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Leg Over Leg

Volume One

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, Letter, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Rebecca C. Johnson

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pp. ix-xxx

For most Anglophone readers, this will be their first introduction to the writing of Fāris al-Shidyāq (later Aḥmad 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...

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A Note on the Text

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pp. xxxi-xxxiii

The Arabic text presented here is that of the first edition of Al-Sāq ʿalā l-sāq, printed in Paris in 1855 under the author’s supervision. The sole omission is of the Corrigenda (1855 pp. 25–26, “Arabic”).71 The only other deliberate changes are the adoption, without comment in the apparatus, of the contents of the Corrigenda and the corrections, noted in the apparatus, of a small number of...

Notes to the Frontmatter

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pp. xxxiv-xl


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pp. 1-4

Contents of the Book

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pp. 5-6

The Dedication of This Elegantly Eloquent Book

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pp. 7-8

Author’s Notice

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pp. 9-16

An Introduction by the Publisher of This Book

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pp. 17-20


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pp. 21-34


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Chapter 1: Raising a Storm

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pp. 37-64

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...

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Chapter 2: A Bruising Fall and a Protecting Shawl

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pp. 65-72

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...

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Chapter 3: Various Amusing Anecdotes

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pp. 73-84

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...

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Chapter 4: Troubles and a Tambour

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pp. 85-92

The Fāriyāq’s father was involved in matters as difficult in point of extrication as they were uncertain in terms of outcome and implication, given their ability to set people at one another’s throats and the bad feeling between ruler and ruled that this promotes. He had a close relationship with a faction of Druze shaykhs famous for their doughtiness, valor, and generosity, whose...

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Chapter 5: A Priest and a Pursie, Dragging Pockets and Dry Grazing

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pp. 93-108

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...

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Chapter 6: Food and Feeding Frenzies

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pp. 109-116

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 and caves, plunging into mire, roaming deserts and launching itself upon the waves, 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...

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Chapter 7: A Donkey that Brayed, a Journey Made, a Hope Delayed

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pp. 117-124

Thereafter the Fāriyāq continued to practice his first profession, becoming, in the process, as sick of it as the invalid of his bed. 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 himself fed and cut a dash before others by dint of wearing the best thread, both concluding that the people of their...

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Chapter 8: Bodega, Brethren, and Board

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pp. 125-134

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.161 They stocked up on what they needed by way of provisions and equipment and settled there, doing business with whatever capital (and assets)162 they’d been able to muster. It...

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Chapter 9: Unseemly Conversations and Crooked Contestations

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pp. 135-148

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, joy unconfined, 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...

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Chapter 10: Angering women who Dart Sideways Looks, and Claws like Hooks

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pp. 149-162

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...

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Chapter 11: That which Is Long and Broad

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pp. 163-174

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...

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Chapter 12: A Dish and an Itch

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pp. 175-190

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...

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Chapter 13: A Maqamah, or, a Maqamah on “Chapter 13”

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pp. 191-202

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...

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Chapter 14: A Sacrament

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pp. 203-212

Ahahahah! Ahahahah! Thank God! Thank God I’m done with the composition of that maqāmah, and with its number too,228 for 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...

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Chapter 15: The Priest’s Tale

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pp. 213-222

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...

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Chapter 16: The Priest’s Tale Continued

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pp. 223-244

“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...

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Chapter 17: Snow

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pp. 245-254

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,”267 a day of cold that was vicious. Snow at the time o’er the rooftops was sifting, had blocked the highways, and into house and palace was drifting. It was almost enough to...

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Chapter 18: Bad Luck

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pp. 255-282

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...

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Chapter 19: Emotion and Motion

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pp. 283-312

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...

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Chapter 20: The Difference between Market-men and Bag-men

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pp. 313-320

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...


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pp. 321-350


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pp. 351-354


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pp. 355-365

About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute

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p. 366-366

About the Typefaces

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p. 367-367

About the Editor-Translator

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p. 368-368

E-ISBN-13: 9780814745243
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814729373
Print-ISBN-10: 0814729371

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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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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