Post-classical history

§ Hunting Wild Boar

[223] Early one morning on the first of Rajab, while we were fasting,73 I said to my father (may God have mercy upon him), ‘I wish I could go out hunting to keep my mind off the fast.’

‘Then go,’ my father said.

So I went out with my brother Baha’ al-Dawla Abu al-Mughith Munqidh (may God have mercy upon him) towards the cane-brakes, and we brought a few goshawks with us. As we went in among the liquorice-bushes74 a wild boar emerged, and so my brother thrust his spear at it and wounded it, and it fled back into the liquorice-bushes.

My brother said, ‘Pretty soon that wound will start hurting him and then he’ll come out. I’ll face him head-on, stick him with my spear and kill him.’

‘You’d better not do that,’ I advised. ‘You might hit your horse and kill it.’

As we were talking, the boar came out, heading for another cane-brake. My brother confronted it and thrust his spear in the hump on the boar’s back, but the front of the spear he used snapped while still stuck in the boar. The boar ran under the chestnut mare my brother was riding. The horse was pregnant and had three white legs and a white tail. The boar collided with the horse and knocked it over and over again. As for the horse, its hip was dislocated and it was ruined. As for my brother, he dislocated his little finger and broke his ring!

I galloped off behind the boar, which went into an area thick with liquorice-bushes and asphodel.75 There were some cattle sleeping there, but I did not see them due to that undergrowth. A bull rose up out of the herd and struck the chest of my horse, knocking it down. I fell to the ground, and the horse too, with its bridle snapped. I got up, took my spear, mounted up and caught up with the boar,76 which had thrown itself into the river. I stood on the bank of the river and hurled my spear at it. The spear stuck in the boar, but snapped at a length of two cubits, leaving the spear-head imbedded. The boar swam on towards the other side of the river, so we shouted to a group of people on that side who were preparing mud-bricks to build some houses in a village belonging to my uncle. They came and stood over the boar while it was below the bank, unable to climb up. Then they started throwing large rocks at it, trying to kill it. I said to one of my grooms, ‘Go down to it.’ So he took off his gear and stripped naked. Taking up his sword, he swam over to the boar and finished it off. Then he dragged it by the leg and brought it to me, saying, ‘May God acquaint you with the blessings of the Rajab fast! For we have inaugurated it with the impurity of swine.’

[224] If the boar had claws and fangs like a lion, it would be even more dangerous than the lion. I once saw a wild sow that we had roused from its litter of suckling piglets. One of the young began ramming with its snout the hoof of the horse of an attendant who was with me. It was the size of a cat. The attendant took an arrow from his quiver and, leaning down to it, skewered it on the arrow and lifted it up. I was amazed at how it had attacked, ramming a horse’s hoof while, at the same time, it could be carried about on a mere arrow.

§ The Stamina of Butrus

One of the wonderful experiences I had hunting would take place when we went out to the mountains to hunt partridge, bringing ten goshawks with us to hunt with all day long. The austringers would be scattered all through the mountains, each one of them accompanied by two or three horsemen from our mamluk troops. We had with us two houndsmen: the name of one of them was Butrus and the other Zarzur Badiya. Every time one of the austringers would slip a bird onto a partridge and flush it out, he would shout, ‘Hey, Butrus!’ and Butrus would come running over to him like a racing-camel. He would keep that up all day long, running about from mountain to mountain, he and his colleague. Once, when he had gorged the hawks and turned back for home, Butrus took a stone and run after one of the mamluks and hit him with it, and the mamluk in turn took a stone and hit Butrus. Butrus, who was on foot during all this, kept chasing the attendants, who were mounted, throwing stones at them all the way back from the mountains to the city-gates, just as if he hadn’t spent the entire day running back and forth from one mountain to another.

§ Zaghariya-Hounds and Sakers in Tandem

One of the strange things about zaghariya-hounds is that they will not eat birds. They will not eat any part of them, except their heads and feet (which have no meat on them) and the bones from which the hawks have already eaten the meat.

