The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast  at sacred-texts.com
‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: Said Muḥammad ibn Isḥáq, popularly known as Abú’l-‘Anbas of Ṣaimara: 1 'Of the things that have come down to me from my brethren whom I chose, selected, and stored up against calamities, wherein was a matter which has in it admonition, warning and education for such persons as will take them, that it is to say, I was coming from Ṣaimara to the City of Peace and I had bags of dinars, furniture, equipment, etc., on account of which I needed no one. So I associated with people of great families, secretaries of state., merchants, leading men of fame, from among men of wealth, fortune, and opulence, and owners of estates; a company that I selected for social intercourse and treasured for adversity.'
And we ceased not indulging in the morning and the evening draughts, feeding on sucking-kids, Persian omelets 2 minced meat a la Ibráhím, 3 pungent fried meats, kabob 4 a la Rashíd, 5 and lamb. And our drink was mead, and our singing was by beautiful and skilled ladies of world renown. Our dessert was peeled almonds, sugar, and sugar-candy. 6 And our sweet-smelling flower was the rose and our perfume was Nad. And because of my liberality, my generosity and the squandering of my store, I was, in their opinion, wiser than ‘Abd-Alláh ibn
[paragraph continues] ‘Abbás, 1 wittier than Abú Núwás, more generous than Haṭim, 2 braver than ‘Amr, 3 more eloquent than Saḥbán Wá’il, 4 more artful than Qáṣír, 5 a greater poet than Jarír, sweeter than the water of the Euphrates, and more delightful than health. 6 But, when the cargo became light, the sails collapsed, and the bag was empty, the company hastened to the door, when they perceived the fact.
Disgust 7 entered their hearts and they called me Burṣeh, 8
and they arose with alacrity to flee, like shooting sparks of fire. Vexation took possession of them and they slipped away drop by drop, 1 and they dispersed right and left and I remained on the floor. 2 They bequeathed to me regret, and, because of them, tears overwhelmed me. I was not worth a piece of dung, alone, solitary, like the owl branded with ill-luck, sitting down and standing up as if the state in which I had been had never been.
And I repented when repentance availed me not. Therefore was my comeliness changed to wildness. A deafness came over me worse than that of Rahta the crier. As though I were a monk of the people of al-Ḥíra. 3 The property had gone and derision was left, and there was in my hand only the she-goat's tail. 4 I found myself in my house alone, with my liver crushed, because of the fall of my fortune. My tears had furrowed my cheek. I dwelt in an abode whose ruins had been obliterated and whose traces the torrents had effaced, and where the wild beasts roamed and strayed morning and evening. My position had gone, my substance was exhausted and my comfort 5 was diminished. My boon-companions and my old friends deserted me. No head was raised for me and I was not reckoned among the people. More contemptible than Baz‘í the pottage-maker and Warzín the rope-maker. I wandered to and fro on the river bank as if I were a keeper of ducks. 6 I walked barefoot,
scouring the deserts. 1 My eye was inflamed and my life was in pledge, as though I were a madman escaped from a cell, or an ass going around the enclosure.
I was sadder than al-Khansa 2 over Ṣakhr, and Hind 3 over ‘Amr. My reason was lost, my health was good for nothing, my purse was empty and my slave had fled. My evil dreams multiplied and in evil suggestions I exceeded the limit. I became like the Jinn that inhabit houses and the evil spirit of the dwelling. I appeared in the night and hid in the day. I was unluckier than the grave-digger, more burdensome than the rent of the house, more stupid that Ṭíṭí the bleacher, and more foolish than Dáúd the oil-presser. Scantiness had become my ally and abjectness had encompassed me. And I was outside the pale of the community and hated for the sake of God. I had been Abú’l-‘Anbas 4 and I became Abú ‘‘Aflas 5 and Abú Faq‘as. I had lost the road, and argument was against me.
