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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 sallied forth from Ruṣáfa 5 to go to the capital when the fervent summer sultriness 6 boiled in the breast of irritation. Now when I had traversed half the road, the heat became intense, patience failed me and so I turned towards a masjid which had appropriated to itself the secret of all beauty. 7 And in it there were people

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contemplating its ceilings and discussing its pillars. Finally the discussion led them 1 to the mentioning of thieves and their artifices, and cut-purses and their practices.

They mentioned among thieves, forgers of seals, the light-fingered, and palmers, him who gives short weight, him who robs in the ranks, him who throttles by the sudden attack, 2 him who hides in the locker till lifting is possible, him who substitutes by cajoling, 3 him who steals in jest, him who steals by the confidence trick, him who invites to compromise, 4 him who sweeps off the change, 5 him who induces sleep, 6 him who confounds with backgammon, 7 him who deceives with the monkey, him who gets the better by means of the mantle  8 and a needle and thread, him who brings thee a lock, 9 him who

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makes a subterranean passage, him who renders men unconscious with hemp, 1 or cheats by juggling, 2 him who changes his shoes, 3 him who ties his two ropes, 4 him who overpowers with the sword, him who ascends from the well, 5 him who accompanies the caravan, 6 the gentry of the cloth, 7 him who enters the assemblies, 8 him who flees from the night patrol, 9 him who seeks refuge from danger, him who flies the bird, 10 him who plays with the strap 11 and says 'Sit down, there is no harm!' him who steals by playing upon people's modesty, him who

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takes advantage of a panic, him who gets a meal 1 in the street by blowing his trumpet, him who brings a pitcher, 2 the master gardeners, 3 those who rob through the windows, 4 him who scales lofty houses, him who climbs 5 upon the roof, him who creeps stealthily with the knife along the mud wall, him who comes to thee suddenly with a sweet-smelling nosegay, 6 the men of the axe 7 like official attendants, him who comes by stealth and moans after the manner of madmen, the possessors of keys, 8 the men of cotton and wind, 9 him who. enters the door in the guise of a guest, him who goes into the house like a visitor, him who passes in humbly in the garb of the destitute, him who steals at the cistern when the plunge makes it

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possible, 1 him who robs with two sticks, 2 him who swears to a debt, 3 him who cheats with the pledge, 4 him who gives a bill of exchange, 5 him who changes the purse, 6 him who palms off in fraud, him who gives to bankrupts, 7 him who clips his sleeve 8 and then says, 'Observe and decide', him who stitches the breast, 9 him who says 'Dost thou not know? 10 him who

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bites, 1 and him who ties, 2 him who substitutes when he counts, him who enters with his accomplices and says, 'He is not asleep', 3 him who deceives thee with a thousand, 4 him who passes behind, 5 him who steals in fetters, 6 him who shams pain to defraud, him who beats with the shoe, 7 him who questions the truth, 8 him who steals with a cleft stick, him who enters by the underground passage, him who takes advantage of mining,

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the masters of the grapnels and the rope of coconut fibre; and the conversation turned on to him who got the better of them. 1

Here follows a story of Abú’l-Fatḥ al-Iskanderí, which, on grounds of decency, has been omitted. The only thing in it that may be mentioned is 'the moonlight night', regarding which he says, 'in other than his own garb'.

'And a phantom 2 paid a nocturnal visit when night was in a garb not his own 3
And the full moon met him and brightened the parting of his hair.'



122:5 Ruṣáfa: A famous quarter to the east of Baghdad. In the time of al-Manṣúr (A.D. 754-75) it was the cantonment of the city. It was built by the Khalífa's son al-Mahdí, in A.H. 159, and in time grew to the size of the capital itself. It was also the necropolis of the ‘Abbásid Khalífas. (Yaqút, ii, 783. See also Le Strange, Baghdad.)

122:6 Fervent summer sultriness: Another reading The live coals of the intense summer heat.

122:7 Which had appropriated to itself the secret of all beauty: The cathedral masjid of Ruṣáfa was larger and more magnificent than that of Baghdad itself.

123:1 Finally the discussion led them: 'the end of the discussion led them' means the hinder part of anything, particularly the buttock or rump. In poetry it signifies the second half of a verse or couplet, the first half being called ṣadr ()

123:2 Him who throttles by the sudden attack: From he went lightly or stealthily, and he despatched him. (Lane's Lexicon, article p. 887.)

123:3 Him who substitutes by cajoling: For this use of the word than that adopted by the commentator, see Letters of the author, p 329, line 8.

123:4 Him who invites to compromise: In a case where he has no legal claim.

123:5 Who sweeps off the change: The explanation of this trick is as follows: the thief goes to a money changer on the pretext of changing a dinar then snatches what the man has before him and decamps.

123:6 Him who induces sleep: The thief being in company with some one who has money pretends to be drowsy and thus induces his victim to go to sleep, he then robs him of his property. But, literally, 'him who puts to sleep with the eye.' More probably, therefore, hypnotic suggestion.

