The Mufaddaliyat or Mofaddaliyat (Arabic: المفضليات / ALA-LC: al-Mufaḍḍaliyāt), meaning "The Examination of al-Mufaddal", is an anthology of ancient Arabic poems, which derives its name from al-Mufaddal, son of Muhammad, son of Yal, a member of the tribe of Banu Dhabba, who compiled it some time between 762 and 784 CE in the latter of which years he died. It contains 126 poems, some complete odes, others fragmentary. They are all of the Golden Age of Arabic poetry (500—650) and are the best collection of poems of that period by different authors. There are 67 authors, two of them Christian. The oldest poems in the collection date from about 500 CE. The collection is a valuable source concerning pre-Islamic Arab life.

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Al-Mufaddal was a contemporary of Hammad Ar-Rawiya and Khalaf al-Ahmar, the famous collectors of ancient Arab poetry and tradition, and was somewhat the junior of Abu 'Amr ibn al-'Ala', the first scholar who systematically set himself to preserve the poetic literature of the Arabs. He died about fifty years before Abu Ubaida and al-Asma'i, to whose labours posterity is largely indebted for the arrangement, elucidation and criticism of ancient Arabian verse; and his anthology was put together between fifty and sixty years before the compilation by Abu Tammam of the Hamasah.

Al-Mufaddal was a careful and trustworthy collector both of texts and traditions, and is praised by all authorities on Arabian history and literature as in this respect greatly the superior of Hammad and Khalaf, who are accused (especially the latter) of unscrupulous fabrication of poems in the style of the ancients. He was a native of Kufah, the northernmost of the two great military colonies founded in 638 by the caliph Umar for the control of the wide Mesopotamian plain. In Kufah and Basra were gathered representatives of all the Arabian tribes who formed the fighting force of the Islamic Empire, and from these al-Mufaddal was able to collect and record the compositions of the poets who had celebrated the fortunes and exploits of their forefathers. He, no doubt, like al-Asma'i and Abu Ubaida, also himself visited the areas occupied by the tribes for their camping grounds in the neighbouring desert; and adjacent to Kufah was al-Hira (modern al-Kufah), the ancient capital of the Lakhmids kings, whose court was the most celebrated centre in pre-Islamic Arabia, where, in the century before the preaching of the Prophet, poets from the whole of the northern half of the peninsula were wont to assemble. There is indeed a tradition that a written collection (diwan) existed in the family of Nu'man III ibn al-Mundhir, the last Lakhmid king, containing a number of poems by the fuhul, or most eminent poets of the pagan time, and especially by those who had praised the princes of the house, and that this collection passed into the possession of the Umayyad caliphs of the house of Marwan; to this, if the tradition is to be believed, al-Mufaddal probably had access.

The date of al-Mufaddal's birth is unknown; but he lived for many years under the caliphs of the Umayyad line until their overthrow by the Abbasids in 749. In 762 he took part in the rising led by Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah, the Alid, called "The Pure Soul", against the caliph al-Mansur, and after the defeat and death of Ibrahim was cast into prison. Al-Mansur, however, pardoned him on the intercession of his fellow tribesman Musayyab ibn Zuhair of Dabba, and appointed him the instructor in literature of his son, afterwards the caliph al-Mahdi. It was for this prince that, at al-Mansur's instigation, al-Mufaddal compiled the Mufaddaliyat.

