The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast  at sacred-texts.com
‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: I was in Baṣra and with me was Abú’l-Fatḥ al-Iskanderí, the man of eloquence who summons it and it responds to him, the man of rhetoric who commands it and it obeys him. We were present with him at a merchant's entertainment and there was placed before us maḍirah 2 which did credit to the townsfolk, 3 oscillated in a large dish, announced health 4 and testified to the Khalífate of
[paragraph continues] Mu‘awiya, 1 (may God have mercy upon him!) in a dish which dazzled the eye 2 and wherein beauty was bestirring itself. 3 When it took its place upon the table and its home in the hearts, Abú’l-Fatḥ al-Iskanderí arose 4 cursing it and its owner, manifesting repugnance to it and its eater and reviling it and its cook. We thought he was joking, but behold! the reverse was the fact, and jest was the essence of earnestness. He withdrew from the table and abandoned co-operation with his brethren. So we ordered it to be removed and it was taken away, and with it the hearts; eyes travelled behind it, mouths watered for it, lips were licked for it, livers were inflamed 5 after it and hearts followed in its trail. But we associated ourselves with him in separation from it and we enquired of him the fact concerning it. He answered: 'My story regarding it is more extensive than my misfortune in it and, if I were to relate it to you, I should not be secure from hate and from wasting time.' We said: 'Produce it.' He said: 'While I was in Baghdad a merchant invited me to partake of maḍirah and he clung to me with the clinging of a pressing creditor, and of the dog to the companions of al-Raqím, 6 till I accepted his invitation to it, so we started. Now the whole way he was praising his wife
and ready to sacrifice his heart's blood 1 for her, eulogising her cleverness in her art, and her excellent taste in cooking, saying, 'Sir, if thou wert to see her with the apron 2 tied round her waist, going about the rooms, from the oven 3 to the cooking-pots, and from the cooking pots to the oven, blowing the fire with her mouth, pounding the spices with her hands; and if thou wert to see the smoke discolouring that beautiful face and affecting that smooth cheek, thou wouldst behold a spectacle at which eyes would be dazed. I love her because she loves me, and it is a mark of a man's good fortune that he should be given a lawful helpmeet and that he should be aided by his spouse, and especially when she is of his own clay. In near relationship she is my paternal uncle's daughter, her clay is my clay, her town is my town, her paternal uncles are my paternal uncles and her origin is my origin. But in disposition she is more generous than I am, and in form more beautiful. He bored 4 me with his wife's virtues till we reached his quarter, whereupon he said: 'Sir, seest thou this quarter? It is the best quarter in Baghdad. Worthy men vie with one another for settling in it, and the great ones jealously compete with one another for finding quarters in it; but none but merchants live in it. Verily a man is known by his neighbour. 5 My house is in the middle of its belt 6 of buildings and is the point in the centre of its circle. How much dost thou think, Sir, was spent upon each house in it? Say approximately, if thou dost not know for certain.' I replied: 'Much.' Said he: 'Good gracious, what a terrible mistake!' thou sayest 'much' only! and he heaved a deep sigh and ejaculated: 'Praise Him who knoweth all things!' And we reached the door of his house and he said: 'This is my house, how much dost thou reckon I spent on this window? By heavens! I spent upon it beyond my means
and what exceeded the limits of poverty. How dost thou find its workmanship and shape? I adjure thee by God, hast thou ever seen its like? Observe the fine finish of it. Ponder its curves which seem to have been drawn with a compass. 1 Regard the skill of the carpenter in the make of this door. Of how many planks 2 did he make it? Say, How do I know? It is made of teakwood: 3 from one piece which was neither worm-eaten nor rotten. When it is moved it creaks, and, when it is struck with the finger, it rings. Who made it, Sir? Abi Isḥáq ibn Muḥammad the Baṣarían made it, and he is, by Heavens! a man of clean reputation, 4 well acquainted with the art of making doors, deft of hand in the work. What a splendid man 5 that is! By my life I shall employ none but him for such work as this. Now this knocker; dost thou observe it? I bought it in the fancy bazaar from ‘Imrán, the curiosity dealer, for three Mu’izzí dinars. 6 How much brass 7 does it contain, Sir? There are in it six pounds. It revolves on a pin in the door. I adjure thee by God, turn it, then sound it and observe it. By the preciousness of my life to thee, do not buy knockers except from him, for he sells only the best.' 8 Then he knocked at the door, we entered the vestibule 9 and he said: 'May God prosper thee, O house! and not destroy thee, O wall! How strong are thy walls, substantial thy superstructure, and how firm thy foundations! By heavens! observe its staircase, the entrance and the exit, and ask me 'How didst thou get it?
