Friday, February 3, 2012

Unit 4: Expanding worlds

Overview of the unit

The age of empires

In this unit, we explore new forms of writing that arose in the age of dynastic empires in Muslim history. We begin by reading a poem said to be written by Firdawsi, a Persian poet who lived in the tenth and eleventh centuries. This poem forms the introduction to his Shahnama, an epic based on the history of the ancient kings of Persia.

Educating the princes

The mirror for princes was a form of literature aimed at helping young rulers govern their states with wisdom. This type of writing was made popular in the eighth century by a writer named Ibn al-Muqaffa. In this section, we study a tale called 'The camel, the lion, the leopard, the crow, and the jackal from Ibn al-Muqaffa's Kalila and Dimna.

Minding one's manners and words

Another type of writing that arose in the great cities of the empires was known as adab literature. It dealt with a wide range of topics, such as manners, moral lessons, relationships between people, and refined learning. In this section, we examine two character portraits from the writings of a famous author of adab literature called al-Jahiz.

On far-away shores

One of the subjects in adab literature was travel accounts composed by travelers, explorers and seafarers. To give us a taste of this kind of writing, we explore extracts from The Mirror of Countries by the sixteenth century Turkish admiral, Sidi Ali Reis.

Destruction and downfall

Included in the literature of this age were works based on the histories of dynasties and the lives of emperors. Our final reading in this unit is an account from the life of Timur, the founder of a dynasty that came to power in Central Asia in the fourteenth century.

The age of empires

In the first two centuries after the revelation of Allah's message, Muslim rule spread to many lands, from the coast of West Africa to the mountainous regions of Central Asia and beyond. After the period of the first four caliphs, new empires arose that were ruled by dynasties.
Here is a poem that is in praise of the head of one of these dynasties that exercised power in Asia and India between the tenth and twelfth centuries.

Introduction to the Shahnama

From the creation of the world
No king was equal.
When he rose like a sun on the throne,
With his brilliant crown,
The world shone like polished ivory.

Why do you ask who was the sun
Which increased the light of the world?
Of course it was Abul Qasim Mahmud,
The sovereign of victorious destiny.
The sovereign who placed his throne of glory
Above the sun's shining crown.
Who adorned the land from east to west
And whose glory exhibited the Golden Treasure.
It was then that my sleeping star of fortune rose
And inspiration came to me.
It was then that I realized
That the day of poetry had dawned
And the old days of glory are returned.
Thinking of Mabmud, the ruler of the world,
And praising him, one night I went to sleep.
And I dreamed that a candle in flame
Emerged from water
And turned the lapis-lazuli colour of the world at night
To a bright yellow-ruby shade of dawn.
The plains and valleys looked like satin
Then appeared to me
a throne of turquoise
And on it, seated and crowned, a king
As bright as the moon, between two rows of soldiers,
Having at his left seven hundred elephants of war.
A minister, loyal and honest,
Was attending him
And advising the king on justice and faith.
I was dazzled by the glory of the king,
All those elephants and such a huge army.
Looking at his royal countenance,
I asked the great nobles who were present,
'Are heaven and moon
or the crown and the throne'?
Are these scores of stars
Or his valiant army?'
One of them told me,
He is the dominator of Rome and India.
He rules from Kanouj to the Indus river.
The peoples of Iran and Turan are his subjects
And their lives depend on his will and decree.'
'It is he who adorned the world by his justice,
Wearing the royal crown.
The lord of the world, Mahmud, the emperor,
Whose justice has brought the wolves and the lambs
To the same drinking place.
From Kashmir to the Sea of China
All the sovereigns pay him homage.
When the nursling ceases to drink his mother's milk,
The first word which he utters
In his craddle is 'Mahmud.'
Therefore, you also, as a poet, praise him
And through his praise make your name immortal.'

adorned - decorated, added beauty to
countenance – face
cradle - a child's bed or cot
decree - official order
destiny - what is destined to happen, fate
dominator - lord, person with power
homage – respect
exhibited - showed, displayed
immortal - remembered forever
lapis-lazuli - a blue gemstone
nursling – infant
satin - having a glossy surface
scores - a great many
sovereign - a supreme ruler
turquoise - a greenish-blue gemstone
valiant - brave, courageous