I found no helper and I saw destitution before me. Now, when I perceived the affair had become difficult and that Time had the rabies, I solicited money and behold it was with the two vultures 6 and at the parting of the two seas, 7 and more remote
than the two pointers. So I started wandering, as though I was the Messiah, 1 and I journeyed over Khurásán, its deserted and populous parts, to Kirman, Sijistan, Jílan, Tabaristan, ‘Oman, to Sind and India, to Nubia and Egypt, Yemen, Ḥijáz, Mecca and al-Ṭa‘if. I roamed over deserts and wastes, seeking warmth at the fire and taking shelter with the ass, till both my cheeks were blackened. And thus I collected of anecdotes and fables, 2 witticisms and traditions, poems of the humourists, the diversions of the frivolous, the fabrications of the lovesick, the saws of the pseudo-philosophers, the tricks of the conjurors, 3 the artifices of the artful, the rare sayings of convivial companions, the fraud of the astrologers, the finesse of quacks, the deception of the effeminate, the guile of the cheats, 4 the devilry of the fiends, such that the legal decisions of al-Sh‘abí, 5 the memory of al-Ḍabbí 6 and the learning of al-Kalbí 7 would have fallen short of.
And I solicited gifts and asked for presents. I had recourse to influence and I begged. I eulogized and satirized, till I acquired much property, got possession of Indian swords and Yemen blades, fine coats of mail of Sábur 8 and leathern shields
of Tibet, spears of al-Khaṭṭ 1 and javelins of Barbary, excellent fleet horses with short coats, Armenian mules, and Mirris 2 asses, silk brocades of Rúm and woollen stuffs 3 of Sús. 4 Various kinds of curios, presents, offerings, and gifts, with prosperity and opulence.
Now, when I arrived at Baghdad and the people got news of me, and of how I had been prospered in my travels, they were delighted at my arrival, and they all came to me complaining of what loneliness they had experienced on account of my being away, and what had happened to them because of my absence, and they complained of the intensity of longing and the pain of yearning. And each of them began to apologize for what he had done and to manifest regret for what he had committed. So I made them think I had forgiven them and I did not exhibit to them a sign of vindictiveness because of their conduct. Therefore they were pleased, their limbs ceased trembling, and they went away in that belief.
The next day they returned to me and I detained them with me. Then I dispatched my agent to the market and he did not omit a thing of all that I had charged him to buy. We had a skilful female cook, and I got prepared twenty sorts of pungent fried-meats, divers kinds of omelets, and rare preparations. We ate and then adjourned to the drinking-saloon, and there were presented before them bright and clear old wine 5 and fair and expert singers.
They betook themselves to their task and we drank, and there passed for us the pleasantest day. Now I had prepared, according to their number, fifteen brinjal baskets, each basket with four handles. 1 And my slave had hired for each one of them a porter, each porter at two dirhems, and he had informed the porters of the houses of the company, and charged them to present themselves the next evening. And I commanded my slave, who was a crafty one, to give the company to drink by the pint and by the quart, 2 and to serve them while I fumigated before them with nad, aloes and ambergris. Before an hour had passed they 3 were all dead drunk and unconscious. Their slaves came to us at sunset each one with a horse, or an ass, or a mule, but I told them their masters were passing the night with me and so they went away. Then I sent for Bilál, the barber, and I brought him in. I placed food before him and he ate. I gave him wine of Qutrubbul and he drank till he became intoxicated. Then I placed in his mouth two yellow dinars 4 and said, 'Do your duty to the company.' And in a single hour he shaved off fifteen beards, and the company became as smooth-faced as the denizens of Paradise. 5
I placed the beard of each one of them pursed in his clothes and with it a letter wherein was written, 'Whoever harbours perfidy against his friend and forsakes faithfulness, this is his recompense and reward,' and I put it in his pocket. Then we tied them up in the baskets. The porters came the next evening and carried them off with a losing return and they reached their homes. But, when they arose in the morning, they perceived in themselves great grief. Not a merchant from among them went forth to his shop, not a clerk to his office, nor could he appear before his brethren. And every day a large crowd of their
dependents, women, boys and men, came and reviled and reproached me, and invoked upon me divine judgement, but I remained silent and did not return them an answer, nor did I heed their words. The news of my treatment of them spread over the City of Peace, and the matter ceased not to magnify until it reached the Wazír al-Qasim ibn ‘Ubeid-Alláh, 1 in this wise. He wanted his clerk but failed to find him and it was reported: 'He is at home and unable to go out.' He asked: 'Why?' And it was said: 'Because of what Abú’l-‘Anbas has done to him for he had the misfortune of being associated with and tried by him.' He laughed heartily and said: 'By Heavens he was perfectly right to do what he did, 2 let him alone, for he understands them best.' Then he sent me a splendid robe of honour, had led to me a horse with a carriage and forwarded to me fifty thousand dirhems as a mark of his admiration of my action. I stayed at home for two months, spending, eating and drinking and then I appeared in public, after concealment, and some of them reconciled themselves to me because of what the Wazír had done; and another swore by the triple divorce 3 and by the emancipation of his slaves, male and female, that he would never again speak directly to me. By God, whose dignity is great, and whose evidence is exalted! I did not make much of that, nor did I care, nor was the lobe of my ear scratched, nor did my stomach ache. Neither did it injure me, rather did it delight me, and 'it was a need in Jacob's soul which he
performed.' 1 And verily I have only called attention to this that people may be on their guard against the sons of the time, and give up depending on sordid and base brethren, and upon so-and-so, the copyist, the calumniator, the great deceiver who repudiates the claims of the cultured, makes light of them and borrows their books and does not return them. And we implore God's aid and we rely upon Him.