[paragraph continues] How many devices didst devise before thou didst appropriate it?' I had a neighbour surnamed Abú Suleyman, who lived in this quarter. He had of live stock 1 more than enclosure could contain, and of dead stock more than could be weighed. He died--may God have mercy upon him!--and left a son who squandered 2 it on wine and music 3 and scattered it between backgammon 4 and dice. I was afraid lest excessive need should compel him to dispose of the house and he should sell it while in a state of vexation, or expose it to ruin, in which case I should see the chance of buying it lost, and wear myself out with vain regrets to my dying day. So I took some stuff not in demand, carried it to him and offered it to him, and I bargained with him to buy it on credit; and the unfortunate one counts credit a gift, and the promise breaker considers it a present. And I asked him for a bond for the goods, so he granted it, and signed 5 it in my favour. Then I pretended to be indifferent in demanding payment till the extremities of the garment of his state became frayed, and then I came to him and asked him to pay the debt. He begged for time and I respited him. 6 He next asked for some stuff besides that; so I brought it and asked him to mortgage his house to me as a security in my hands, and he did so. Then I gradually involved him in bargains till it came to selling the house and it was acquired by me through rising fortune, and helping fate, and the strength of my arm. 'There is many a toiler for an idle sitter, 7 And, praise God, I am exceedingly lucky, and in such matters worthy of commendation,
and this will suffice thee, Sir. For many nights I had been sleeping in my house with those therein when lo! there was a knock at the door, I said, 'who is the wandering nocturnal visitor?' And behold it was a woman with a pearl necklace with a surface as clear as water, and in fineness like unto the mirage, which she offered for sale! So I snatched it from her with a plundering snatch and bought it for a low, price and soon there will be derived from it a manifest gain and plentiful profit, by the help of God, the most High, and thy good fortune. I have only related this story to thee that thou mightest know the propitiousness of my fortune in commerce. 'Luck brings forth water from stones.' 1 Great God! None can inform thee more truly than thyself and naught is nearer to thee than thy yesterday. I bought this mat in an auction. It was taken from the house of the Furát family 2 at the time of sequestration and plundering. For a long time I had been seeking one like it, but had found none. But time is pregnant and it is not known what it will bring forth. 3 Then it so happened I was at the Táq gate and
this was being offered for sale in the streets. So I weighed out for it such and such a sum of dinars I adjure thee by God observe its fineness, softness, workmanship, and colour, for it is of great worth. Its like is found but rarely. If thou hast heard of Abú ‘Imrán, the mat-weaver, it is his handiwork. And he has a son who will succeed him and who is now in his shop. Fine mats can only be had of him. By my life! do not buy mats except at his shop. Now the righteous man is his brethren's counsellor, especially of him whose person is rendered inviolable by eating at his table. Let us return to the story of the Maḍirah for noontide has approached. 'Boy! the basin and the water!' I said 'Great God! perhaps deliverance is nigh, and escape has become easy.' The slave came forward. He asked: 'Dost thou see this slave, he is of Greek origin, brought up in ‘Iráq. Step forward boy, uncover thy head, bare thy calf, tuck up thy sleeves, expose thy teeth, advance, retire!' The slave did so. Said the merchant: who bought him? 'By Heavens! Abú’l-‘Abbás bought him from the slave dealer. Put down the basin 1 and bring the ewer.' 2 The slave put it down and the merchant picked it up, turned it round, looked it over, sounded it and said: 'Look at this brass, 3 it seems like a burning brand, or a piece of gold. Its brass is Syrian and it is of ‘Iráq workmanship. It is not a worn-out curio. It has known and made the round of the palaces of kings; consider its beauty and ask me 'When didst thou buy it?' 'I bought it, by Heavens! in the famine year and I have preserved it for this hour. Boy, the ewer!' And he brought it. And the merchant took it up, turned it over and said: 'The spout is of one piece with it. This ewer is fit only for this basin, and this basin is only suitable for this company 4 and this company suits only this house and this house is not adorned except by this guest. Boy! pour the water, for food time is