About the author

The poem in this section is supposed to have been written by Abu'l-Qasim Firdawsi, a Persian poet who lived in the tenth and eleventh centuries.
Firdawsi is famous for being the author of an epic poem entitled Shahnama (The Book of Kings). This poem is said to have 60,000 verses, and is one of the longest pieces of work in Muslim literature. It took Firdawsi about thirty-fIve years to compose his epic poem, completing it when he was an old man.
Legends of ancient kings
The Skahnama is a collection of myths, legends and historical accounts of ancient kings who ruled Persia before the coming of Islam. The epic describes the heroic battles fought by these kings against the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.
Dedicating a great work Firdawsi wrote the Shahnama at a time when a dynasty known as the Ghaznawids were ruling Over parts of Persia, Afghanistan and India. The ruler of the dynasty at this time was Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna. Firdawsi dedicated his epic poan to Mahmud of Ghazna, hoping that this powerful ruler would become his patron and support him.
Firdawsi began his epic poem by praising God and Prophet Muhammad. The next item he included was the poem that was dedicated to Sultan Mahmud. Let's examine how he addresses the ruler in his poem.
Examining the poem
We can divide the poem into three parts to gain a better understanding of it.
The greatest king that ever lived
In the first part of the poem, Firdawsi introduces us to Mahmud as the greatest king that ever lived since the world was created. The poet compares Mahmud to a sun which 'increased the light of the world' so that it 'shone like polished ivory'. This 'sun' has also led to a new 'day of poetry'. Firdawsi claims that he became inspired to write poetry in Mahmud's reign.
A strange dream
In the second part of the poem, Firdawsi relates a dream that he had one night. In describing this dream, Firdawsi likens Mahmud to a candle that turns night into dawn. Mahmud is portrayed as a bright moon and his army as 'scores of stars'.
A Mighty emperor
In the last part of the poem, Firdawsi describes the might of Mahmud's army, and the extent of his power. Mahmud is presented as 'the dominator of-Rome and India' and the lives of his subjects depend upon his will. He is the 'lord of the world' to whom all the other rulers pay respect.
Firdawsi ends his poem by giving himself some useful advice. If he wants his name to be remembered forever, he should praise Mahmnd!
Firdawsi and Mahmud
What was the reaction of Mahmud when he was presented with Firdawsi's epic poem of 60,000 verses? What did Firdawsi expect from the ruler whom he compared with the sun and the moon?
Making a name live forever
There is an interesting anecdote which may contain the answer to the above questions. It is said that Sultan Mahmud wanted to have his remembered by people until the day of Judgment. One of his advisors suggested that he should erect great buildings and monuments. Mahmud replied that building would perish after a few centuries. It was then suggested to him that a book be written that would mention his name.
From Gold dinars to silver dirhams
So Firdawsi was approached to write Shahnama. For every verse he wrote, he would be paid a golden dinar. But when the poet completed the work, Mahmud changed his mind and paid the poet only 60,000 silver dirhams, instead of 60,000 gold dinars. Firdawsi was disgusted by the sultan's payment and gave away the money to the keepers of a bath-house. He then wrote a satirical poem about the sultan in which he ridiculed the ruler.
A deeply disappointed poet
The above anecdote is probably a story that has been made up. All we know is Ftrdawsi was not very happy with the way in which he was treated by the sultan. Mahmud did not like epic poetry and barely glanced at the Shahnama. As an old man Firdawsi wrote, '... for thirty five years, in this transient world, I composed my work in the hope of a reward. As my efforts were spent for nothing, these thirty-five years were without result. Now I am nearly eighty and all my hope has gone with the wind.'
Poets and rulers
The poem we have read was written in the eleventh century, almost four hundred years after the age in which Prophet Muhammad lived. The World in which the Muslims found themselves had changed greatly. It was an age of empires in which rulers controlled vast territories and large numbers of people. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna was one of the many rulers who lived in this age.
The language of praise
In the age of empires, new ways of using language appeared in Muslim societies. One of these ways is reflected in the poem of Firdawsi. It was the language of praise for rulers. It is also reflected in his Shahnama in which he celebrates the lives of ancient kings.
An exaggerated language
The age of empires saw the birth of many court poets who wrote poetry in praise of the rulers. They did so because they wanted the protection and support of rulers as their patrons. The language of praise was exaggerated and used rhetoric. Rulers were portrayed in grand terms, rather than as they really were. Firdawsi saw Mahmud as inspiring poetry, but Mahmud took little interest in the poetry that Firdawsi wrote.
From praise to satire
The relation between rulers and poets was not always straightforward, as we found with Mahrnud and Firdawsi. Poets could turn praise into satire, and rulers could persecute rather than protect.
The language of praise and satire was only one form of literature produced in the age of empires. In the following sections, we will explore other creative forms that appeared in Muslim societies.
What kinds of relationships are between poets and rulers in the age of empires?
  • Dedication     • Rhetoric     ' Epic         Satire         Legend
10th-11th century: Abu'l Qasim Firdawsi
Imagine you are living in the age of a great ruler in the past. Write a poem in which you dedicate a work written by you to this great ruler.
  • What are some of the different images Firdawsi uses in his dedication to describe Mahmud?
  • What does the poet mean when he says that 'the day of poetry had dawned'?
  • Find examples in the poem which show the use of exaggeration. What effect is created by the use of such language?
  • Why did Firdawsi think that praising Mahmud would make the poet's name be remembered forever?
Find out more about the Shahnama and some of the tales in it. Compare it with epics from other civilisations such as the Odyssey or the Ramayana.
Poets in the past wrote poetry for many reasons. Some of them did so to please the rulers of their time. To what extent should we take into account these reasons when reading the work of the poets?
If we did not know anything about the life of a poet, would it make any difference how we read his or her work?
The relation between rulers and poets in the age of empires was not always straightforward. Poets could turn praise into satire, and rulers could persecute rather than protect.
Educating the princes
The rulers of the empires knew how essential law and order were to governing their lands. Some people felt that the rulers also needed to be guided if they were to rule properly. The best way to do so was by educating them to become wise leaders. One good way of educating them was by telling them stories, such as the one given here.
The camel, the lion, the leopard, the crow, and the jackal
There was once a remote road which twisted through some mountains and skirted along a ridgeline above a wooded valley wherein a lion ruled as king. Among his advisers were three crafty creatures who fed off his leavings, namely, an elderly leopard, a jackal, and a crow.
Now this particular lion - a powerful hunter - wished to be considered honourable and just. He never neglected his duty of providing for those weaker than himself ...
One morning a long caravan of camels passed along the road and kicked up a huge cloud of dust that hovered for hours over the lion's valley. And when the tinkling of their bells had finally receded in the distance towards the world of men, a young, pitiful straggler could be seen flopped down on the rocky verge. He was exhausted and wide-eyed from fear at his abandonment, his owner — one of the caravan's merchants - having shared out his load among some other camels and left this weak, stumbling one behind.
For a long time he lay stretched out along the ground, breathing heavily, hardly able to move. At length, however, he managed to stagger to his feet and, with an even looser-jointed amble than is normal for his kind, careened down in a drunken manner from the roadside to the much cooler forest below.
This young camel was leaning against a tree, wondering where to find some chewy grass to eat, when the lion suddenly appeared. Expecting nothing but to be devoured, he attempted to save his life by humbly making the only offer he could.
'Help me, O Powerful and Tawny One - help mc, please,' he cried out. 'I am weak an utterly alone. Lend me thy mighty protection so that when I am recovered, I can repay you with devoted service.'
The lion immediately took pity on this feeble one-humper, the likes of which he had never seen before ...
What manner of beast are you?' he asked. 'And what you think you might be able to do for me?' He paused to look inquisitively into the camel's huge brown eyes while the latter quivered at being so near what he supposed was the brink of death. The lion noticed his fear and moved back a pace.
'Not that it matters,' he said soothingly. 'You don't have to bargain with me for my protection ... I was just curious to know what you might have in mind. I'll help you in any case whether or not you can do anything for me.'
Th-a-nk you, you're v-very k-k-kind,' stammered the camel. 'I can see th-th—that someone as weak I,' He paused briefly to collect himself and then continued with greater confidence.
'I am a beast of burden, Sir - a humper of goods for men, a vegetarian called camel ... What I can do for you is uncertain, for I am as ignorant of your habits as you are of mine. But I can tell you this: no one will be more devoted to you for the kindness you have shown in simply listening. I thank you as one living beast to another. Do with me as you wish.' He bowed his head and knelt, but the lion begged him to rise.
This forest and its surrounding are my realm and I am 'loin, King of Beasts,' he said. 'You are welcome here and have my personal guarantee of safety. No one will dare molest you, therefore go about your business in peace. Come - let me show you a nearby meadow where you may feed and a stream from which to drink.'
And so, in next to no time, the camel recovered his health and grew sleek and fat-humped. Most of his days were spent eating, resting, and socialising with other friendly animals in the territory. Aside from infrequent errands requested by the lion, the camel had no duties to perform.
Everything proceeded as smoothly as dew down a leaf until one day the lion was wounded by a huge bull elephant during a hunting expedition. By the time he limped back to his den, he was weak from loss of blood. There was nothing to do except rest and hope that somehow he would survive ... Meanwhile his dependents - the crow, the leopard, and the jackal - grew very hungry indeed ...
It was not long, therefore, before leopard called a private meeting with crow and jackal.
'I must mention,' he said, 'something which has been on my mind for many days. Here we are struggling to survive while among us that wretched camel thrives. Where is the justice in this situation? He is not even of our fraternity, being an eater of vegetation rather than meat. He is, in short, but an overfed stranger who, however pleasant a personality, contributes very little to our community. What say we kill and eat him? He's so big and fat that, even after subtracting His Majesty's share, there'll be enough of him to keep us going for more than a week.'
'The idea is excellent,' commented jackal dryly, 'and hunger pleads much in its favour. However, I am afraid you are forgetting ... our noble leader ... Surely you remember his promise of protection to our delicious looking friend?' ...
'It's all a question of proper presentation,' said the crow. 'If you're prepared to wait here peacefully for a while, I shall fly immediately to the king and try to sugarcoat this pill. What say you, then? Are we agreed?'
'Yes, yes.' said leopard and jackal in unison. They well knew crow was the cleverest in presenting anything to lion. 'We agree.'
'All right, then.' said crow, 'see you soon,' and he launched himself into the air and flapped over to King Lion's den.
  • amble - a slow walk
  • brink - edge
  • careened - turned, tilted
  • devoured - eaten hungrily
  • errands - short trips to perform tasks
  • expedition – trip
  • fraternity - of the same group
  • hovered - remained in the air
  • inquisitively - with curiosity
  • leavings - food left over
  • molest - attack, harm
  • neglected - tailed to take care of
  • quivered - trembled, shook
  • realm – kingdom
  • receded - faded away
  • ridgelire - a raised strip of land on the slope of a hill or a mountain
  • skirted - ran along
  • socialising - mixing with others in a friendly way
  • straggler - a camel trailing behind others
  • tawny - of orange or yellow-brown colour
  • thrives . prospers, does well
  • vegetarian - someone who does not eat animal food, especially meat
  • verge - edge
  • wretched- vile, detestable
    Putting on a starved and meager look, he made a profound reverence and, puffing ever so slightly with pretended exertion, said, 'May it please Your Majesty to hear me a few words?'
'Sire, I'm afraid our claws are - bare and, as it were, the menu is blank ... Leopard missed his pounce upon a young piglet which jackal and I were helping him to stalk. Your Majesty's three servants have put their heads together and found a remedy for our plight, and, if Your Majesty will but give them leave, have contrived how we shall enjoy a feast.'
'A feast, you say? How? What's your idea?' asked the lion.
'To put it bluntly, Sire, we want to condone the death of camel for the sake of Your Majesty's life. He is round, plump, fat and full as an egg. Dead he will serve Your Majesty better than alive.'
'What?' roared the lion, and with a front paw thumped the ground in outrage. 'You dare to suggest that I break a solemn promise? ... Can you not see what you are asking? Am I to snatch back the gift of safety? Rescind my hospitality to creatures in distress?
'Camel has never in the slightest degree excited anyone's displeasure, and yet now, prodded by selfish hunger, you see but as a meal and not a friend Oh leave me, leave me; I weary of this game.'
'And if I leave, Your Majesty, then soon we both shall leave this wretched scene by death, and after we are starved away, what then of poor friend camel? Your kingdom gone and chaos reigning, who will save him from marauders bound to borne? Camel will lie dead and stripped of flesh by hunting wolves or slavering jungle dogs, or even, dare I say it, another lion who holds no promise like your own.
'What then, O King'? Throw our lives away, yes - camel, jackal, leopard, and I are but your slaves - but keep your own. My Liege, I beg you from the knees of my heart, keep your own life or dissolution follows, especially for gentle camel and all other creatures in your land.'
'I will not do it!' declared the lion emphatically, 'No matter how you build your words, I will not allow you to kill camel!'
"Kill," Your Majesty? Did I say' "kill"? Caw, now at last I see what has trapped Your Majesty in the goodness of his royal heart. No, Sire, killing is not the way; we are not taking a life, it is being donated! Please let me prove this to Your Majesty. Camel will come here with all of us and Your Majesty will hear him volunteer his death.
'Get out of here,' lion said quietly, 'and this time I mean it.' He bowed his head in fatigue and anguish and after a long sigh added,' Your trim tale has put me in foul temper and I want to be alone'....
Crow flew quickly to the other two and found them asleep on the ground.
'Wake up! wake up!' he cried, and when they did he told them all that had passed in conversation with the lion.
So if you follow me in my plans, 'he said at the end of his report, 'I'll tell you how we go? Are we three agreed? Are you two with me?'
Jackal looked directly at each other and then nodded their heads....Okay,' he said at length.
Here's how it'll be ... Jackal, in a minute I want you to fetch our fat morsel. Tell him the King is starving and that in duty to His Majesty we three propose to go and surrender ourselves up as food to prolong his royal days. Tell him it's merely a formality, wondered if he would accompany us by way of expressing gratitude for our lives of peace and plenty under good lion's reign. Got it?' said the jackal, 'I understand'......
Soon jackal shot off to find camel, and it was not long before the four beasts together made their way to the king.
'Your Majesty,' said crow to the exhausted lion, 'we your servants are most powerfully moved by the sight of Your Majesty so greatly weakened. It deeply ails us that Your Majesty's most precious life might perish from famine and, though I am miserable at how little-worthy I can offer Your Majesty, yet with willing mind I present this feeble body. Take and feed, My Lord, of this my poor and simple carcass; die not for hunger - make me a meal 'and here he waddled humbly forward to prostrate himself at lion's feet and stretched out his neck, lying still as death.
'Crow meat for a king?' leopard asked. "Why, nothing could be worse for anyone, Your Majesty. That filthy fowl is hardly fit for worms: eat him and you'll feel worse, not better. And look here, Your Majesty: you need a meal, not a mouthful of dry bones and feather. Have some real meat then, Sire - eat me! '- . - -
"Wait a minute, wait a minute,' yapped jackal, stepping forward. 'This will not do, Your Majesty; his flesh will prove tough as old tree trunks, and impossible to digest ... Bite leopard to break your teeth, but if you want flesh for food - bite me!'
All this scene stirred camel's emotions into suggestible confusion - -- He did not wish to be left out of the action any more than he wished to displease the lion So he felt it perfectly safe and only good manners to plod forward once jackal had moved aside.
With respect, Your Majesty,' he began, 'but I am many times larger than all of these other three combined. And my flesh is neither foul nor tough, but in fact by many considered delicate and sweet. None of the earlier objections apply in my case; I am truly many meals fit for a king. Please, Your Majesty, save your life: eat me up and suck my bones I' and likewise he lay upon the ground and stretched his neck towards lion.
Contrary to expectation, however, after a brief pause crow was heard to say, 'You know, I think he's right. Don't you?'
'Yes,' said leopard as lie sprang, 'camel flesh is dainty.' And he sank his gripping claws deep in camel's neck and tore open his throat before that poor beast had chance to breathe another word.
Jackal and crow rushed in to lend some helpful nips and pecks - and all this while of course, lion looked the other way.
  • ails – troubles
  • carcass- the dead body of an animal
  • condone-approve
  • contrived – planned
  • dainty- having delicate taste
  • dissolution – end
  • formality – ceremony
  • liege – lord
  • marauders – raiders
  • meager - lean, thin
  • molest - attack, harm
  • morsel - a piece of food
  • plight – difficulty
  • pretended exertion - false effort
  • profound reverence - deep bow
  • quivered- trembled, shook
  • remedy -cure
  • rescind – cancel
  • slavering - with saliva running from the mouth
  • stalk – hunt
  • waddled - walked like a duck
  • weary-tired
About the story and its origins
The story we have read is o no of the many fables that can be found in a collection of tales called Kalila and Dimna. This work has an interesting history on how it came to be written.
Dabshalim and Bidpai
It is related that there lived in India, in the fourth century BCE, a cruel king by the name of Dabshalim. A philosopher named Bidpai tried to teach this king how to become a just and caring ruler. The king's first reaction was to throw Bidpai into prison, but after his anger had passed, he decided to follow Bidpai's advice. In time, he became a wise ruler and won the hearts of his subjects. Upon the king's request, Bidpai wrote a book of fables that would educate princes to become good rulers. It came to be known as The Tales of Bidpai.
Nushirvan and Burzoe
Over time, other kings and emperors came to know of Bidpai's work, including a Persian king by the name of Nushirvan. He asked his minister to search for a man who could get this hook for him. This man would have to know both the languages of Iran and India.
Eventually, a learned doctor called Burzoe was chosen and sent on an expedition to India. Burzoe faced many trials in finding Bidpai's hook, but he finally managed to locate a copy. Since it was written in Sanskrit, he translated it into Pahlavi, the ancient language of the Persians.
A special reward
Nushirvan was delighted when Bidpai's hook was presented to him. Burzoe was told that he could ask for anything as his reward. Burzoe requested that a short account of his life be placed at the beginning of Bidpai's book. The king duly ordered this to he done.
New translations of the story
The adventures of Bidpai's tales did not stop with its translation into Pahlavi. In 750, a Persian writer called Ibn al-Muqàffa translated the famous work into Arabic, giving it the title Kalila and Dimna. In the following centuries, Ibn al-Muqaffa's Arabic version was further translated into Syriac, Greek, Ethiopic, Persian, Malay, Hebrew, Spanish, Latin, English, French, German, Armenian and other languages.
Ibn al-Muqaffa
Ibn al-Muqaffa was born in southern Iran and was the son of a tax collector. His father was called al-Muqaffa ('the crippled') because he was tortured for misconduct while working for an Umayyad governor. Ibn al-Muqaffa was a secretary to Umayyad governors and then worked for the uncle of the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur. Unfortunately, he was suspected of being against the caliph and was put to death at the age of thirty-six.
The need to educate rulers
Working closely with rulers, we can understand why Ibn al-Muqaffa was interested in translating Bidpai's fables. He must have been convinced that the tales would educate rulers to become wiser and more just in their dealings with their subjects. Ibn al-Muqaffa was excellent with languages, and the style he used in Kolila and Dimna was copied by many writers in later works and translations.
What kind of literature arose in the age of empires that was meant to educate the rulers?
  • Mirror for princes
  • 8th century: lbn al-Muqaffa
Think of a rule which you feel all good rulers should follow, such as treating all people fairly. Write a fable, using animals as characters that will teach a young ruler the importance of this rule.
  • What kind of a character is the camel? How is be different from the other animals? Do you think the camel is responsible in some way for what happens to him in the end?
  • The leopard jackal and crow all take part in killing the camel, is one of them more to he blamed than the others? lf so, why?
  • Read the conversation between the lion and the crow carefully (page 74). What kinds of questions do the lion's last words to the crow raise in your mind?
Examining the story
The fable of the camel, the lion, leopard, the crow and the jackal is a good example of how Bidpai's stories were meant to educate princes and kings.

