Transcribed and edited by Taneen Maghsoudi, Kimia Nikseresht and Tara Shafiei (University of Virginia).
CHAP. XI. (pages 333-339)
Of the Kings of Persia, their Power and Government
The Government of Persia is purely Despotick and Tyrannical, for the King has sole Power of Life and Death, independent upon his Subjects, and without any Tryals or Proceedings, nor are the chief Lords of their Kingdom exempted from it. When any King dies, and leaves many Males behind him, the eldest ascends the Throne, and the Eyes of all the rest are put out, and they are confined to the Haram, or Womens Apartment; and if there be the least Suspicion of any Contrivance against the King, they are put to Death forthwith, without any further Examination. He observes no Rules or Forms of Justice, nor ties himself to any Laws or Customs. He judges of Lives and Fortunes as seems best to him, and useth not the common Punishments of his Country, but such as his Fancy suggests. He meddles in Religion, and they do not begin the Ramadan, or any other Festival, till they have his Leave, and sometimes he keeps them back a few Days, though the Moon when they are to be celebrated hath been seen. His Subjects never look upon him without fear and Trembling, and they have such a Respect for him, and pay such a blind Obedience to all his Orders, how unjust foever they be, that they follow them, though against all Laws both of God and Man ; and if they swear by the King’s Head, it is accounted a more inviolable Oath, than if they had sworn by all that is sacred in Heaven or Earth. Sometimes the King of Persia takes away the Wife of one of his Lords, and gives him a new one out of his Seraglio; and sometimes he will restore him his Wife again, and take back his Woman. He is so extremely jealous of his Wives, that if a Man looks upon them, he is put to Death without Remission. When he takes them with him into the Country, there are Eunuchs that with Cudgels keep all out of the Way, while they are in Ispahan, and when they are out of the Town, there is a Courouk, i.e. a Prohibition that no Man stir that Way.
In the Audiences which the King gives to Ambasadors, both Christians and others, there is high Drinking and nothing else, for all Affairs are managed by the Minister of State ; and if any refuse to drink, they are dismissed with a kind of distaste.
The King of Persia is very rich in Gold, Plate and precious Stones, and all sorts of Arms, for they keep Work-men always at Work to make them, and never sell any. Besides, in the Neuroz, or Spring, all the Kans and great Lords present him with Things most valuable, and the Estates of all such as are put to Death are confiscated to the Crown, which much encrease the King’s Treasure. All the Silks of Persia belong to him, and upon that Account all that trade in them pay him a certain Rent, as also do the other Companies. He hath many Lands, which he farms out to the Country-men, who plow and sow them, and pay the King half the Profit, though in some Places they pay him a Fifth part only; but one Thing is remarkable of these Lads, that the Moulah’s or Priests, will never say Prayers upon the Lands that belong to the King, because they say, that they are Hheram, i.e. Excommunicated, for the King never bought them, but took them by Force from the poor People, and enjoys them only by Usurpation.
CHAP. XIII. (pages 340-343)
Of the Manners, Customs, and Habits of the Persians
The Manners and Customs of the Persians are correspondent to their Religion. They never bear the Names of their Predecessors, but, like the Jews, for distinction’s sake, say, such as one, the son of such as one. When They circumcise a Child, and give him a Name, they write 3 or 4 Names in a Paper like lots, which are drawn by a Child, and which of them is drawn, that’s the Name of the Child. The Women that are barren swallow that which is cut from the Child at its Birth, believing, that it will make them conceive. They are very inquisitive about the Time to come, and consult Astrologers like Oracles for this Purpose. The King has always 2 or 3 with him to tell him the good and bad Hours; for he will undertake Nothing, til first he be informed by them of the lucky Minute of some favorable Constellation, when he is to set about it, for if the King has bad Success in any Affair, wherein he hath not consulted the Astrologers, all attribute the cause of it to be Negligence of the Prince, who omitted to inquire about for an happy Minute. This superstitious Opinion has made Astrologers as necessary at the Persian court, as other Officers, and cost the King large Sums to maintain ‘em; for if the King have Sense enough not to give Credit to all their Raveries, yet he must seem to rely much upon them, because under the Pretence of a good or bad Minute, he orders all Affairs as he pleases, and no body murmurs it, no not so much as Strangers, to whom if they complain of a Denial of their Desires, he returns Answer, that it is the superior Power of the Stars that oblig’d him to act so or so.
