A Story about Love and Friendship for Valentine’s Day:First published 5 March 2011; revised 8 Feb. 2003
Prior to Richard Burton’s years of exploits in Africa, while stationed in India, he learned Arabic and studied widely both religious and literary texts available to him. Sir Burton’s translations of various Arabic texts were widely read, and below is a small section of his translation of the ‘Arabian Nights.’
It is part of a lengthy story about Attaf and his friend Ja’afar, who has fallen madly in love.
I found this misfiled; it was in one of my files on Middle East Cuisine – but I think you will see why:
A doctor came to me one day and took my hand and pulse, when I said to him Let go my hand, the fire’s in my heart.
He said, Drink syrup of the rose and mix it well with water of the tongue but tell it not to anyone:
I said, The syrup of the rose is quite well-known to me; it is the water of the cheek that breaks my very heart; But can it be that I can get the water of the tongue that I may cool the burning fire that within me dwells?
The doctor said, Thou art in love,
I said Yes to him, and said he to me, Its remedy is to have the body here.
Then when Attaf went in to him after the end of the recitation he sat down at the head of the bed and asked him about his condition and what had been prescribed for him by the Hakim[doctor].
Ja’afar said, O my lord, he wrote for me a paper which is under the pillow. Attaf put out his hand, took the paper and read it and found upon it written:–
“In the name of God the Curer–To be taken, with the aid and blessing of God:
- 3 miskals of pure presence of the beloved unmixed with morsels of absence and fear of being watched:
- Plus, 3 miskals of a good meeting cleared of any grain of abandonment and rupture:
- Plus, 2 okes of pure friendship and discretion deprived of the wood of separation.
- Then take some extract of the incense of the kiss, the teeth and the waist, 2 miskals of each; also take 100 kisses of pomegranate rubbed and rounded, of which 50 small ones are to be sugared, 30 pigeon-fashion and 20 after the fashion of little birds.
- Take of Aleppine twist and sigh of Al-Iraq 2 miskals each;
- Also 2 okes of tongue-sucking, mouth and lip kissing,
All to be pounded and mixed.
- Then put upon a furnace 3 drams of Egyptian grain with the addition of the beautiful fold of plumpness, boil it in love-water and syrup of desire over a fire of wood of pleasure in the retreat of the ardour.
- Decant the whole upon a royal dibaqy divan and add to it 2 okes of saliva syrup and drink it fasting during 3 days.
- Next take for dinner the melon of desire mixed with embrace-almond and juice of the lemon of concord,
and lastly 3 rolls of thigh-work and enter the bath for the benefit of your health.
- And–The Peace!”
When Attaf had finished reading of this paper he burst into a laugh at the prescription and, turning to Ja’afar, he asked him with whom he was in love and of whom he was enamoured. Ja’afar gave no answer, he spoke not neither did he commence any discourse, when Attaf said,
O my brother, thou are not my friend, but thou art in my house esteemed as is the soul in the body. Between me and thee there has been for the last four months friendship, company, companionship and conversation.
Why then conceal thy situation? For me, I have fear and sorrow on thine account. Thou art a stranger, thou art not of this capital. I am a son of this city, I can dispel what thou hast (of trouble) and that of which thou sufferest. By my life, which belongs to you, by the bread and salt between us, reveal to me thy secret.
And Attaf did not cease to speak thus until Ja’afar yielded and said to him,
It shall no longer be concealed, and I will not blame those who are in love and are impatient.
Then he told his story from beginning to end, what was said to him by the young lady and what she did with him and lastly he described the quarter and the place.
Now when Attaf heard the words of Ja’far he reflected on the description of the house and of the young lady and concluded that the house was his house and the young lady was his cousin-wife, and said to himself:
There is no power nor strength but in Allah the High, the Great. We are from God and to Him we return. Then he came to his mind again and to the generosity of his soul and said to himself,
O Attaf! God hath favored me and hath made me worthy of doing good and hath sent to me I know not whence this stranger who hath become bound in friendship with me during all this time and he hath acquired over me the ties of friendship.
His heart hath become attached to the young woman and his love for her hath reached in him an imminent point. Since that time he is almost on the verge of annihilation, in so pitiable a condition and behold, he hopeth from me a good issue from his trouble.
He hath made known to me his situation after having concealed it for so long a time: if I do not befriend him in his misfortune I should resemble him who would build upon water and thus would aid him to annihilate his existence.
By the magnanimity of my God, I will further him with my worldly goods and with my soul…
I will divorce my cousin and will marry her to him and I will not change my character, my generosity nor my resolution…
– Source: Burton – Supplemental Nights, Volume 6 by Richard F. Burton Part 4 out of 9 …
The tale continues, and of course becomes more complicated by way of this 3-sided triangle. Burton was an amazing linguist and Arabist, his interest being guided by religion and Sufism, as well as by matters of the heart.