A caring king
All the characters in the fable are animals who live in a wooded valley. The lion is the ruler of the valley and gives protection to the beasts who choose to live there. The lion is portrayed in the tale as being merciful, caring and generous to the animals who live under him.
The plotters and the innocent
The lion's promise to protect his friends is put to the test by three of his aides - the leopard, the crow and the jackal. When the three are driven to hunger, they decide to eat the camel. Their only hurdle is how to convince the lion that the camel needs to be killed. The lion has given the camel a personal guarantee of safety'.
Cunning plan
The crow works out a devious plan to make a meal of the camel. Together with the jackal and the leopard, they decide to take advantage of the camel's good-naturedness. Each of them offers to sacrifice himself to the lion. The camel is tricked into offering himself himself too, not wishing to be disloyal to the wounded lion, At this point, the three animals spring upon the camel while the lion looks away.
Questions about lion
We are left wondering about lion's response. Should he have done more to protect the camel, or was he too weak to defend the poor beast? Was the lion genuinely concerned about the camel? Or was he protecting so that he could eat the camel without taking responsibility for its death?
The 'mirror for princes' literature
The story makes us think about the lion's response. A prince or a king reading this story too would have thought deeply about the actions of the lion as the ruler of the wooded valley. The story has many lessons in it: the conduct of a good ruler, the question of keeping promises, the loyalty' of a ruler's close aides, and the need for protecting the weak.
Fables as mirrors
There are many fables in Kalila and Dimna which teach valuable lessons to rulers. This form of literature is called 'mirror for princes'. The fables act as a mirror for rulers in which they can examine their character. By looking at themselves in this 'mirror', they can discover their strengths and weaknesses as rulers.
Grossing boundaries
In the age of empires, many works that belong to the mirror for princes literature were produced in Muslim societies. Some of them, like KaLila and Dirnna, had their origins in lands such as India. Muslim writers translated these - works and added their own stories to them. These stories crossed many boundaries and became popular in different civilisations and cultures,
The fable about the lion and the camel deals with words that promise, persuade, deceive or betray. In the next section, we examine another form of writing in the age of empires that was concerned with how people behaved and acted towards one another.
Read more tails from Kalila and Dimna. What kind of lessons these stories try to teach rulers?
It is unlikely that a ruler who had read Kalila and Dimna would have been changed by the lessons in the stories. Do you agree with this view?
How does good literature affect us? Can it change the way we think or act?
The mirror for princes literature arose in the age of empires. It was meant to instruct rulers to become wise leaders.
Minding one's manners and words
In the age of empires, new forms of literature arose that did not exist before. Some of these works were concerned with teaching people about their etiquette, manners and language. They tried to make their readers conscious of their actions and words.
Here are two extracts from a writer who lived in the Abbasid times and who excelled at writing about morals, manners and learning.
The qadi and the fly
There can never have been a magistrate as sedate, composed, dignified, impassive, self-controlled or precise in his movements as a qadi we had at Basra called Abd Allah bin Saw-war.
He used to say the morning prayer at home, though he lived quite near the mosque, and then go to his court, where he would wrap his robes around him and sit down without supporting himself on anything as he did so. He sat bolt upright and stock still, neither turning round in his seat, opening his coat, crossing his legs or leaning on either arm of the chair; he was like a statue. He would remain thus until the noon prayer compelled him to rise, then sit down again and take up the same posture until the time of the afternoon prayer; having accomplished that, he would remain motionless until sunset, when he would get up, say his prayers ... return to his seat and deal with a multitude of deeds, contracts and miscellaneous documents. Then he would say his evening prayer and go home.
If the truth be told, he never once got up to go to the lavatory during the whole of his tenure of office: he did not need to, since he never felt like a drink of water or other beverage. Such was his routine all the year round, winter and summer. whether the days were long or short. He never so much as lifted his hand or inclined his head, but limited himself to moving his lips.
One day, when his assessors and the public had taken their places beside him, in front of him and in the galleries, a fly settled on his nose. It lingered there awhile, and then moved to the corner of his eye. He left it alone and endured its biting, just as he had armed himself with patience when it settled on his nose, neither twitching his nostrils, shaking his head or waving it away with a finger.
However, since the fly was becoming really persistent, causing him acute pain and moving towards a spot where it was beyond bearing, he blinked his eyelid. The fly did not go away ... he blinked harder and more rapidly. The fly went away for a moment, then settled again and became so persistent that our qadi, his patience completely at an end, was reduced to driving it away with his hand.
Everyone in court was watching this and pretending not to see it. The fly went away until he dropped his hand, then returned to the charge and compelled him to protect his face with the hem of his sleeve, not once but several times.
The magistrate realised that no detail of this scene was escaping his assessors and the public. When he caught their eye, he exclaimed: 'I swear the fly is more persistent than the cockroach and more presumptuous than the crow! God forgive me! How many men are infatuated with their own persons! But God acquaint them with their hidden weakness! Now I know I am but a weakling, seeing that God's most feeble creature has vanquished and confounded me!
The very learned scholar
Ahmad bin Abd al-Wahhab was excessively short in stature, but made himself out to be very tall; though in fact square, his waist was so large and his sides so fat that he gave himself the impression of being circular; he had pudgy hands and short fingers.
For all this, he liked to think of himself as lithe and slim, and prided himself that he was handsome, without a paunch, of medium height and with perfectly proportioned bones.
He was long in the back and short in the thigh, yet made himself out long in the thigh and shank, and very tall with a large head, He claimed he had been endowed with 'a tall frame and wide learning'. He was very old, having been born no one knows long ago, but boasted of being in his youthful prime.
His concept about his proficiency in various branches of knowledge was equaled only by his ignorance of them, and the trouble he took to parade it was proportionate to his inability to comprehend them. He was much given to contradiction, prone to wrangling, stubborn, enamoured of argument, desperately obstinate, and always anxious to have the last word. He quickly shifted his ground when cornered and dodged when shaken ...
He was not in fact learned, being a worthless fool who got all his information out of books. He never spoke after mature reflection, believed the first idea that came into his head, and could not tell the preconceived notions of an idiot from the considered views of a sensible man. He would reel off the titles of books without knowing what they meant, and envied scholars while having nothing in common with them. Of all branches of knowledge, his only real claim was to proficiency in adab.
[I asked him:] Tell me, pray which animal lives longest: the vulture, the onager. the snake or the lizard? When can snakes go without food? .... When do vultures stop breeding? Why is it that the mule, which is a cross between a donkey and a mare, is sterile ... whereas the ra'ibi which is a cross between an ordinary pigeon and a ring- dove, reproduces itself . ..
Tell me about the building of the ramparts of al-Ubulla, and the founder of al-Hira; who raised the pyramids of Egypt, and who was the founder of the city of Samarqand? ... How much time elapsed between the reigns of Ahab and Nirnrod. and between those of Alexander and Solomon?
Tell me about mirrors. How is it that faces and other external shapes can be seen in them Indeed what is this image that is caught in the mirror? ... Is what you see your face, or something else? ...
I have asked you questions, 'knowing very well that you are completely unable to answer them. If you wish to know what is true and false in them, what is fictitious or absurd, what is sound and what corrupt, you must make a point of reading my books and coming to visit me at home ...
  • Ahab, Nimrod - kings who ruled ancient lands and empires
  • Assessors - advisors
  • Beverages - drink
  • compelled forced
  • conceitpride
  • confounded - confused
  • contracts - legal documents
  • corrupt - having errors
  • cross - an animal produced from two different breeds
  • deeds - legal documents
  • enamoured of- liked, loved
  • endowed – gifted
  • envied - was jealous of
  • excessively short - very short
  • fictitious - imaginary, untrue
  • al-Hire - ancient capital in Iraq
  • impassive unemotional
  • inclined tilted
  • infatuated - overly fond of
  • Lavatory - toilet, washroom
  • lingered- stayed for some time
  • lithe - flexible, supple
  • Magistrate - judge dealing with minor oases
  • miscellaneous - of various kinds
  • onager -  a wild ass
  • paunch large belly
  • persisent obstinate
  • preconceived notions- one-sided ideas
  • presumptuous - impudent, overconfident
  • prime – age
  • proficiency- ability, expertise
  • prone to wrangling - liked to argue
  • pudgy - plump, thick
  • qadi - a judge
  • reproduces - gives birth
  • sedate, composed - calm, undisturbed
  • shank - the lower part of the leg, from knee to ankle
  • stature height
  • sterile - unable to have babies
  • tenure - term, period
  • al-ubulla - a town in southern Iraq
  • vanquished - defeated, overcome
About the author
The two character sketches we have read are from the works of a writer who lived in Basra and Baghdad during the rule of the Abbasids. Abu Uthman al-Jahiz lived from about 776 to about 869. His family was of African origins and his ancestors were slaves. He was given the nickname al-Jahiz because of his large protruding eyes. Ai-Jahiz was considered extremely ugly by those who met him and became a target of their jokes and teasing.
A questioning mind
Al-Jahiz was a very curious man who had a lively and questioning mind. Nothing escaped his eyes or ears. He observed closely the everyday life of people in the streets of Basra. He visited the mosque frequently, mixing with idlers with whom
he discussed all kinds of questions. Another favourite place of his was the caravan stopping site outside the city. Here. he would ask the Beduin nomads to teach him their poetry, folklore and dialect.
Living and dying by books
Al-Jahiz was familiar with many authors. When he started to write, his works at once became well known and were presented to the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun. For the next fifty years, he lived in Baghdad, writing books on a wide range of topics. Al-Jahiz is recognizes for making prose writing popular in Muslim literature. It is said that he died when a pile of hooks fell on him when he was an old man.
Adab writing
Al-Jahiz lived in the age of the early Islamic empires. This was a time when the Arab conquerors were moving away from their nomadic life and settling in cities. They were also coming into contact with new cultures and civilisarions. As a result, there was an exciting exchange of ideas taking place in this period.
From the rough to the refined
The people of the ruling classes in Muslim empires were adopting a refined way of life. Their manners were becoming different from the rough ways of their Bedouin ancestor. They were also becoming aware of more polished styles of using language.
With their enormous wealth, the rich were keen to acquire whatever was best around them. They took great interest-in poetry, literature, travel and the sciences. They were happy to lay their hands on writing that refined their learning and made them more cultured.
A different type of education
Writers such as al-Jahiz became masters at writing works on adab. These were works that were supposed to make a person more courteous, refined and learned. They provided a higher form of education to the wealthy that made them different from the lay people. These works included fables such Kalila rand Dimna, poetry and prose, travel accounts, works on geography and astronomy, and religious topics. Al-Jahiz's writings refer to many of these subjects.
The two character sketches by al-Jahiz give us a taste of the kind of items to be found in works on adab. Studying these sketches mc closely will help us to understand the powerful impact this kind of writing had on al-Jahiz's readers.
What type of writing formed adab literature in the age of empires?     .

