Al-Mu‘tamid and Ibn ‚Ammar

Homosexuality & Civilization The following story, as originally reported by Ibn Hazm and here summarized by Louis Crompton, finishes a series (1, 2) about romantic love concepts in Arab Spain that I started one and a half years ago.

The love of al-Mu‘tamid, emir of Seville and the outstanding Andalusian poet of his day, for the poet Ibn ‚Ammar ended violently after a long friendship. Al-Mu‘tamid was a passionate lover of women but also loved males. Of a cupbearer he wrote, „They named him Sword; two other swords: his eyes!/ … now we both are masters, both slaves!“ His love for Ibn ‚Ammar is the most famous, and most tragic, romance in the history of al-Andalus. In 1053 al-Mu‘tamid, aged thirteen, had been appointed titular governor at Silves by his father with Ibn ‚Ammar, who was nine years his senior, as his vizier. A story tells how after an evening of wine and poetry his fondness led him to declare to Ibn ‚Ammar, „Tonight you will sleep with me on the same pillow!“ In a poem he sent to al-Mu‘tamid’s father Ibn ‚Ammar declared:

    During the night of union there was wafted
    To me, in his caresses, the perfume of its dawns,
    My tears streamed out over the beautiful gardens
    Of his cheeks to moisten its myrtles and lilies. …

Apparently the prince’s father came to disapprove of the relation with the commoner, for he exiled the poet to separate them. After his father’s death al-Mu‘tamid recalled Ibn ‚Ammar and gave him great political and military power. A famous tale, which we are not required to believe, tells how, when they were sleeping together in one bed, the poet dreamed that his lover would kill him, fled the scene, and was wooed back by the king who assured him that this could never happen.

But later the two men quarreled bitterly. In a poem full of scurrilous abuse Ibn ‚Ammar nevertheless reminded his lover of their former intimacy in terms that are startling specific:

    Do you recall the days of our early youth,
    When you resembled a crescent on the sky?
    I would embrace your body that was fresh,
    And from your lips I sipped pure water as well,
    Contenting myself in loving you, short of haram [forbidden acts],
    When you did swear that what I did was halal [permitted]!

[…] Finally, when Ibn ‚Ammar fell into his hands, the ordinarily humane and generous al-Mu‘tamid first pardoned him, and then, when Ibn ‚Ammar boasted too triumphantly of his reprieve, fell into a rage and hacked him to death with his own hands. „Afterwards he wept, as long ago Alexander had wept for Hephestion, and gave him a sumptuous funeral.“

Louis Crompton: Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain. In: Stephen O. Murray, Will Roscoe (ed.): Islamic Homosexualities. Culture, History, and Literature. New York; London 1997. p. 151 f. — Shortened reprint in: Louis Crompton: Homosexuality & Civilization. Cambridge/MA; London 2003.