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Leg Over Leg

Volume Two

Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

Publication Year: 2013

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, women’s 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 author’s supervision in 1855.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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Letter from the General Editor

Philip F. Kennedy

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pp. iii

The Library of Arabic Literature is a new series offering Arabic editions and English translations of key works of classical and pre-modern Arabic literature, as well as anthologies and thematic readers. Our books are edited and translated by distinguished scholars of Arabic and Islamic studies, and are published in parallel-text format with Arabic and English on facing pages. The Library of ...


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pp. 1-4

Contents of the Book

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pp. 5-8

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Chapter 1: Rolling a Boulder

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pp. 9-38

I have cast from me, thank God, Book One, and relieved my pate of its burden. I scarcely believed I’d ever get to the second book, the first made me feel so dizzy, especially when I set out upon the waves to pay the Fāriyāq a respectful and honorable farewell. Anyway, I’m under no obligation to follow him wherever...

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Chapter 2: A Salutation and a Conversation

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pp. 39-62

“Good morning, Fāriyāq! How are you and how do you find Alexandria? Have you learned to tell its women from its men (for the women in your country do not veil their faces)? And how do you find its food and drink, its clothes, its air and water, its parks, and how its people honor strangers? Is your head still swimming, your tongue with disparagement of travel still em>brimming?”...

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Chapter 3: The Extraction of the Fariyaq from Alexandria, by Sail

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pp. 63-84

A typical example of our friend’s bad luck was that, at the time of his leaving for the island, the Franks had yet to discover the special properties of steam. Travel by sea was dependent on the wind, which blew if it felt like it and didn’t if it didn’t. As al-Ṣāḥib ibn al-ʿAbbād has said,63 ’Tis but a wind you cannot control, For you’re not Sulaymān, son of Dāʾūd. It follows that...

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Chapter 4: A Throne to Gain which Man Must Make Moan

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pp. 85-104

As long as sea’s sea and wind’s not ceased to be, the Fāriyāq’s ascendant star will never cease to slip, his tongue to trip. When he reached Alexandria, he found a new Bag-man in the place of the old, one who had been through times so rough even Shaykh Khalīl ibn Aybak al-Ṣafadī71 would have refused to put up with them. As a result, he had failed to advance, and his name was mud among his...

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Chapter 5: A Description of Cairo80

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pp. 105-114

Many an ancient historian toward Cairo has bent his gaze and on it hosts of poets past have lavished praise, and here now stand I, to describe it and to praise it as did no scholar in former days. Thus I declare: Cairo is one metropolis among metropoli, one city among cities, one settlement among settlements, one borough among boroughs, one seat among seats, one town ...

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Chapter 6: Nothing

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pp. 115-116

had thought that, if I abandoned the Fāriyāq and set about describing Cairo, I’d find rest, but the second turned out to be just like the first, or, to put it differently, the vice was the same as the versa. I must now therefore sit myself down a while in the shade of this short chapter to brush off the dust of my labors. Then I shall...

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Chapter 7: A Description of Cairo

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pp. 117-122

I am risen to my feet once more, praising and thanking God. Now, where are my pen and inkwell, that I may describe this happy city, which deserves the eulogies of all who behold it, for it is the home of good things, the motherlode of bounty and magnanimity? Its people are refined, cultured, and kind to the stranger, and there’s such amiability...

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Chapter 8: Notice that the Description of Cairo is Ended

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pp. 123-134

We—that is, all my good friends and I—had left the Fāriyāq trying to shake the Bag-men’s bag off his back. Now I, to the exclusion of the others, have come to know that he spent a night pondering the fact that everything that skill may set firmly in place external factors will shake to the core, and, this being the case, he decided to take the shaking business into his own hands. When morning came...

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Chapter 9: That to Which I Have Alluded

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pp. 135-142

The definition of a title in the minds of Orientals is that it is an insignificant fleshy protuberance or a flap of skin,111 or an extra bag hung onto an already loaded camel, that dangles from a man’s essential being. The author of the Qāmūs has said, “ʿalāqā means ‘titles,’ because they are hung onto people (li-annahā tuʿallaqu ʿalā l-nās).” To Occidentals, which is to say Franks, it is a second skin that wraps itself...

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Chapter 10: A Doctor

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pp. 143-150

May God relieve you—or shrive you or deceive you,117 following those who read ṣirāṭ or sirāṭ or zirāṭ or those who say “Demand the choicest of camels as your ransom!” and read the last word as either buṣāq or busāq or buzāq—of your sickness, Khawājā Yanṣur! You left the Fāriyāq in a state of unease and apprehension, waiting for an answer from you, morning and evening, in a state of tension. Replied...

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Chapter 11: The Fulfillment of What He Promised Us

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pp. 151-160

The Fāriyāq had a friend from the Damascene lands who used to visit him, and he was with him when the servant arrived with the letter and the set of clothes. He told the Fāriyāq, “I shall go with you to see Khawājā Yanṣur, for I have often heard him mentioned and would love to meet him.” “But,” the Fāryaq said, “turning up with...

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Chapter 12: Poems for Princes

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pp. 161-174

Our friend the Fāriyāq had no heavy baggage at the Bag-man’s house other than his own body, so he took his tambour under his arm, put his pen-box in his belt, and told the man, “God has come to my aid and shown me a path different from that laid down for me by you and your company of Bag-men. Today I shall leave you and nothing shall dissuade me.” “How can you leave me, when I’ve done...

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Chapter 13: A Maqamah to Make You Sit

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pp. 175-186

I shall not sleep well tonight unless I compose a maqāmah first. I have made it the custom of my pen at this point150 to do nothing but rhyme, producing elegant periods that charm the mind and are appetizing and pleasing to the ear. I thus declare: Faid al-Hāwif ibn Hifām in lifping tones, “Once, as I walked through Cairo’s markets, my eyes...