From his Humour at Court it is, that there is a general Inclination of all Sorts of People to Astrology; not only the learned and Men of Letters solicitously apply themselves to it, but even the Common People and Soldiers tamper with it. If a Man can but read, he fails not daily to observe the Disposition of the planets, their Aspects, and their Conjunction and Opposition, that he may be Thought to be some body. In conversation all their Discourse is about the Spheres, Apogees, Perigees, Excentricks, Epicycles, and such Names, by which they seek to distinguish themselves from the Vulgar.
There is an Almanack sold every Year in Persia which is called the Tacuim, containing the Longitudes and Latitudes of the Planets, their Conjunctions and Oppositions, with such like. It is also full of Predictions about War, Sickness and Famine, and fixeth the proper Seasons to put on new Cloaths, let Blood purge and travel, with many such like Instructions. They give great Credit to this Tacuim, and they that can get One, govern themselves in all Things according to the Rules that are set down in it; and such as have not that, go to know the Success of their Affairs to a Doctor of the Law, and desire him to open the Alcoran, and tell them the Issue of their Business. Thereupon the Doctor muttering some strange Words, opens the Book, and if he meets with affirmative Commands, he declares the Undertaking shall prosper, if negative, he disswades from the Enterprize. They use also a certain sort of Divination called Rambe, by even or odd, crafting Dice, or opening a Book called Faal, to prognosticate good or bad Fortune, by Number even or odd. They also interpret Dreams, and use many other such like Tricks, but principally about the Court, where there are Flocks of idle People continually.
The Persians are mightily addicted to ill Language, and foul mouth’d Reproaches, so that where they fall out, instead of fighting with their Fists, they fight with their Tongues, and curse one another, but they never blaspheme God, or swear, or with themselves at the Devil, for they say, He is a fool that gives himself up to the devil. Their Oaths affirmation are, sera-a-zire-sha i.e. By the king’s beloved head, or, Erva Pigumbir, i.e. By the spirit of the Prophet. In their evil Wishes, they’ll sometimes say, let thy Soul have no more rest in paradise, than a French man’s hat has in this World.
The Persians are naturally Dissemblers and Flaterers, and they make it their Study to acquire Esteem and Applause. They love to give and receive Presents, and especially to present their King. Their Luxury and Expence is excessive, and though it be against Mahomet’s Law to use Gold or Silver-plate, unless in Commerce or Money, none but the Poor observe it.
The Persians are very much accustom’d to mutual Visits at their solemn Festivals, and the more noble stay at Home, to expect the Visits of their Inferiors, who stay in the Great Hall, till they come out of their Harams. When the noble-man comes to them, he salutes the Company by laying his Hand upon his Stomach and bowing. After some Compliments, he gets on Horse-Back, and being attended with all his Visitants, goes to the King’s Court, to expect some Kindness by Virtue of their Favour. The King usually sends them to the Governours of Provinces with an Hawk, or calaat, giving Order that the said Governours should remember the Serjeant-Porter. The Kan, to whom the calaat is sent, hearing of its coming, meets it with all his principal Officers, and the Chief inhabitants of the City, with Drums, Trumpets, and all sorts of Music, and as soon as he perceives the Messenger, makes a low Obeysance and a Prayer for the King, giving God Thanks, that he is in his Mind, and having put it on, returns to the City with all his Retinue, and makes a great Feast at his House for the Company, shewing them with the calaat, who, by way of Compliment, cry, Moubrek Bashet, i.e. May it be blessed and prove a good Omen.
