41
It raises questions of whether coffee was really known to the Arabs in pre-Islamic
times, and whether the term is the Ethiopic
kaffa or—less likely—an Arabic word,
which lexicographers relate to the verb
9. Poem 156 is a sextet, an independent wine lyric.42 According to the scho-
liast, the occasion was an encounter with the poet Aʿshā, who accused Ḥassān of
being stingy, whereupon Ḥassān bought all the wine in the tavern and emptied it on
the floor.43 The sextet describes in detail the drinking party, the
Verse 1 introduces the drinking party at the tavern and lauds their generosity.
Verse 2 describes the effect of wine on Ḥassān and his group; when they
drank they felt like kings and sons of kings,44 a sentiment he had expressed before
(in Poem 1, verse 10). He refers to the
ṣabūḥ, the morning drink, in a context of
Verse 3 refers to himself and his group, and to the scent of musk and saffron
in the tavern.
Verse 4 mentions the appointments and furniture of the tavern: on its car-
zarābi) were to be found shoes (niʿāl), slippers (qassūb), and expensive cloth
In verse 5, he amusingly describes the party that had drunk to satiety and
fallen asleep, as if they had died on the field of Yawm Ḥalīma, the famous Ghassānid
victory over the Lakhmids.46 But he hastens to say that those who approach them
on the morrow and consort with them will praise their camaraderie.
41 The attestation of the term
qahwa in Arabic pre-Islamic poetry has passed unnoticed in the litera-
ture on coffee; see C. van Arendonk, “
EI2, IV, 449. The term appears in other pre-Islamic poets
such as Aʿshā and Muraqqish al-Aṣghar.
Dīwān, I, 312–13, verses 1–6.
43 The tavern at which the two poets met was either in Oriens or in Iraq, which al-Aʿshā used to visit
more frequently because it was closer to the homeland of his group, Bakr.
44 Perhaps an echo of his connection with the royal Ghassānid house, who were his relatives through
their affiliation with the Azd group, to which Ḥassān belonged.
rayṭ is described as muʿaddad, having aʿḍud, which means “upper arms.” The epithet is vari-
ously explained by the lexicographers, not very satisfactorily. See
An Arabic-English Lexicon, ed. E. W.
Lane (London, 1874), Book I, part 5, 2073.
46 Another echo of the Ghassānid connections of Ḥassān.
Verse 6 describes the waiter, who wore an earring,
naṭaf, and carried a dībaja,47
handkerchief—evidence of the tavern keeper’s or owner’s concern that the waiter
be correctly attired.
10. This last cluster, in Poem 266, consists of two couplets; each, according
to Ibn ʿĀsākir, was related to the Ghassānid context.48 Jabala, the last Ghassānid
king, asks Ḥassān to vilify wine so that he might be weaned from his addiction to
it. So, Ḥassān composes a couplet in which he inveighs against its vices. He says
it would be priceless were it not for three evils consequent on inebriation. Then
Jabala asks him to compose verses in praise of wine. Ḥassān comes to its defense,
saying that it chases away cares and griefs.
If accurate, this dialogue between Ḥassān and the last Ghassānid king could
provide some evidence for the authenticity of the picture of Jabala given in the
Arabic sources, as one fond of wine, and of his glittering court in which wine and
Individual verses in Ḥassān’s
Dīwān are also informative on wine in Ghassānland
and on the circles in which the poet moved. The following data may be gleaned
from these verses.
1. That good wine is old wine is expressed in a verse in which the terms
mudām appear;49 the latter, after being attributively used, became a substan-
tive for wine.
2. Some names of the various wines—
ūqār, sulāf, and khurtūm50—may be
added to the legion known from Islamic times.
3. Wine may be drunk pure and straight,
ṣirf, or mixed with other liquids,
mizāj.51 Though their employment in the verse is metaphorical, the two terms are a
useful addition to the Arabic lexicon of wine in pre-Islamic times.
akwāb and akwās (plurals of kūb and kaʾs, respectively)—are
used at the Ghassānid court, where mixed wine was drunk.52 The plural
unusual, and the verse suggests that in the Ghassānid
symposion the cups were car-
ried around (
ṭīfa fīhimū) by a sāqi, the serving waiter.
47 Explained in this context as a
mandīl/mindīl; Ḥassān, Dīwān, II, 229. Dībāj usually means “silk
brocade,” a Persian loanword in Arabic already used in pre-Islamic times. In this context it is explained
as a kerchief, a
pouring. For the function of the
mandīl at drinking parties, see F. Rosenthal, “A Note on the Mandīl,”
Four Essays on Art and Literature in Islam (Leiden, 1971), especially 78–83.
Dīwān, I, 442.
