[Go back to Al-Fath Bin Khakan and Al-Mutawakkil]
Quoth a certain man of learning, "I never saw amongst woman kind one wittier, and wiser, better read and by nature more generously bred; and in manners and morals more perfected than a preacher of the people of Baghdad, by name Sitt al-Masha'ikh. It chanced that she came to Hamah city in the year of the Flight five hundred and sixty and one; and there delivered salutary exhortations to the folk from the professorial chair. Now there used to visit her house a number of students of divinity and persons of learning and polite letters, who would discuss with her questions of theology and dispute with her on controversial points. I went to her one day, with a friend of mine, a man of years and education; and when we had taken our seats, she set before us a dish of fruit and seated herself behind a curtain. Now she had a brother, a handsome youth, who stood behind us, to serve us. And when we had eaten we fell to disputing upon points of divinity, and I propounded to her a theological question bearing upon a difference between the Imams, the Founders of the Four Schools. She proceeded to speak in answer, whilst I listened; but all the while my friend fell to looking upon her brother's face and admiring his beauties without paying any heed to what she discoursed. Now as she was watching him from behind the curtain; when she had made an end of her speech, she turned to him and said, 'Methinks thou be of those who give men the preference over women!' He replied, 'Assuredly,' and she asked, 'And why so?'; whereto he answered, 'For that Allah hath made the masculine worthier than the feminine,'" --And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Twentieth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the Shaykh replied, " 'For that Allah hath made the masculine worthier than the feminine; and I like the excelling and mislike the excelled.' She laughed and presently said, 'Wilt thou deal fairly with me in debate, if I battle the matter with thee?' and he rejoined, 'Yes.' Then quoth she, 'What is the evidence of the superiority of the male to the female?' Quoth he, 'It is of two kinds, traditional and reasonable. The authoritative part deriveth from the Koran and the Traditions of the Apostle. As for the first we have the very words of Almighty Allah, 'Men shall have the pre-eminence above women because of those advantages wherein Allah hath caused the one of them to excel the other; and again, 'If there be not two men, let there be one man and two women;' and again, when treating of inheritance, 'If there be brothers and sisters let a male have as much as the portion of two females.' Thus Allah (extolled and exalted be He!) hath in these places preferred the male over the female and teacheth that a woman is as the half of a man, for that he is worthier than she. As for the Sunnah traditions, is it not reported of the Prophet (whom Allah save and assain!) that he appointed the blood money for a woman to be half that of a man. And as for the evidence of reason, the male is the agent and active and the female the patient and passive.' Rejoined she, 'Thou hast said well, O my lord, but, by Allah, thou hast proved my contention with thine own lips and hast advanced evidence which telleth against thee, and not for thee. And thus it is: Allah (extolled and exalted be He!) preferred the male above the female solely because of the inherent condition and essential quality of masculinity; and in this there is no dispute between us. Now this quality of male-hood is common to the child, the boy, the youth, the adult and the old man; nor is there any distinction between them in this. If, then, the superior excellence of male masculant belong to him solely by virtue of manhood, it behoveth that thy heart incline and thy sole delight in the graybeard, equally with the boy; seeing that there is no distinction between them, in point of male-hood. But the difference between thee and me turneth upon the accident of qualities that are sought as constituting the pleasure of intercourse and its enjoyment; and thou hast adduced no proof of the superiority of the youth over the young girl in this matter of non-essentials.' He made answer, 'O reverend lady, knowest thou not that which is peculiar to the youth of limber shape and rosy cheeks and pleasant smile and sweetness of speech? Youths are, in these respects superior to women; and the proof of this is what they traditionally report of the Prophet (whom Allah bless and preserve!) that he said, 'Stay not thy gaze upon the beardless, for in them is a momentary eye glance at the black eyed girls of Paradise.' Nor indeed is the superiority of the lad over the lass hidden to any of mankind, and how well saith Abu Nowas,
'The least of him is the being free * From monthly courses and pregnancy.'
And the saying of another poet,
'Quoth our Imam, Abu Nowas, who was * For mad debauch and waggishness renowned:
'O tribe that loves the cheeks of boys, take fill * Of joys in Paradise shall ne'er be found!'
So if any one enlarge in praise of a slave girl and wish to enhance her value by the mention of her beauties, he likeneth her to a youth,'" --And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Twenty-first Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the Shaykh continued, "'So if any one enlarge in praise of a slave girl and wish to enhance her value by the mention of her beauties, he likeneth her to a youth, because of the illustrious qualities that belong to the male, even as saith the poet,
'Boy like of backside, in the deed of kind, * She sways, as sways the wand like boughs a-wind.'