156:1 Ṣaimara: A town near Baṣra. Muḥammad ibn Isḥáq ibn Ibráhím ibn ‘Alí al-‘Absí, generally known as Abú’l-‘Anbas of Ṣaimara (d. A.H. 275) was a cultured poet, a celebrated wit, a famous raconteur, and the author of about thirty-four works on a variety of subjects, several of them of a humorous character. He held the office of Qáḍí of Ṣaimara and was the boon companion of the Khalífa Mutawakkil (assassinated A.H. 247). (Yaqút, vi, 401; iii, 443.)
156:2 … Persian omelets: A food of a species of flesh-meat, eggs, onions, and water, arabicized from the Persian … or. ….
156:3 A la Ibráhím: That is, Ibráhím al-Mehdí, the brother of Hárún al-Rashid, who is supposed to have been very fond of this dish, born A.H. 162, died A.H. 224. Ibn Khallikan, i, 16.
156:4 Kabob: A. well-known word, applied to small morsels of meat generally roasted on skewers, said to be Persian.
156:5 A la Rashid: Relating to the Khalífa Hárún al-Rashíd.
156:6 … Sugar-candy: Literally, sugar chopped with an axe, or hatchet, arabicized from the Persian … an axe and … pref. of … to strike.
157:1 Ibn ‘Abbás: Abd Alláh ibn ‘Abbás, cousin to Muḥammad, was born at Mecca A. D. 619, three years before the Hijra. He was the ablest of the expounders of the Qur’án in his time and the most liberal of the early Muslims. He was remarkable for his great knowledge, acuteness and prodigious memory. It was due to his efforts that the study of pre-Islámic poetry became of such importance to the Muslims, for he frequently quoted verses of the ancient poets in proof of the explanations he gave of difficult passages of the Qur’án. He used to say: 'Whenever you meet with a difficulty in the Qur’án look for its solution in the poems of the Arabs, for these are the registers of the Arab nation.' He was for some time governor of Baṣra under the Khalífa ‘Alí; died at al-Ṭaif A.H. 68. Ibn Khallikan, i, 89.
157:2 More generous than Haṭim: Of the tribe of Ṭai. The prototype of generosity throughout the Muslim world.
157:3 ‘Amr: ‘Amr ibn Ma‘dí Karaba. This chieftain and warrior was a contemporary of Muḥammad and the first four Khalífas. For his adventures, see Caussin de Percival, Essaie sur l’histoire des Arabes.
157:4 More eloquent than Saḥbán Wá’il: A brilliant preacher of the early days of Islám, whose name became proverbial for eloquence like that of Qoss, Bishop of Najran. He was born in the time of Muḥammad and died in the year A.H. 54 (A.D. 673). One of the earliest extant specimens of an Arab Khutba, or sermon in rhymed prose, is by Saḥbán. This sermon contains the usual incentives to morality founded on the shortness of life and the certainty of future reward and punishment. Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 450. See De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 49 and Chenery's Translation of Ḥarírí, p. 309.
