Friday, January 31, 2014

Chivalry: the Combat of the 30 and an odd story from the Arabian tradition

Today in my chivalry seminar we discussed the three most important accounts the Combat of 30 as found in my book of the same name. I started out by asking a general question about whether this was a chivalric deed of arms. One of my students launched into an enthusiastic affirmation. And you know what? He was taken by exactly the features of the deed that I think people of the mid-14th century most appreciated, in other words that it was a fair fight and no one ran away.

Just goes to show you.

A few days back another chivalric story swam into my ken, thanks to Phil Paine.

It is the Romance of Antar, derived from the poet Antar of the time of the Prophet, whose original poems were among the hanged poems in the Kaaba at Mecca. Students in my Islamic civilization course know Antar. Here's what Phil has to say about the later Romance of Antar and its significance.
Early Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture is not well-known in the English-speaking world, and some ele­ments of it might sur­prise some­one who is only famil­iar with the stuff from later peri­ods. Among the ear­li­est works in Clas­si­cal Ara­bic are a num­ber of tales that can only be called “chival­ric romances”, which strongly resem­ble the sort of thing you would expect in Mal­ory or Chré­tien de Troyes. What would most sur­prise a mod­ern reader is the treat­ment of female characters.
 And what is that treatment, Mr. Bones?

Here are some remark­able passages:
Zahir con­tin­ued his jour­ney, until he reached the Saad tribe, when he dis­mounted from his horse. He was cor­dially received and was pressed to take up his abode with them. His wife was at that time soon to become a mother, and he said to her: “If a son is given to us, he will be right wel­come ; but if it be a daugh­ter, con­ceal her sex and let peo­ple think we have a male child, so that my brother may have no rea­son to crow over us.” When her time came Zahir’s wife brought into the world a daugh­ter. They agreed that her name should be actu­ally Djaida, but that pub­licly she should be known as Djon­der, that peo­ple might take her for a boy. In order to pro­mote this belief, they kept up feast­ing and enter­tain­ment early and late for many days. 
 About the same time Moharib, the other brother, had a son born to him, whom he named Khaled (The Eter­nal). He chose this name in grat­i­tude to God, because, since his brother’s depar­ture, his affairs had pros­pered well.
 The two chil­dren even­tu­ally reached full age, and their renown was wide­spread among the Arabs. Zahir had taught his daugh­ter to ride on horse­back, and had trained her in all the accom­plish­ments fit­ting to a war­rior bold and dar­ing. He accus­tomed her to the sever­est toils, and the most per­ilous enter­prises. When he went to war, he put her among the other Arabs of the tribe, and in the midst of these horse­men she soon took her rank as one of the most valiant of them. Thus it came to pass that she eclipsed all her com­rades, and would even attack the lions in their dens. At last her name became an object of ter­ror; when she had over­come a cham­pion she never failed to cry out : “I am Djon­der, son of Zahir, horse­man of the tribes.”
 There is much more and Phil gives an extensive summary.

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