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THE DEPARTURE FROM THE CITY OF PEACE



 

PRAISE BE TO GOD, THE MERCIFUL, THE compassionate, the Lord of the Two Worlds, and blessing and peace upon the Prince of Prophets, our Lord and Master Muhammad, whom God bless and preserve with abiding and continuing peace and blessings until the Day of the Faith!

This is the book of Ahmad ibn-Fadlan, ibnal-Abbas, ibn-Rasid, ibn-Hammad, a client of Muhammad ibn-Sulayman, the ambassador from al-Muqtadir to the King of the Saqaliba, in which he recounts what he saw in the land of the Turks, the Hazars, the Saqaliba, the Baskirs, the Rus, and the Northmen, of the histories of their kings and the way they act in many affairs of their life.

The letter of the Yiltawar, King of the Saqaliba, reached the Commander of the Faithful, al-Muqtadir. He asked him therein to send someone who would instruct him in religion and make him acquainted with the laws of Islam; who would build for him a mosque and erect for him a pulpit from which might be carried out the mission of converting his people in all the districts of his kingdom; and also for advice in the construction of fortifications and defense works. And he prayed the Caliph to do these things. The intermediary in this matter was Dadir al-Hurami.

The Commander of the Faithful, al-Muqtadir, as many know, was not a strong and just caliph, but drawn to pleasures and the flattering speeches of his officers, who played him the fool and jested mightily behind his back. I was not of this company, or especially beloved of the Caliph, for the reason that follows.

In the City of Peace lived an elderly merchant of the name ibn-Qarin, rich in all things but lacking a generous heart and a love of man. He hoarded his gold and likewise his young wife, whom none had ever seen but all bespoke as beautiful beyond imagining. On a certain day, the Caliph sent me to deliver to ibn-Qarin a message, and I presented myself to the house of the merchant and sought entrance therein with my letter and seal. Until today, I do not know the import of the letter, but it does not matter.

The merchant was not at home, being abroad on some business; I explained to the door servant that I must await his return, since the Caliph had instructed I must deliver the message into his hands from mine only. Thus the door servant admitted me into the house, which procedure took some passing of time, for the door to the house had many bolts, locks, bars, and fasteners, as is common in the dwellings of misers. At length I was admitted and I waited all day, growing hungry and thirsty, but was offered no refreshments by the servants of the niggardly merchant.

In the heat of the afternoon, when all about me the house was still and the servants slept, I, too, felt drowsy. Then before me I saw an apparition in white, a woman young and beautiful, whom I took to be the very wife no man had ever seen. She did not speak, but with gestures led me to another room, and there locked the door. I enjoyed her upon the spot, in which matter she required no encouragement, for her husband was old and no doubt neglectful. Thus did the afternoon pass quickly, until we heard the master of the house making his return. Immediately the wife arose and departed, having never uttered a word in my presence, and I was left to arrange my garments in some haste.

Now I should have been apprehended for certain were it not for these same many locks and bolts which impeded the miser’s entry into his own home. Even so, the merchant ibn-Qarin found me in the adjoining room, and he viewed me with suspicion, asking why I should be there and not in the courtyard, where it was proper for a messenger to wait. I replied that I was famished and faint, and had searched for food and shade. This was a poor lie and he did not believe it; he complained to the Caliph, who I know was amused in private and yet compelled to adopt a stern face to the public. Thus when the ruler of the Saqaliba asked for a mission from the Caliph, this same spiteful ibn-Qarin urged I be sent, and so I was.

In our company there was the ambassador of the King of Saqaliba who was called Abdallah ibn-Bastu al-Hazari, a tedious and windy man who talked overmuch. There was also Takin al-Turki, Bars al-Saqlabi, both guides on the journey, and I, too. We bore gifts for the ruler, for his wife, his children, and his generals. Also we brought certain drugs, which were given over to the care of Sausan al-Rasi. This was our parry.

So we started on Thursday, the 11th of Safar of the year 309 [June 21, 921], from the City of Peace [Bagdad]. We stopped a day in Nahrawan, and from there went swiftly until we reached al-Daskara, where we stopped for three days. Then we traveled straight onward without any detours until we reached Hulwan. There we stayed two days. From there we went to Qirmisin, where we remained two days. Then we started and traveled until we reached Hamadan, where we remained three days. Then we went farther to Sawa, where we remained two days. From there we came to Ray, where we remained eleven days waiting for Ahmad ibn-Ali, the brother of al-Rasi, because he was in Huwar al-Ray. Then we went to Huwar al-Ray and remained there three days.