The collection

The collection, in its present form, contains 126 pieces of verse, long and short; that is the number included in the recension of al-Anbari, who had the text from Abu 'Ikrima of Dabba, who read it with Ibn al-A'rabi, the stepson and inheritor of the tradition of al-Mufaddal. We know from the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim (988 CE) that in his time 128 pieces were counted in the book; and this number agrees with that contained in the Vienna manuscript, which gives an additional poem, besides those annotated by al-Anbari, to al-Muraqqish the Elder, and adds at the end a poem by al-Harith ibn Hilliza. The Fihrist states (p. 68) that some scholars included more and others fewer poems, while the order of the poems in the several recensions differed; but the correct text, the author says, is that handed down through Ibn al-A'rabi. It is noticeable that this traditional text, and the accompanying scholia, as represented by al-Anbari's recension, are wholly due to the scholars of Kufah, to which place al-Mufaddal himself belonged. The rival school of Basra, on the other hand, has given currency to a story that the original collection made by al-Mufaddal included a much smaller number of poems. The Berlin manuscript of Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Marzuqi's commentary states that the number was thirty, but a better reading of the passage, found elsewhere[1], mentions eighty; and that al-Asma'i and his school added to this nucleus poems which increased the number to a hundred and twenty. It is curious that this tradition is ascribed by al-Marzuqi and his teacher Abu Ali al-Farisi to Abu 'Ikrima of Dabba, who is represented by al-Anbari as the transmitter of the correct text from Ibn al-A'rabi. There is no mention of it in al-Anbari's work, and it is in itself somewhat improbable, as in the time of the schools of al-Asma'i at Kufah and Basra were in sharp opposition one to the other, and Ibn al-A'rabi in particular was in the habit of censuring the interpretations of al-Asma'i the ancient poems. It is scarcely likely that he would have accepted his rivals additions to the work of his stepfather, and have handed them on to Abu 'Ikrima with his annotations.

The collection is one of the highest importance as a record of the thought and poetic art of Arabia during the time immediately preceding the appearance of the Prophet. Not more than five or six of the 126 poems appear to have been composed by poets who had been born in Islam. The great majority of the authors belonged to the days of Jahiliyyah or Ignorance, and though a certain number (e.g. Mutammim ibn Nuwayrah, Rabi'a ibn Maqrum, Abda ibn at-Tabib and Abu Dhu'ayb), born in paganism, accepted Islam, their work bears few marks of the new faith. The ancient virtues of hospitality to the guest and the poor, profuse expenditure of wealth, valour in battle, faithfulness to the cause of the tribe are the themes of praise. Wine and the gambling game of maisir, forbidden by Islam, are celebrated by poets who professed themselves converts; and if there is no mention of the old idolatry, there is also little spirituality in the outlook on life.

The 126 pieces are distributed between 68 poets, and the work represents a gathering from the compositions of those who were called al-Muqillun, (authors of whom little has survived), in contrast to the famous poets whose works had been collected into diwans. At the same time many of them are extremely celebrated, and among the pieces selected by al-Mufaddal several reach a very high level of excellence. Such are the two long poems of 'Alqama ibn 'Abada (Nos. 119 and 120), the three odes by Mutammim ibn Nuwayrah (Nos. 9, 67, 68), the splendid poem of Salama ibn Jandal (No. 22), the beautiful nasib (opening theme or prologue) of al-Shanfara (No. 20), and the death-song of Abd-Yaghuth (No. 30). One of the most admirable and famous is the last of the series (No. 126), the long elegy by Abu Dhu'ayb of Hudhail on the death of his sons; almost every verse of this poem is cited in illustration of some phrase or meaning of a word in the national lexicons. Only one of the poets of the Mu'allaqat, al-Harith ibn Hilliza, is represented in the collection. Of others (such as Bishr ibn Abi Khazim, al-Hadira, Amir ibn al-Tufail, 'Alqama ibn 'Abada, al-Muthaqqib, Ta'abbata Sharra and Abu Dhu'ayb) diwans or bodies of collected poems exist, but it is doubtful how far these had been brought together when al-Mufaddal made his compilation.

