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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 entered Baṣra 6 when, as regards age, I was in the prime of youth; as to attire,

I was clad in the variegated striped stuffs of Yemen, and, in the

p. 65

matter of wealth, I had cattle and sheep. And I came to Mirbad 1 with some friends upon whom eyes fastened. 2 We proceeded a short distance to the recreation grounds among the green plains wherein a certain spot arrested us and so we alighted there. We made for the gaming arrows of pleasure and whirled them, throwing off bashfulness, as there was not one among us 3 who was not of us. But in less than the twinkling of an eye, there came in our view the figure 4 of a man which the hollows lowered from, and the ridges exposed to sight. We perceived 5 he was coming towards us and so we craned our necks to see him, till his journeying brought him to us. He greeted us with the salutation of Islám and we returned him the due greeting. 6

Then he ran his eye over us and said: 'O people, there is not one of you but looks askance at me with excessive caution. Now none can acquaint you concerning me more truthfully than I can myself. I am a man from among the citizens of Alexandria 7 on the Umayyad frontiers. 8 Excellence was generous to me, 9 pleasure hailed me, and a distinguished house bred me.

Then did fortune deny me both her meaner and better gifts, and caused little ones with inflamed crops to follow me,

As if they were serpents 10 in an arid land,
Whose venom would be fatal were they to bite.
When we tarry they send me out to earn,
And when we travel they ride on me.'

p. 66

The white 1 hath deserted 2 us, the yellow 3 hath become refractory to us; the black 4 hath consumed us, the red 5 hath crushed us. Abú Málik 6 hath come to us. Abú Jábir only visits us when we are barren of strength, 7 and the waters of this Baṣra promote digestion while her poor are oppressed. Man is occupied in getting something for his teeth and is in anxiety concerning himself. What then is the case of him,

'Who roams and roams 8 and then returns,
To stay with chicks whose sight is made keen, 9
Whose covering is old, whose hair is matted and dusty so that they are ever
Ravenous 10 and lank-bellied.'

Verily to-day they arose in the morning and looked upon a living person who is like one dead, and at a home which was like no home. They wrung their hands longingly, put their ribs out of joint, 11 shed tears and addressed one another by the name of Hunger:

'And poverty in the day of the mean, 12
Is every generous man's badge.
The generous incline towards the mean,
And this is one of the signs of the last day.'


p. 67

My lords, ye have been chosen by me and I have sworn, verily in them is advantage. 1

'Now is there a youth who will give them a supper, or cover them? And is there a generous man who will grant them a morning meal, or clothe them?'

Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: By Heavens! there had never sought the seclusion of my ear a speech more winning, estimable, loftier or more original than that which I heard from him. Perforce we had recourse to our belts, 2 rejecting our sleeves, and eschewing our pockets. 3 And I gave him my ornamented robe 4 and the company followed my example, 5 and we said to him: 'Go and join thy children.' So he turned away from us after thanksgiving, to which he rendered the full meed, and eulogy with which he filled his mouth.


64:6 Baṣra was founded by the Arabs in A.H. 17 or 18 in the Khalífate or ‘Umar. It was remarkable during the Khalífate for its population, for the great number of its mosques and for its famous school of grammar which rivalled that of Kúfa. Arab scholars were divided into two schools of the Baṣrians and the Kúfians.

65:1 Mirbad: Once a famous camel mart and flourishing suburb three miles from Baṣra in the direction of the desert. Here poets and orators contested for superiority as they were wont to do at the fair of ‘Ukaz, a practice which gave rise to so much literary emulation that the city became famous for its learning.

65:2 Upon whose eyes fastened: Because of their attractiveness.

65:3 There was not one among us who was not of us: Cf. Text, p. 43, supra.

65:4 The figure: Literally, a blackness.

65:5 For line 3 read

65:6 The due greeting: While it is not incumbent upon a Muslim to greet another, to return the salutation is obligatory. See Qur’án, iv, 88.

65:7 I am a man from among the citizens of Alexandria: Cf. Text, p. 44, supra.

65:8 The Umayyad frontiers: Alexandria was the western limit of the eastern Khalífate and the eastern boundary of the western Khalífate.

65:9 Excellence was generous to me: Literally, excellence made its region smooth for me.

65:10 As if they were serpents: Metre, rejez.

66:1 The white: Silver.

66:2 The white has resisted: Cf. the woman exalted herself against her husband, or deserted him.

66:3 The yellow: Gold.

66:4 The black: Nights.

66:5 The red: Years of severe drought.

Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 147, where the names of colours are introduced in a like artificial manner.

For fanciful names of this type see Ibn al-Athír, Kunya Lexicon (edition by Seybold).

66:6 Abú Málik () Hunger, Abú Jabir () Bread: Cf. Ḥarírí, i, 223-4.

66:7 Barren of strength: i.e. when there is no strength left to eat it.

66:8 Who roams and roams: Metre, wafír.

66:9 Made keen: By expectancy.

66:10 Ravenous: Literally, a hungry canine tooth.

66:11 They put their ribs out of joint: By sobbing violently.

66:12 And poverty in the day of the mean: Metre, kámil.

67:1 advantage: Literally, grease of gravy. Cf. Heb. ‏דשן‎

67:2 the belts: in which travellers place the major portion of their money.

67:3 sleeves and dockets: in which smaller sums are placed.

67:4 ornamented robe: a garment of the kind of cloth called woven of silk and wool, or entirely of wool, having ornamental borders.

67:5 my example: From a way or manner of life.

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