nigh. I adjure thee by God, dost thou see this water? How pure it is! Blue as the eye of the cat, clear as a crystal wand, drawn from the Euphrates, and it is used after standing for the night when it has become like the flame of a torch and translucent as a tear. And the importance is not in the water carrier, but in the vessel. Nothing proves to thee the purity of the vessel more correctly than the purity of the liquid. Now this napkin, ask of me its story. It is a fabric of Jurján and a production of Arraján. It fell to my lot and I bought it. My wife took a portion of it for drawers 1 and I made some of it into a napkin. 2 Her drawers took twenty cubits 3 and I forcibly wrested this much from her hand, gave it to the embroiderer 4 to make and embroider it as thou seest it. Then I brought it back from the market and stored it away in a box and preserved it for refined guests. The common Arabs have not defiled it with their hands, nor women with the corners of their eyes, for every precious thing has its day 5 and every instrument its people. Boy! the table! for the delay is great, and the bowls! for the discussion has been long, and the food! for words have been multiplied.' The slave brought the table. The merchant then turned it over
sounded it with his fingers, and bit it 1 with his teeth and said: 'May God prosper Baghdad, how excellent are her goods and skilful her artisans! By Heavens! observe this table, look at the breadth of its surface, the lightness of its weight, the soundness of its timber and the beauty of its make.' Said I: 'This is the make but when is the meal?' He answered: 'Immediately. Boy! quick, the food! But the table, its legs are a part of it.' Said Abú’l-Fatḥ, 'My spirit boiled, 2 and I said: 'There remaineth the baking and its implements, the bread and its properties, the wheat and whence the grain was first bought, and how the transport was hired for it, in which mill it was ground and the vessel in which it was kneaded, which oven was heated and which baker was hired; and there remaineth the wood, whence it was gathered, when it was brought in, how it was stacked till it was seasoned and how it was stored until it dried. Then there are left the baker and his description, the apprentice 3 and his qualification, the flour and its praise, the leaven and its tale, the salt and its savour; and then there remain, the dishes 4 and who had them, how he procured them, who used them and who made them. Then the vinegar, how its grapes were picked, or how its ripe dates were bought, how its press was plastered, how the essence was extracted, how its jar was besmeared with pitch and how much its vat is worth. Then there remain the vegetables and the devices whereby they were picked, in which vegetable garden they were arranged, and the skill displayed to produce them free from impurities. Then there remaineth the Maḍirah 5 and how its meat was bought and its extra fat was got, how its cooking pot was set up, how its fire
was kindled, how its spices were pounded, till, finally, it was well-cooked and its gravy became consistent. But this is a mighty matter and a never-ending affair?' So I arose. He asked: 'Whither dost thou intend to go?' I replied, 'I intend to go to discharge a need.' He enquired: 'Sir, dost thou want a privy that makes the spring quarters of the prince, and the autumn residence of the wazír appear contemptible? Its top has been plastered 1 with gypsum and its bottom with mortar, its roof has been made flat and its floor paved with marble. The ant slips down from its wall and cannot cling, and the fly tries to walk upon its floor but slides. It has a door whose venetians are made alternately of teak and ivory and joined together with an excellent joining so that the guest desires to eat in it.' Said I: 'Eat thou from this bag, the privy was not in the reckoning.' And I went out towards the door, quickened my pace and began to run, while he was following me and shouting: 'Abú’l-Fatḥ! the Maḍirah! 'And the boys thought Maḍirah was a title of mine, and took up his cry. So out of excessive vexation I threw a stone at one of them, but a man received it on his turban and it sank into his skull. Therefore I was attacked with sandals, 2 old and new, and with cuffs good and bad; and then I was placed in prison and remained in that unfortunate plight for two years. So I vowed not to eat Maḍirah as long as I lived. Now ye men of Hamadhán 3 am I unjust in this?' Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám 'So we accepted his excuse, we vowed the same vow and said: "Long since did Maḍirah sin against the noble and prefer the base 4 to the good."'
88:2 Maḍirah: From … it (milk) became sour or acid biting the tongue, or, as made by the Arabs, fleshmeat cooked with pure milk that bites the tongue, until the fleshmeat is thoroughly done, and the milk has become thick, and sometimes they mix fresh milk with milk that has been collected in a skin, and in this case it is the best that can be. (Lane, Lexicon art. … p. 2720). It is said to have been the favourite dish of Abú Hurayrah, the Traditionalist, and contemporary of the Prophet. For a eulogy on Maḍirah see Mas’údí, viii. 403. For a list of the chief dishes of the Arabs, see the Maqámát of Náṣíf al-Yázajì, p. 98. (…)
88:3 Did credit to the town people: Whose taste was more refined than that of the Bedawín.
88:4 Announced health: Being easily digested.