157:5 More artful than Qáṣír: Qáṣír was a freedman of Júdhíma al-Abrash, the king of ‘Iráq. His master having been treacherously murdered by Queen Zebba (Zenobie) he determined to revenge his death on her. He cut off his nose with his own hand and complained to the Queen that ‘Amr, the murdered Jadhíma's nephew, had done this, because he suspected him of complicity in the betrayal of his master. So plausible a story found ready acceptance with the queen. In this way he gained her confidence and was frequently sent to ‘Iráq to bring her some of the rare products of that province until, eventually, he contrived to introduce in boxes, supposed to contain goods, a number of armed men who fell upon the queen and slew her. This act of self-mutilation gave rise to the proverb: 'For some purpose Qáṣír cut off his nose.' Ḥarírí, i, 327.
157:6 … More delightful than health: Cf. the proverb … More delightful than life. Meidaní, i, 388. Bulak edition.
157:7 … Disgust: Literally, choking.
157:8 … Burṣeh: Barren spot: White places in sand where nothing grows, p. 158also an alighting-place of the Jinn. The commentator thinks it means a lizard of the species called gecko. … (Malay), an imitation of the animal's cry, of a leprous hue as its name (…) indicates, but in that case it would have to be vocalized …. I have, therefore, rendered it by 'barren spot' as being more consistent with ‘Abú’l-‘Anbas' circumstances.
158:1 Drop by drop: That is, quickly as drops fall away from the cloud.
158:2 … The floor: Literally, the bricks, arabicized from the Persian … baked clay. A loan word from Aramaic.
158:3 … The people of al-Ḥíra: The term applied to the Christian Arabs of Ḥíra. The religion and culture of the ‘Ibbád were conveyed by various channels to the utmost recesses of the peninsula. See Nicholson, Lit. History of the Arabs, pp. 38-9.
158:4 The she-goat's tail: Figurative for something mean and worthless.
158:5 … My comfort: Gives a better sense than … 'my nightly resting-place' according to the vocalization of the text.
158:6 … Ducks: Arabicized from the Persian …
159:1 … Scouring (literally, chasing) the deserts.
159:2 Al-Khansa: The most celebrated Arab poetess, especially noted for her elegies on her brother Sakhr. She was a contemporary of Muḥammad by whom she was received with great respect and to whom she recited her poetry. Ḥarírí, ii, 516 and Chenery's translation, pp. 387-91.
159:3 Hind: The mother of ‘Amr son of Mundhir III, King of al-Ḥíra, commonly called ‘Amr son of Hind after his mother who was the aunt of Imr al-Qais. ‘Amr ibn Hind was slain by the poet ‘Amr ibn Kúlthúm, author of one of the Mu‘allaqát, for an insult offered to his mother, Layla, by Hind. See Aghání, ix, 175.
159:4 … Abú’l-‘Anbas: Literally, father of the frowning lion. There is a play here on the real and the nicknames. See Ḥarírí, i, 380, where other such fanciful names are introduced.
159:5 … Abú ‘Aflas: I have not been able to trace, but … father of bankruptcy, a bankrupt, would give a suitable meaning.
159:6 … The two vultures: That is (1) … The falling vulture. (2) … The flying vulture.
The former is a bright star in the constellation Lyra, and the latter consists of three well-known stars in the constellation Aquila.
159:7 … The parting of the two seas: That is of the salt water and the fresh. Cf. Qur’án, xxv, 55,
160:1 The Messiah: This is a play on the word … one who travels much, as a devotee or otherwise, and the well-known name the Messiah, the Anointed.
160:2 … Fables: Literally, night-talkings.
160:3 … The conjurors: From …, legerdemain. According to the lexicons it is not a word of the language of the people of the desert. Cf. Gaubari, Endeckte Geheimnisse (de Goeje. Z.D.M.G.) xx, 500.
160:4 … Cheats: Plural of … arabicized from the Persian … or …
160:5 The decisions of al-Sh‘abí: Abú ‘Amr (A.H. 19-104) was an eminent jurisconsult distinguished for his profound learning. al-Zuhrí (A.H. 51-124) says that the really learned men were four in number. (1) Ibn al-Musaiyab at Madína, (2) al-Sh‘abí at Kufa, (3) Ḥasan al-Baṣrí at Baṣra, and (4) Makhul in Syria. See Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 413 and Ibn Khallikan De Slane's translation, ii, 4.
