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339 339 Two Burlesque Stories from Brains Confounded by al-Shirbīnī Al-Shirbīnī, who completed his Hazz al-quḥūf in 1097/1686, is the author of a remarkable work, entitled (in the recent editor’s translation) Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abū Shādūf Expounded (elsewhere I have myself rendered the somewhat ambiguous words Hazz al-quḥūf as The Nodding Noddles, or Jolting the Yokels).1099 It describes the Egyptian fellahin in an endless array of anecdotes, stories and poems, mocking them as brutish and stupid yokels (but at the same time exposing their pitiful circumstances to such an extent that one modern Arab scholar has interpreted the book as a J’accuse directed at the Ottoman rulers). The first half of the book is a general description of the peasants; the second half is written as a mock commentary on a poem in colloquial Arabic supposedly written by a peasant called Abū Shādūf, which satirizes traditional philological scholarship as well as the fellahin. I. The Peasant and the Scholar1100 The following story, written in simple prose with the peasant speaking Egyptian dialect, has been chosen because it is another version of the burlesque ending of al-Tanūkhī’s tale “The Prisoner of War,” translated above (see p.230). The story exists in many versions in other cultures; for a version involving a pope and a rabbi, see Cray, “The Rabbi Trickster,” 342–43. Our shaykh told us that some years ago a Persian came to Cairo (may God protect it) where he met its vizier. He told him he was a Persian scholar and that nobody rivalled him in knowledge. He so impressed the vizier and others with his words that the vizier took a shine to the man, whom he held in high esteem. The vizier asked him, “Are you able to engage in a debate with the ulema of the Azhar Mosque?” “Certainly. I shall ask them a question in your presence, and if they give the right answer I will be at their command; if not, I can boast that I am better than they are.” 340 340 340 340 Prose The vizier sent for the Azhar ulema (may God support them and make them the imams of the Muslims until the Day of Judgment). Once they had arrived and the place had filled up with people, he explained the matter to them. They said, “Let that Persian ask whatever he likes.” The Persian stood before them and began to ask questions using gestures without any words being uttered. The ulema said, “Vizier, gestures are used only with the deaf and dumb. We don’t know what he is saying.” But the vizier told them that they had to reply to his question; he insisted on this because he liked the Persian very much. So they said to him, “Give us three days respite, so that we can consult the other shaykhs.” The vizier granted this. The ulema (may God preserve them) left him and said to one another, “How shall we rebut this Persian and send him back to his country in defeat?” One of them said, “I think we should look for some yokel or bumpkin from the countryside who knows neither sky from earth nor length from breadth. Let’s make him our shaykh and dress him like one of the ulema. We’ll walk behind him and go with him to the vizier and say to him, ‘This is our shaykh and he will answer the Persian.’ We’ll treat the Persian the way he deserves to be treated; we’ll set the dog on the swine.” He and a number of others went to search for someone of that description. They found a country bumpkin, tall, with a broad neck, thick legs, a large beard, wearing a high bonnet on his head, and a woolen cloak that reached to his knees. He was sitting in a shop, eating boiled eggs; he had one egg left when they entered. Seeing them come in he thought they wanted to take his egg from him, so he took it and put it into his bonnet, on the inside. He wanted to make a run for it but they grabbed hold of him. He said, “I’m under your protection, O poets!” They said, “Don’t be scared, fellah, you have nothing to be afraid of.” “I’m scared that you’ll take me to my...


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