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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: Bishr ibn ‘Awánah, the ‘Abdíte, was a robber, and he made a raid upon some riders on camels among whom was a beautiful woman whom he married. And he said: 'I have never seen the like of to-day.' 4 So she recited:--

'The intense blackness in my eye, 5 and a fore-arm white as silver have delighted Bishr,
Whilst there is near him, within view, one of slender waist walking proudly in a pair of anklets,
The most beautiful of those that walk on two feet. 6
If Bishr were to bring her and me together,
My exile would be lasting and my separation prolonged:
And, if he were to measure her beauty with mine,
The morning would manifest itself to the possessor of two eyes.'  7

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Said Bishr: 'Fie on thee! 1 Whom dost thou mean?' She replied: 'Thy paternal uncle's daughter, Fátima.' He asked: 'Is she as beautiful as thou hast described?' She answered: 'More so, and much more so.' Then he recited saying:--

'Fie on thee! O possessor of white front teeth, I did not think I would exchange thee;
But now thou hast signified by allusion, the valley is open to thee, so sing and lay thine eggs. 2
Mine eyelids shall not close in slumber until I raise mine honour from base degrees.'

So she said:--

'Many a wooer  3 has importunately pressed his suit for her,
While she is cousin to thee, the daughter of a paternal uncle, closely related.' 4

Then he sent to his uncle asking for his daughter in marriage, but the uncle denied him his request. 5 Therefore he swore not to show any of them any consideration, if he would not marry his daughter to him. So he inflicted many injuries upon them, and continuously vexed them. Therefore the men of the tribe assembled before his uncle and said: 'Save us from thy madman.' He replied: 'Clothe me not with infamy, 6 but respite me that I may destroy him by stratagem.' They said: 'Do so.' Then his uncle said to him: 'I have sworn not to marry this my

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daughter, save to him who will drive to her a thousand she-camels as a dowry, and I will be satisfied with none but the she-camels of the Khuzá‘ah.' 1 Now the object of the uncle was that Bishr should traverse the road between him and the Khuzá‘ah so that a lion might tear him to pieces; for the Arabs used to avoid that way in which there was a lion named Dadh and a serpent called Shuja‘. One of them says concerning her

'Swifter to slay 2 than Dadh 3 and Shuja‘.
If Dadh is the king of beasts, she is the queen of serpents.'

Then did Bishr travel that road, but he had not traversed half of it when he met the lion. His colt reared and beat the ground with its hind-feet. So he alighted and hamstrung it. Then he drew his sword on the lion, attacked it and cut it in two, breadthwise. Then he wrote with the blood of the lion on his shirt to his cousin:--

'O 'Fáṭima, 4 if thou hadst been present in the valley of Khabt, 5 when the lion met thy brother Bishr,
Then thou wouldst have seen a lion 6 visiting a lion, the lion victorious meeting another.
"He advanced proudly, 7 and my colt timidly drew back and I exclaimed, "Mayest thou be slaughtered for a colt!
Let both my feet reach the surface of the ground, for I perceive the earth has a surer back than thou."

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And I said to him 1--and he had displayed sharpened fangs and a frowning face;
In treachery one of his paws gripped the ground while he stretched forth the other to pounce upon me,
Indicating his strength of claw, sharpness of fang and glances thou wouldst reckon to be live coals;
And in my right hand was a keen edge, upon whose blade the trace of deadly blows remains--
Hath it not reached thee what its keen edges did at Káz̤ima, 2 the morning I met ‘Amr?
And my heart is like thine, it dreads not the attack, then how should it fear intimidation?
And thou desirest for the cubs food, and I seek for the paternal uncle's daughter a dowry.
Therefore in respect of what dost thou induce one like me to turn his back, and, perforce, to place his life in thy hands?
I have admonished thee, O lion, therefore seek other than me as food, for verily my flesh is bitter.
But when he thought my counsel insincere and he disagreed with me, as though I had spoken vainly,
He moved and I moved, like two lions desiring one object, which, when they sought it, they found to be difficult of attainment.
I shook the sword at him and I thought verily I had with it drawn forth the dawn in the darkness.
And I bestowed upon him a deadly blow, which showed him that it told him false when it promised him it would betray me.
I let the Indian sword in my right hand go, and it slashed ten of his ribs.
So he fell on the ground covered with blood, and it was as though in him I had demolished a lofty edifice.
And I said to him; "It is to me a hard thing  3 that I have slain my like in courage and glory.

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But thou didst desire a thing that none beside thee desired, therefore, O lion, I could not endure it.
Thou didst endeavour to instruct me to flee; by the life of thy father! thou didst attempt a difficult thing.
But grieve not, for thou didst meet an ingenuous one who is careful not to be blamed, therefore, thou hast died honourably.
For, if thou art slain, there is no disgrace, for thou didst meet one freeborn on both sides?"'

Now, when these lines reached his uncle, he repented of his forbidding him to marry her, and he feared lest the serpent might suddenly attack him. So he arose, went in his track, and came up with him when the fierceness of the serpent had taken possession of him, but, when he saw his uncle, rage of the days of savagery 1 seized him, so that he put his hand into the serpent's mouth, thrust his sword into her and said:--

'A Bishr, whose ambition 2 for greatness is far-reaching;
when his uncle saw him in the open plain,
It was as though he were bereft of himself, and his mother were bereft of him;
She attacked with an attack that caused him concern. Then he arose against the offspring of the desert and his hand and sleeve disappeared in its mouth.
And its life is my life, and my venom is its venom.'