  • Adab Prose
  • Character portrait     
TIMELINE:  8th-9th century: Abu Uthman al-Jahiz.
Think of art interesting person you have met who made a deep impression on you. Write a character sketch of this person, describing his or her personality, behaviour and actions.
  • Why do you think the qadi felt it important that everything he did had to follow a routine?
  • What did the qadi mean by the following words? 'How many men are infatuated with their own persons?'
  • In what way do these words apply to the scholar in the second sketch?
  • What kinds of lessons was al-Jahiz trying to teach his readers through these character sketches?
Order and chaos
Imagine sitting in a courtroom in Basra in the ninth century. We see before us a magistrate who does not blink an eyelid. He is very still and serious. He wishes people in the court to respect him for who he is a very important man.
A life of rules
This qadi is a man who makes sure the law is kept. He has built his whole life around rules. His whole life is based on complete order. Everything in the qadi's life is run by rules - the way he carries himself, how he sits, what he does with his hands.
Order into chaos
Then a fly sits on the qadis nose, and turns order into chaos. The audience is secretly delighted at this spectacle, although they do not show it. What will the qadi do now? Will he keep his rules, or will he break them? Al-Jahiz leads us through this simplest of plots to meet a person who is obsessed with rules, Here is someone who has taken adab or manners to an extreme point. It takes an annoying fly to make the qazi realise that he is very much a human being like everyone else.