An youths, then, were not better and fairer than girls, why should these be likened to them? And know also (Almighty Allah preserve thee!) that a youth is easy to be led, adapting himself to every rede, pleasant of converse and manners, inclining to assent rather than dissent, especially when his side face is newly down'd and his upper lip is first embrowned, and the purple lights of youth on his cheeks abound, so that he is like the full moon sound; and how goodly is the saying of Abu Tammam,
'The slanderers said 'There's hair upon his cheeks'; * Quoth I, 'Exceed not, that's no blemish there.'
When he could bear that haling of his hips * And pearl-beads shaded by mustachio hair;
And Rose swore solemn, holiest oath that is, * From that fair cheek she nevermore would fare
I spoke with eyelids without need of speech, * And they who answered me his eyebrows were.
He's even fairer than thou knewest him, * And cheek down guards from all would overdare.
Brighter and sweeter now are grown his charms, * Since down robes lip and cheek before were bare.
And those who blame me for my love of him, * When him they mention say of him, 'Thy Fair'!'
And quoth al-Hariri and quoth excellently well,
'My censors say, 'What means this pine for him? * Seest not the flowing hair on cheeks a flowing?'
I say, 'By Allah, an ye deem I dote, * Look at the truth in those fine eyes a-showing!
But for the down that veils his cheek and chin, * His brow had dazed all eyes no sight allowing:
And whoso sojourns in a growthless land, * How shall he move from land fair growths a-growing?'
And quoth another,
'My blamers say of me, 'He is consoled,' And lie! * No consolation comes to those who pine and sigh.
I had no solace when Rose bloomed alone on cheek, * Now Basil blooms thereon and now consoled am I.'
'Slim waisted one, whose looks with down of cheek * In slaughtering mankind each other hurtle
With the Narcissus blade he sheddeth blood, * The baldrick of whose sheath is freshest myrtle.'
'Not with his must I'm drunk, but verily * Those curls turn manly heads like newest wine
Each of his beauties envies each, and all * Would be the silky down on side face li'en.'
Such are the excellencies of the youth which women do not own, and they more than suffice to give those the preference over these.' She replied, 'Allah give thee health! verily, thou hast imposed the debate upon thyself; and thou hast spoken and hast not stinted and hast brought proofs to support every assertion. But, 'Now is the truth become manifest;' so swerve thou not from the path thereof; and, if thou be not content with a summary of evidence, I will set it before thee in fullest detail. Allah upon thee, where is the youth beside the girl and who shall compare kid and wild cow? The girl is soft of speech, fair of form, like a branchlet of basil, with teeth like chamomile-petals and hair like halters wherefrom to hang hearts. Her cheeks are like blood-red anemones and her face like a pippin: she hath lips like wine and breasts like pomegranates twain and a shape supple as a rattan-cane. Her body is well formed and with sloping shoulders dight; she hath a nose like the edge of a sword shining bright and a forehead brilliant white and eyebrows which unite and eyes stained by Nature's hand black as night. If she speak, fresh young pearls are scattered from her mouth forthright and all hearts are ravished by the daintiness of her sprite; when she smileth thou wouldst ween the moon shone out her lips between and when she eyes thee, sword blades flash from the babes of her eyes. In her all beauties to conclusion come, and she is the centre of attraction to traveller and stay-at-home. She hath two lips of cramoisy, than cream smoother and of taste than honey sweeter,'" --And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Twenty-second Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the preacher woman thus pursued her theme in the praise of fair maids, "'She hath two lips of cramoisy, than cream smoother and than honey sweeter;' adding, 'And she hath a bosom, as it were a way two hills between which are a pair of breasts like globes of ivory sheen; likewise, a stomach right smooth, flanks soft as the palm-spathe and creased with folds and dimples which overlap one another, and liberal thighs, which like columns of pearl arise, and back parts which billow and beat together like seas of glass or mountains of glance, and two feet and hands of gracious mould like unto ingots of virgin gold. So, O miserable! where are mortal men beside the Jinn? Knowest thou not that puissant princes and potent Kings before women ever humbly bend and on them for delight depend? Verily, they may say, 'We rule over necks and rob hearts.' These women! how many a rich man have they not paupered, how many a powerful man have they not prostrated and how many a superior man have they not enslaved! Indeed, they seduce the sage and send the saint to shame and bring the wealthy to want and plunge the fortune favoured into penury. Yet for all this, the wise but redouble in affection of them and honour; nor do they count this oppression or dishonour. How many a man for them hath offended his Maker and called down on him self the wrath of his father and mother! And all this because of the conquest of their love over hearts. Knowest thou not, O