89:1 Mu‘awiya ibn Abi Sufyán, the first Khalífa of the House of Umayya. (A.H. 41-60) (A.D. 661-680). An allusion to the reputed gluttony of Mu‘awiya (al-Fakhri's History, edition of Ahlwardt, p. 131) and the voluptuousness which is said to have characterized his court. See also Arab Proverbs, i, 135.
89:2 … which dazzled the eyes: Literally, the eye slipped from it,
89:3 … Wherein beauty was bestirring itself: Another reading is … The hand moved briskly to it.
89:4 Abú’l-Fatḥ arose: Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, xviii, 199, which is a very close imitation and, in parts, almost a literal copy of this maqáma.
89:5 Livers were inflamed: Arabic writers suppose the liver to be the seat of affection and the heart to be that of reason. Cf. Merx's article on the Foie in the volume dedicated to de Vogue.
89:6 The dog to the companions of al-Raqím: See Qur’án, xviii, 8-18. What is meant by this word the commentators cannot agree. Some will have it to be the name of the mountain, or the valley, wherein the cave was; some say it was the name of their dog and others, who seem to come nearest the true signification, that it was a brass plate, or stone tablet placed near the mouth of the cave in which the young men, the companions of the cave, were. Baiḍáwí's Commentary (edited by Fleischer), p. 555. Sale, Translation of the Qur’án, xviii, 217. Hamadhání certainly did not think that al-Raqím was the name of their dog.
90:1 … Heart's blood: Also the soul or spirit, e.g. … His spirit went forth. Cf. … He sucked the breast of his mother.
90:2 … Apron: Literally, a piece of cloth torn off.
90:3 … An oven: Old Persian tanura. Assyrian tenura. Hebrew תנוּר (Genesis, xv. 17). In Arabic a loan word from Aramaic.
90:4 … He bored me: Literally, he split me. Cf. … a splitting headache.
90:5 A man is known by his neighbour: Cf. Arab Proverbs, i, 303.
90:6 Its belt: Literally, its necklace.
91:1 … A compass: Arabicized from the Persian … or …
91:2 … Of how many planks?: Literally, of how many?
91:3 … Teakwood: Arabicized from the Sanskrit saka. Hindustani …
91:4 Clean reputation: Literally, of clean clothes.
91:5 … What a splendid man that is!: A well-known expression of admiration. See Wright's Grammar, ii, 150.
91:6 Mu’izzi dinars: The coin of Mu’izz al-Daula (A.H. 303-56). The Buwayhid prince who ruled at Baghdad from A.H. 334-56. The life of this sovereign is given by Ibn Khallikan, i, 555.
91:7 … Brass: read …
91:8 … the best: plural of … a precious thing.
91:9 … vestibule: Arabicized from the Persian … and … an entrance or passage of a house, between the outer door or gate.
92:1 … Live stock: Wealth, gold or silver, primarily camels or cattle, or sheep or goats, because most of the wealth of the Arabs of the desert consisted of these. It is here used in the primitive sense as appears from the context … the dumb, as opposed to … having the faculty of producing sound.
92:2 … Squandered it: He scattered it, or tore it to pieces. Cf. Qur’án, xxxiv, 18.
92:3 Music: Literally, playing upon the reed or pipe.
92:4 … Backgammon: or trick track: A Persian word also called …, because invented, as some say, by Ardeshir, son of Bábak, a Persian King.
92:5 … He signed it: That is, he drew up and signed the bond in my favour. For this meaning of this verb, see Qur’án, iv, 37.
92:6 I respited him: An allusion to Qur’án, vii, 13 and 14.
92:7 There is many a toiler for an idle sitter: Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 544, used for a person whose wealth passes to some one who has done nothing for it. 'Unearned increment'. See Constantinople edition, p. 5.
93:1 Luck brings water from stones: Apparently a proverbial expression. It occurs again in a slightly modified form on p. 205 of the Text.
93:2 … The Furát family: A highly distinguished family in the service of Khalífate during the fourth century, remarkable for their official and administrative ability for several generations. There were four brothers who rose to eminence during the reign of Muqtadir b’illáh (A.H. 295-320) namely, Aḥmad Abú’l-‘Abbás, ‘Abdulláh Ja‘far, Abú ‘Ísá Ibráhím, Abú’l-Ḥasan ‘Alí. Their father was Muḥammad Ibn Músá, an agent to the Khalífa Muntaṣir (A.H. 247).