A revealing character sketch
As we read the portrait, we notice how al-Jahiz describes the qadi's actions in minute detail. He makes us engrossed in every little gesture of the magistrate, from the blink of an eyelid to the sweep of his hand. An ordinary incident of a fly bothering a person is turned into a revealing character sketch by al-Jahiz.
Ignorance exposed
At some point in our lives, we may have met a person who thought he knew everything, or who was always determined to win an argument. Such individuals can prove to be quite tiresome, and most people prefer to avoid their company.
Pretending to know more
In the second sketch, al-Jahiz presents to us a portrait of a person who shows these faults. The qadi pretends to be in total control of himself, while the ignorant scholar pretends to know more than he really does. The qadi is brought down to earth by a fly, while the scholar is challenged by al-Jahiz himself. Al-Jahiz puts to him all kinds of questions which shows how ignorant the man really is.
The knowledge of scholars
Al-Jahiz tells us that the man had no real knowledge, except in adbab. Adab made people familiar with a wide range of interesting subjects, hut not in any great depth. Al-Jahiz was probably trying to make his readers aware that the deep learning of scholars took many years to acquire.
Real or imaginary people?
In his sketches, was al-Jahiz describing real or imaginary people? It is likely that the two individuals were real people with whom al-Jahiz was familiar. However, he may have exaggerated their personalities, as in a cartoon, to make his character sketches more interesting.
Find out about the writings that arose in different civilisatons that were to do with manners and behaviour. What are some of the similarities between these types of writing?
we can get to know more about different types of human beings through good literature than in real life. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
Literature allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of other people and to view the world from their eyes. What do you understand by these words, and how far do you agree with them?

Adab, writing consisted of a wide range of works from fables and travel accounts to topics on geography, astronomy and religion. They provided a higher form of education to the ruling and wealthy classes in the age of empires.
On far-away shores
The age of the empires was a time of conquest, travel and exchange. Armies crossed vast distances to engage in battle. Ships sailed back and forth between familiar ports and foreign lands. And travelers set out to discover new frontiers.
Some of these travelers wrote accounts or travelogues of the places they visited. Here is a travel account written by a Turkish admiral about his adventures in India. He lived during the Ottoman and Mughal times in the sixteenth century.
The mirror of countries
With a favorable wind, we left the port of Guador and again steered for Yemen. We had been at sea for several days, and had arrived nearly opposite to Zofar and Shar. When suddenly from the west arose a eat storm known as fil tofani. We were driven back, but were unable to set the sails, not even the trinquetla (storm sail).
The tempest raged with increasing fury.... Night and day were both alike, and because of the frailty of our craft, all ballast had to be thrown overboard. In this frightful predicament, our only consolation was our unwavering trust in the power of the Almighty. For ten days, the storm raged continuously and the rain came down in torrents. We never once saw the blue sky.
I did all I could to encourage and cheer my companions, and advised them above all things to be brave, and never to doubt but that all would end well. A welcome diversion occurred in the appearance of a fish about the size of two galley lengths or more perhaps, which the pilot declared to be a good omen. The tide being very strong here and the ebb slow, we had an opportunity of seeing many sea- monsters in the neighbourhood of the bay of Djugd, sea-horses large sea-serpents, turtles in great quantities, and eels.
The colour of the water suddenly changed to pure white and at sight of it, the pilot broke forth into, loud lamentations: he declared we were approaching whirlpools and eddies...... we drifted about all night and all day until at last, in God's me the water rose, the storm somewhat abated, and the sir veered right round.
The next morning we slacker speed and drew in the sails. Meanwhile, the wind had risen again, and as the men had no control over the rudder, large handles had to be affixed with long double ropes fastened them. Each rope was taken hold of by four men, and so with great exertion they managed to control the rudder.
No one could keep on his feet on deck, so of course it was impossible to walk across. The noise ... was deafening; we could not hear our own voice. The only means of communication with the sailors was by inarticulate words, a neither captain nor boatswain could for a single instant leave his post.
It was truly a terrible day, but at reached Gujarat in India, which part of it, however, we knew not, when the pilot suddenly exclaimed: 'On your guard! A whirlpool, in front!' the anchors were but the ship was down with great force early submerged. The rowers had left their seats; the panic stricken crew threw off clothes, and, clinging some casks and some to jacks, had taken leave of one another. I also stripped entirely, gave my slaves their liberty, and vowed to give 100 florins to the poor of Mecca.
Presently one of the anchors broke from its crook and another at the podjuz; two more lost, the ship gave a little jerk -and in another instant we were clear of the breakers. The pilot declared that been wrecked off Fisht-Kidsur, a place between Diu and Daman, and nothing could have us.
Once more the sails were set. and we decided to make for the infidel coast; but after duly taking note of tide and current, and having mode a careful study of the chart, I came to the conclusion that we could not be very far off the mainland.
I consulted the horoscope in the Quran, and this also counseled patience. So we commenced to examine the hold of the ship and found that the storeroom was submerged, in some places up to the walls, in some places higher still. We had shipped much water, and all hands set to work at once to bale it out. In one or two places, the bottom had to be ripped up to find the outlet so as to reduce the water.
Toward afternoon the weather had cleared a little, and we found ourselves about two miles off the port of Daman, in Gujarat in India. The other ships had already arrived, but some of the galleys were waterlogged not far from the shore, and they had thrown overboard oars, boats, and casks, all of which wreckage eventually was borne ashore by the rapidly rising tide.
We were obliged to lie to for another five days and five nights, exposed to a strong spring-tide, accompanied by floods Of rain; for we were now in the Badzad, or rainy season of India, and there was nothing for it but to submit to our fate.
During all this time, we never once saw the sun by day, nor the stars by night; we could neither use our clock nor our compass, and all on board anticipated the worst. It seems a miracle that of the three ships lying there, thrown on their sides, the whole crew eventually got safely to land.
  • abated - grew less strong
  • ballast - heavy material place in a ship to make it stable
  •  boatswain - a ship's in-charge of instruments and crew,
  •  breakers - a heavy wave that breaks
  • casks – large wooden barrels
  • consented - agreed
  • consolation - hope, comfort
  • ebb - movement of tide flowing out to sea
  • whirlpools, eddies - areas in the sea where the water moves in a circle
  • exertion - effort, work, struggle
  • fil tofani – elephant's food
  • florins- gold coins
  • frailty – fragile
  • galley - a large, open rowing boat
  • Guador - port on the coast of present-day Pakistan
  • horoscope - a forecast of the future
  • inarticulate - unable to speak clearly
  • infidel - not believing in a particular religion
  • lamentations - cries of grief omen sign
  • predicament- a difficult situation
  • rudder - an instrument for steering a ship
  • slackened - became slower
  • tempest – a violent storm
  • veered - changed direction
  • waterlogged – filled with water
 As soon as Humayun heard of our arrival, he sent the Khanikhanan and other superior officers with 400 elephants and some thousand men to meet us, and, out of respect and regard for our glorious Padishab, we were accorded a brilliant reception.
That same day the Khanikhanan prepared a eat banquet in our honor; and as it is the custom in India to give audience in the evening, I was that night introduced with much pomp and ceremony into the Imperial hall.
After my presentation, I offered the Emperor a small gift and a chronogram upon the conquest of India, also two ghazels, all of which pleased the Padishah greatly.
Forthwith I begged for permission to continue my journey, but this was not granted. Instead of that, I was offered a Kulur and the governorship over the district of Kharcha.
I refused, and again begged to be allowed to go but ... I was told that I must at least remain for one year.....
I persisted in my entreaties, and [Humayun] finally consented, adding, however: 'We are now close upon the three months of continuous Birshegal, (i.e., the rainy season). The roads are flooded and impassable; remain therefore till the weather improves.
'Meanwhile, calculate solar and lunar eclipses, their degree of latitude, and their exact date in the calendar. Assist our astrologers in studying the course of the sun, and instruct us concerning the points of the equator. When all this is done, and the weather should improve before the three months are over, then you shall go hence.'
All this was said solemnly decisively. I had no alternative but must submit to my fate. I took no rest, however, but labored on night and day. At last I had accomplished the astronomical observations at about the same time Agra fell into the hands of the Padishah.
This incident furnished the material for a ghazel, with which the Sovereign was so delighted that he called me: second Mir Ali Shah ... the Sovereign remarked: 'If
for one more year you perfect yours in this kind of poetry, you altogether supplant Mir Ali Shah in the affections of the people of the Djagatais.'
One day the Emperor planned a little excursion on horseback to visit the graves of the holy Sheikhs of Lahore, and I accompanied him ... When the conversation turned upon the poetical works of Mir Khosru, I quoted some of his best poems. I turned to the Emperor, saying, 'it would be presumption on my part to measure my powers against those of Mir Khosru, but he has inspired me, and I would fain recite my couplet before your Majesty.'
Let us hear it, said Humayun, and I recited the following;
Truly great is only he who can be content with his daily bread.
For happier is he than all the kings of the earth.

