January 16, 2020

A wise man of Basra

It was in the palace known as his Ja‘fari Palace that the caliph al-Mutawakkil received a visit from Abu 'l-‘Ayna’. This was in the year 246 (860 CE). He asked him, "What do you say about my house?"
      Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "People have constructed houses in this world, but you have constructed a world in your house." The caliph appreciated this remark, and said, "How would you like an alcoholic beverage?"
      Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "Against a small amount, I am powerless, and a large amount gives me away."
     "Cut it out and drink with us," said the caliph.
     "I am a blind man," Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "and the blind are prone to flailing gestures and moving off in the wrong direction. When the attention of others is distracted from a sightless man, it is by something he cannot see. And while all your courtiers are at your service, I lack anyone to assist me.
     "What's more," he continued, "I can never be sure if your approving demeanor masks an angry heart, or if an angry demeanor masks your approval. Failing to tell these apart could get me killed! Rather than expose myself to such hazard, I prefer to beg your pardon."
     "Your reproofs have been reported to me before," al-Mutawakkil said.
     "O Commander of the Faithful," Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "God, be He Exalted, is a dispenser of both praise and blame. In one place, hallowed be His mention, He says: "What an excellent servant! ever returning," and in another: "The backbiter, who goes about with slander." There is no evil in reproof when it is not [indiscriminate,] like a scorpion that would sting a prophet as soon as it would sting a dhimmi. A poet said (meter: ṭawīl):

     If I were devoid of trustworthy knowledge,
        or insensible of blameworthy fault,
     to what purpose would I know the words good and bad?
        To what purpose would God give me ears and a mouth?"

     "Where are you from?" asked al-Mutawakkil. "From Basra," he said. "What do you have to say about it?" the caliph asked.
      Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "Its water is caustic, and its heat is torment. Basra will turn pleasant when Hell does."

From The Meadows of Gold of al-Mas‘udi
cf. The Passings of Eminent Men by Ibn Khallikan

January 6, 2020

Some Palmettes V

Some Palmettes V sm
From a terracotta neck-amphora (ca. 330-300 BCE) attributed to
the APZ Painter. Metropolitan Museum of Art (06.1021.231).