We have been acquainted with argumentative oaths in prose and poetry from both the Arabic and the Non-Arabic sources. We have also learnt that employing an oath to reinforce a statement is a certain style of lending eloquence to the discourse. Now I wish to explain the evidential significations of the examples of oaths mentioned in the previous chapters. This will help us fully understand the argumentative character of oaths. A thorough discussion in this regard is necessary because this issue is of central importance to this book. We will also find some further examples of this kind of oaths in the discussion around the rhetorical aspects of the oaths.
While taking oaths of evidence, the Arabs, at times, clarify the nature of the muqsam ‘alayhi, such as in the following verse of al-Rā‘ī:
Indeed, the heavens, the winds, the earth, the days and the city all bear witness (tashhadu) to that ….
The poet says that what he swears of is so evident and well established that everything bears witness to it. Everything on the horizons of the skies and the corners of the earth proves it. Every city knows it. It has been preserved on the pages of history. The strength of stress on the assertion is achieved by highlighting the fact that even inanimate things bear witness to it let alone men endowed with the faculties of hearing, vision and speech.
This is apparently a bit of exaggeration. Yet it is based on truth. It relies on the general knowledge of the fact. It is similar to the oath taken by Moses (sws), as referred to earlier, where he swore by the heavens and the earth.
Sometimes oath-takers mean to present something as an example by way of comparison in order to strengthen a claim. The oath of ‘Urwah b. Murrah referred to above evidences this fact. He has likened the tribe of Banū Bakr, whom Abū Amāmah called for help, to the Markhah tree. This is merely an empty claim. However, when such a claim is just intricately hinted at, it is often well received by the audience, just as is the case with simile and antonomasia. This has been explained by the experts of ‘ilm al-ma‘ānī (Science of Meaning). We will return to this discussion in the seventeenth chapter.
Sometimes, by such oaths, the oath-takers try to corroborate a statement. They thus swear by the muqsam bihī because it corroborates the muqsam ‘alayhi. We can see this in the statement of Eupolis mentioned above. He swears by the crown by which his nation had honored him. This act of his nation was an expression of respect and glorification for him. It is as if he says, in rejecting the claim of his contender: “I, after receiving this great honor bestowed upon me, cannot be imagined to have borne ill-will for my people.” This evidence was indeed weak. For his opponents could have said: “You are ingrate. You have changed since your people honored you.” He has, therefore, further strengthened his oath by the crown by adducing his personal dignity and respect. He seems to say: “I have acquired this respect in the most famous war my nation ever fought, a war in which all the great warriors of the nation showed their true valor. None of them could reach my position.” This stress and emphasis on his personal traits did not leave his opponents with an option but to recede to the position of the envious who can only fret over other people’s honor and dignity. Still, however, this kind of oaths does not fully tie together a claim and evidence to prove it.
Sometimes the oath-swearer intends to bring a decisive proof for his statements. This could be achieved by referring to a fact which joins the muqsam bihī and muqsam ‘alayhi. This phenomenon can be observed in the oath taken by Demosthenes. He mentions the praiseworthy works of the ancestors of his addressees. His audience could not doubt his claims. Thus he could definitely prove that their deeds were just as praiseworthy as the acts of their forefathers, whom they emulated. To do this, he first makes it plain that their ancestors were exemplars for them. This is indeed the best form of argumentative oaths.