 'By God, cried the monarch, this is truly sublime!' It is not my object here to make mention of my poetic effusions, but rather to show up Humayun's appreciation of poetry.
On another occasion I called upon Shahin Bey, the keeper of the Imperial Seal, and asked him to use his influence to obtain permission for me to depart......
One day he actually brought me the glad news that my petition had been granted, but that I was expected to offer my request formally in verse. The rainy season was now at an end; I wrote to the monarch, enclosing two ghazels, which had the desired effect, for I received not only permission to leave, but also presents and letters of safe conduct.
A11 was ready for the start. Humayun had given audience on Friday evening, when, upon leaving his castle of pleasure, the muezzin announced the ezan just as he was descending the staircase. It was his wont, wherever he heard the summons, to bow the knee in holy reverence. He did so now, but unfortunately fell down several steps, and received great injuries to his head and arm.
Truly the proverb rightly says, 'There is no guarding against fate.' Everything was confusion in the palace, but for two days they kept the matter secret ... On the third day, however, that was on the Monday, he died of his wounds. Well may the Quran say, 'We come from God and to him do we return.'
His son Djelaleddin Akbar was at the time away on a journey He was immediately informed of the sad event. Meanwhile the Khans and Sultans were in the greatest consternation; they did not know how to act.
I tried to encourage them and told them how .. they might keep the Sovereign's death a secret until the Prince should return.
A man called Molla Bi, who bore a striking resemblance to the late Emperor, only somewhat slighter of stature, was arrayed in the imperial robes and placed on a throne specially erected for the purpose in the large entrance hall. His face and eyes were veiled......many officers and dignitaries, as well as the people from the riverside, on seeing their Sovereign, made joyful obeisance to the sound of festive music. The physicians were handsomely rewarded, and the recovery of the monarch was universally credited.
  • arrayed - dressed, adorned
  • banquet - feast
  • consented – agreed
  • consternation – confusion
  • effusions -. Outpourings of speech
  • entreaties - earnest requests
  • excursion - an outing, a short trip for pleasure
  • ezan - call for prayer
  • fain – willingly
  • formally – officially
  • ghazal – poem
  • Humayun - Mughal emperor in India
  • Khanikhan - khan of the khans, superior officer
  • Kulur- ten million rupees (Indian currency)
  • Mir All Shah - a great poet of the Turks in Central Asia, who lived from 1440 to 1500.
  • obeisance - bow of respect
  • petition – request
  • pomp - a splendid display
  • presumption - pride, arrogance
  • resemblance – likeness
  • solemnly – seriously
  • sovereign - emperor, king
  • stature – height
  • sublime - of a very high quality
  • universally credited - believed by all
  • wont - habit
 About the author
Sidi Ali Reis was a Turkish admiral in the Ottoman navy who lived in the sixteenth century. He had a great love for the sea, and had taken part in several naval expeditions. Reis had knowledge of astronomy, geography and mathematics, and were interested in poetry and writing. He was a good sailor, and a man with broad education.
An age of empires
Sidi Ali Reis lived at a time when the Ottoman Empire was a great power that controlled large territories. Its centre was the land we now call Turkey, and it was ruled by Suleiman the Great. Another competing power at this time was Portugal, which was trying to control sea routes between Europe, Africa and Asia. In India, the Mughal empire also exercised its rule, under Humayun Shah.
A lucky escape
Sidi Ali Reis was appointed by the Ottoman sultan (the Padishah) to take charge of fifteen ships that were stationed at Basra, a port in Iraq. However, his fleet was attacked by the Portuguese in the Persian Gulf, who sunk some of his ships. Reis was lucky to escape with the few remaining vessels, but soon found himself caught in a storm and heading towards the coast of India.
The guest of Humayun
In India, Sidi Ali Reis found himself the guest, and captive, of the Mughal emperor Humayun. After some time, he was allowed to leave India and made his way overland all the way back to Constantinople.
About the travel account
What made Sidi Ali Reis write an account of his adventures? Here is a short explanation in his own words.
Mission impossible
'When Sultan Suleiman had taken up his winter residence in Aleppo I, the author of these pages...,was appointed to the Admiralship of the Egyptian fleet, and received instructions to fetch back to Egypt the ships (fifteen galleys), which some time ago had been sent to Basra on the Persian Gulf But – 'I was unable to carry out my mission, and as I realised the impossibility of returning by water. I resolved to go back to Turkey by the overland route, accompanied by a few tried and faithful soldiers. I travelled through Guajrat, Hind, Sind, Balkh, Zabulistan. Bedakhshan ... and Iran....

A tale of woe

'Our travels ended, my companions and fellow-adventurers persuaded me to write down our experiences and the dangers through which had passed, an accurate account which it is almost impossible to give; also to tell of the cities and many wonderful sights we had seen 'And so this little book sees the light; in it I have tried to relate in simple and plain language, the troubles and difficulties, the suffering and the distress which beset our path, up to the time that we reached Constantinople. Considering the matter it contains this book ought to have been entitled, A Tale of Woe, but ... I have called it Mirror of Countries
The storm
It must be quite frightening to be especially at sea. Winds sails at high speeds, waves as huge as hills leap up and threaten to swallow our ship, lightening flashes across the sky, and thunder booms in our ears.
Storm, Whirlpools and tides
When we read Sidi Au Reis' of the storm, we come face to face with the fury of a sea storm. Reis tells us that the storm raged for ten days without any break. When it finally died away, the crew themselves caught in a whirlpool that almost wrecked the ship.
But that was not the end of the trials for the poor sailors. They still had to battle against the strong tides brought about by the rainy season of India before they finally landed safely on the shores of Gujarat. We realised now why Reis to call his book A Tale Woe.
Human might against the forces of nature
In the sixteenth century, the Ottomans had one of the most powerful fleet of ships in the world. They had skilful sailors and clever navigators. Yet even the most powerful navy could become helpless against the forces of nature. Reis makes us aware of how fragile the ships were in the storm, and how the sailors clung to their vessels threatened to storm.
The court of Humayun
The second part of the travel account is quite a contrast to the storm. Now Sidi All Reis finds himself in the safety and comfort of the Mughal emperor's court. Humayun treats him with great respect and honour, and cannot bear to let Reis return home. Reis finds himself trapped, like a singing bird in a golden cage. He is in a difficult dilemma. How can he persuade Humayun to let him go without offending him?