An interesting feature of the work is the treatment in it of the two poets of the Bakr bin Wa'il tribe, uncle and nephew, called al-Muraqqish, who are perhaps the most ancient in the collection. The elder Muraqqish was the great-uncle of Tarafa of Bakr, the author of the Mu'allaqat, and took part in the long warfare between the sister tribes of Bakr and Taghlib, called the war of Basus, which began about the end of the 5th century CE. Al-Mufaddal has included ten pieces (Nos. 45–54) by him in the collection, which are chiefly interesting from an antiquarian point of view. One, in particular (No. 54), presents a very archaic appearance. It is probable that the compiler set down all he could gather of this ancient author, and that his interest in him was chiefly due to his antiquity. Of the younger Muraqqish, uncle of Tarafa, there are five pieces (Nos. 55–59). The only other authors of whom more than three poems are cited are Bishr ibn Abi Khazim of Asad (Nos. 96–99) and Rabi'a ibn Maqrum of Dabba (Nos. 38, 39, 43 and 113).

The Mufaddaliyat differs from the Hamasah in being a collection of complete odes (qasidas), while the latter is an anthology of brilliant passages specially selected for their interest or effectiveness, all that is prosaic or less striking being pruned away. It is of course not the case that all the poems of al-Mufaddal's collection are complete. Many are mere fragments, and even in the longest there are often lacunae; but the compiler evidently set down all that he could collect of a poem from the memory of the rawis, and did not, like Abu Tammam, choose only the best portions. We are thus presented with a view of the literature of the age which is much more characteristic and comprehensive than that given by the brilliant poet to whom we owe the Hamasah, and enables us to form a better judgment on the general level of poetic achievement.


The Mufaddaliyat is not well represented by manuscripts in the libraries of the West. There is an imperfect copy of the recension of al-Marzuqi (died 1030), with his commentary, in the Berlin collection. A very ancient fragment (dated 1080) of al-Anbari's recension, containing five poems in whole or part, is in the Royal Library at Leipzig. In the British Museum there is a copy made for C. J. Rich at Bagdad of a manuscript with brief glosses; and at Vienna there is a modern copy of a manuscript of which the original is at Constantinople, the glosses in which are taken from al-Anbari, though the author had access also to al-Marzuqi. In the mosque libraries at Constantinople there are at least five manuscripts; and at Cairo there is a modern copy of one of these, containing the whole of al-Anbari's commentary. In America there are at Yale University a modern copy of the same recension, taken from the same original as the Cairo copy, and a manuscript of Persian origin, dated 1657, presenting a text identical with the Vienna codex. Quite recently a very interesting manuscript, probably of the 6th century of the Hegira, but not dated, has come to light. It purports to be the second part of a combination of two anthologies, the Mufaddaliyt of al-Mufaddal and the Asma'iyat of al-Asma'i, but contains many more poems than are in either of these collections as found elsewhere. The commentary appears to be eclectic, drawn partly (perhaps chiefly) from Ibn as-Sikkit (died 858), and partly from Abu-Jafar Abmad ibn Ubaid ibn Nasih, one of al-Anbari's sources and a pupil of Ibn al-A'rabi; and the compilation seems to be older in date than al-Anbari, since its glosses are often quoted by him without any name being mentioned. This manuscript (the property of F. Krenkow of Leicester) appears to represent one of the recensions mentioned by Muhammad an-Nadim in the Fihrist (p. 68), to which reference has been made above.

In 1885 Heinrich Thorbecke began an edition of the text based on the Berlin codex, but only the first fasciculus, containing forty-two poems, had appeared when his work was cut short by death. In 1891 the first volume of an edition of the text, with a short commentary taken from al-Anbari, was printed at Constantinople. In 1906 an edition of the whole text, with short glosses taken from al-Anbari's commentary, was published at Cairo by Abu Bakr bin Omar Daghistani al-Madani; this follows generally the Cairo codex above mentioned, but has profited by the scholarship of Thorbecke's edition of the first half of the work. A complete edition of al-Anbri's text and commentary, with a translation of the poems, was undertaken by Sir Charles James Lyall.

  1. ^ In the dhail or supplement to the Amali of al-Qali.

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