160:6 The memory of Al-Ḍabbí: Muḥammad ibn al-Mufaḍḍal (ob. A.H. 308) a native of Baghdad, was one of the most eminent doctors of the Shafi‘ite sect and an author of a number of works. Ibn Khallikan, ii, 610.
160:7 The learning of al-Kalbí: Hishám ibn al-Kalbí was remarkable for his extensive knowledge of the science of genealogy, the battle days and the history of the Arabs on which subjects he wrote upwards of a hundred and fifty works. He died A.H. 204 or 206. Ibn Khallikan, iii, 608.
160:8 … Of Sábur: Relating to King Shahpur, or to the town or province of that name situated twenty-five parasangs from Shiráz.
161:1 Al-Khaṭṭ: A place on the coast of 'Oman to which lances and spears were exported and where they were straightened and then sold to the Arabs.
161:2 … Mirrisah: The name of a village, or province, in Egypt famous for the excellence of its mules. Yaqút, iv, 515.
161:3 … Khaz, A woollen stuff. A cloth woven of wool and silk said to be arabicized from the Persian … Qaz, raw silk.
161:4 … Sús: A district in Ahwaz. There are several places of this name given in Yaqút, iii, 189.
161:5 … Old wine: Dozy calls it Vin Grec. It may therefore be arabicized from the Greek χὸνδρος, groats of wheat, a mucilaginous drink made of groats of wheat. The expressions …, old wheat and … old dates are suggestive as referring, by an extension of meaning, to the kind of wheat and date suitable for making wine. See Gawálíkí, Almu‘arrab, p. 55.
162:1 … Handles: Literally, ears.
162:2 … By the pint and by the quart: A mann equals 2 lbs. troy and a ran 1 lb. avoirdupois.
162:3 … They: That is, the company.
162:4 … Yellow: Literally, red.
162:5 … As the denizens of Paradise: An allusion to the tradition which says the people of Paradise are … having no hair upon their bodies and beardless (Lane. p. 407).
163:1 Al-Qasim ibn ‘Ubeid-Alláh: If we accept Yaqút's statement (Geographical Dictionary, iii, 443; Dictionary of Learned Men, vi, 401) that Abú’l-‘Anbas died A.H. 275, this is chronologically impossible. Al-Qasim ibn ‘Ubeid-Alláh ibn Suleiman ibn Wahb was appointed Wazír in A.H. 288, so that the Wazír referred to in the narrative must have been al-Qasim's father ‘Ubeid-Alláh ibn Suleiman ibn Wahb the Wazír of Mu‘tamid and Mu‘taḍid.
It was this al-Qasim ‘Ubeid-Alláh who poisoned Ibn al-Rúmí (see note on p. 116), because he dreaded the poet's-satirical attacks. Here again there is some confusion of dates. Ibn Khallikan, ii, 299, gives the date of Ibn al-Rúmí's death as 284 or 276, whereas al-Qasim ibn ‘Ubeid-Alláh was not appointed Wazír until his father's death which took place in A.H. 288. See al-Fakhrí (edited by Ahlwardt), pp. 301-3.
163:2 … He was perfectly right to do what he did: Literally, he hit and did not miss in what he did.
163:3 … By the triple divorce: 'Ye may divorce your wives twice, but, if the husband divorce her a third time she shall not be lawful for him again until she marry another husband.' Qur’án, ii, 229, 230.
164:1 It was a need in Jacob's soul which he performed: Qur’án, xii, 67, 68. When Jacob's sons went the second time down into Egypt taking Benjamin with them, their father commanded them not to enter all at the same gate but at several. This is explained to mean that, because of their personal beauty and the favour shown them by the governor, if they all entered by the same gate, they might be smitten with the evil eye. This they did and, though they could not have changed God's will concerning them, still it satisfied a desire in Jacob's mind. Baiḍáwí's commentary (Fleischer), i, 466.
Abú’l-‘Anbas died eighty-three years before Hamadhání was born. It is evident, therefore, that this maqáma is founded on a popular story, handed down from the former, or extracted from one of the numerous works of a humourous character he is said to have composed.
This lengthy maqáma contains no poetry.
Cf. Shakespeare, Timon of Athens; the themes are identical.