Abú’l-Ḥasan ‘Alí, the most celebrated of the four, was three times wazír to al-Muqtadir. He was a man of great natural gifts, an excellent administrator, and liberal to extravagance. In A.H. 299 the Khalífa dismissed him and seized all his vast wealth. This is the incident Hamadhání refers to. From the time of his dismissal to his reinstatement in 304 the income from his estates to the public treasury amounted to no less than seven million dinars. On his reappointment in 304 the Khalífa showed him the highest favours, sending him seven cloaks of honour and 300,000 dirhems. Two years later he was again arrested and thrown into prison. In 311 he was restored to his post for the third time and marked his resumption of office by acts which have left a stain on his memory. He exacted large sums from many people and allowed his son, Abú’l-Muḥássin, to put to death Ḥamid ibn al-‘Abbás, the late wazír. The following year he fell for the third time, when it was found that he possessed upwards of a million dinars, and that his landed property produced an annual income of a million dinars. A few days later he and his son Muḥássin were put to death by Nazuk the chief of the police. (See Ahmedroz, Wazírs of Hilál. Chenery's translation of Ḥarírí, p. 469 and al-Fakhrí (edition, Ahlwardt), p. 311.
93:3 It is not known what it (Time) will bring forth: Cf. English, we know not what a day may bring forth.
94:1 … The basin: Arabicized from the Persian … or … Zend tasta, a basin, a ewer-stand.
94:2 … The ewer: Arabicized from the Persian … a water-pot with a spout The word occurs in the plural … in Qur’án, lvi, 18.
94:3 … Copper: read …
94:4 … Company: Arabicized from the Persian the upper end of a chamber, hence a place or seat of honour, and then the company itself. It also means a game. Cf. the remark of Imr al Qais, 'I did not wish to spoil thy game.' (Aghání, viii, 65.) For other uses of this word see Ḥarírí, i, 276.
95:1 … pl. of … Drawers or trowsers: Arabicized from the Persian … probably from the stem … a thigh and the suffix … an inner breeches or drawers reaching to the feet. Cf. Greek σαραβαρα. Suidas regards it as a Persian garment. Cf. Hebrew ברבליהון Daniel, iii, 27. A tradition of the Prophet enjoins the wearing of the … by both sexes. (Ḥarírí, i, 78.), Ḥarírí, i, 78, uses the word … with … in the phrase … 'With a shirt and trowsers'. Although, conceivably, … may be a corruption of … the words appear to have connoted different articles of dress. See Text, p. 240; … 'and they coated it with pitch'.
95:2 … a napkin, kerchief or towel: Arabicized from the Latin mantele (mantile). Spanish mantilla. Cf. The mindil or kerchief of St. Veronica delivered up in A.H. 331 by the Khalífa Muttaqí (.A.H. 322-29) to the Byzantine emperor, Romanos I, at the request of the latter, in exchange for a large number of Muslim prisoners of war. Annals of Abú’l-Fida, p. 424.
95:3 … Cubits: The space from the extremity of the elbow to the extremity of the little finger. It is divided into six … (fists). the measure called a cubit, about eighteen inches.
95:4 … Embroidery: Arabicized from the Persian … from … to embroider, to embellish.
95:5 Every precious thing has its day: Apparently a proverbial expression.
96:1 … Bit it: Tested its soundness.
96:2 … My spirit boiled: Another possible rendering, my soul (stomach) heaved.
96:3 … An apprentice: Borrowed from Hebrew or Aramaic תַלִמְּיד; Aramaic talmadá a pupil or attendant. (Ḥarírí, i, 20.)
96:4 … The dishes: Said to be arabicized from the Persian … and … a saucer, a short of small bowl-shaped vessel out of which one eats (Lane, p. 1392). Cf. Armenian, skavarák.
96:5 There remaineth the Maḍirah: Hamadhání here gives the recipe for this dish, and, following in the strain of the bore, he cleverly holds up to ridicule the incoherent garrulousness of his tormentor.
97:1 … Plastered: Arabicized from the Persian … plaster, or quicklime.
97:2 … I was attacked with sandals: Cf. The maqáma of Moṣul, Text, p. 98.
97:3 … Ye men of Hamadhán: The scene of the incident is Baṣra and that of the narration Hamadhán. On page 340 of the Letters there is an allusion to one who swore he would not partake of Maḍirah and then ate a dog's tail with monkey's milk!
97:4 … The base: Another reading … the vile.
This maqáma is all in prose and is remarkable for the large number of foreign words. It contains no less than thirteen.