The Persians are not much addicted to gaming, not only because their law forbids it but because the Meshbaldar-Bashi punishes all gamesters, but the richer sort laugh at them, and regard them not. Among the Persian games there is one which they call Gongese, which is upon the cards. They have 8 suits of [page 341] cards. They also play at chess, and ticktack, which are most in use by them. The shop-keepers also play in the streets with little bowls like our marbles with which children play. But the have no bowling-greens nor tennis-courts, nor do they know what those sports mean. Neither the Persians, nor any of the Eastern people use walking as we do, but are amazed to see us do it for so long together. They always sit upon a carpet in their gardens for air, or pleasure, and if they rise, ‘tis to gather some fruit from the trees, not caring to eat what another has handled. Their men never dance, but their curtisans at their feasts dance open-faced, and shew a 1,000 postures to divert the company. Their jugglers are every jot as good as ours, and their rope-dancers surpass them.
The Persians are as superstitious as the Turks, and wash their heads, mouths, and foreheads always before they go to prayers. Their law also appoints another washing, which is to go to their baths after they have been with their wives; and some are so superstitious as to go them every day; but these common baths are very dangerous, for many have gotten the foul disease by going into them.
Their barbers, who are very neat, and surpass ours for lightness of hand, for one can hardly feel their rasors, have also a knife to pare the nails of the hands and feet, which they do very dextrously. Their lawyers cut their beards with scissors, but do not leave them so long as the Turks do by much, but the courtiers and soldiers shave off all, except what grows upon the upper lip, for they hold long mustaches to be a great ornament to the face.
CHAP. XIV. (pages 343-344)
Of the Diseases in Persia, with their Cures; as also Of their Death and Burial
The Persian Children are seldom sick of the Small-Pox, but in lieu of that they are very subject to Scald Pates till 10 or 12 Years old, which, ‘tis probable, proceeds from their shaving their Heads so young, and so often, viz. at 5 or 6 Months old, and 2 or 3 times a Week. They would be troubled with the Pox more, were it not for Driness of their Air, and their so often Bathing, by which they sweat out the Venom, for they never lie with the same Woman twice without Bathing. The Persians are never troubled with the Gout or Gravel, but the Armenians are much troubled with the latter, especially such as in their Youth have allow’d themselves to drink more Wine than Water. In the Cholick the usual Medicine is Horse-flesh, and many have eaten it with Success.
Generally, the Persians, especially the richer sort, who have wherewithal to live handsomely, are much less subject to Sickness than the People of Europe, which some impute to the China Drink which they use in the Spring every Year, boiling an Ounce in 3 Pints of Water, and continuing the Dose 10 or 12 Days together, all which Time they use a very moderate Diet, and eat no Fruit for a Month after. This Drink causes them to sweat mightily, and the Sweat being wiped off, dyes their Linen; nay, the Effluvium’s dye the very Walls of their Chamber of a yellow Colour. For a Dysentery they take sowre curdled Milk, with boiled Rice and a little Rhubarb. Their usual Diet in Sickness is Rice boil’d in Hen-Broth, or a little Water; and they account a moderate Diet, as indeed it is, a great Thing in all Diseases, and while any one is sick, he is never suffer’d to change his Linen.
When any Person lies dangerously ill, ‘tis the Custom among the Persians to light many Fires upon the Terrass of the House, to give the People Notice to pray for him. As soon as the Breath is out of his Body, the whole House rings with Cries and Lamentations, especially of the Women, who tear their Hair, and shew such antick Postures, that one would think them possess’d. In the midst of their Tears they make long Repetitions of the worthy Actions of the Deceased, and every Foot they set up a Yelling. Then they go to advertise the Cadi, that such an one is dead, who answers, Sorchoamet Salamet-Bashet, May your Head be in Safety, and then seals a Licence to the Mourderchour to take the Body and wash it in an House that is built for that Purpose near a running Water.
