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Leg Over Leg

Leg Over Leg: Volume One

Edited and translated by Humphrey Davies
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Leg Over Leg
    Book Description:

    Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of the Fariyaq, alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussions of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments, freedom of conscience, womens rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European and Arabic literatures. Al-Shidyaq also celebrates the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language. Akin to Sterne and Rabelais in his satirical outlook and technical inventiveness, al-Shidyaq produced in Leg Over Leg a work that is unique and unclassifiable. It was initially widely condemned for its attacks on authority, its religious skepticism, and its obscenity, and later editions were often abridged. This is the first English translation of the work and reproduces the original Arabic text, published under the authors supervision in 1855.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4524-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xxx)
    Rebecca C. Johnson

    For most Anglophone readers, this will be their first introduction to the writing of Fāris al-Shidyāq (later Ahmad Fāris al-Shidyāq, born in 1805 or 1806 and died in 1887), a foundational figure in Arabic literary modernity.¹ For, although he is the author of at least four published works of literary prose, ten linguistic studies of Arabic, Turkish, English, and French, over 20,000 lines of poetry, and at least four unpublished manuscripts (not to mention his many translations, journalistic and critical essays, or those works that have been lost), his work has never appeared in English until now. For specialists in...

  4. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xxxi-xxxiii)
  5. Notes to the Frontmatter
    (pp. xxxiv-xl)
  6. Leg Over Leg, Volume One

    • Contents of the Book
      (pp. 4-5)
    • The Dedication of This Elegantly Eloquent Book
      (pp. 6-7)
    • Author’s Notice
      (pp. 8-15)
    • An Introduction by the Publisher of This Book
      (pp. 16-19)

      To Almighty God bepraise, for the blessings with which He has showered us throughout ourdays. To proceed: Rāfāʾīl Kaḥlā, of Damascus,15humble seeker of the mercy of his Lord the Preserver and Protector, declares: When I perused this book entitledLeg over Leg, I found it provided a wealth of useful information through its enumeration of many synonymous and lexically associated words in a style clear andadmirable, presented in a manner both fascinating anddelectable. This is especially so, given that it encompasses all the names of instruments and tools that need to be known and provides...

    • Proem
      (pp. 20-33)
    • Book One

      • Chapter 1 Raising a Storm
        (pp. 36-63)

        Gently! Hush! Silence! Quiet! Cock an ear! Listen up! Hold your tongue! Quit talking! Hear! Hark! Hearken!—and know that I embarked upon the composition of this four-book opuscule of mine during wearing, grinding nights that had me praying to God standing and seated, until finally I found no further impediment to stop the faucet of my thoughts from emptying like rain clouds into the drainpipe of my pen and onto the surfaces of these pages; and that when I found the pen obedient to my fingertips and the inkpot to the pen, I said to myself, “There can be...

      • Chapter 2 A Bruising Fall and a Protecting Shawl
        (pp. 64-71)

        It was in the Fāriyāq’s nature, as is normal among the young, to imitate in dress, behavior, and speech those in his time distinguished by merit and knowledge. One day, he saw a wretched poet wearing a large round turban. The said wretched poet then being numbered among the masters, the Fāriyāq set his heart on having just such a turban, small as was his head, and he would walk along nodding under the weight of it to right and left, like a judge passing through the markets on his way home after Friday prayers saluting the people.

        Now it...

      • Chapter 3 Various Amusing Anecdotes
        (pp. 72-83)

        From childhood, the Fāriyāq had felt an instinctive disposition to read and assiduously study the classical language, picking out the rare words that he came across in books, of which his father had amassed a large number in a variety of disciplines. He, that is, the Fāriyāq, was also, from his youth, wild about poetry, even before he had learned anything about the requirements of that craft; thus sometimes he would hit the mark and other times miss it. He also believed poets were the best people and poetry the most magnificent thing with which a man could occupy himself....

      • Chapter 4 Troubles and a Tambour
        (pp. 84-91)

        The Fāriyāq’s father was involved in matters as difficult in point ofextricationas they were uncertain in terms of outcome andimplication, given their ability to set people at one another’sthroatsand the bad feeling between ruler and ruled that thispromotes. He had a close relationship with a faction of Druze shaykhs famous for their doughtiness, valor, and generosity, whose hands, money pouches, coffers, cupboards, waist-bands,142and houses were, however, empty. It is no secret that the world, being round in shape, favors none unless they lure it with something equally round, namely the golden dinar, without...