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Chapter 14: An Explanation of the Obscure Words in the Preceding em>Maqamah and Their Meanings162

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pp. 187-292

Preceding Maq?mah and Their Meaningsone.superiorsix.superiortwo.superiorThere is no word in this noble tongue of ours, or in that of any other nation, for an active subject or a passive object, or two actives, who, having partici-pated in one and the same act for their own pleasure and advantage, are in need of someone to burst in upon them to inform himself as to what kind of ...

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Chapter 15: Right There!

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pp. 293-294

  اي ار ž لف ى ا ف� م ¢ اÜ لº كÈ œ Éل » ى ا ل» ى ا ه´µش ل ا ع ®ÂÙÚ و ض   م ذ� ا ال� „ ه€ م ن� ‚ ل × اžقÂتô ا ن� ¦ل¨ © ى ا ل ع م "<لn لق » ا ى ðñ ع ن  و ا ط úûæيÅ م <ل� وع  ج i! لر م ن� ا ‚ د ا ذ� ا „ب ا Ü لº‰ف ه * ºت ا ذ� ى ل ع ه ºل ا را Œ ي�ث ô ك ا “ل ذ� م ¢ و  ه ي�ر º س\]ف ن� و   ه€ ه ºل“ ع® ل ل Ø� ه * ب ºل اŒ مث ‚ ا و  ن - ء ا آ� مÐل“ ع® ل م ن� ا ‚ ل × حو • ف  ل » ا{ û عض� ®�‹ ل ب × ا‰ق ل * × و  ق� ا‰ف ه ºŒ لي ذ� ا ر ا „Œ عت  ن ا - و  م ن� د ‚ آ� س\ùن¾ل ف ا Á صÙÚ و  ى ل » ا ف   ر �¶ش· ا ا  ه´ æنÅو  ه ك ºÒÓ وج   ا م‚ م * ا ¢ ر واك   لØŒÙÚض Íف او  م "< حلÓ وا   ل ØŒبô ان�و  م° خ ±• ف  وا   ل ØÒÓجلر م ن� ا ‚ ف   ر �¶ش· ة ا ~ امر< ال� و   ا ا  مÐ ه€ ن ت� ا ر - ا ا  ه´ ل ن�ك...

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Chapter 16: Right Here!

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pp. 295-370

The pen has refused to obey my command to leave this stimulating spot and talk of the Fāriyāq and his like, and he too indeed, in all likelihood, would rather stay put than talk about himself. Thus there is no help for it but to resume my description of women, without tendering him any apology. I thus declare: certain of our most eminent scholars have said that the woman is more...

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Chapter 17: Elegy for a Donkey

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pp. 371-382

“Hello there, Fāriyāq! Where have you been and what have you been up to this long while?”—“Writing poems for princes.”—“I already knew that. I’m asking you for something new.”—“Yesterday I was shocked to lose a donkey of mine. I asked the neighbors about him, but none of them admitted to stealing him, so, for a dirham, I hired a crier who set about crying in the markets, ‘Oyez! Today...

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Chapter 18: Various Forms of Sickness

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pp. 383-390

Thenceforth the Fāriyāq, being anxious to become known by the title of “Shaykh,” devoted himself to writing verse. To that end it occurred to him to study grammar under certain Egyptian shaykhs, for he’d made up his mind that what he’d acquired in his own country wasn’t enough for the prince’s Panegyricon. In the same month, however, that he declared his intent to study, he was afflicted...

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Chapter 19: The Circle of the Universe and the Center of This Book

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pp. 391-400

This man was a famous doctor in Egypt, but his reputation for causing decease was greater than that for curing it, the reason being that, at an advanced age, he’d married a fresh young girl and fathered on her a daughter and a son. Thereafter he’d ceased to be able to give her her marital rights, so he made it his habit to humor her and flatter her, which is how men usually treat their wives...

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Chapter 20: Miracles and Supernatural Acts

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pp. 401-408

The aforementioned Bag-man had living with him a fresh-faced, comely serving girl from his own country. When he resolved to flee, he decided to leave her in his house to look after his things, refusing to take her with him because he was married to a woman less beautiful than she, it being the custom in the lands of the Franks for maids to be, for the most part, superior to their mistresses...


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pp. 409-432


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pp. 433-435


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pp. 436-443

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About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute

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p. 444-444

The Library of Arabic Literature is supported by a grant from The NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, a major hub of intellectual and creative activity and advanced research. The Institute hosts academic conferences, workshops, lectures, film series, performances, and other public programs directed both to audiences within the UAE and to the worldwide academic and research community. It is a center of the scholarly...

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About the Typefaces

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p. 445-445

The Arabic body text is set in DecoType Naskh, designed by Thomas Milo and Mirjam Somers, based on an analysis of five centuries of Ottoman manuscript practice. The exceptionally legible result is the first and only typeface in a style that fully implements the principles of script grammar (qawāʿid al-khaṭṭ). The Arabic text in the footnotes and margin notes is set in DecoType Emiri, drawn by Mirjam...

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About the Editor-Translator

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p. 446-446

Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of some twenty works of modern Arabic literature, among them Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building and Elias Khoury’s The Gate of the Sun. He has also made a critical edition, translation, and lexicon...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814738467
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814769843
Print-ISBN-10: 0814769845

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Shidyāq, Aḥmad Fāris, 1804?-1887.
  • Shidyāq, Aḥmad Fāris, 1804?-1887 -- Travel -- Middle East.
  • Arabic language -- Lexicography.
  • Middle East -- Description and travel.
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