March 22, 2018

Thirty Questions to the Moon

In times past, the Arabs couched their knowledge of the moon in the form of questions and answers about how each night of the month might be reckoned from its light, as well as other matters, saying:

       The moon was asked: "O son of one night, what are you?"
"Milk suckled by a lamb whose folk have camped in an arid quarter," said the moon. [A singsong reply that rhymes in Arabic with the asker's question, as do all the moon's replies up to night thirteen.]
      "And on the second night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Talk between two domestics [of different households], full of slander and untruth," said the moon.
      "And on the third night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Talk amongst a group of girls brought together from distant quarters," said the moon, and "of short duration" is added [to the moon's reply].
      "And on the fourth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"The lapse of time a camel's calf goes between nursings," said the moon.
      "And on the fifth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Talk amongst intimates," said the moon.
      "And on the sixth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
The moon said, "[I heed the command to] 'Roam and stay.'"

       The moon was asked, "On night seven, what are you?"
"The fattening of two calves," said the moon. "The hyena's ramble" is also said [to be the moon's reply].
      "And on the eighth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"The lovers' moon," said the moon. "A loaf divided among brothers" is also said [to be the moon's reply].
      "And on the ninth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"By my light, an onyx can be found," said the moon.
      "And on the tenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I uphold the testimony of dawn," said the moon.
      "And on the eleventh night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"By night and in the morning I am visible." said the moon.
      "And on the twelfth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"A guarantor of night-travel," said the moon, "for townsfolk and nomads alike."

       The moon was asked, "On night thirteen, what are you?"
"A brilliant disk, dazzling to the viewer's eye," said the moon.
      "And on the fourteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"My youth in full bloom, I shine through the clouds," said the moon.
      "And on the fifteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I am at my fullest, and my days dwindle," said the moon.
      "And on the sixteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Diminished in form, from east to west," said the moon.
      "And on the seventeenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I am penury, the poor man's mount," said the moon.
      "And on the eighteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Evanescent," said the moon, "and fast to pass away."

       The moon was asked, "On night nineteen, what are you?"
"From humility, I am slow to rise" said the moon.
      "And on the twentieth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I rise at dawn, and am visible when the day is young," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-first night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"My night-journey goes no further than my visibility."
      "And on the twenty-second night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"The smudge of battle and the lion of war," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-third night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"In dark of night, I am lifted to a torch's height," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-fourth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"A mere fraction," said the moon, "whose rising leaves the darkness undispelled."

       The moon was asked, "On night twenty-five, what are you?"
"On nights like this, I'm neither disk nor crescent," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-sixth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"All hopes cut off, my end is due," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-seventh night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I hug the earth, but shed no glow upon it," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-eighth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"An early riser. By midday I'm invisible," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-ninth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Just ahead of the sun's rays, my stay is fleeting." said the moon.
      "And on the thirtieth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"A crescent," said the moon, "for whom the way forward is the way down."

From the Meadows of Gold of al-Mas‘ūdī;
cf. the Book of Days and Nights and Months of al-Farrā’,
and Uncommon Vocabulary of Prophetic Narration by Ibn Qutayba