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son of an infidel! If thou hast kept me from sleep, it would have been better for thee had I rested peacefully, rather than, waking, have overwhelmed thee with my satires. Thou hast humbled my family, say’st thou? How can that be done by thee, offspring of a race devoted to shame and indignity - payers of hateful imposts ? What » humiliation can that noble family, whence have sprung caliphs and the prophet himself, receive from a vile slave?--Commander of the Faithful,” continued he, addressing Abdalmalek, “ allow me to recite a few verses against this Christian." The caliph, however, declined to hear them, and Jareer departed abruptly.
Jareer,” observed Akhtal to Abdalmalek, “ has offered to write a panegyric upon you in three days. I have been a year composing one, and I am not satisfied with it yet.”
“ Let me hear it," said the caliph. Akhtal obeyed. Abdalmalek, as he listened, drew himself up with an air of complacency, and was so intoxicated with the poet's praise, that he exclaimed, “ Shall I publish a manifesto, proclaiming you to be the first of Arabian poets ? " “No,” replied Akhtal, with courtier-like modesty ; “ it is sufficient that the lips of the Prince of Believers have testified it.” A large cup was at this moment standing before the caliph, who commanded that it should be filled with gold and presented to Akhtal. He, besides, caused him to be clad in a robe of honour, and attended by one of his officers, who proclaimed, with a loud voice * Behold the poet of the Commander of the Faithful! Behold the greatest of Arabian poets !"
The favour which Akhtal found in the sight of Abdalmalek never failed him, and often excited the astonishment and jealousy of the Musulmans. Clothed in superb dresses of silk, his neck adorned with a chain of gold, and large grains of the pure virgin metal, the Christian poet entered familiarly the caliph's apartment, without previous announcement, and often (proh pudor!) with drops of wine upon his beard. Accustomed to the lavish bounty of Abdalmalek, he disdained inferior gifts. It is related that, one day, having recited to Prince Hasham some verses he had composed in his praise, the latter, as a mark of his satisfaction, gave the poet five hundred pieces of silver. Akhtal, considering the present a paltry one, disposed of the whole sum, as soon as he departed, in the purchase of apples, which he distributed amongst the children in the neighbourhood. The act was reported to Hasham, who merely remarked, “ So much the worse for him ; he injured nobody but himself.”
Akhtal made frequent journeys to Cufa. The
descendants of Bekr Ebn Wayl, who resided in this city, received him with much respect, notwithstanding the memory of the feuds which had so long divided the tribes of Bekr and Taghleb. Out of regard for his merit, they often made him umpire in the differences which arose between them. Akhtal, upon these occasions, went to the mosque, where the parties laid the subject of their dispute before him, and his decision was received with implicit obedience. The honourable character which, in these circumstances, the deference of the Musulmans ascribed to him, and the high rank he occupied at the court of the caliph, formed a singular contrast with the austere manner in which he was treated (highly to their credit) by the Christian priests. These personages saw in him one who, besides bis propensity to wine, was in the constant habit of offending Christian maxims by speaking ill of his neighbour. Akhtal submitted with humble resignation to the corporeal chastisement which the priests inflicted upon him for this sin: for, according to the author of the Kitab al Aghani, it was the custom of the Christian pastors of Arabia, at this time, to exercise a jurisdiction more than spiritual over their flocks. When any person, who had been attacked in the poet's epigrams, complained to the priests, they frequently made him
expiate the offence under the cudgel, which they applied to him without regard to his reputation.
One day, he had been placed in confinement by his priest in the church at Damascus. A noble Musulman, named Esbak, happening to enter the edifice out of curiosity, Akhtal begged him to go to the priest, and obtain his pardon. Eshak consented, and went to the good pastor to solicit the poet's release. “ He is a person unworthy of your intercession," replied the minister of the altar ; "a wretch whose satires spare no character.” He, nevertheless, yielded to the entreaties of Eshak, and went with him to the church. The priest, approaching Akhtal, lifted up his stick, and said, “ Enemy of God, wilt thou again utter abuse against thy neighbour? Wilt thou still continue to persecute both sexes with thy wicked satires? “ I will never do it again,” replied Akhtal, kissing the shoes of the priest. After this scene, Eshak left the church with Akhtal, to whom he could not help observing : “ Abu Malek, every one esteems you, the caliph loads you with favours, you hold an exalted rank at court, and yet you humble yourself before this priest, and even kiss his feet!” “ True,” replied Akhtal; “behold what religion is : this is religion !"
* Kitab al Aghani, ii. 180.
Akhtal was long without a personal knowledge of Farazdak, whose champion he had been against Jareer. Farazdak, in the course of a journey through the country of the Benu Taghleb, presented himself incognito at the house of Akhtal, of whose hospitality he partook. Akhtal placed food before him, and observing, “ I am a Christian and you a Musulman,” asked him what drink he should offer him. “ What you take yourself,” replied Farazdak. During the repast, Akhtal occasionally repeated verses, and Farazdak took
the quotation instantly, and finished it. Akhtal, surprised to meet with a man whose poetical erudition was equal to his own, asked who he was. When Farazdak disclosed his name, Akhtal prostrated himself before him, an action which the other imitated, ashamed, as he afterwards acknowledged, that a person of such rare talent should rank himself below him. Akhtal summoned the people of his tribe, and announced to them that his guest was Farazdak. A vast number of camels were brought by them as a present to the poet-guest, which, next day, Farazdak distributed amongst the poor of the tribe, and went his way.
Akhtal died at an advanced age. When his last moments were approaching, some one asked him, “ Abu Malek, have you no message to any one?"