49 Ibid., 29, verse 2.
50 Ibid., 204, verse 4; 341, verse 2; 439, verse 2.
51 Ibid., 171, verse 1.
52 Ibid., 204, verse 4.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
5. Moderation in drinking wine is recommended; the term used for alcohol-
6. Drinking wine without becoming intoxicated became a virtue, a demon-
stration of affluence and generosity. The label
sharrāb khamr, being a wine-bibber,
was a moral tribute as lofty as “courageous in war,” since Ḥassān described the
chivalrous Ibn Mukaddam as “blessed” with both qualities.54
Four Other Poets on Wine
In addition to Ḥassān, other poets who composed for the Ghassānids should be
remembered in this context: to al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, al-Aʿshā, and al-Nābigha
al-Jaʿdi may be added ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm. Although his poem does not specifically
mention the Ghassānids, it provides information on wine in Oriens, in areas where
an Arab presence obtained, and implicitly refers to the Ghassānids.
The poet was a serious man;55 therefore, his
Dīwān (unlike Ḥassān’s) contains little
on wine. But in the famous
mīmiyya in which he lauds the Ghassānid king and
his army on the march, there is a valuable sextet of verses describing the wine in an
amatory context; the first triplet is on wine and the second describes the pure water
with which it was mixed.56
The first line in the sextet, verse 9, speaks of the wine of Buṣrā/Bostra, the
casks or vats of which were well sealed and were transported by camels.57 The wine
is proleptically described as mixed, as was customary among the Arabs.
Verse 10 describes its casks (
qilāl, plural of qulla)58 as transported from
Capitolias, a city of the Decapolis to which the poet gives its Arabic name, Bayt
Rās. The casks were transported to Luqmān,59 a word which has been explained as
either the name of a wine merchant or a toponym in the region. The poet adds that
the casks were transported to a
In verse 11 the poet says that when the seals of the wine casks (
53 Ibid., 340, verse 6.
54 Ibid., 410, verse 2.
55 A distinguished pre-Islamic poet, who belonged to the tribe of Dubyān and was an older contem-
porary of Ḥassān; see
BASIC II.1, 220–32, and GAS, II, 110–13.
Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 131–32, verses 9–14.
57 The verse is informative on Bostra as a city associated with wine; in these pre-Islamic sources it is
more often linked to swords, as it apparently contained a
fabrica where swords were made.
qulla as a Syriac term, see Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter, 170.
59 The reference to Luqmān is tantalizing. It is the name of a sura in the Koran (31), which
Koranic exegetes have interpreted as the Arabic version of Aḥiqār, the counselor of the Assyrian king
Sennacherib; see B. Heller and A. Stillman, “Lu
EI2, V, 811–13. Its appearance in the verse does
not help solve the Koranic exegetical problem, but it does indicate that Luqmān was a familiar term on
the eve of the rise of Islam.
are undone, their wine effervesces and is topped by foam (
more, the wine is good old wine (
Al-Aʿshā, a major pre-Islamic poet who is considered one of the poets of the
Suspended Odes, visited the Ghassānids and tasted their wines.61 Since he was a
devotee of the “daughter of the grape,” as wine is described in Arabic poetry, he cer-
tainly enjoyed the wines of Oriens; as an eastern Arabian poet, he was more famil-
iar with the wines of Ḥīra and Iraq,62 which were not as good as those of Oriens.
One of his verses has preserved a reference to a variety of Byzantine wine
that he calls
al-khandarīs, which he could have tasted in Oriens.63 It must also
have been known to the Ghassānids, his hosts, and to Ḥassān, in whose surviv-
ing poetry the term does not appear. Al-Aʿshā’s
Oriens: Ūrishalim (Jerusalem), Ḥims (Emesa), and Sarkhad (Salkhad).64 If he vis-
ited Salkhad, a place known for its wines, he would have sampled them; he evi-
dently tasted the wines of Palestine during his trip to Jerusalem, since he refers in
one of his verses to a Palestinian wine,
wine in Ḥims, a place mentioned by another poet, Imruʾ al-Qays, who was known
for his drinking bouts.66 While Ḥassān uses the Syriac term
60 The term
qummaḥan, which may be a hapax legomenon (al-Nābigha, Dīwān, 132 note 1), is
explained as the effervescing foam. On
khātam as “seal,” see Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter, 252.
61 For al-Aʿshā, see Sezgin,
GAS, II, 130–32, and BASIC II.1, 272–78. The standard edition of
Dīwān is Gedichte von Abû Baṣîr Maimûn Ibn Qais al-Aʿšâ, ed. R. Geyer, Gibb Memorial Series
62 Hence his wine lyrics were more influenced by Sasanid Persia and Lakhmid Ḥīra, as his vocabu-
lary shows. Many Persian terms entered Arabic as loanwords, mediated through him and other poets
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