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114 114 A Pre-Islamic Tale: The Princess on the Myrtle Leaf (Three Versions) Three different versions of the same tale are given; there are many more in Arabic.338 I. al-Bayhaqī (early fourth/tenth century).339 They say that al-Ḍayzan al-Ghassānī,340 the king of al-Ḥīrah, was attacked by Sābūr Dhū l-Aktāf.341 Al-Ḍayzan fortified himself and was besieged for a month. They say that Mulaykah,342 the daughter of al-Ḍayzan, looked at Sābūr from the city wall343 and fell in love with him. She sent a note344 to him, saying, “I have fallen in love with you and I shall point out to you how to conquer this town.” He replied, “Do that and I will be yours, and at your command!” Then she got the guardians of the wall drunk and opened the gates.345 Sābūr entered the town, killed those he could lay his hands on, and took her father prisoner . The following morning Sābūr ordered that al-Ḍayzan be brought before him, while he sat on a golden throne with the girl at his side. When al-Ḍayzan saw her, he wrung his hands, stamped his feet, and fainted. When he came to his senses he said to her, “Why have you done this? May God blacken your face as you have blackened mine, and may He give him power over you!” On the orders of Sābūr, he was beheaded. Sābūr and his followers captured many spoils and returned to his royal residence. He had a special apartment built for the girl and made her live there. He was much pleased with her and she stayed with him for a year. Then, one night, he called for her and she spent the night with him on a bed filled with feathers. But she was very restless, so he asked her, “What is the matter with you, my darling?” “There is something rough in the bed that has made me feel uncomfortable.” He searched the bed and found beneath the feathers a myrtle leaf, and see! This had left a mark on her side of precisely the size of the leaf, because her body was so soft346 and her skin so tender. He said to her, “What did your father give you to eat?” 115 115 115 115 Ibn Qutaybah “Marrow347 and bread of the finest wheat flour—meaning white bread348— with sugar candy.”349 The king said, “By God, I shall give you what you deserve!” He gave orders for her plaits to be fastened to the tails of two horses. They were made to gallop and she was torn to pieces.350 II. Ibn Qutaybah (213/828–276/889).351 I have read in the Histories of the Persians,352 that Ardashīr353 marched against al- Ḥaḍr (Hatra). The king of Babylonia354 had fortified himself there; he was one of the most powerful of the Successor Kings.355 So Ardashīr besieged him there for some time, unable to find a way to take the town. Then, one day, the daughter of the king of Mesopotamia climbed on the town wall and saw Ardashīr. She fell in love with him, went down, took an arrow and wrote on it: “If you promise to marry me I will show you a place from where you may conquer this town with the least effort and cost.” Then she shot the arrow toward Ardashīr, who wrote his reply on the arrow: “I promise to do what you have asked.” Then he cast it toward her. She wrote to him, pointing out the place. Ardashīr sent his men there, they breached the town, and he entered with his troops while the townspeople remained unaware. They killed the king and most of the garrison, and Ardashīr married her. One night, while she was lying on his bed, she felt so uncomfortable that she was sleepless all night long. They searched the bed and found beneath the mattress a myrtle leaf which had left a mark on her body. Thereupon Ardashīr asked her on what food her father had raised her. She said, “My food was mostly honey, cream, and marrow.” Ardashīr said, “Nobody has been as excessively generous and obliging to you as your father. Since his reward from you has been so evil, despite his great kindness, while being so...


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