Now when he had slain the serpent, his uncle said: 'Verily I exposed thee to danger in a matter from which God hath diverted me. So return, that I may marry thee to my daughter.' Now when he turned back, Bishr filled his mouth with boasting, until there appeared on his horse a beardless youth, like unto the crescent moon, enveloped in his weapons. So he said: 'O Uncle, I hear the sound of a quarry.' And he went forth and behold, a spear's length off, a young man who said: 'May thy mother be bereft of thee! O Bishr, if thou hast slain a worm and a beast, dost thou fill thy jaws with boasting? Thou art safe if thou

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surrender thy uncle.' Said Bishr: 'Perish thy mother! Who art thou?' He answered: 'The black day and the red death.' 1 Said Bishr: 'May she, who excreted thee, be bereft of thee.' He retorted: 'O Bishr and she that excreted thee.' Then each one attacked the other, but Bishr could do nothing to him, while the youth was able to inflict upon him twenty thrusts in the region of the kidneys, 2 but, as often as the point of the spear touched him, he prevented it from wounding his body, in order to spare him. He said: 'O Bishr, what thinkest thou? Could I not, if I wished, have given thee as food to the point of the spear?' 3

He then threw down the spear, drew his sword, and struck Bishr twenty blows with the flat of the blade, but Bishr could not deal him one. Then he said: 'O Bishr, surrender thy uncle and go in safety.' He replied: 'Yes, on condition that thou tell me who thou art.' He said: 'I am thy son.' He 4 exclaimed: 'Good gracious! I have never approached a worthy woman, whence then this gift?' He answered: 'I am the son of the woman who directed thee to thy uncle's daughter.' Then said Bishr:--

'That staff is from this stave. 5
Does the serpent bring forth other than the serpent?' 6

And he swore never to ride a noble steed or wed a fair lady. Then he married his uncle's daughter to his son.



185:4 I have never seen the like of to-day: Cf. the saying (1) of al-Farazdaq, Ibn Qutaiba, Sh‘ir wa Shu‘ará, p. 49, and (2) of ‘Amr ibn-Hind, when he heard ‘Amr ibn Kúlthúm recite his qaṣida, Mu‘allaqát, (edition by Lyall), p. 107.

185:5 The intense blackness in my eye: Metre, rejez.

185:6 That walk on two feet: Cf. Qur’án, xxiv, 44.

185:7 The morning would manifest itself to the possessor of two eyes: Cf. a similar phrase quoted by Lane, p. 2647. Art. v., .

186:1 Fie on thee! Metre, rejez,

186:2 So sing and lay thine eggs: A variation of Ṭarafa's line. See Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 432.

186:3 Many a wooer: Metre, rejez.

186:4 Closely related: That is, his first cousin.

186:5 The uncle denied him his request: Cf. Aghání, xii, 10. This refusal was a breach of Bedawín law 'which acknowledges a right in first cousins to the hands of marriageable daughters. At the present day the consent of all first cousins on the father's side must be obtained to a girl's marriage with a stranger.' Blunt's translation of the romance, The Stealing of the Mare, pp. 8 and 122.

186:6 Clothe me not with infamy: By asking him to save them from his madman because (1) he was unable to put a stop to his ravages by force, and (2) if he were now to give his consent to the marriage, he would expose himself to the charge of having submitted to force majeure himself.

187:1 Khuzá‘ah: The name of an Arab tribe.

187:2 Swifter to slay than Dadh: Metre, rejez.

187:3 Dadh: According to Dozy the people of North-West Africa call the white chameleon , The unique dadh.

187:4 O Fáṭima: Metre, wafer. An example of apocopation. These verses are attributed to ‘Amr ibn M‘adí Kariba, but the commentator considers it merely a coincidence of ideas and that the lines refer to two distinct episodes. See Hamasa, i, 73. Cf. al-Wasáṭa, pp. 109-111.

187:5 Khabt: There are four places of this name: (1) the desert of al-Jamísh, between Mecca and Madína. (2) The oases of Kalb. (3) Bazwá, between Mecca and Madína. (4) A village in Yemen. Yaqút, ii, 397.

187:6 (fierce sturdy) lion: According to Dozy it is the name of an animal which resembles the wild cat found in Abyssinia.

187:7 He advanced proudly: Literally, he played the lion (). Freytag says the word also means an obsequious camel. Cf. Ḥarírí, p. 376, line 5.

188:1 To him: That is, to the lion.

188:2 Kaz̤ima: A desert in the direction of the coast between Baṣra and Baḥrein.

188:3 It is to me a hard thing: Cf. Letters, p. 80.

189:1 The days of savagery: Generally called the 'Days of the Ignorance,' or period of paganism, in Arabia before Islám.

189:2 A Bishr, whose ambition: Metre, rejez.

190:1 Red death: Death by the sword.

190:2 In the region of the kidneys: Literally, in his kidneys.

190:3 The point of the spear: Literally, the fangs of the spear.

190:4 He (Bishr) exclaimed.

190:5 That staff is from this stave: Metre, rejez. Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 17 and Meidání (Bulak), i, 12. Al-‘Asá is said to have been the name of a famous horse belonging to Jadhima’l-Abrash and 'Auṣayyah' that of its mother. See Journal Asiatique, Mars, 1838, pp. 245-51. Cf. English, 'A chip of the old block'.

190:6 Does the serpent bring forth other than the serpent: Cf. Letters, p. 165.