      • Chapter 5 A Priest and a Pursie, Dragging Pockets and Dry Grazing
        (pp. 92-107)

        If anyone read the end of the previous chapter and then his servant came and called him to dinner, causing him to leave the book and rise and turn toward glasses and goblets, tumblers and tankards (in all their different shapes and sizes), and then his friends dropped in to pass the evening with him, one saying, “Today I beat my slave girl and went down to the market with her intending to sell her, even at half price, because she’d given my wife a pert answer” and another, “And I too today beat my son because I found him...

      • Chapter 6 Food and Feeding Frenzies
        (pp. 108-115)

        While the Fāriyāq’s head and feet stayed put in his house, his mind was climbing mountains and hills, scaling walls, conquering castles, descending into valleys andcaves, plunging into mire, roaming deserts and launching itself upon thewaves, for his dearest desire was to see a land other than his own and people other than his family, which is everyone’s first concern while growing up. It occurred to him therefore to visit one of his brothers who was a scribe working for a Druze notable, and he set forth, with nothing for baggage but his dreams. When he was united...

      • Chapter 7 A Donkey that Brayed, a Journey Made, a Hope Delayed
        (pp. 116-123)

        Thereafter the Fāriyāq continued to practice his first profession, becoming, in the process, as sick of it as the invalid of hisbed. He had a true friend who kept an eye on how he was; once they met and embarked on a discussion of how a person might keep himselffedand cut a dash before others by dint of wearing the bestthread, both concluding that the people of their day judged others not by their virtue anddiscriminationbut by their attire and itsdecoration, that those who were born to the wearing of the silk-wool, silk,...

      • Chapter 8 Bodega, Brethren, and Board
        (pp. 124-133)

        After a long discussion between the Fāriyāq and his companion, they settled on renting an inn on the road to the city of al-Kuʿaykāt, where are to be found the caravans that leave for the city of al-Rukākāt.161They stocked up on what they needed by way of provisions and equipment and settled there, doing business with whatevercapital (andassets)162they’d been able to muster. It wasn’t long before their renown spread among all who came and wentthence, all travelers learned of their goodsense, and people started seeking them out for their reasonable prices, so that their...

      • Chapter 9 Unseemly Conversations and Crooked Contestations
        (pp. 134-147)

        It would be well to provide here an example of the kind of conversations that used to take place among this company. Thus we declare: Once, when this company of ours had gathered, the cup was on its rounds, joyunconfined, the chastest among them in speech and most dogged in debate posed the following question: “Which person, in your opinions, is the best-off and has the greatest peace ofmind?” Replied the one with cup in hand, “He who’s in this same state asI, holding his vesselhigh.” The first told him, “It is not so at all,...

      • Chapter 10 Angering Women Who Dart Sideways Looks, and Claws like Hooks
        (pp. 148-161)

        Rhymed prose is to the writer as a wooden leg to the walker. I must be careful therefore not to rest all my weight on it every time I go for a stroll down the highways of literary expression lest its vagaries end up cramping my style or it toss me into a pothole from which I cannot crawl. Indeed, it seems to me that the difficulties of rhymed prose are greater than those of poetry, for the requirements regarding linking and correspondence set for lines of verse are fewer than those for the periods of rhymed prose. In rhymed...

      • Chapter 11 That Which Is Long and Broad
        (pp. 162-173)

        Let us now return to the Fāriyāq, just as he returned to his profession—namely, the copying of manuscripts—albeit against his will. It happened that at that time two young emirs of the region had decided to study works of grammar at the feet of a grammarian, and the Fāriyāq was present at these classes, bent over his copying. One of the two pupils was slow to understand, quick to answer. He’d yawn and stretch, fidget and fart, slack off and snore, stick out his bum and sneeze. If he thought he’d understood a point, he’d scratch himself under...

      • Chapter 12 A Dish and an Itch
        (pp. 174-189)

        I must go on at some length in this chapter, just to test the reader’s endurance. If he gets to the end of it at one go without his teeth smoking with rage, his knees knocking together from frustration and fury, the place between his eyes knitting in disgust and shame, or his jugulars swelling in wrath and ire, I shall devote a separate chapter to his praise and count him among those readers “who are steadfast.”216And because the Fāriyāq had become prone in those days to making a long tongue at people—even though his brains remained quite...

