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


SAID ‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM: One of my journeys set me down at Damascus. Now one day when I was at the door of my house there suddenly appeared before me a troop of the sons of Sásán. 7

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They had muffled up their faces, and besmeared their clothes with red ochre while each of them had tucked under his armpit a stone with which he beat his breast. Among them was their chief, who was reciting, they alternating with him; he intoning and they answering him. And, when he saw me, he said:--

'I desire from thee 1 a white cake upon a clean table.
I desire course salt, I want plucked greens.
I desire fresh meat, I want some sour vinegar.
I desire a sucking kid, I want a young ram.
I desire water with ice, filled in a rare vessel.
I desire a vat of wine from which I may get up drunk,
And a cheerful cup-bearer, congenial to the minds.
I desire from thee a shirt, a coat and a turban. 2
I desire thick sandals, with which I may visit the privy.
I desire a comb and a razor, I want a vessel 3 and a bath glove,
O what an excellent guest am I! and what a charming host art thou!
I will be content with this from thee, and I do not wish to impose.'

Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám, I gave him a dirhem and said to him, 'I announce to thee the invitation, and we will soon prepare and

p. 83

make ready to receive thee. We will do our best endeavour and thou hast our promise for the future. And this dirhem will be a reminder for thee, so take the ready money and expect the promised.' He seized it and went to another man, and I thought he would address him 1 with the same with which he had addressed me, but he recited:--

'O excellent one! 2 who hath appeared,
As if in stature he were a branch.
My tooth desires meat,
Therefore coat it with bread. 3
And bestow something upon me and give it now down,
Drop thy hand 4 from thy waist and undo the purse's knot,
And put both thy hands 5 under both thy arms for me designedly.'

Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: When this speech of his had penetrated my ear I 6 knew there was excellence behind it, so I followed him until he reached the mother of his house, and I stood away from him so that he could not see me, but I could see him. The princes lowered their veils and behold their chief was Abú’l-Fatḥ, al-Iskanderí! So I looked at him and said: 'Sirrah, what meaneth this fraud?' Then he indited, saying,

'This age is ill-starred, 7
And, as thou seest, oppressive;
In it stupidity is estimable
And intelligence a defect and a reproach,
And wealth is a nocturnal visitant 8 but
It hovers only over the ignoble.'


81:7 Sásán: Sásán al-Akbar, son of Bahman, son of Isfandiyar, son of Gushtasp a prince of Western Persia, is the reputed chief and patron of all beggars and mountebanks. The legend mentioned by Ibn al-Múkaffá is that Báhman being near his death sent for his daughter Ḥomaya, who was pregnant, and settled the succession on her and her child, if the child proved a boy, to the exclusion of his own son Sásán. Sásán indignant at this left the court and lived the life of a shepherd among the Kurds so that his name became a proverb for one who leads a vagabond p. 82 life. Hence 'the people of Sásán, the Kurd', is a phrase signifying beggars, prestigiators, people that feign blindness, go about with dogs, monkeys and the like. These people had a cant of their own which was not thought unworthy of study by the learned.

Sheríshí gives another account of the origin of this term. He says that after the Persians had been subdued in the time of the Khalífa ‘Umar, they submitted peaceably to the conquerors adopting their manners and their religion, and that, being a clever and artful people, they betook themselves to various ways of making a living, one of which was mendicancy. Their way of exciting commiseration was to give out that they belonged to the royal house of Sásán, or, as we call them, the Sásánians, and to describe the cruel change of fortune and their deplorable condition. So that at last people came to call a beggar a Sásání. This may be the true derivation, but it is evident from the forty-ninth maqáma that Ḥarírí adopted the legend which makes Sásán a real person. (Chenery, translation of Ḥarírí, p. 287-8, and Ḥarírí i. 23.)

82:1 I desire from thee: Metre, mujtath. Cf. De Sacy Ḥarírí i. 159.

82:2 A turban: also a woman's veil or muffler. syn. See Aghání ix. 158. Heb. ‏עניף‎ See lexicon. Isaiah iii. 23 and lxii. 3. Probably from it became halved, alluding probably to the length of the veil.

82:3 A vessel: Probably situla, a bucket for drawing water, indirectly borrowed from the Latin. See Dozy Supplement aux Dictionaires, i. 653.

83:1 Would address him: Literally, meet him.

83:2 O excellent one! Metre, mujtath.

83:3 Coat it with bread: According to the context this seems to be the meaning rather than the explanation given by the commentator, viz., that meat was something forbidden and therefore to desire it was to render him worthy of stripes.

83:4 Drop thy hand: Lower it to the pocket to undo the knotted money.

83:5 Put both thy hands: An allusion to Qur’án xx. 23. He uses both hands here designedly so as to be sure of getting out some money, not knowing which side ‘Ísá ibn Hishám carried his cash.

83:6 Penetrated my ear: Literally, split my ear.

83:7 This age is ill-starred: Metre, mujtath.

83:8 Nocturnal visitant: The Ṭaif al-Khayál or Khayál Ṭaif frequently occurs in Arabic poetry. It is supposed to be the image of the person beloved which appears to the lover in his dream. For an excellent account of the Ṭaif al-Khayál, illustrated by several quotations from the poets, see Journal Asiatique, pp. 376-85, April 1838 (M.G. Slane).

Next: XX. The Maqama of the Ape