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three pairs of lovers with space



Presented here are the two passage of Greek love interest to be found in The Adventures of Mercury Ali of Cairo, a story from the mediaeval Arabic The Thousand Nights and One Night. They were recounted by the narrator, Shahrazād, on the seven-hundred-and-tenth night of her story-telling.

The hero, ‘Ali, known as “al-Zaibaq” (“Mercury”) on account of his gift for slipping away, was a robber who settled in Baghdad in the reign of the caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd’s reign (AD 786-809). Though already eminent in his profession, he was described as still a beardless boy in the story.

The translation of The Thousand Nights and One Night  usually followed on this website, that of Powys Mathers, has in this instance truncated the Greek love content, so recourse has been had to the more scholarly and reliable but archaic translation of Sir Richard Burton in his The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night: A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, 10 volumes, 1885. 

Arab Boy Resting, Egypt, by Frederick Goodall, 1858


The Adventures of Mercury Ali of Cairo

Mercury Ali, leader of a band of boy robbers in his native city of Cairo, has just left there on his own to go to Baghdad in acceptance of an invitation to join the celebrated robber Calamity Ahmad (Ahmad al-Danaf).

Then he set  out and fared on, till he overtook a caravan about to start,  whereof were the Shah-bandar, or Provost of the Merchants, and  forty other traders. They had all loaded their beasts, except  the Provost, whose loads lay upon the ground, and Ali heard his  caravan-leader, who was a Syrian, say to the muleteers, "Bear a hand, one of you!" But they reviled him and abused him.  Quoth Ali in himself, "None will suit me so well to travel  withal as this leader." Now Ali was beardless and well-favoured;  so he went up to and saluted the leader who welcomed him and  said, "What seekest thou?" Replied Ali, "O my uncle, I see  thee alone with forty mule-loads of goods; but why hast thou not  brought hands to help thee?" Rejoined the other, "O my son, I  hired two lads and clothed them and put in each one's pocket two hundred dinars; and they helped me till we came to the Dervishes' Convent, when they ran away." Quoth Ali, "Whither  are you bound?" and quoth the Syrian, "to Aleppo," when  Ali said, "I will lend thee a hand." Accordingly they loaded  the beasts and the Provost mounted his she-mule and they set out  he rejoicing in Ali; and presently he loved him and made  much of him and on this wise they fared on till nightfall, when  they dismounted and ate and drank. Then came the time of sleep and Ali lay down on his side and made as if he slept;  whereupon the Syrian stretched himself near him and Ali rose from his stead and sat down at the door of the merchant's  pavilion. Presently the Syrian turned over and would have  taken Ali in his arms, but found him not and said to himself,  "Haply he hath promised another and he hath taken him;  but I have the first right and another night I will keep him."  Now Ali continued sitting at the door of the tent till nigh upon daybreak, when he returned and lay down near the Syrian, who  found him by his side, when he awoke, and said to himself, "If  I ask him where he hath been, he will leave me and go away."  So he dissembled with him [...][1]

Caravan near Cairo by Emile Wauters

A few days later …

Then he slept that night and on the morrow he  entered the city and threading the streets enquired for Calamity Ahmad's quarters; but none would direct him thereto. So he  walked on, till he came to the square Al-Nafz, where he saw children at play, and amongst them a lad called Ahmad al-Lakít, and said to himself, "O my Ali, thou shalt not get news of them  but from their little ones." Then he turned and seeing a sweet-meat-seller bought Halwá of him and called to the children; but  Ahmad al-Lakit drove the rest away and coming up to him, said, "What seekest thou?" Quoth Ali, "I had a son and he died and  I saw him in a dream asking for sweetmeats: wherefore I have  bought them and wish to give each child a bit." So saying, he  gave Ahmad a slice, and he looked at it and seeing a dinar sticking to it, said "Begone! I am no catamite: seek another  than I." Quoth Ali, "O my son, none but a sharp fellow taketh  the hire, even as he is a sharp one who giveth it. I have sought  all day for Ahmad al-Danaf's barrack, but none would direct me thereto; so this dinar is thine an thou wilt guide me thither."[2]


[1] In his version, Mathers adds that the Provost “was returning from Mecca”, but Burton’s version has been chosen here because all Mathers has to say about Greek love in this main pederastic episode of the story is (II 732):
     "Alī, who was young, handsome and still unbearded, was very much to the syndic's taste and greatly appealed to the camel-men and muleteers. He succeeded, however, not only in defending himself from certain of their: nocturnal enterprises, but also […]"

[2] Mathers retains the pederastic content of this episode (II 733):
     'Mahmūd Miscarriage [Mathers’s name for Ahmad al-Lakit] prevented the other little boys from coming forward and approached Alī by himself, saying: “Give me the halwā.” Quicksilver gave him the sweet and at the same time slipped a silver piece into his hand; but, when Miscarriage saw the money, he thought that the man wished to seduce him and therefore cried: “Go away, for I am not for sale. I do not do those disgraceful things. Ask anyone and they will tell you.” Alī, who had no thought for such wickedness at such a time, hastened to reassure the obscene child by saying: “That money is the price of information.” '




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