Day 1115 – Ken here (M)(10-1-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.210-220)(pages read: 2250)
A little tired out today – forgive me if I ramble on and on and on a little more vacuously than I usually do.
Today we follow Gibbon as he follows the death of Mohammed, Mohammed’s character, his wives, and the first three Caliphs. It’s an interesting day for once. We have something that looks a lot more like actual history.
We quickly cover the first 24 years after Mohammed’s death (632-654). We journey down a long tangent by Gibbon on Mohammed’s character (this is a usual Gibbon-theme, after the death of a significant man/woman in his history he gives the pros and cons, virtues and faults of that individual – an encomium/diatribe that, of course, reveals more about Gibbon and Late Eighteenth Century English Gentlemen than the person he is discussing).
We also include 4+ pages (about 40% of the reading for today) on Gibbon’s take on Mohommed’s marital/sex life – something Gibbon is especially keen on. Remember, Gibbon was going through a particularly nasty disease at the time and his days of wine and roses were far, far behind him, although he, Gibbon (being a particularly proud and prickly man when it came to appearance and status in society) did not probably want to see it that way. Thus the emphasis on sex and multiple wives in today’s reading.
We also see the first three Caliphs (Abubekr, Omar, Othman) and Ali, the fourth, and most contentious, provocative, and controversial to this day (being one of the fundamental reasons for a split between the two great Muslim sects – Shiite (for Ali), and Sunni.
Gibbon continues to be stubbornly contrarian – defending the Muslims against Christian superstition whenever he can. Not the normal Christian-chauvinist Englishman. In only one sentence does Gibbon gently hint, insinuating even, that Mohammed wasn’t the head of the only valid monotheistic religion on the planet. Although he goes out of his way to show that Mohammed was, in fact, actually, very much, a man – in every sense of the word. You’ll see.
But still, he’s HUGELY MULTI-CULTURAL and ETHNICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY SENSITIVE for an Eighteenth Century man. You can bet no American author, no New England historian would have written from his viewpoint – well, maybe a Deist president like Thomas Jefferson might have – but not many others.
I digress… On to… The Early Caliphate
As we move on, Gibbon takes one last look at the founder of Islam.
Gibbon relates the curious episode of Mohammed asking, on his deathbed, if he still owed anyone money – someone asks for 3 pieces of silver and Mohammed pays. There are all kinds of cultural values playing about here. Why would Mohammed ask? Why would someone demand restitution from the prophet? More importantly, why did Gibbon choose to relate all this to his gentlemanly English audience? Is it some kind of odd, REVERSE-Judas-thirty-pieces-of-silver reference? To show Mohammed’s humanity in “cheating” someone of money? To show his honesty in promptly paying? Obviously there is some 7th cent. Arabic cultural norm being played out here – the honest sheikh? – that Gibbon is using to his own purposes.
Till the age of sixty-three years, the strength of Mahomet was equal to the temporal and spiritual fatigues of his mission. His epileptic fits, an absurd calumny of the Greeks, would be an object of pity rather than abhorrence; but he seriously believed that he was poisoned at Chaibar by the revenge of a Jewish female. During four years, the health of the prophet declined; his infirmities increased; but his mortal disease was a fever of fourteen days, which deprived him by intervals of the use of reason. As soon as he was conscious of his danger, he edified his brethren by the humility of his virtue or penitence.
“If there be any man,” said the apostle from the pulpit, “whom I have unjustly scourged, I submit my own back to the lash of retaliation. Have I aspersed the reputation of a Mussulman? let him proclaim my faults in the face of the congregation. Has any one been despoiled of his goods? the little that I possess shall compensate the principal and the interest of the debt.”
“Yes,” replied a voice from the crowd, “I am entitled to three drams of silver.”
Mahomet heard the complaint, satisfied the demand, and thanked his creditor for accusing him in this world rather than at the day of judgment.
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.210-211)
Gibbon handily dismisses what he terms crude Christian disparagements of Mohammed – that he was epileptic
The epilepsy, or falling-sickness, of Mahomet is asserted by Theophanes, Zonaras, and the rest of the Greeks; and is greedily swallowed by the gross bigotry of Hottinger, (Hist. Orient. p. 10, 11,) Prideaux, (Life of Mahomet, p. 12,) and Maracci, (tom. ii. Alcoran, p. 762, 763.) The titles (the wrapped-up, the covered) of two chapters of the Koran, (73, 74) can hardly be strained to such an interpretation: the silence, the ignorance of the Mahometan commentators, is more conclusive than the most peremptory denial; and the charitable side is espoused by Ockley, (Hist. of the Saracens, tom. i. p. 301,) Gagnier, (ad Abulfedam, p. 9. Vie de Mahomet, tom. i. p. 118,) and Sale, (Koran, p. 469 – 474.)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.210, fn 149)
And that his coffin levitates in the air in Mecca, by means of magnetism
The Greeks and Latins have invented and propagated the vulgar and ridiculous story, that Mahomet’s iron tomb is suspended in the air at Mecca Laonicus Chalcondyles, de Rebus Turcicis, l. iii. p. 66), by the action of equal and potent loadstones (Dictionnaire de Bayle, MAHOMET, Rem. EE. FF.). Without any philosophical inquiries, it may suffice, that,
1. The prophet was not buried at Mecca; and,
2. That his tomb at Medina, which has been visited by millions, is placed on the ground(Reland, de Relig. Moham. l. ii. c. 19, p. 209 – 211. Gagnier, Vie de Mahomet, tom. iii. p. 263 – 268.).
