Abū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī – variant: Al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī 'Abd al-Awal al-Ṣabāḥ, Abū 'Alī (الحسن بن هانئ بن عبد الأول بن الصباح ،ِابو علي) known as Abū Nuwās al-Salamī (أبو نواس السلمي), or just Abū Nuwās (أبو نواس Abū Novās) – (c. 756 – c. 814), was a classical Arabic poet. Born in the city of Ahvaz in modern-day Iran to an Arab father and a Persian mother, he became a master of all the contemporary genres of Arabic poetry. He also entered the folkloric tradition, appearing several times in One Thousand and One Nights. He died during the civil war before al-Ma’mūn advanced from Khurāsān either in 199 or 200 AH (814-816 AD).
Early life; his work
Abu Nuwas' father, Hānī, whom the poet never knew, was an Arab, a descendant of the Jizani tribe Banu Hakam, and a soldier in the army of Marwan II. His Persian mother, named Jullaban, worked as a weaver. Biographies differ on the date of Abu Nuwas' birth, ranging from 747 to 762. Some sources say he was born at Basra.
Ismail bin Nubakht: "I never saw a man of more extensive learning than Abu Nuwas, nor one who, with a memory so richly furnished, possessed so few books. After his death we searched his house, and could only find one book-cover containing a quire of paper, in which was a collection of rare expressions and grammatical observations."
Early editions of Abū Nuwās's work
The earliest anthologies of his poetry and his biography were produced by:
- Yaḥyā ibn al-Faḍl and Ya‘qūb ibn al-Sikkīt arranged his poetry under ten subject categories, rather than in alphabetical order. Al-Sikkīt wrote an 800-page commentary.
- Abū Sa’īd al-Sukkarī edited his poetry with commentary on meaning and strange forms but completed only two thirds in a thousand folios.
- Abū Bakr ibn Yaḥyā aI-Ṣūlī edited his work alphabetically, and corrected some false attributions.
- ‘Alī ibn Ḥamzah al-Iṣbahānī also edited his work alphabetically.
- Yūsuf ibn al-Dāyah
- Abū Hiffān
- Ibn al-Washshā’ Abū Ṭayyib, scholar of Baghdād
- Ibn ‘Ammār wrote an epistle about his faults and plagiarisms.
- Al-Munajjim family: Abū Manṣūr; Yaḥyā ibn Abī Manṣūr; Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā; ‘Alī ibn Yaḥyā; Yaḥyā ibn ‘Alī; Aḥmad ibn Yaḥyā; Hārūn ibn ‘Alī; ‘Alī ibn Hārūn; Aḥmad ibn ‘Alī; Hārūn ibn ‘Alī ibn Hārūn.
- Abū al-Ḥasan al-Sumaysāṭī also wrote about his triumph and excellencies.
He is one of various people credited with inventing the literary form of the mu‘ammā (literally "blinded" or "obscured"), a riddle which is solved "by combining the constituent letters of the word or name to be found"; he was certainly a major exponent of the form.
While his works were freely in circulation until the early years of the twentieth century, in 1932 the first modern censored edition of his works appeared in Cairo. In January 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 copies of books of homoerotic poetry by Abu Nuwas. Any mention of pederasty was omitted from his entry in the Saudi Global Arabic Encyclopedia.
In 1976, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in honor of Abu Nuwas.
A heavily fictionalised Abu Nuwas is the protagonist of the novels The Father of Locks (Dedalus Books, 2009) and The Khalifah's Mirror (2012) by Andrew Killeen, in which he is depicted as a spy working for Ja'far al-Barmaki.
In the Sudanese novel Season of Migration to the North (1966) by Tayeb Salih, Abu Nuwas's love poetry is cited extensively by one of the novel's protagonists, the Sudanese Mustafa Sa'eed, as a means of seducing a young English woman in London: "Does it not please you that the earth is awaking,/ That old virgin wine is there for the taking?"
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, the author of The History of Baghdad, wrote that Abu Nuwas was buried in Shunizi cemetery in Baghdad.
The city has several places named for the poet. Abū Nuwās Street runs along the east bank of the Tigris that was once the city's showpiece. Abu Nuwas Park is also located there on the 2.5-kilometer stretch between the Jumhouriya Bridge and a park that extends out to the river in Karada near the 14th of July Bridge.
The Tanzanian artist Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) created a Swahili comic book called Abunuwasi which was published in 1996. It features a trickster figure named Abunuwasi as the protagonist in three stories draw inspiration from East African folklore as well as the fictional Abu Nuwasi of One Thousand and One Nights.
Editions and translations
- Dīwān Abū Nu’ās, khamriyyāt Abū Nu’ās, ed. by ‘Alī Najīb ‘Aṭwi (Beirut 1986)
- O Tribe That Loves Boys. Hakim Bey (Entimos Press / Abu Nuwas Society, 1993). With a scholarly biographical essay on Abu Nuwas, largely taken from Ewald Wagner's biographical entry in The Encyclopedia of Islam.
- Carousing with Gazelles, Homoerotic Songs of Old Baghdad. Seventeen poems by Abu Nuwas translated by Jaafar Abu Tarab. (iUniverse, Inc., 2005).
- Jim Colville. Poems of Wine and Revelry: The Khamriyyat of Abu Nuwas. (Kegan Paul, 2005).
- The Khamriyyāt of Abū Nuwās: Medieval Bacchic Poetry, trans. by Fuad Matthew Caswell (Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, 2015). Trans. from ‘Aṭwi 1986.
- Straley, Dona S. (2004). The undergraduate's companion to Arab writers and their web sites. Libraries Unlimited. p. 30. ISBN 1-59158-118-4.