The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Ja’afar Bin Yahya and Abd Al-Malik Bin Salith the Abbaside258

It is told of Ja’afar bin Yahyá the Barmecide that he sat down one day to wine and, being minded to be private, sent for his boon-companions, with whom he was most familiar, and charged the chamberlain that he suffer none of the creatures of Almighty Allah to enter, save a man of his cup-mates, by name Abd al-Malik bin Sálih, who was behindhand with them. Then they donned brightly-dyed dresses.259 for it was their wont, as often as they sat in the wine-séance, to endue raiment of red and yellow and green silk, and they sat down to drink, and the cups went round the lutes thrilled and shrilled. Now there was a man of the kinsfolk of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, by name Abd al-Malik bin Salih260 bin Ali bin Abdallah bin al-Abbas,261 who was great of gravity and sedateness, piety and propriety, and Al-Rashid used instantly to require that he should company him in converse and carouse and drink with him and had offered him to such end abounding wealth, but he never would. It fortuned that this Abd al-Malik bin Salih came to the door of Ja’afar bin Yahya, so he might bespeak him of certain requisitions of his, and the chamberlain, doubting not but he was the Abd al-Malik bin Salih aforesaid (whom Ja’afar had permitted him admit and that he should suffer none but him to enter), allowed him to go in to his master. Accordingly Abd al-Malik went in, garbed in black, with his Rusáfiyah262 on his head. When Ja’afar saw him, his reason was like to depart for shame and he understood the case, to wit, that the chamberlain had been deceived by the likeness of the name; and Abd al-Malik also perceived how the matter stood and perplexity was manifest to him in Ja’afar’s face. So he put on a cheery countenance and said, “No harm be upon you!263 Bring us of these dyed clothes.” Thereupon they brought him a dyed robe264 and he donned it and sat discoursing gaily with Ja’afar and jesting with him. Then said he, “Allow us to be a partaker in your pleasures, and give us to drink of your Nabíz.”265 So they brought him a silken robe and poured him out a pint, when he said, “We crave your indulgence, for we have no wont of this.” Accordingly Ja’afar ordered a flagon of Nabíz be set before him, that he might drink whatso he pleased. Then, having anointed himself with perfumes, he chatted and jested with them till Ja’afar’s bosom broadened and his constraint ceased from him and his shame, and he rejoiced in this with joy exceeding and asked Abd al-Malik, “What is thine errand? Inform me thereof, for I cannot sufficiently acknowledge they courtesy.” Answered the other, “I come (amend thee Allah!) on three requirements, of which I would have thee bespeak the Caliph; to wit, firstly, I have on me a debt to the amount of a thousand thousand dirhams,266 which I would have paid: secondly, I desire for my son the office of Wali or governor of a province,267 whereby his rank may be raised: and thirdly, I would fain have thee marry him to Al-’Aliyah, the daughter of the Commander of the Faithful, for that she is his cousin and he is a match for her.” Ja’afar said, “Allah accomplisheth unto thee these three occasions. As for the money, it shall be carried to thy house this very hour: as for the government, I make thy son Viceroy of Egypt; and as for the marriage, I give him to mate Such-an-one, the daughter of our lord the Prince of True Believers, at a dowry of such and such a sum. So depart in the assurance of Allah Almighty.” Accordingly Abd al-Malik went away much astonished at Ja’afar’s boldness in undertaking such engagements. He fared straight for his house, whither he found that the money had preceded him, and in the morrow Ja’afar presented himself before Al-Rashid and acquainted him with what had passed, and that he had appointed Abd al-Malik’s son Wali of Egypt268 and had promised him his daughter, Al-’Aliyah to wife. The Caliph was pleased to approve of this and he confirmed the appointment and the marriage. Then he sent for the young man and he went not forth of the palace of the Caliphate till Al-Rashid wrote him the patent of investiture with the government of Egypt; and he let bring the Kazis and the witnesses and drew up the contract of marriage.

258 Bresl. Edit., vol. vii. pp. 251-4, Night dlxv.

259 See vol. vi. 175. A Moslem should dress for public occasions, like the mediaeval student, in vestibus (quasi) nigris aut subfuscis; though not, except amongst the Abbasides, absolutely black, as sable would denote Jewry.

260 A well-known soldier and statesman, noted for piety and austerity. A somewhat fuller version of this story, from which I have borrowed certain details, is given in the Biographical Dictionary of Ibn Khallikán (i. 303-4). The latter, however, calls the first Abd al-Malik “Ibn Bahrán” (in the index Ibn Bahrám), which somewhat spoils the story. “Ibn Khallikan,” by-the-by, is derived popularly from “Khalli” (let go), and “Kána” (it was, enough), a favourite expression of the author, which at last superseded his real name, Abu al-Abbás Ahmad. He is better off than the companion nicknamed by Mohammed Abú Horayrah=Father of the She-kitten (not the cat), and who in consequence has lost his true name and pedigree.

261 In Ibn Khallikán (i. 303) he is called the “Hashimite,” from his ancestor, Hashim ibn Abd Manáf. The Hashimites and Abbasides were fine specimens of the Moslem “Pharisee,” as he is known to Christians, not the noble Purushi of authentic history.

262 Meaning a cap, but of what shape we ignore. Ibn Khallikan afterwards calls it a “Kalansúa,” a word still applied to a mitre worn by Christian priests.

263 Arab. “Lá baas,” equivalent in conversation to our “No matter,” and “All right.”

264 As a member of the reigning family, he wore black clothes, that being the especial colour of the Abbasides, adopted by them in opposition to the rival dynasty of the Ommiades, whose family colour was white, that of the Fatimites being green. The Moslems borrowed their sacred green, “the hue of the Pure,” from the old Nabatheans and the other primitive colours from the tents of the captains who were thus distinguished. Hence also amongst the Turks and Tartars, the White Horde and the Black Horde.

265 The word has often occurred, meaning date-wine or grape-wine. Ibn Khaldún contends that in Ibn Khallikan it here means the former.

266 £25,000. Ibn Khallikan (i. 304) makes the debt four millions of dirhams or £90,000-£100,000.

267 In the Biographer occurs the equivalent phrase, “That a standard be borne over his head.”

268 Here again we have a suggestion that Ja’afar presumed upon his favour with the Caliph; such presumption would soon be reported (perhaps by the austère intrigant himself) to the royal ears, and lay the foundation of ill-will likely to end in utter destruction.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31