123:7 Him who confounds with backgammon: The thief takes with him into the house he intends to rob a backgammon or chess-board, usually made of cloth, and spreads it out. In case he is discovered by the master of the house he raises a cry that he has been cheated at the game and his opponent refuses to pay his losses.

123:8 By means of the mantle: The thief observes a man wearing a mantle, goes quickly behind him, raises the skirt of the garment, in order to get at the purse usually carried underneath, and begins sewing it to the collar. If he is discovered, and the man turns round, he says, 'Do not be afraid, I was only mending thy cloak; dost thou not want it done?' In this way he manages to escape with or without the purse.

123:9 Him who brings thee a lock: The thief contrives to sell the shopkeeper a defective lock. If the latter uses it to lock up his shop, the thief takes advantage of the first opportunity to effect an entrance and to help himself to the merchant's goods.

124:1 Hemp (): Arabicized from the Persian (Sanskrit bhangā), Baron Hammer Purgstall is wrong in identifying it with the Coptic bendj, plural nebendj, which he says is the same plant as the νηπενθης which so much perplexed the commentators of Homer (Odyssey, 4. 221 sq.), for two reasons:

(a) There is no such word as bendj or nebendj in Coptic.

(b) It is a good Sanskrit word and is found in the Athara-Veda Samhita (xi. 6. 15). Also see Monier Williams' Sanskrit and English Dictionary, article Bhangā.

124:2 By juggling: Arabicized from the Persian literally anything new; also magic and enchantment.

124:3 Him who changes his shoes: A very easy thing to do at the masjid or the bath where shoes and sandals have to be left outside.

124:4 Him who ties his two ropes: the modus operandi is this: The thief climbs upon the terrace or roof of a house, ties to the end of a rope what he wishes to steal, descends quickly and pulls his booty down.

124:5 Him who ascends from the well: Which he has been using as a place of concealment.

124:6 Him who accompanies the caravan: As if he were one of the travellers.

124:7 The gentry of the cloth: That is, the wearers of the ascetic garb. This is still a very popular form of disguise in the East.

124:8 Him who enters the assemblies: By virtue of being well-dressed and of respectable appearance. This is the fourth time the author uses the word Maqáma. Here it means companies of respectable people.

124:9 From the night patrol: The thief enters a house to rob it. If he is surprised, he declares he has run away from the night patrol and is the victim of an injustice. If he is believed he waits for an opportunity to help himself and then disappears.

124:10 Him who flies the bird: The thief causes his pigeon to fly into a house and then follows it. If he is discovered he pretends he has come for his bird. This is like the excuse of the poacher who, when found trespassing, asserts he is looking for his sheep!

124:11 Him who plays with the strap: The explanation of this trick is as follows: The thief starts a game which consists of one hiding something and asking another to say where it is. If he fails he is beaten on his hand or leg with a strap. Such a game is bound to end in a quarrel which the sharper takes advantage of to appropriate whatever he can.

125:1 Him who gets a meal: Literally, to blow the trumpet, which means to indulge in vain and empty talk. (See Taj al-‘Arús, vi, 301.) In order to obtain this rendering, requiring the reflexive use of the verb, a slight emendation of the text is necessary, for read (p. 161, line 1).

125:2 Him who brings a pitcher: As though he had come to fetch water. If he can lay his hands on anything, he steals it. Bastúq: Arabicized from the Persian or a small glazed earthenware vessel.

125:3 The master gardeners: The thief represents himself to be an expert gardener. If you employ him he soon begins to help himself to the produce of the garden and this he does without arousing suspicion, because he is thought to have your authority to do so Gardens: Arabicized from the well-known Persian word Bústán.

125:4 Those who rob through the windows: plural of arabicized from the Persian a hole.

125:5 Him who climbs: By means of a rope.

125:6 Him who comes with a sweet-smelling nosegay: As if he were bringing it as a present to the master. Should he get an opportunity he steals something. The practice of presenting flowers in this way is still common in the East.

125:7 The men of the axe: That is, the policemen. and arabicized from the Persian an axe and imperative form of to strike; literally something struck with an axe, or the striker with an axe or a hatchet and then the tool itself.

125:8 The possessors of keys: Those who carry about a number of keys with which they endeavour to open doors, boxes, etc.--pickers of locks.

125:9 The men of cotton and wind: The plan is as follows: the thief scatters some cotton so that the wind may blow it into certain houses and then, on the pretext of collecting his cotton, he goes in and robs them. The word is probably of foreign origin.

126:1 When the plunge or dip makes it possible: I think 'to go deep' would make better sense than 'to make possible', i.e. when the bathers plunge into the water.

126:2 Him who robs with two sticks: The thief stands upon the roof of his house and lies in wait for the caravan. When it comes opposite the house, he lowers a long stick on the end of which is a hook like a grapnel and pulls up what he can of cloth, etc.

126:3 Him who swears to a debt: This is a species of black-mailing. The swindler swears that a certain person of importance owes him money. The latter rather than run the risk of being haled before the Qáḍí pays the amount.