This passage gives the flavor of Ibn Fadlan’s descriptions of travel. Perhaps a quarter of the entire manuscript is written in this fashion, simply listing the names of settlements and the number of days spent at each. Most of this material has been deleted.

Apparently, Ibn Fadlan’s party is traveling northward, and eventually they are required to halt for winter.

Our stay in Gurganiya was lengthy; we stayed there some days of the month of Ragab [November] and during the whole of Saban, Ramadan, and Sawwal. Our long stay was brought about by the cold and its bitterness. Verily, they told me that two men took camels into the forests to get wood. They forgot, however, to take flint and tinder with them, and hence slept in the night without a fire. When they got up the next morning, they found the camels had been frozen stiff from the cold.

Verily, I beheld the marketplace and streets of Gurganiya completely deserted because of the cold. One could stroll the streets without meeting anyone. Once as I came out of my bath, I entered my house and looked at my beard, which was a lump of ice. I had to thaw it out before the fire. I lived night and day in a house that was inside another house, in which a Turkish felt tent was pitched, and I myself was wrapped up in many clothes and fur rugs. But in spite of all this, my cheeks often stuck to the pillow at night.

In this extremity of cold, I saw that the earth sometimes forms great cracks, and a large and ancient tree may split into two halves from this.

About the middle of Sawwal of the year 309 [February, 922], the weather began to change, the river thawed, and we got ourselves the necessary things for the journey. We bought Turkish camels and skin boats made out of camel hides, in preparation for the rivers we would have to cross in the land of Turks.

We laid in a supply of bread, millet, and salted meat for three months. Our acquaintances in the town directed us in laying in garments, as much as was needed. They depicted the coming hardships in fearful terms, and we believed they exaggerated the story, yet when we underwent this, it was far greater than what had been told to us.

Each of us put on a jacket, over that a coat, over that a tulup, over that a burka, and a helmet of felt out of which only the two eyes could look. We also had a simple pair of underdrawers with trousers over them, and house shoes and over these another pair of boots. When one of us got on a camel, he could not move because of his clothes.

The doctor of the law and the teacher and the pages who traveled with us from Bagdad departed from us now, fearing to enter this new country, so 1, the ambassador, his brother-in-law and two pages, Takin and Bars, proceeded. [1]

The caravan was ready to start. We took into our service a guide from the inhabitants of the town whose name was Qlawus. Then, trusting in the all-powerful and exalted God, we started on Monday, the third of Dulqada of the year 309 [March 3, 922] from the town Gurganiya.

That same day, we stopped at the burg called Zamgan: that is, the gateway to the Turks. The next morning early, we proceeded to Git. There so much snow fell that the camels plunged in it up to their knees; hence we halted two days.



Then we sped straight into the land of the Turks without meeting anyone on the barren and even steppe. We rode ten days in bitter cold and unbroken snowstorms, in comparison with which the cold in Chwarezm seemed like a summer day, so that we forgot all our previous discomforts and were about at the point of giving up.

One day when we underwent the most savage cold weather, Takin the page was riding next to me, and along with him one of the Turks, who was talking to him in Turkish. Takin laughed and said to me, “This Turk says, ‘What will our Lord have of us? He is killing us with cold. If we knew what he wanted, we would let him have it.’ ”

And then I said, “Tell him He only wishes that you say, ‘There is no God save Allah.’ ”

The Turk laughed and answered, “If I knew it, I would say it.”

Then we came to a forest where there was a large quantity of dry wood and we halted. The caravan lit fires, we warmed ourselves, took off our clothes, and spread them out to dry.

Apparently, Ibn Fadlan’s party was entering a warmer region, because he makes no further reference to extreme cold.

We set out again and rode every day from midnight until the time of the afternoon prayer-hastening more from midday on-and then we halted. When we had ridden fifteen nights in this manner, we arrived at a large mountain with many great rocks. There are springs there, that jet out from the rocks and the water stays in pools. From this place, we crossed on until we reached a Turkish tribe, which is called the Oguz.

 







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