SPRENGER ON MOSLEM TRADITION
For this cause, though these ancient poems undoubtedly contain much that is
authentic, little reliance can be reposed on them as historical evidence.
The life of the poet Hammâd Râwy, as given by Sprenger, shows how
fashionable was this practice, and is also a fair illustration of the manners
of the age. Taken prisoner as a child, he regained his freedom and joined
himself to a band of robbers. Amongst their booty he one day chanced upon a
collection of poems by a Companion of Mahomet. He was charmed, committed them
to memory, abandoned robbery, and devoted himself to literature.
On his being asked by Walîd, the Caliph, why he was called Râwy,1
he replied, "Because I know by heart the works of all the poets thou art
acquainted with, or hast heard the names of; and those thou never heardest of
I know better than the poem thou art best acquainted with is known by thee!
Moreover, if a piece of poetry be recited, I will tell thee with certainty to
what period it belongs." "By thy father, thou art a prodigy of
learning! How many verses dost thou know by heart?" "A vast number!
For every letter of the alphabet I could recite a hundred long Casîdas (idyls)
rhyming with it. And besides poems since the rise of Islam, I know innumerable
ancient fragments belonging to the days of heathendom." The Caliph
commanded him to be presented with 100,000 dirhems.
"When Hishâm succeeded to the
Caliphate," says Hammâd, "I kept to my house in Cûfa, because he
had before shown enmity towards me. After a year I began to go out, and one
Friday repaired to the Mosque for prayer. At the door I was met by two
policemen with an order that the Governor desired to see me. Filled with
apprehension, I begged permission to go first to my home, and bid, my family a
last farewell: but even this was not allowed me. I went trembling to the
Governor, who showed me a despatch from the Caliph, desiring that I should be
sent forthwith to the Court at Damascus. Richly supplied, and mounted on a
swift dromedary, I reached Damascus in twelve days. Then, taken straightway to
the palace, I entered a gorgeous hall, the