ABĀN B. ʿABD-AL-ḤAMĪD B. LĀHEQ, called LĀHEQĪ, late 2nd/8th century poet. He was of a Persian family, originally from Fasā, which had settled (probably at an early date) in Baṣra. Abān was born there, and he flourished in the period of the Barmakīs. By his own account, he was of average and graceful stature, with a handsome face and lank beard. He was well versed in the learning and culture of Baṣra, including mathematics, grammar, rhetoric, and literature. His fellow citizen, Jāḥeẓ, thought highly of his sagacity, a trait that distinguished him in the Basran clique of intellectuals to which he attached himself.
It might have been this kind of close association as well as contemporary rivalry that caused Abān to be accused of heretical and Manichean tendencies. On the other hand, another stream of revāyas (stories) depicts his observance of prayers and almsgiving, his reciting of the Koran, and his good knowledge of feqh (law). The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes; he said about himself, “I am neither a dedicated ascetic nor a shameless dissolute.” In fact, during the Basran period, he wasted most of his poetical talents on lampooning his neighbors, his fellow poets, and certain songstresses. To that period also belong two long poems which deserve comment. One deals with Fasā, a fact which suggests that he retained nostalgic feelings toward old family ties. The other poem is an elegy for a Basran judge, Savvār b. ʿAbdallāh. In contrast with most of his work in this period, characterized by frivolous poems about certain local incidents, this elegy reveals his capacity for analytical and vivid narrative poetry and indicates his later poetical development.
Abān migrated from Baṣra to Baghdad sometime before 176/792. Still an unknown provincial poet, he considered himself immensely lucky in attaching himself to the Barmakīs, the greatest patrons of literature in those days. Before long, he replaced a certain Aḥmad b. Sayyār Jorǰānī as the official arbiter of poets at the Barmakī court (Jahšīārī, Ketāb al-wozarāʾ wa’l-kottāb, Cairo, 1938, pp. 192, 211). This function gained for him increased antagonism from his fellow poets, especially from Abū Novās, who wrote satires against him, labeling him a heretic.
In the Baghdad period, his poetical activities developed along two lines: composing panegyrics dedicated to his patrons, Yaḥyā, Fażl, and Jaʿfar, and to Caliph Hārūn al-Rašīd, and the versifying of prose books and the writing of topical verse. His talents for narrative and huge rewards from his patrons encouraged him to prefer the second line, which eclipsed his real ability for more durable poetry. Directed by his own choice or the preference of the Barmakīs, he selected books related to Persian, Indian, and sometimes Greek culture. Ebn al-Nadīm (Fehrest [Tehran1], pp. 132, 186) mentions Kalīla wa Demna, Belawhar wa Būdāsf, the Book of Sindbad, the Book of Mazdak, and the biographies of Ardašīr and Anūšīrvān as books that Abān put into couplet form (mozdavaǰ). But Jāḥeẓ (al-Borsān, ed. M. M. Kūlī, Cairo, 1972, p. 89) states clearly that Abān versified Kalīla wa Demna and some parts of the Book of Logic. The latter was put partly in couplet and partly in moḵammas form. The difference between these two versions suggests that, by the time of Ebn al-Nadīm, some versifications were falsely attributed to Abān because of his fame in that field. Samples of the versified Kalīla wa Demna, which in the original comprised 14 thousand lines composed in less than five months and which earned Abān 10,000 dinars, occur in Ṣūlī’s Ketāb al-awrāq (see bibliog.). His success in this line encouraged Abān to compose some verse narratives of his own. One of them is Ḏāt al-ḥolal, which deals with the creation of the world and different aspects of life (Masʿūdī, Morūǰ I, pp. 391-92, where the lines quoted deal with medical advice). Ṣūlī also has kept some parts of another poem about prayer and fasting (Awrāq, p. 51). Even when these versifications are excluded, Abān is considered a very prolific poet. A shrewd critic like Jāḥeẓ, when comparing Abān’s poetry to that of some of his contemporaries, equates him with Baššār in originality and avoidance of mannerism. It is not known whether Abān lived to witness the tragic end of Jaʿfar Barmakī (187/802) or the ignominious death of Yaḥyā (190/805). If he did, then it is strange that he left no elegy about his most meritorious patrons, unless our sources are incomplete.
Ṣūlī, al-Awrāq:aḵbār al-šoʿarāʾ, ed. H. Dunne, London and Cairo, 1934, pp. 1-73, is the richest source on Abān.
In addition to the works mentioned in the text, see Jāḥeẓ, al-Bayān wa’l-tabyīn, ed. A. M. Hārūn, Cairo, 1961, I, p. 50.
Ebn Moʿtazz, Ṭabaqāt al-šoʿarāʾ, Cairo, 1956, pp. 202, 204, 241. Aḡānī 1 XX, pp. 73-78.
Ebn ʿAbdallāh Rabbeh, al-ʿEqd al-farīd, Cairo, 1962, IV, p. 205. Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād VII, p. 44.
A. Krimsky, Aban al-Lahiki (in Russian), Moscow, 1913.
K. A. Fariq, “The Poetry of Abān al-Lāhiqī,” JRAS 1952, pp. 46-59.
Brockelmann, GAL S. I, pp. 238-39.
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 13, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 1, pp. 58-59
I. Abbas, “ABĀN B. ʿABD-AL-ḤAMĪD,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, I/1, p. 58, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/aban-b-abd-al-hamid.