Wine, Women and Song

As compensation for far too many hours spent trawling the internet for absolutely anything and everything to do with Extremadura, I’ve finally settled back into the all-too unfamiliar rut of revision. It’s not quite as entertaining as browsing beautiful images of the high sierras, rolling steppe and quaint medieval towns that’ll be my home next year, but I reckon I’ve nearly exhausted all the internet has to offer as far as Extremadura is concerned. Even so, I’m still no closer to having a decent idea as to where I might end up, or what it will really be like to live there. Just goes to show how a little knowledge can only take you some of the way. The rest will come in time.

So I spent most of today back in the armchair in the living room swotting up on the dissolute poets of the Abbasid Caliphate and their ringleader, the infamous Abu Nuwas, lover of wine, music, lewd verse and just about anything that walked on two legs. It seems that the scoundrel managed to carve a niche for himself into the fabric of Arabian myth as a master poet of almost unparalleled skill, along the way chasing slave boys, playing out some of the earliest rap battles, insulting almost everyone and everything and generally being an all-round prankster, for which he is so wittily remembered in several tales of the Arabian Nights. So outrageous a character is he that he is one of the only characters in the Arabian Nights that infuriates Shahriyar to such an extent that he threatens to break the frame narrative and kill Shahrazad (also Scheherezade), the narrator, if she mentions him again. Twice. But he’s obviously just too big a character and crops up time and time again. To give you an idea of his style, here’s a verse from the Mathers translation of the Arabian Nights. Obviously it sounds better in Arabic, but it’s such a high style Nuwas uses that it’s well beyond the comprehension of a second-year Arabist, and the meaning’s clear enough. Here, Abu Nuwas describes one of Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s slave girls, whom the Caliph has ordered to conceal a wine goblet in order to prevent the rapscallion from drinking any more:

Even as I desire the cup
The cup desires
Lips secret and more pleasant
And has gone up
Within her garments hollow
Whither the cup aspires
Nuwas would follow
If only Harun were not present.

Raunchy stuff. His legacy extends beyond the Arabian Nights; most of Baghdad’s nightclubs and restaurants are based in Abu Nuwas Street and the city is home to an immense statue of the rogue, with wine goblet in hand. For a man who is essentially the Arab world’s most glorified scoundrel and bisexual, it’s a miracle IS hasn’t done away with the effigy. And long may that be the case. After all that reading, it’s got to be a life ambition of mine, to see that statue with my own eyes. Let’s just hope the linguistic brilliance of his poetry continues to outweigh his lewd behaviour.

That was a little too informative for a blog post. But, as usual, I thought I’d share it with y’all in case you’re interested. My friend and I have some kind of cult-hero thing going on with Abu Nuwas so I’ve probably got the guy blown way out of proportion, if just in the vague hope that he comes up in the upcoming exam, so that I can use all this knowledge I’ve gleaned. I guess that’s the point of revision.

Oh, but hurry up next year already! I’m chomping at the bit to get teaching, wherever it is that they send me. As if that wasn’t already obvious… Until the next time! BB x

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