wretched one, that for them are built pavilions, and slave girls are for sale; that for them tear floods rail and for them are collected jewels of price and ambergris and musk odoriferous; and armies are arrayed and pleasaunces made and wealth heaped up and smitten off is many a head? And indeed he spoke sooth in the words, 'Whoso saith the world meaneth woman.' Now as for thy citation from the Holy Traditions, it is an argument against thee and not for thee in that the Prophet (whom Allah bless and preserve!) compareth the beardless with the black eyed girls of Paradise. Now, doubtless, the subject of comparison is worthier than the object there with compared; so, unless women be the worthier and the goodlier, wherefore should other than they be likened to them? As for thy saying that girls are likened to boys, the case is not so, but the contrary: boys are likened to girls; for folk say, Yonder boy is like a girl. As for what proof thou quotest from the poets, the verses were the product of a complexion unnatural in this respect; and as for the habitual sodomites and catamites, offenders against religion, Almighty Allah hath condemned them in His Holy Book, herein He denounceth their filthy practices, saying, 'Do ye approach unto the males among mankind and leave your wives which your Lord hath created for you? Surely ye are a people who transgress!' These it is that liken girls to boys, of their exceeding profligacy and ungraciousness and inclination to follow the fiend and own lusts, so that they say, 'She is apt for two tricks,' and these are all wanderers from the way of right and the righteous. Quoth their chief Abu Nowas,
'Slim waist and boyish wits delight * Wencher, as well as Sodomite,'
As for what thou sayest of a youth's first hair on cheek and lips and how they add to his beauty and loveliness, by Allah, thou strayest from the straight path of sooth and sayest that which is other than the truth; for whiskers change the charms of the comely into ugliness (quoting these couplets),
'That sprouting hair upon his face took wreak * For lovers' vengeance, all did vainly seek.
I see not on his face a sign fuli- * genous, except his curls are hue of reek.
If so his paper mostly be begrimed * Where deemest thou the reed shall draw a streak?
If any raise him other fairs above, * This only proves the judge of wits is weak.'
And when she ended her verse she resumed, 'Laud be to Allah Almighty,'" --And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Twenty-third Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the preacher woman ended her verse she resumed, addressing the man, " 'Laud to Allah Almighty! how can it be hid from thee that the perfect pleasure is in women and that abiding blessings are not to be found but with them, seeing that Allah (extolled and exalted be He!) hath promised His prophets and saints black eyed damsels in Paradise and hath appointed these for a recompense of their godly works. And had the Almighty known that the joy supreme was in the possession of other than women, He had rewarded them therewith and promised it to them. And quoth he (whom Allah bless and preserve!), 'The things I hold dearest of the things of your world are three: women and perfume and the solace of my eyes in prayer.' Verily Allah hath appointed boys to serve his prophets and saints in Paradise, because Paradise is the abode of joy and delight, which could not be complete without the service of youths; but, as to the use of them for aught but service, it is Hell's putridity and corruption and turpitude. How well saith the poet,
'Men's turning unto bums of boys is bumptious; * Whoso love noble women show their own noblesse.
How many goodly wights have slept the night, enjoying * Buttocks of boys, and woke at morn in foulest mess
Their garments stained by safflower, which is yellow merde; * Their shame proclaiming, showing colour of distress.
Who can deny the charge, when so bewrayed are they * That e'en by day light shows the dung upon their dress?
What contrast wi' the man, who slept a gladsome night * By Houri maid for glance a mere enchanteress,
He rises off her borrowing wholesome bonny scent; * That fills the house with whiffs of perfumed goodliness.
No boy deserved place by side of her to hold; * Canst even aloes wood with what fills pool of cess!'
Then said she, 'O folk ye have made me to break the bounds of modesty and the circle of free born women and indulge in idle talk of chambering and wantonness, which beseemeth not people of learning. But the breasts of free-borns are the sepulchres of secrets' and such conversations are in confidence. Moreover, actions are according to intentions, and I crave pardon of Allah for myself and you and all Moslems, seeing that He is the Pardoner and the Compassionate.' Then she held her peace and thereafter would answer us of naught; so we went our way, rejoicing in that we had profited by her contention and yet sorrowing to part from her." And among the tales they tell is one of...
[Go to Abu Suwayd and the Pretty Old Woman]
Burton, Richard (1821-1890). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. London. 1885-1888. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. VII. Gutenberg Vol. VIII. Gutenberg Vol. IX. Gutenberg Vol. X. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM