December 29, 2012

Madmen who were poets 4

The grammarian Muhammad ibn Yazīd al-Mubarrad said: En route to Wāsit from Baghdad, we took a detour to the Monastery of Ezekiel [at al-Nu'māniyya] to see the madmen there. Their madnesses were all of kinds known to us, or so we thought until we spied a well-kept young man in laundered clothes sitting apart from the others. "If any," we said, "then this one." So we approached him with a pious greeting, which he did not return. "What's the matter with you?" we asked him. He said:

  "God knows how sad I am.
      To none other can it be described.
   My soul is two, one in this land
      while another land keeps the other.
   The one stuck here can endure no more.
      The hide around it is about to give out.
   I believe the absent soul to be in the same state.
      By my troth, hers is the present soul's matter."

"Well done, by God!" I said to him. At this, he motioned as if throwing something at us, saying: "Who says 'Well done' to the likes of me?"
      Al-Mubarrad said: We were making haste to get away from him, when the young man said: "Come back, by God, I beseech you, until I recite for you another poem. Then you can say whether it's well or poorly done." So we went back to him and said: "Recite." He began:

  "Just before dawn, when the palomino camels were knelt
      for their saddles and a shapely cargo to trudge away with,
   when, face to face through a gap in the curtain [of her howdah]
      she looked out at me through eyes engorged with tears,
   at the wave of her hand [henna-stanched] like a bough of ‘anam,
      I called out to the camel, 'Let your hind legs not bear [her] away!'
   I wail for the split that undid what she and I had,                                     
      the split that came down, that undoing split when they moved off.

   Palomino driver! Stay their steps, that we may lengthen our farewell.
      Palomino driver! Your haste speeds my ending.
   Never to renounce my desire to be with them, for the rest of my life,
      I wish I knew: what did they with the rest of theirs?"

We said to him: "They [must have] died." At his he gave a cry and said: "Then I, by God, die also," fell to all fours, stretched out and died. And we did not leave the place until we had him buried.

[A shorter variant of the same report.]  Al-Mubarrad said: On entering the Monastery of Ezekiel, we were met by a madman with a rock in his hand. "O assembly of my brethren, hearken unto me!" he said as the people scattered. Then he began to recite:

  "Many's the soul of an eminent man
      reduced to moaning without remit,
   who wheels to face the host in battle
      and shrinks from single combat."

Continued from The Necklace Without Peer.

Recounted also in al-Mas'ūdī's Meadows of Gold, the Thousand and One Nights, the Letting People Know of al-Itlīdī, et alibi.

December 25, 2012

December 17, 2012

Madmen who were poets 3

Abu 'l-Wāsi' [a companion of the poet Abū 'Īsā Sālih al-Rashīd] was in the company of his sons when a poet of the madmen called and asked permission to perform an ode. Abu 'l-Wāsi' declined, but the poet importuned until his resistance fell. After the final verse:

   Irrefutable man, on this day you are their head,
      and around you the cream of your eminent sons!

Abu 'l-Wāsi' said to him: "If you would only leave us en masse" (lit. "head by head").
      It is said that a mad poet of the Bedouin visited Nasr ibn Sayyār and declaimed a poem composed of one hundred amatory verses and only two lines of praise. "By God," said Nasr to him, "the words of your poem are as graceless as their meaning. All your effort was spent on amatory prelude, with nothing left over for panegyric!" The poet said: "I can change that." So he came back the next morning with a poem that began:

   Can you make out the house of Umm al-Ghamr?
      - Leave that! and let's have a poem in praise of Nasr.

"Neither one of these [is any good]," said Nasr.
      One of the scholars said: "For sheer hermeneutic depravity, the only thing I have heard to rival the Rāfida was something a madman of Mecca said about a poem [by al-Farazdaq]. This man said: 'The Banū Tamīm are the biggest liars I have ever heard. In the poem:

   He Who hung the sky has built for us
      a house whose columns soar above all others.
  The house the Sovereign built is ours, and what
      Heaven's Arbitrator builds cannot be shaken.
   The house in whose courtyard Zurāra sits arrayed,
      and Mujāshi' and Nahshal, father to horsemen...

The Banū Tamīm claim these names belong to their own!' " [As is the case, Mujāshi' and Nahshal being direct ancestors of the poet himself.]
      The scholar said: "I asked him: 'In your view, what do they mean?' He said: 'The "house" is the house of God; Zurāra is the stone that is "buttoned" [zurrirat] around it. Mujāshi' is the well of Zamzam, whose water is "coveted" [jushi'at], and "Father to Horsemen" is the mountain of Abū Qubays in Mecca.' I said to him: 'And Nahshal?' For a whole hour he thought it over, then said: 'It is the tall black lamp-stand of the Ka'ba. That is what Nahshal is.' "

Continued from Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's Necklace Without Peer

December 10, 2012

High and low estate in the world to come

FRIEND. Tell me, Menippos: Those who lie in lofty above-ground tombs, replete with images and epitaphs and upright slabs - do they command more honor in the underworld relative to the common run of dead?

MENIPPOS. You've got it backwards, guy! Even Mausolus - the Carian made famous by his tomb - if you had seen him you would still be laughing, I am sure, so despicable was the cranny in which he was flung. Far from bringing him distinction among the rabble of the other dead, the extent of his monument's benefit was that a burden of equivalent weight pressed down on him. The tenant of any plot that Aiakos marks off must be content to lie wedged within its ambit, you see, be it no more than one foot square.
      Buddy, you'd get an even bigger laugh if you could see the kings and satraps over us reduced to beggary, salt-fishmongering and teaching the alphabet. By all who happen by they are abused and smacked about the head like no-account chattel. Philip of Macedon is given out as a cobbler-for-hire of rotten sandals, and when he was pointed out to me in his corner I could control myself no longer. And the Polycrateses, Xerxeses and Darii of the world could be seen panhandling at every fork in the road.

Lucian, Menippos 17

November 30, 2012


Brothers, don't let too many of you become teachers. Error is common to everyone, of course, but we who teach are subject to even sterner judgment. The consummate man is he whose discourse is free from error, because he maintains a hold on the bridle to his whole body. So do we steer whole horse's bodies, when we put bridle-bits in their mouths, in order that they obey. And behold the ships: big as they are and driven by the crashing winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder in whatever direction the pilot pleases. This is how the tongue works: a small appendage, it makes grandiose declarations. Behold the quantity of timber kindled by a tongue-sized fire!

The tongue is itself a fire. Among our appendages, the tongue was installed as an ornament of iniquity, defiling our whole body and setting alight the wheel of coming-into-being with a flame caught from Gehenna. Humankind is capable of enslaving every stripe of beast and bird, every reptile and creature of the sea, and has done so; but the tongue is something no human being has ever enslaved - an unsteady evil, swollen with deadly venom. We bless the Lord and Father with it, and with it we curse [our fellow] human beings, who were born into God's likeness. Brothers, it should not happen that curse and blessing issue from the same mouth. Do fresh and stagnant water bubble up from the same spring? My brothers: can fig trees put forth olives? or grapevines figs? No more than seawater can be made fresh to drink.

James 3:1-12

November 15, 2012

Madmen who were poets 2

['Abd al-Rahmān Muhammad ibn 'Ubayd Allāh] al-'Utbī said: "Abū Wā'il said to my father: 'Despite my dementia, if you ask me about poetry you'll find that I know a thing or two about it.' My father said: 'Do you compose any poetry yourself?' Abū Wā'il said: 'Yes - much better than yours. Here's one of mine:

   If, after my ribs lie buried, their weeping forgotten,
      Jawmal would only speak to me,
   I bet my bones would answer her.
      I bet my old carcass would spring back to life.'

My father said to him: 'Not bad, except that the woman's name is ill-chosen.' Abū Wā'il said: "In reality her name is Juml ["Stout rope"], but I improved it.' My father said to him: 'God save us from the dementia that makes you think so.'
      "My father also told me that Abū Wā'il recited to him:

   When it hurts this much to part from a stranger,
      how much more when from a lover's side [min habībi]?
   My heart is stupefied with longing
      when I remember he is dead [yamūtu].

'That doesn't even rhyme!' my father told him. 'One verse ends with bā' (ب), the other tā' (ت).' 'And you cannot supply the missing point?' said Abū Wā'il. 'Furthermore,' my father said, 'the voweling is off. One verse has a genitive case ending where the other ends in an indicative verbal suffix.' 'I say,' replied Abū Wā'il, 'when faced with difficulty you supply no point.' "
      When the mother of Sulaymān ibn Wahb al-Kātib passed away, a lunatic scribe named Sālih ibn Shīrzādh regaled him with an elegy, reciting:

   By what happened to Umm Sulaymān we are laid low
      as if at a blow from the amputator's sword.
   You were the reins of the house, Umm Sālim; now,
      the house's reins have wound up in the grave.

Ibn Wahb said: "When was one of God's creatures so mistreated? To lose one's mother and hear her mourned with such a [crappy] poem, in which my name is changed from Sulaymān to Sālim!"
      Another verse of Sālih ibn Shīrzādh's goes like this:

   Do not liken the silent fart to a curative;
      the audible fart is the true Ādharītūs [Adrestos?]

Continued from Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's Necklace Without Peer

November 4, 2012

Names of the Rain

Al-dayima is "continuous" rain without thunder or lightning, lasting no less than one third of a day or night. Most rains do not last this long. Similar to al-dayima is al-tahtān ["The Trickle"]. A poet said:

   My beloved, the weeping of your nostrils
      is like the tahtān of a rainy day.

Two varieties of al-dayima are al-hadb ["The Hard Rain"] and al-hatl ["The Spattering"]. A poet said:

   At Dhu ’l-Radm the tended fires were overshadowed
      by summer rains hadb-down-coming.

Al-dhihāb are both weak and strong rains. Cloud cover that darkens the sky and brings no rain is called al-dujunna ["The Overshadow"]; such a cloud is called dājina or mudjina. Days and nights so affected are described as dajn and dujunna, both adjectivally ["the day was dujn"] and in the genitive ["a day of dujn"]. Al-dājina is also said for a raincloud that covers the sky, delivering rain continuously, and al-dajn is a plentiful rain. Another kind of continuous rain is al-rihma ["The Discharge"]. Of all the dayima rains, al-rihma falls hardest and is first to pass away. Al-hafā' ["The Flutters"] are similar to al-rihma and are called by al-'Anbarī al-afā'. Yet another kind of dayima is the light rain called al-daththa ["The Scotch Mist"], which is a light rain, and similar to it is al-hadma ["The Nebulous"]. Al-watfā' ["The Beetle-Brow"] is a cloud of rapid-flowing rain that is counted among the dayima rains whether it is of long or short shedding. Al-qatr ["The Drip"] is said for all rain, weak and strong, as is al-dhihab. A diffuse fall of light droplets is called al-rashsh ["The Spray"]. The most abundant rain with the biggest droplets is called al-wābil [“The Downpour"]. Al-jawd ["The Profusion"] is said generally for abundant rain falling at any time of year. A poet said:

   I am Jawād son of Jawād, and the grandson of Sabal:
      When we rain, we're a jawd; when we pour we're a wābil

Al-'Anbarī recited this verse with a slight variation.
      When part after part of something comes in succession, the whole is called al-midrār and al-dirra ["The Torrent"]. This may be said of all rains. Al-rikk ["The Lean"] is a weak rain of no benefit unless it is followed by al-tabi'a ["The Consequent"] which is one rain after another.       Al-sāhiya ["The Inundation"] is an epithet of al-wābil, and vice versa: both wābilun sāhiyatun and sāhiyatun wābilun are heard. It is an expression for the rain that scours all it touches and sweeps it away. When profuse rains grip the earth to the point that its depths are uprooted, its topsoil becomes its bottom, and its hidden and visible shares are inverted, it is said to be mashūra ["Ensorced"]. The rain called jārr al-dabu' ["The Hyena Driver"] never falls without setting the earth aflow, and is so called because it penetrates the hyena’s den and sends it fleeing.
      Al-muhtafal ["The Hugger-Mugger"] is a fast-falling, uninterrupted rain. Similar to it is al-sahh ["The Flow"], with the difference that in al-sahh individual droplets may not be observable. Al-munhamir ["The Fluent"] is like al-sahh, as is al-wadq ["The Bout"]. Al-darb ["The Stroke"] is used for light rain, as is al-qatr, and al-dihhān ["The Gentle Strokes"] are much the same. Al-murawwiya ["The Water-Bringer"] is a rain that quenches the earth, while al-mulabbid ["The Damper"] wets its surface and causes its dust to settle. Al-hayā ["The Life-Giver"] is abundant rain. Al-ahādīb (plural of the plural of al-hadb, q.v.) are hard rains consequent upon other rains. Al-halal ["The Incipient"] are the beginnings of rain. Al-muth'anjir ["The Plenishing"] and al-mushanfir ["The Fleet"] are plentiful in their flow. Al-waliyy ["The Boon Companion"] is said for rain that follows rain in any season. Al-'ahd ["The Pledge"] is a first rain; a land in which the rain is widespread is said to be ma'hūda ["fulfilled"], and when it is touched by a nufda of rain it is said to be mu'ahhada ["empledged."]. Al-nufda ["The Shiver"] is said of rain that falls on one region and passes over another, as are al-shu'būb ["The Cloudburst"] and al-najw ["The Wind-Breaker"]. And land that is mansūha ["satisfied"] has been blessed with abundant rain.
      Al-ghayth is a name for rain in general. Al-sabal ["The Trailing Garment"] is rain that hangs between cloud and earth, from the point of its leaving the cloud to its landing on the ground.