126:4 Him who cheats with the pledge: The rogue buys goods from a merchant and leaves in pledge with him a sealed casket supposed to contain valuable jewels which, of course, it does not.

126:5 Him who gives a bill of exchange: The fraud is perpetrated as follows: The thief sees a traveller with a large sum of money in cash and offers to relieve him of the trouble of carrying it by giving him a bill of exchange on some one in the town to which he is journeying. The bill is, of course, worthless. () Arabicized from the Persian literally, pierced; a consignment made by a person of one country to a person of another.

126:6 Him who changes the purse: The swindler bargains for some goods, produces a purse and counts out in gold or silver a sum which the shopkeeper declines to take, he then puts the purse back into his pocket. The haggling continues, and eventually he persuades the shopkeeper to accept the amount first counted. He then pulls out a purse exactly like the first, but which contains only coppers. If the merchant accepts the purse without counting the contents, the thief makes off with the goods.

126:7 Him who gives to bankrupts: The swindler contrives to secure the confidence of some merchants, takes a quantity of goods and sells them on credit to impecunious traders, at double the prime cost, and leads the public to believe he is doing a flourishing business. Then, when he has sold them articles of the value equal to what he owes his creditors, he announces he has gone bankrupt and that his outstandings represent exactly the amount of his liabilities. In this way he benefits by precisely half the amount of goods he has taken from his creditors.

126:8 Him who clips his sleeve: When the sharper sees a man placing some money before a shopkeeper, or a money changer, he seizes him and accuses him of having robbed him and exhibits his cut sleeve as evidence.

126:9 Him who stitches the breast: This is similar to the mantle trick.

126:10 Him who says 'Dost thou not know?' The swindler goes up to his dupe and says, 'Art thou not aware of what happened to so and so to-day? A thief seized his clothes thus'--suiting the action to the word--pulls him and, in the pulling, contrives to rob him of his money.

127:1 Him who bites: The sharper picks a quarrel with some one and, when they come to blows and seize each other he contrives, in the struggle, to tear with his teeth his antagonist's clothes where he thinks the money is put away.

127:2 Him who ties: The thief being seated near some one he wishes to rob, attaches to a piece of string, which he retains hold of, whatever he finds it possible to relieve the individual of. When the man gets up and goes away, the article is left behind.

127:3 'He is not asleep': The robber and his accomplices find a man asleep and make a noise until they wake him by saying, 'He is asleep' or 'He is not asleep', and in their conversation they lead him to believe that they have buried a treasure there, and so now he pretends to be asleep. Then to prove whether or no he is asleep they begin to feel him and, during the process, rob him. After they have gone he gets up only to find that he has been both robbed and hoaxed and the buried treasure consists of worthless shells.

127:4 Him who deceives thee with a thousand: The sharper deposits for safe custody with a merchant a bag supposed to contain a thousand dinars. On the top he has put a layer or two of dinars while the remainder consists of coppers. He returns later and takes out a few pieces. This is repeated until the silver is exhausted. Then he buys largely from the merchant who unhesitatingly gives him credit in the belief that he has a large sum in deposit. He then bolts. After some time has elapsed the merchant gets suspicious, opens the bag and discovers that he has been duped.

127:5 Him who passes behind: The thief goes with an accomplice to a shop and asks íor something which he cleverly passes unobserved to his fellow who immediately runs away with it. He then pretends to be very much upset and exclaims: 'What am Ito do? The fellow has gone off with it!'

127:6 Him who steals in fetters: The robber appears as an escaped prisoner in fetters and tells a pitiful tale how he has been unjustly dealt with. You pity him, loose his bonds, and treat him kindly. He repays your kindness by robbing you the first opportunity he gets.

127:7 Him who beats with the shoe: The sharper takes off his old shoes to beat some one who has a good pair. The latter takes his off to retaliate and in the struggle that ensues the former makes off with the good shoes of the latter!

127:8 Him who questions the truth: The thief knows you have a certain sum of money with you. He approaches you and says he has goods to sell of greater value than the money you possess, but he is willing to take what you actually have. He then asks if you have the amount with you and you say 'Yes'. He will retort 'Never'. Then you produce it and count it. If he can contrive to get hold of it he will swear it does not belong to you. Then he either bolts with all or makes a compromise with you.

128:1 Him who got the better of then: That is, the thieves. This story has been suppressed on grounds of decency.

128:2 And a phantom: Metre, tawíl.

128:3 In a garb not his own: The usual garb of night is darkness, so that 'not his own' would mean brightness, i.e. moonlight. Night personified is here regarded as masculine.

This maqáma may be compared to Harírí, xxx, 372, in which we have examples of the cant of beggars, mountebanks, prestigiators and the like. Here Hamadhání gives illustrations of the methods pursued by the fraternity of burglars, thieves, sharpers, swindlers, pickpockets and the like. Cf. Gaubari, Endickte Geheimnisse (von de Goéje Z.D.M.G.), xx, 504.

Next: XXXI. The Maqáma of the Spindle