Hatim Tai was an Arabian chief who lived a short time prior to the promulgation of Mohammedanism. He has been so much celebrated through the East for his generosity, that even at the present day the greatest encomium which can be given to a generous man is to say that he is "as liberal as Hatim." He was also a poet; but his talents were principally exerted in recommending his favourite virtue. An Arabian author thus emphatically describes Hatim's character: "His poems expressed the charms of beneficence; and his practice evinced that he wrote from the heart." The instances related of Hatim's generosity are innumerable; and the following are selected as affording a lively picture of Arabian manners.
The Emperor of Constantinople having heard much of Hatim's liberality, resolved to make trial of it. For this purpose he despatched a person from his court to request a particular horse which he knew the Arabian Prince valued above all his other possessions. The officer arrived at Hatim's abode in a Clark tempestuous night, at a season when all the horses were at pasture in the meadows. He was received in a manner suitable to the dignity of the imperial envoy, and treated that night with the utmost hospitality. The next day the officer delivered to Hatim his message from the Emperor, at which Hatim appeared greatly concerned. "If," said he, "you had yesterday apprised me of your errand, I
Arabian Poetry: Extracts From The Lay of the Himyarites: Notes on Shorter Poems should instantly have complied with the Emperor's request, but the horse he asks is now no more: being surprised by your sudden arrival, and having nothing else to regale you with, I ordered that particular horse to be killed, and served up to you last night for supper." (The Arabians prefer the flesh of horses to any other food.) Hatim immediately ordered the finest horses to be brought, and begged the ambassador to present them to his master. The Emperor could not but admire this mark of Hatim's generosity, and confessed that he truly deserved the title of the most liberal among men.
It was the fate of Hatim to give umbrage to other monarchs. Numan, King of Yemen, conceived a violent jealousy against him, on account of his reputation; and thinking it easier to destroy than surpass him, the envious prince commissioned one of his sycophants to rid him of his rival. The courtier hastened to the desert where the Arabs were encamped. Discovering their tents at a distance, he reflected that he had never seen Hatim, and was contriving means to obtain a knowledge of his person, without exposing himself to suspicion. As he advanced, deep in meditation, he was accosted by a man of an amiable figure, who invited him to his tent. He accepted the invitation, and was charmed with the politeness of his reception. After a splendid repast, he offered to take leave, but the Arab requested him to prolong his visit.
"Generous stranger," answered the officer, "I am confounded by your civilities; but an affair of the utmost importance obliges me to depart."
"Might it be possible for you," replied the Arab, "to communicate to me this affair, which seems so much to interest you? You are a stranger in this place; if I can be of any assistance to you, freely command me."
The courtier resolved to avail himself of the offer of his host, and accordingly imparted to him the commission he had received from Numan. "But how," continued he, "shall I, who have never seen Hatim, execute my orders? Bring me to the knowledge of him, and add this to your other favours."
"I have promised you my service," answered the Arab. "Behold, I am a slave to my word. Strike!" said he, uncovering his bosom—"spill the blood of Hatim, and may my death gratify the wish of your prince, and procure you the reward you hope for. But the moments are precious; defer not the execution of your king's command, and depart with all possible expedition; the darkness will aid your escape from the revenge of my friends: if to-morrow you be found here, you are inevitably undone."
These words were as a thunderbolt to the courtier. Struck with a sense of his crime and the magnanimity of Hatim, he fell down on his knees, exclaiming: "God forbid that I should lay a sacrilegious hand on you! Nothing shall ever urge me to such baseness." He then quitted the tent and took the road again to Yemen.
The cruel monarch, at the sight of his favourite, demanding the head of Hatim, the officer gave him a faithful account of what had passed. Numan in astonishment cried out: "It is with _ justice, O Hatim! that the world reveres you as a
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kind of divinity. Men instigated by a sentiment of generosity may bestow their whole fortune; but to sacrifice life is are action above humanity!"
After the decease of Hatim, the Arabs over whom he presided refused to embrace Islam. For this disobedience Mohammed condemned them all to death, except the daughter of Hatim, whom he spared on account of her father's memory. This generous woman, seeing the executioners ready to perform the cruel command, threw herself at the Prophet's feet, and conjured him either to take away her life or pardon her countrymen. Mohammed, moved with such nobleness of sentiment, revoked the decree he had pronounced, and, for the sake of Hatim's daughter, granted pardon to the whole tribe.
[It is related that Hatim, the poet En-Nabigha of Dubyan, and a man of the tribe of NabIt were at the same time suitors for the hand of Mawia, the daughter of Afsar. Mawia, disguised as a poor woman, visited each of her three lovers, to partake of their hospitality. Each killed a camel on the occasion: the man of NabIt and the poet En-Nabigha placed before her the tail of the camel each had killed; but Hatim gave her the fattest pieces of the hind part, of the hunch, and of the part between the shoulders, which are esteemed the greatest dainties. It so happened that when Hatim came to woo Mawia he found both his rivals there on the same business. Mawia desired each of them to describe his way of life in verses, promising to give her p. 409
hand to him who excelled in poetical talent. En-Nabigha and the man of NabIt in their verses boasted of the good use which they made of their riches; and when it came to Hatim's turn he recited the poem, beginning: "O Mawia! riches come in the morning and depart in the evening," which Carlyle has freely rendered into English (pp. 99, 100 of this volume). When the table was spread, the servants put before each of the wooers that portion of camel's flesh which he had given Mawia when she visited them in disguise. En-Nabigha and the man of NabIt thereupon slunk away ashamed. Hatim at this time had already one wife, whom Mawia required him to divorce before she would give him her hand in marriage. "Never," said Hatim, "never shall I put away the mother of my daughter," and he departed home. But on the death of his wife, shortly after this, he renewed his wooing, and married Mawia, who bore him the spirited daughter that saved her tribe from destruction by her intercession with the Prophet, as above mentioned.—A number of Hatim's poetical effusions are preserved by Oriental writers; among these is the following little piece (paraphrased, by Miss Louise Zoller, a young lady of considerable literary culture, from the German version of Von Hammer-Purgstall):
How many are sordid slaves to their pelf!
Little doth Avarice give, and evil its gifts.
Praise be to God! riches serve as my slaves,
Freeing captives forlorn, helping the needful.
Mean minds are contented with that which is mean;
But he who truly is great aspires to deeds which are noble.
Hatim is the hero of a modern Persian romance, of which an English translation, by Mr. Duncan Forbes, was
Arabian Poetry: Extracts From The Lay of the Himyarites: Notes on Shorter Poems published in 1830. This work professes to recount Hatim's marvellous adventures in distant lands—going about relieving the distressed and removing obstacles to the union of fond lovers. The Romance of Hatim Tai appears to be mainly compiled from ancient Sanskrit fables and tales; and the adventures ascribed to the generous Arab chief are purely fictitious, but very p. 410
entertaining.—Like Zuhayr the poet, Hatim is said by Muslim writers to have predicted the advent of Muhammad.
"Hatim Ta'i no longer exists," says the celebrated Persian poet Sa'dl, in his Gulistan, or Rose-Garden; "but his exalted name will remain famous for virtue to eternity. Distribute the tithe of your wealth in alms; for when the husbandman lops off the exuberant branches from the vine, it produces an increase of grapes."]
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