My father (may God have mercy upon him) had a black zaghariya-bitch; our attendants used to rest [225] a lamp on her head during the night while they sat and played chess. She never made a movement, and she continued doing this until she became dim-sighted. My father (may God have mercy upon him) used to upbraid the attendants, telling them, ‘You’ve gone and blinded this bitch!’ but they never refrained from it.

The amir Malik ibn Salim, the lord of Qal’at Ja’bar, sent a beautifully trained bitch to my father as a gift, which could be loosed beneath the sakers on gazelles. We saw her do many wonderful things.

Now, hunting with sakers has a system to it. First, the leader is cast off and it strikes the gazelle, binding to its ear. The assistant is then slipped and strikes another gazelle. A second assistant is slipped and does likewise, and the fourth saker is slipped in this way too. Each saker strikes one separate gazelle. The leading saker, clutching the gazelle’s ear, isolates it from the others and all the sakers join it and abandon the other gazelles previously struck. Meanwhile, this bitch is below the sakers, concentrating solely on the gazelle to which the sakers are binding. Sometimes it happens that an eagle might appear, so the sakers let go of the gazelle, which escapes, while the sakers circle. We noticed that the bitch would leave the gazelle at the same time as the sakers did and that she would go round in a circle on the ground beneath the sakers, just as they did in the air. She would continue doing this until the sakers were called down. Then she would stop and walk behind the horses.77

§ The Strong Prey upon the Weak

Between Malik ibn Salim and my father (may God have mercy upon them both) there was a formal bond of friendship, and they corresponded with letters and messengers. One day, Malik ibn Salim sent a message to my father saying, ‘I went out hunting gazelle and we caught three thousand fawns in one day.’

But that was just because gazelles abound up around them [226] in the region of Qal’at Ja’bar. They just go out during the season when the gazelles are giving birth, on horse and on foot, and take up whatever young have been born that night, the previous night and two or three nights before. They just sweep them up, the way grass or twigs are swept up.

Francolins abound too in the cane-brakes along the Euphrates. If a francolin is cut open, cleaned out and stuffed with hair, then its odour will not turn for many days.

One day, I saw a francolin that had been cut open and its crop removed. Inside the crop there was a snake that the francolin had eaten, about a handspan in length. One time while we were hunting, we killed a snake and another snake came out of its stomach. The first snake had swallowed it whole and it was only a little smaller than the first.

It is thus in the nature of all beasts for the strong to prey upon the weak:

Injustice is a feature of every living soul. Should you find

    Someone of integrity, then he only refrains because of

      some defect.78

§ Concluding Reflections

To cover all the experiences of the hunt that I have witnessed over the past seventy years of my life is not possible, nor can I accomplish it. For to waste your time telling tales to amuse you is one of the worst calamities that could ever abuse you. As for me, I seek forgiveness from God the Exalted for wasting the dregs of my life that remain in activities other than obedience to Him and the pursuit of divine recompense and heavenly gain. For He – may He be blessed and exalted – all sins He forgives, and from His mercy rich bounties He gives. He is the Generous One – never disappointing those who in hope do persist, for those who entreat Him, He can never resist.

The End of the Book

[227] Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, and the blessings of God and peace be upon our master Muhammad, His prophet and upon all his pure family. God is sufficient for us, and in Him we trust.79

At the end of the book are the following words that are reproduced here:

I have read this book from beginning to end over numerous sessions under my lord, my grandfather, the pre-eminent amir, the virtuous scholar, the perfect leader, ‘Adud al-Din, companion of kings and sultans, most notable of Arabs, sincere counsellor to the Commander of the Faithful – may God perpetuate his good fortune! I asked him to provide me with a certificate to authorize me to transmit the contents of this book to others, and he agreed to do so, inscribing it in his noble hand. That was on Thursday, 13 Safar, in the year 610 (4 July 1213):

‘I certify that this is true. Signed by his grandfather Murhaf ibn Usama ibn Munqidh, who praises God and begs His blessing.’

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