Using poetry to become free
Sidi Mi Reis finds the answer in his talents as a poet. He composes verses that impress the Mughal emperor. It is through poetry that Reis is finally able to win his freedom from Humayun.
Saving the empire
However, just as Reis is about to leave, Humayun dies. There is great turmoil in the court, for the heir of the emperor, Akbar, is away on a journey. The court officials are afraid of announcing he death of Humayun, fearing that the worst may happens before Akbar returns.
At this very critical moment in Mughal history, Sidi All Reis tells us that he is the one who rescues the court officials. He suggests to them that Humayun's death be kept secret until Akbar returns from his journey. A man who looks like Humayun is placed on the throne, and the situation is kept under control.
A great sailor, poet and diplomat
We do not know whether the above anecdote is true, but it tells us how Sidi Ali Reis wanted himself to be seen. In his account, he comes across as a great sailor, poet and diplomat. He had to be all these things for him to have survived both the storm and Humayun!
What examples of writings can we find in the age Of empire that are about travel and adventure?
  • Travelogue  
  • 16th century: Sidi All Reis
Imagine being part of Sidi Air Reis crew. Describe additional adventures at sea and on land you would have experienced before returning to Constantinople?
Why do you think the author chose to call his work Mirror of Countries? Compare how Sidi Ali Reis describes his adventures at sea and as Humayun' s guest. Is one description better than the other? Why?
• How did poetry help Sidi All Reis gain his freedom? Could it also have been a reason why Humayun did not want to let him go?
• Why do you think Sidi All Reis wrote a book about his adventures? Would his readers have believed everything he had written?
Read other accounts of travel adventures such as those by Ibn Fadlan, Nasir Khusraw and lbn Battuta, compare them with accounts written in this period by other travelers such as Marco Polo.
In travel accounts, we learn more about the author's attitudes towards other people than about the people they are describing. Examine this point from different angles.
Do modern travelers understand people of other countries better today than travelers in the past did?
In the age of empires, some of the writings consisted of accounts describing the encounters of people of different lands and cultures.
Destruction and downfall
The age of empires was a period of conquest. Emperors tried to capture vast territories and bring large numbers of people under their control. Some of these emperors were ruthless tyrants, such as Timur, who brought about great suffering and destruction in his thirst to extend his empire. Here is an account from the life of Titmur that portrays the last days of his rule. It is followed by a poem that reflects on the deeds of tyrants.
The march to hell
Now when [Timur] had recovered from his drunkenness, he attacked his plan of going to the ends of the earth and seeking its coasts and borders that he might despoil kingdoms and countries ... therefore he sent to the tribes of his armies an order to be ready and to take equipment for four years or more and prepare for the march.
And every tribe obeyed the summons of his envoy, receiving his orders, like earrings to adorn their ears ... and they poured forth, likc fishes, into seas of hostility, carrying oppression of the human race without measure or balance ...
Soon (winter) with his storm- winds roared and raised over the world the tents of his clouds which went to and fro, and with his roaring shoulders trembled and all reptiles for fear of that cold fled to the depths of their Gehenna, fires ceased to blaze and subsided, lakes froze, leaves shaken fell from the branches and running rivers fell headlong from a height to lower places, lions hid in their dens and gazelles sheltered in their lairs.
The world fled to God the Averted because of the winter's prodigious vehemence; the face of the earth grew pale for fear of it, the cheeks of gardens and the graceful figures of the woods became dusty, all their beauty and vigour departed and the sprout of the earth dried up to be scattered by the winds.
But Timur, hating the foul voices of these spirits and thinking cold the breaths of these winds, ordered coverings of tents to be prepared and tunics to be-kept ready covered on both sides with thick cloth arid defended himself against the broad swords of ice and sharp spears of cold with cloaks for shields and thick shirts for breastplates.
Then for a covering against the onset of winter he fitted double breastplates and forged them to the measure of his burning project and from his abundant supply provided shields abundantly and caring naught, what was said or blamed, he thought himself enough defended against the injuries of winter by garments and all the equipment which he had got made and said to his men, 'Do not be anxious about the injuries of winter: truly this is refreshment and safety.'
Then collecting his armies and arranging everything to his command, he ordered to
be made five hundred wagons armoured with iron on which his baggage might be set.
... he set out in the month of Rajab, when the cold was prodigiously violent,
and marched, not sparing the weak nor pitying the bodies which cold had scorched and came in his course to the frozen Jaxartes, on which the light wind had built a level palace. 
So he crossed the river and stubbornly continued and pushed on his march: but winter dealt damage to him, breaking on him from the flanks with every wind kindled and raging against his army with all winds blowing aslant, most violent, and smote the shoot of the army with its cold, intense and so more lasting.
He none the less advanced with that great host, feeling no pity for prisoners nor caring that the weakness of the injured should recover, desiring to outpace the winter with his cavalry and stalwart soldiers. But the winter poured around them with its violent storms and scattered against them its whirwinds sprinkling hail and roused above them the lamentations of its tempests and discharged against them with full force the storms of its cold and descended with its herald, proclaiming to Tirnur, 'Why yield to delay, caitiff, and why act slowly, fierce tyrant? How long shall hearts be burned by your fire and breasts consumed by your heat and ardour? If you are one of the infernal spirits, I am the other; we are both old and have grown weak while destroying countries and men ... if you have slain souls and frozen men's breath, truly the breaths of my frost are far colder than yours ... therefore mark warning and by Allah, the heat of piled coals shall not defend you from the frost of death nor shall fire blazing in the brazier.'
Then [winter] measured over him his store of snow what could split breastplates or iron and dissolve the joints of iron rings and sent down upon him and his army from the sky of frost some mountains of hail and in their wake discharged typhoons of his scraping winds, which filled therewith their cars and the corners of their eyes and drove hail into their nostrils and thus drew out their breath to their gullets by discharging that barren wind, which touched nothing that it reached without making it putrid and crushed.

And on all sides the whole earth became with the snow that fell from above like the plain of the last judgement or a sea which God forged out of silver. When the sun rose and the frost glittered, the sight was wonderful, the sky of Turkish gems and the earth of crystal, specks of gold filling the space between them.
When the breath of the wind blew on the breath of man ... it quenched his spirit and froze him on his horse and so also the camels ... As for the sun, it also trembled and it eye froze with cold and it dried up ...
When any breathed, his breath congealed on his moustache and beard and he became like Pharaoh, who adorned his beard with necklaces ... and the covering of life was removed from them and the condition of all said:
'0 Lord! if in the morning harsh frost fall,
You know what will befall me, which is unknown.
And if today you should wish to send me to hell,
Hell compared with this day will be sweet.'