      • Chapter 13 A Maqāmah, or, a Maqāmah on “Chapter 13”
        (pp. 190-201)

        A while has passed now since I tasked myself with writing in rhymed prose and patterned period, and I think I’ve forgotten how to do so. I must therefore put my faculties to the test in this chapter, which is worthier than the rest—because it’s higher in number than the twelfth and lower than the fourteenth—and I shall continue to do so in every chapter branded with this number till I’ve finished my four books. The total number ofmaqāmahsin it will therefore, I believe, be four. Thus I declare:

        Faid al-Hāwif ibn Hifām in lifping tones:219...

      • Chapter 14 A Sacrament
        (pp. 202-211)

        Ahahahah! Ahahahah! Thank God! Thank God I’m done with the composition of thatmaqāmah, and with its number too,228for it was weighing on my mind. Now all that remains for me to do is to urge the reader to read it. Though more coarsely woven than the finely knit rhymed prose of al-Ḥarīrī and despite its prosodicirregularities, it may, for all that, be worn, and commended for its beneficialverities. I believe the second will be better than it was, the third better than the second, the fourth better than the third, and the fiftieth better than the...

      • Chapter 15 The Priest’s Tale
        (pp. 212-221)

        Without further ado, he spoke. “Know that when I started out in life I was a weaver. However—given that Almighty God had decided, in His sempiternal wisdom, to make me so ugly and short that even my mother, when she looked at me, would thank God that He hadn’t made me a girl—I was no good for weaving. The reason for this was that my terrible shortness often caused me to pant and choke in the loom pit, because my whole body would disappear inside it, and I’d find it impossible to breathe, despite which my nostrils, praise...

      • Chapter 16 The Priest’s Tale Continued
        (pp. 222-243)

        “From the outset and for as long as I was there, I made it my concern to humor the cook, get on his good side, and praise him. He, in return, let me want for nothing that could be had in the monastery. In fact, I spent the greater part of my time in the kitchen. I was also good at cooking dishes he knew nothing of, so I taught him these, and he became exceedingly fond of me. Thus it came to pass that, when the abbot invited someone dear to him to eat with him, or had an...

      • Chapter 17 Snow
        (pp. 244-253)

        No doubt, some readers will find what I have to say in this chapter hard to warm to as I wrote it on a “frowning day,inauspicious,”267a day of cold that wasvicious. Snow at the time o’er the rooftops wassifting, had blocked the highways, and into house and palace wasdrifting. It was almost enough to extinguish anyfire, put an end to any patience, and thoughts of moon and of money-wageringinspire.268

        Be that as it may, no one can deny that anyone who drinks, eats, or plays with snow derives from it a feeling of...

      • Chapter 18 Bad Luck
        (pp. 254-281)

        The reason I gave the nib of my pen a little rest from the snapping teeth of the Fāriyāq’s name, after leaving him with the self-denying priest, and distracted myself by talking about snow was that I was so angry at the two of them. Where the priest’s concerned, I was angry that he’d betrayed his friend who had taken him in and had played fast and loose with his womenfolk; had the Almighty given that merchant a son whom he’d accepted in good conscience as his own—or, in other words, had He “opened his wife’s womb,” as it...

      • Chapter 19 Emotion and Motion
        (pp. 282-311)

        It is the custom of people everywhere to say when they love or long for something, “My heart loves” that thing or it “feels drawn to” it or “desires” it. I don’t know the underlying reason for this usage, for the heart is only one of the many organs of the body, and it’s not possible that the sensory capacities of all the organs should be gathered together in just that one. The proof is that if someone loves a certain kind of food, for example, the cause is to be sought in the gustatory organs that give rise to...

      • Chapter 20 The Difference between Market-men and Bag-men
        (pp. 312-320)

        You must know that the Market-men are famous everywhere, for they have, since ancient times, held a monopoly over the goods, which they keep in warehouses of theirs, declaring, “We shall exact revenge on anyone who does not buy from our warehouses.” They have also hidden the price list from the buyers and jacked up the prices of the various items to an exorbitant degree, demanding from the buyer several times the original price. More recently they opened workshops and warehouses in all the cities, and they have kept these dark, with no apertures or openings for the light, and...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 321-350)
  8. Glossary
    (pp. 351-354)
  9. Index
    (pp. 355-365)
  10. About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute
    (pp. 366-366)
  11. About the Typefaces
    (pp. 367-367)
  12. About the Editor-Translator
    (pp. 368-368)