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Abu Nuwás
(c. 756 - c. 815) Arabia

Abu Nuwas



Born in Al-Ahwaz. His full name was Abu Nuwás al-Hasan ibn Hani al-Hakami [also spelled Abu Nu'as]. His mother was Persian and his father was from southern Arabia. His first teacher was the poet Waliba ibn al-Hubab, who died in 786.

After studying theology and grammar Abu Nuwás began a career in writing in Baghdad and soon became well-known for his lyrical love poetry and satire. He abandoned older, traditional forms for erotic and witty lyrics. He was considered one of the greatest poets of the early Abbasid period, and was noted for his homoerotic poetry themes, and his often scandalous personal life.

Abu Nuwás served as a poet at the court of Harun al-Rashid, the Abbassid caliph of Baghdad, from 786 to 808. Nuwas appears as a folklore character in "The Thousand and One Nights". His poetry celebrated both the love of wine and boys, which was not widely appreciated by strict Muslims. One of his verses says it well:

If I'm thirsty I'll say: come on, be quick, some wine
And if I love a boy, why, keep silent about his name.


One of the greatest of Arabic poets - Abu Nuwasindeed, the greatest in the opinion of some critics - Abu Nuwas wrote accomplished verse that demonstrated his technical mastery of all the major genres. However, his poems on wine (khamriyyat), homosexual love (mudhakkarat) and ribaldry (majouniyyat) are his best known and have earned him his notoriety. These poems often landed him in trouble and prison during his lifetime and, even today, are still subject to censorship by the guardians of public morality. As his talent makes him difficult to ignore, he is frequently subject to misrepresentation.

Abu Nuwas' poetry is characterised by an astonishing lack of inhibition and one of the most attractive features of his diwan is the extent to which his verse reveals its author's personality. What emerges is a likeable, if rather louche, character with an outrageous sense of humour, sharp wit, unaccompanied by malice, and considerable sensibility who let no convention save, on occasion, the order of the caliph, restrain him in his pursuit of life's sensual pleasures. In his khamriyyat, Abu Nuwas offers a glimpse of the hedonistic and dissipated world he inhabited: the world of Baghdad high society at the zenith of the Abbasid caliphate.


If you want to read some of Abu Nuwás' poems, please go at his page in our book Famous Homoerotic Poems.

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