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The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast [1915] at


‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: I and a few friends were excited at receiving an invitation to a banquet. 3 I accepted it in accordance with the well-known Tradition of the

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[paragraph continues] Apostle 1 of God, upon whom be the blessings of God and peace--'If I were asked to share the shin-bone of a sheep, I would not refuse, and were I presented with a leg of beef I would accept it.' So we proceeded and reached a house,

'Completed and left 2 alone with beauty from which it selected and chose what it would.
And it had chosen from it its choicest charms, and requested more to give away.'

whose carpets were spread and whose coverings were unfolded and whose table was laid, and we found ourselves among a company who were passing their time amid bunches of myrtle twigs, and bouquets of roses, broached wine vats and the sound of the flute and the lute. We approached them and they advanced to receive us. Then we clave 3 to a table 4 whose vessels 5 were filled, whose gardens were in flower, and whose dishes were arranged in rows with viands of various hues, opposite a dish of something intensely black was something exceedingly white, and against something very red was arranged something very yellow.

Now with us at the feast was a man whose hand wandered over the table playing the rôle of an ambassador between the viands of various hues, seizing the choicest of the cakes and plucking out the centres of the dishes, pasturing on his neighbour's territory, 6 traversing the bowls, as the castle traverses the chessboard, stuffing his mouth with morsel after morsel and chasing mouthful with mouthful. And withal he was silent and spoke not a word. We were conversing the while, until we got as far as the subject of Jáḥiz and his oratory and a description of

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[paragraph continues] Ibn al-Maqaffa’ 1 and his eloquence. Now the commencement of this discussion coincided with the termination of the meal. We then adjourned from that room and the man said to us: 'Where are ye in the discussion which ye were engaged in?' So we began to praise what we knew of Jáḥiz and his language, of the elegance of his style and quality of his rhetoric. Then he said: 'O people, every work hath its men, every situation its saying, 2 every house its occupants and every age its Jáḥiz. If ye were to examine critically, your belief would be falsified.' At this every one curled his lip 3 in disapproval and turned up his nose in contempt. But I smiled encouragingly upon him in order that I might draw him out, and said: 'Inform us and tell us more.' He said: 'Verily Jáḥiz limps in one department of rhetoric and halts in the other. Now the eloquent man is he whose poetry does not detract from his prose and whose prose is not ashamed of his verse: Tell me, do you know of a single fine poem of Jáḥiz?' We said: 'No!' He said: 'Come, let us consider his prose. It consists of far-fetched allusions, a paucity of metaphors and simple expressions. He is tied down to the simple language he uses, and avoids and shirks difficult words. Have you ever heard of a rhetorical expression of his or of any recondite 4 words?' We answered: 'No!' He then said to me: 'Wouldst thou like a sample of speech which would lighten

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thy shoulders 1 and disclose what thou hast in thy hands?' I answered: 'By Heavens! Yes.' He said: 'Then open thy little finger 2 for me by means of that which will help in procuring thee thanks.' So I gave him my mantle and he indited:--

'By the life of him 3 who hath thrown over me his garment
By him was that garment filled with glory.
A worthy youth cheated out of his mantle by generosity,
And it threw not a gaming arrow nor cast a gambling dice.
O thou who hast given me thy raiment, look again,
And let not the days bring ruin upon me.
And tell them who, if they appear, appear as the morning sun,
And, if they rise in the darkness, rise as the auspicious star,
Observe the ties of your relationship to nobility and moisten her palate,
For the best of generosity is that whose downpour is prompt.' Cf. --the first is most generous.

Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: Then the company became expansive towards him and gifts poured upon him. When we became mutually friendly, I enquired, 'Where is the orient of this full moon?' He answered:--

'Alexandria is my home, 4
If but there my resting-place were fixed,
But my night I pass in Nejd, 5
In Ḥijaz my day.'


70:2 Abú ‘Uthmán ibn Bahr ibn Maḥbáb al-Kinání al-Laithí, generally known by the surname of al-Jáḥiz, a native of Baṣra, was celebrated for his learning. He was the author of numerous works, the three principal ones being Kitáb al-Haiwán (the book of animals) Kitáb al-Baian wa’l-Tabyín (description and exposition) and Kitáb al-Bukhalá (the book of misers), and he also composed a discourse on the fundamentals of religion. An offset of the Mu'tazilite sect was called al-Jáḥizíyya. It is said of the works of Jáḥiz 'that they teach us to reason first, and instruct us in literature next.' He was deformed in person, and the prominence of his eyes, which seemed to be starting out of his head, produced the surnames of al-Jáḥiz (the starer) and al-Ḥadaqí (the goggle-eyed). He died at Baṣra A.H. 255 (A.D. 868-9), at the extreme age of ninety years. Ibn Khallikan, ii, 405, Also Yaqút, Dictionary of Learned Men (ed. by Professor Margoliouth), vi, p. 56.

70:3 Were excited at receiving an invitation to a banquet: Literally, a banquet excited me and a few friends. a banquet, generally a marriage feast. For the names of the various feasts. See Khizanat al-Adáb, iii, 212-13.

71:1 According to the Tradition of the Prophet: This Tradition is cited by Jáḥiz himself. See Kitáb al-Bayán wa’l-Tabyín, i, 163.

71:2 Completed and left: Metre, kámil.

71:3 We clave to a table: For the meaning of this verb, see Qur’án, vii, 134.

71:4 A table: Arabicized from the Persian pronounced a thing upon which one eats, said not to be so called except when food is upon it, but see Arabic Text, p. 143.

71:5 Vessels: Literally, cisterns, because of their size.

71:6 Pasturing on his neighbour's territory: Contrary to --A Tradition of the Prophet: 'Eat from what is near thee,'

72:1 Ibn al-Maqaffa’: A Persian convert to Islám renowned for the elegance of his style and penmanship. He made several translations from the Pahlawi into Arabic. The best specimen of his elegant and chaste Arabic is the Book of Kalila and Dimna ultimately derived from the Sanskrit Fables of Bidpai, brought over to Persia in the reign of al-Nushirwan. By command of the Khalífa Al-Manṣúr, he was put to a horrible death on a charge of heresy in A.H. 142 (A.D. 759-60) by Sufyán the governor of Baṣra. Ibn Kallikan, i, 431.

72:2 Every situation hath its saying: Arab Proverbs, ii, 456.

72:3 curled his lip in disapproval: Literally, showed him the tooth of denial.

72:4 Recondite: Literally, unheard of; rare; another reading rhymed speech. Jáḥiz's merits were a subject of controversy. Abú Hayyan Tanḥídí wrote an encomium on him whereas the orthodox attacked him as a Mu'tazilite [See al-Farq bain al-Firaq, (A.H. 429), pp. 160 sqq]. Hamadhání evidently shared the orthodox opinion regarding this writer. In this Maqáma we have an indication of Hamadhání's idea as to what constituted a good style. It is evident he preferred rhetorical conceits and the recondite to simple and straight-forward language. Of this the Maqámát affords many illustrations.

73:1 Lighten thy shoulders: i.e. relieve thee of the responsibility thou hast assumed in thy defence of Jáḥiz.

73:2 Open thy little finger: i.e. open thy hand and give something. The closing of the little finger indicates avarice, e.g. in counting up to ten, the little finger is the first to be closed and the last to be opened.

73:3 By the life of hire: Metre, tawíl.

73:4 Alexandria is my home: Metre, mujtath.

73:5 Nejd: is ten days journey from, or about two hundred miles east of Yemáma.

Next: XVI. The Maqáma of the Blind