From Abū Zayd al-Ansārī's Book of Rain

September 22, 2012

Madmen who were poets

These include Abū Yāsīn the book-keeper, Ju'ayfirān, Jaranfash, Abū Hayya al-Numayrī, Decimus (sc. Zosimus of Panopolis), and Sālih ibn Shīrzādh the scribe. 
        Abū Hayya was the maddest of his people, and also their greatest poet. His verses include:

    Ho, ruins! Your imprints have started to fade,
        and your mantle of nights is long tattered.
    When day and night team up to try a man,
        it is a trial without adjourning.


    May my poem be whirled with the wind
        that carries from here to al-Qa'qā',
    and land by the waters as something still new
        to delight the ears of al-Qa'qā''s people.

He also said:

    Hand and wrist -the most beautiful fetters - she hides,
        and never unveils to him her sun.

        The poet Ju'ayfirān al-Muwaswas was one of the madmen of Kufa. Met by a man who gave him a dirham, saying: "Rhyme for me a poem," Ju'ayfirān said:

    Heal me, Lord! May all my worry
        be cured and turned into relief.
    My cup of worries away be hurried,
        I'd like my cup of wine now, please.

And he said:

     Ja'far's nothing to his father,
        and is unlike any other,
     sacrificial goat of a crowd of men
        who all lay claim to him.
     "My son!" one calls him, while another
        takes his case before a judge.
     And his mother laughs at all of them,
        knowing his true parentage.

        Abu 'l-Hasan ['Alī ibn al-'Abbās ibn Abī Talha?]  said: "Ju'ayfirān paid a call upon a certain king, and was admitted to his dinner table. On the following day, he paid another call, and was made to eat behind a screen. On the third day he asked again, and was denied altogether. So he called out at the top of his lungs:

   'Admission is yours to grant. Having dined,
        we will not return, since our return gives offense.
    Some feast that was! That its heat gave you
        heart-burn warms us our fast.' "

From "The Second Pearl" of Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's Necklace Without Peer

May 24, 2012

On Cynicism

A member of Epictetus's circle with an evident predilection for the Cynic's way of life asked what sort of person was right for it, and how that person should go about taking it up. Epictetus answered, "Your question calls for long contemplation. This much I can tell you, though:

"To embark on so great an undertaking without divine support is to invite divine wrath and public disgrace. When an estate is well run, none of its members fancy, 'I should be overseer here'; the owner would have the pompous malcontent taken out and flogged as soon as he caught him issuing orders behind his back. In the wider world it's no different, for here too a Head of Household puts each detail in its place. 'You are the sun,' he says to one; 'yours is the power to bring forth seasons and rear up crops in your yearly orbit, to stir the winds and calm them, and to keep things warm enough for people's bodies. Up now, onto the curving path with you, to set in motion all things from the greatest to the least great.'

" 'You,' he tells another, 'are a cow. When a lion shows up, you either see yourself through the encounter or die bleating. And you,' he tells another, 'are a bull. Go forth into battle, for so it was lain unto you, as befits your place in the herd and your fighting power.'

" 'You who have what it takes to lead an army against Ilium, be Agamemnon. You who have what it takes to face Hector in single combat, be Achilles.' But if a Thersites were to pretend to wield command, his disgrace in everyone's eyes would be total. As for you, consider it long and hard. The Cynic's life is not the way you picture it."

Discourses III.22.1-9