Therefore many perished in his army, noble and base alike and winter destroyed -eat and small among them ... and winter ceased not to attack and pour against them wind and seas, until it had submerged them, while they wandered in weakness ...
Yet Timur cared not for the dying and grieved not for those that perished.
  • aslant - at an angle
  • Averter- one who prevents
  • brazier - a por4able heater with a pan or stand for holding lighted coal
  • breastplates - pieces of armour covering the chest
  • caitiff- a vile person, Coward
  • congealed - became semi-solid by cooling
  • consumed - completely destroyed
  • despoil- rob! Plunder
  • envoy – messenger
  • flanks – sides
  • forged - shaped metal by heating in a fire and by hammering
  • Gehenna – hell
  • hail - pellets of frozen rain fatling from the sky in showers
  • herald - official messenger bringing news
  • host – army
  • infernal - of hell
  • Jaxartes - the river Syr Darya in Kazakhstan
  • Lairs - dens
  • lamentations – cries
  • oppression - harsh or cruel treatment
  • perished - died
  • prodigiously – intensely
  • putrid – rotten
  • quenched- extinguished
  • Rajab - the seventh month in the Muslim calendar
  • scorched – burned
  • slain – killed
  • smote - struck, hit
  • sprout- shoots of plants
  • stalwart - strongly built, courageous
  • submerged – flooded
  • subsided - became less strong
  • tempests - violent storms
  • tunics - a close-fitting short coat
  • typhoons - tropical storms
  • vehemence - force
The lame imposter
The kings of the world have burned seas with the fire of their injustice;
they rule countries and their peoples; their sway spreads far and wide
Soon like wolves they go forth to ravage and prowl like lions.
-They abound in wealth and dance like black shadows without knowledge
They rush one on the other, they fight, they leap like panthers,
They struggle and provoke one another and smite like lions.
They stab each other, they rend, they pierce like eagles;
Madness Oh that they had fostered mutual peace and forgiven each other lies and cunning!
But like moths they have flown into the fire, thinking the fire a light.
While they hold the peak of their glory, Fortune deceitful, jealous,
on them from above like a hawk on petty birds. They become unfortunate and each of them is thrown like food to the hawks
Then their footprints are destroyed, as rain destroys lines of tracks.
Their time leaves naught of them but a blurred memory.
Like them all are the calamities of Timur, like dark seas, that lame imposter, who broke skulls and backs, Subdued countries and homes therein, in the revolving fortunes of this world.
God the merciful prolonged his life, but he added iniquity to iniquity.
And He gave him aid, permitting to him progress in things that pass and perish,
That He might see whether in his rule he would follow justice or tyranny.
He rooted out all men among Arabs and barbarians, He destroyed kings and all the noble and learned, And strove to put out the light of Allah and the pure Faith ...
When his raids reached their height add that evil-doing was completed,
The onset of Fate seized him; for in every consummation
is decrease;
The hands of death snatched him from those sins to the
His nobility was exchanged for contempt and hatred;
He departed to the house of punishment with a heavy
load of crimes;
Those hosts were scattered and oblivion destroyed what
he had built.
His deeds brought on him curses, so long as the ages
And the monuments of his evil-doing are committed to
perpetual memory
Where are they whose faces shone, like the star Zabur?
The fortunate, the clever, famed for dominion and majesty,
Who obscured the moon in the sky and put to shame
the abundant seas?
They were great among leaders and leaders among
And the wind of destruction scraped them as the hand
of the storm scrapes the sands
They dwell in the tomb, their splendours and joys altered,
And the consuming worm devours them and rends like
a butcher;
They rot in the tomb and abide there till the day of
The friend dutifully visits their tombs and addresses
And wails, and lamenting, asks of the tomb what it easily
And stains with dust his cheeks, which stream with tears.
They call, but they answer them not, except the echo
of the dumb rocks
The world is a bridge, whence take an example by which
to be warned; seek money for the journey
And seek the sound kernel; all the rest is shell.
  • abide remain
  • blurred - unclear, dim
  • calamities - disasters, great misfortunes
  • consuming - eabng, destroying
  • consummation - completion, achievement
  • contempt - disgust, extreme dislike
  • day of resurrection - day when the dead wilt be brought to life
  • devours – eats
  • dominion – power
  • elect - the best people
  • hosts- armies
  • imposter - a parson with a false character, pretending to be someone else
  • iniquity- wickedness
  • injustice - unfair actions or deeds
  • kernel-the inner part of a hard nut, fruit or seed that can be eaten
  • mutual - affecting both sides
  • naught – nothing
  • oblivion - the state of being forgotten
  • obscured – outshone
  • perpetual - tasting forever
  • ravage - plunder, damage, destroy
  • ravening – hungry
  • rending - tearing forcibly
  • smite - strike, attack without warning
  • subdued – conquered
  • sundered- separated
  • sway- rule, influence
  • whence-from which
 About the author
The biography of Timur was written by Ahmad ibn Arabshah who was born in Damascus, in the land of Syria, in 1392. When Ibn Arabshah was only nine, Syria was invaded by the army of Timur. Damascus was attacked and thousands of the city's inhabitants were taken as captives to Samarqand, the capital of Timur's empire. Among them were Ibn Arabshah and his family.
Learning languages as a captive
During his captivity in Central Asia, Ibn Arahshah learned Turkish, Persian and Mongolian. These languages would prove to be very useful to him. When he grew up, Ibn Arabshah travelled widely in Muslim lands.
A new life in Egypt
Ibn Arabshah worked for a while as a secretary to the Ottoman sultan, translating several books for him in to Turkish. He then settled in Egypt where he wrote various books, hoping to gain the favour of the Mamluk sultan who ruled Egypt at this time. Unfortunately, the sultan imprisoned him and he died in captivity.
Writing about the life of Timur
Among Ibn Arabshah's works are a volume on animal fables, similar in style to Kalila and Dimna. He also wrote a mirror for princes that gives guidance on good government.
Ibn Arabshah's main work is his biography of Timur. It is interesting to study how he portrays this powerful conqueror who made him and his family into captives.
Timur the lame
Tinur was the founder of the Timurid dynasty that ruled in Central Asia and Persia between 1370 to 1507. He was called Timur the lame because his right arm was deformed either through illness or battle wounds. Although he was weak physically he came to be feared as a ruthless conqueror.
Unstoppable conquests
Timur rose to power in a Mongol tribe, eventually overthrowing the sultan who ruled in his area. Making Samarqand his capital, Timur led his army through Persia, and then India, Syria and Anatolia (Turkey). Later, he even tried to conquer China.
A reign of terror
During his campaigns, many cities were looted and destroyed, and thousands of people lost their lives. Many more were taken by force captives to Central Asia. Timur demanded heavy taxes from his conquered territories, and crushed any group that dared rebel against him.
Samarqand made grand
With the vast riches he won from his conquests, Timur turned Samarqand into a grand capital. He built garden palaces around the city, including shrines, mosques, canals and bazaars. He also ordered chronicles to be written about his reign.
How did writers in the age of empires deal with the themes of conquest and destruction?     
. Biography     Personify         Chronicle     
14th- 15th century Ahmad Ibn Arabshah     
Write an account that describes an episode or event from a modern war or conquest. Before you begin to write, collect as much information as you can about your selected topic. Also consider the particular points you want to bring out in your writing.
  • The sea storm in Sidi Ali Reis' travel account and the winter storm in lbn Arabshah's biography both describe the harshness of nature. Do you find any difference in the way nature is viewed in the accounts?
  • What do you think was Ibn Arabshah's attitude towards Timur? How might this have affected the way he wrote Timur's life story'?
  • Choose one of the passages in the poem, and rewrite it without using any of the metaphors and similes. Compare the two versions. What role do the images play in the poem?
The Winter Campaign
Ibn Arabshah presents Timur's life in great detail, from the time he was born to his moment of death. The biography describes a series of military campaigns that Timur carried out in various lands. Ibn Arabshah portrays Timur as a blood thirsty tyrant who commits many evil acts on the inhabitants of towns and cities captured by him.
Timur's last years
The reading passage and the poem in this section are to be found towards the end of Timur's biography. The winter campaign takes place in Timur's last years. He sets off with an enormous army to conquer China, but he does not take into account the heavy toil that winter will have on his army.
A Powerful description
Ibn Arabshah portrays this episode in a highly dramatic manner. The scenes that he depicts help us to imagine what it must have been like to be part of Timur's army.
So far in his account, Ibn Arabshah has described Timur a conqueror who cannot be defeated. No one can stop the onward march of his army which is like a flood that swamps all that stands in its path. In the winter episode, Ibn Arabshah is finally able to show that the great Timur is weak and vulnerable after all.
Winter, the twin of Timur
In approaching the episode, Ibn Arabshah personifies winter. He makes winter into a powerful opponent who stands up to Timur. The tyrant prepares himself to overcome winter with his double breastplates, tunics and thick cloth. But he does not realise the might and severity of winter. Winter calls itself the 'second infernal spirit', the twin of Timur, that destroys countries and men. This time, winter is determined to destroy Timur himself.
The fate of tyrants
lbn Arabshah ends the life of Timur with a poem. Here, he reflects on the rule of tyrants. In the winter campaign, Timur was defeated by nature. In the poem, it is time that is the enemy of all tyrants. They believe that no power on earth can stop them, but eventually they all end up in the tomb.
A lament on evil
The poem is a lament on the evil that comes from unjust rulers. It speaks about their pride and their blindness, and the unnecessary suffering brought about by their power. But eventually even the mightiest of tyrants die and all that remains are memories of their evil- doing.
The language of power
In this unit, we have explored some of the types of writing that came about in Muslim lands in the period of the great empires. The mirror for princes, the poems in praise of rulers, the travel accounts, and the biographies of rulers were forms of writing that were all concerned directly with these empires. They explored in some way the language of power. In the next unit, we will study other forms of writing that turned their attention to inner relationships through the language of love.
Extend your reading by exploring poems stories and writing on wars and disasters, both in the past and in modem times. Wha1 are some of the common themes and images to be found in this form of writing?
There are no words that can express what people have suffered in wars and other disasters. How true do you think this claim is?

Why do you Think lbn Arabshah turned from using prose to poetry towards the end of his book?

In the age of empires, some of the writing took the form of royal biographies and the histories of dynasties. These works dealt with conquests and conflicts that took place in this period.

 Review of Unit 4
Review questions

The age of empires
  • How does Firdawsi describe Mahmud in his poem?
  • What dream does Firdawsi refer to in the poem?
  • What are some of the images Firdawsi uses to describe Mahmud and his army?
  • How does Firdawsi connect his poetry to the rule of Mahmud?

  • What is the main storyline in this tale?
  • How would you describe the character of the camel, the lion and the crow?
  • How sincere do you think the lion is in protecting the camel?
  • How do you understand the lion's response when the camel is killed?
  • What important messages would a young ruler learn from this story?
Minding ones manners and words
  • Compare and contrast the two characters portrayed by al-Jahiz. What are some of their main features?
  • How does al-Jahiz portray the qadi at the beginning and end of his sketch?
  • How might the scholar have changed after being challenged by al-Jahiz?
  • What lessons was al-Jahiz trying to teach his readers from these portraits?

  • What kinds of dangers did the seafarers encounter as their ships headed towards India?
  • How was the Turkish admiral received by Humayun?
  • Why do think Humayun was reluctant to let Reis leave India?
  • What kinds of skills helped Reis to finaly gain his release from the Mughal emperor?

  • What similarities do you notice between the description of Reis' travel account and the winter storm described by Ibn Arabshah in Timur's biography?
  • How does lbn Arabshah personify winter in his account? How does he make winter compare itself with Timur?
  • What happened to Timur's army when it ran into the winter storm?
  • What was Timur's reaction to the suffering of his men?

To continue reading the book please click on: UNIT - 5


Destruction and downfall

On far-away shores

Educating the princes
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