When this is done, a great Number of Moullahs, with their long Staves, which are the Ensigns of the Mosque, go down to the House, where they tear their Throats with crying, Alla, Alla, Alla, repeating nothing else. When the Body is carried out to Burial, it is the Custom, that every one that meets the Bier, offer their Shoulders to help to carry, while the other ease themselves, and for that the Kindred of the Deceased make some Acknowledgement. If it be a Person of Quality, all his Horses are bridled and sadled, and others perhaps borrow’d, to attend the Corps, one carrying his Turban, another his Scimitar, another his Bow, another his Arrows, and another his Buckler, and whatever else is of any use to set forth his Quality and Courage.
The biggest Church-yard in Ispahan is Calreston, but there is not one handsome Tomb in it. The Armenians lay a great Stone over their Graves, and the Rich set up an Arch with 4 Pillars, under which they eat and drink in the Shade, when they visit the Tombs of their Ancestors. Their Graves are 6 Foot deep, and 6 Foot long, and 2 Foot wide, and in them they lay their Bodies with their Faces towards Mecca, and set up 2 Tiles on each side his Head, to keep the Earth from falling upon it. If he be a rich Man, or have been a stout Soldier, they bury him with his Turban, Scimitar, Bow and Arrows, and set Victuals by him in a Place made up on Purpose for it, with Bricks, while the rest is filled up with Earth. After the Interment the Moullahs only return to the House of the deceased, where they have Meat set before them, and are paid for their Singing and Bawling, and they that have bawl’d the loudest, get the most Money, which makes them stretch their Throats with all the Force they have. A while after the Kindred [page 344] of the Heir come to visit him, and discourse him upon the Contempt of the World, telling him, that it is but as a Caravan, which sometimes arrives sooner, and sometimes later at its Journey’s End. Eight Days after the Heir returns their Visits. Their Grandees generally in their Wills order, that their Bodies shall be either carried to Mecca or Meshed. The Persians, as well as the Turks, believe, that as soon as the Grave is fill’d up, the 2 Angels Neguir and Manguer revive the Dead, as far as his Waste, ask him the Reason of his Faith, and how he said his Prayers, and according to his Merits they use him well or ill.
The State of the Souls before the Resurrection they hold to be this: Their Torment consists in a Grief for not having arriv’d to those Perfections and Sciences to which they might have attained, and consequently for not having arriv’d at that Perfection which God requires of them. Others hold, That the Souls of the Miserable are tormented with Dreams and Visions; but that the Souls of the Happy always enjoy the Sight of pleasant Objects, till the Saheb-el-Zaman, or Master of Time shall come to confirm the Law of Mahomet, who shall kill Dedgar, i.e. Antichrist, with his own Hand, at which Time all then alive shall die in an Instant, and then shall happen the General Resurrection, which they call Moavedet-hechre: Then shall the same Bodies and Souls unite to appear at the Day of Judgment before the Great Judge of the World: To go thither they must pass over a Bridge call’d Pol-Serat, which is sharper than the Edge of a Rasor, but all the Mussulmen shall pass over it without any Danger, with the Swiftness of a Bird, but Misbelievers as soon as they set their Feet upon it shall fall into a Torrent of Fire, among a Thousand Devils, armed with Cramp-Irons, Pincers and Tenter-hooks. The Porter of Paradise, whom they call Rursuen, shall open them the Gate: There they shall sit upon Banks of the great Kausier, which is a Fountain, where their Prophet shall give them of the Water to drink out of a Ladle, and that afterward they shall have a great Number of Women created on purpose for them, with all sorts of most delicious Food, but that this Place of Recreation shall not be defiled with any Excrements by their Eating and Drinking, but that all their Evacuations shall be in a perfum’d Sweat, and so they always remain in an happy Condition: But others that are more refined, and do not believe material Enjoyments, affirm, That the Happiness of Paradise consists in the Perfect Knowledge of the Sciences, and that their Senses shall have a Satisfaction according to their Quality.