Antar (Antara, Antarah) (ca. 525–615) – Bedouin (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Western Sahara)
A warrior and poet celebrated as a hero who rose from slave birth to the status of a tribal chief. Antar’s full name was Antarah ibn Shaddad al-Absi. His greatness gave rise to many legends about his deeds, which are retold in the Arabic epic Sirat Antar (Romance of Antar). Antar represented the ideal of a Bedouin chief: rich, generous, brave, and kind. Rather than being born to rule, he achieved leadership through his strength of character and his powerful spirit. He was the champion of the weak and oppressed and famed for his courage and gallantry. According to legend, Antar was the son of an Ethiopian slave woman and Shaddad, chief of the Abs tribe. His father did not acknowledge him as his son, so Antar was treated as a slave. At the age of 15, he proved himself in a battle with a neighboring tribe. Shaddad, proud of his son’s ability as a warrior, freed him. In time, Antar became the tribe’s chief. As a poet, Antar was praised by his contemporaries, as he is by present-day critics. Although Antar was not a Muslim, one of his poems received the highest honor possible for an Islamic writer: It was displayed at the entrance to the great temple at Mecca. As the story is told in the Sirat Antar, Antar was unaware that the chief was his father. He fell in love with his cousin Ibla (or Abla) and sent her love poetry. This angered her father, who was Antar’s uncle Malik. Malik and Shaddad plotted to kill Antar. However, when they saw Antar kill a lion with his bare hands, they did not go through with their plan. Antar later discovered that Shaddad was his father. He demanded that Shaddad acknowledge this, but Shaddad only beat him and drove him off. Antar then set off on the quest typically undertaken by epic heroes. According to the legend, he conquered Algeria and Morocco and fought with the king of Ethiopia. He also struggled against spirits and other supernatural forces. His travels took him far beyond North Africa—to Spain, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Rome. Antar returned home victorious and wealthy. He continued to press his suit to marry Ibla against her family’s opposition and was forced to kill a jealous rival. At last Ibla’s family gave in, and Antar carried his bride off in a silver litter with supports of gold.