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.211,fn 151)
Like Gibbon, a man of the easy and openly ribald Enlightenment – this frontier guy from Pennsylvania knew his way around 18th cent.Paris and the ladies of 18th cent. Paris equally well – the smile of reason might have had other sources than pure intellectual pleasure during the wild and untamed times of the Enlightenment
Gibbon, in the best 18th cent. tradition of polite whispering campaigns detailing the scandalous behavior of the famous, lures us into a false sense of security as he defends Mohammed. Then he proceeds into a many-paged expose of Mohammed’s marital life. In a kind of bored monotone. With the most salacious of details, of course. It’s actually a little embarrassing. But it illustrates the values of the 1770′s, a looser, slipperier, wilder time. Ben Franklin, in Paris as the U.S. ambassador wore himself out on the ladies there and had to forcibly remind himself to be a little more “moderate” in terms of “Venery” – as he tells us in his Autobiography. You have to imagine them like it’s the Summer of Love. Sex, Wine, and the Minuet. Gibbon is unashamed and interested in the masculine history of Mohammed.
Here he speaks of one of his wives – Mary, at first forbidden to him, then granted him. Also Gibbon notes Mohammed’s devotion to Cajidah, his 1st wife who stuck with him through the hardest times –
In his adventures with Zeineb, the wife of Zeid, and with Mary, an Egyptian captive, the amorous prophet forgot the interest of his reputation. At the house of Zeid, his freedman and adopted son, he beheld, in a loose undress, the beauty of Zeineb, and burst forth into an ejaculation of devotion and desire. The servile, or grateful, freedman understood the hint, and yielded without hesitation to the love of his benefactor.
But as the filial relation had excited some doubt and scandal, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to ratify the deed, to annul the adoption, and gently to reprove the apostle for distrusting the indulgence of his God. One of his wives, Hafna, the daughter of Omar, surprised him on her own bed, in the embraces of his Egyptian captive: she promised secrecy and forgiveness, he swore that he would renounce the possession of Mary.
Both parties forgot their engagements; and Gabriel again descended with a chapter of the Koran, to absolve him from his oath, and to exhort him freely to enjoy his captives and concubines, without listening to the clamours of his wives. In a solitary retreat of thirty days, he labored, alone with Mary, to fulfil the commands of the angel. When his love and revenge were satiated, he summoned to his presence his eleven wives, reproached their disobedience and indiscretion, and threatened them with a sentence of divorce, both in this world and in the next; a dreadful sentence, since those who had ascended the bed of the prophet were forever excluded from the hope of a second marriage.
Perhaps the incontinence of Mahomet may be palliated by the tradition of his natural or preternatural gifts; he united the manly virtue of thirty of the children of Adam: and the apostle might rival the thirteenth labour of the Grecian Hercules. A more serious and decent excuse may be drawn from his fidelity to Cadijah.
During the twenty-four years of their marriage, her youthful husband abstained from the right of polygamy, and the pride or tenderness of the venerable matron was never insulted by the society of a rival. After her death, he placed her in the rank of the four perfect women, with the sister of Moses, the mother of Jesus, and Fatima, the best beloved of his daughters.
“Was she not old?” said Ayesha, with the insolence of a blooming beauty; “has not God given you a better in her place?”
“No, by God,” said Mahomet, with an effusion of honest gratitude, “there never can be a better! She believed in me when men despised me; she relieved my wants, when I was poor and persecuted by the world.”
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.216)
And here he (of course in Latin, and in the juicier footnotes) relates a scene from Mohommed’s deathbed. Once again, various cultural values are at play here. there’s Arabic values – which wish to show Mohommed as a virile, vital man – like Moses with his “natural moisture” unabated even at an elderly age. There’s Eighteenth Cent.Gibbon interested in the spicy conversational sexual tidbit, and there’s us, readers of the 21st cent. who know ithyphallicism or Death Erections are not a completely uncommon medical occurrence. In fact, this incident makes it into a footnote in the above Wikipedia article.
Sibi robur ad generationem, quantum triginta viri habent, inesse jacteret: ita ut unica hora posset undecim foeminis satisfacere, ut ex Arabum libris refert Stus Petrus Paschasius, c. 2. (Maracci, Prodromus Alcoran, p. iv. p. 55. See likewise Observations de Belon, l. iii. c. 10, fol. 179, recto.).
Al Jannabi (Gagnier, tom. iii. p. 287) records his own testimony, that he surpassed all men in conjugal vigor; and Abulfeda mentions the exclamation of Ali, who washed the body after his death,
“O propheta, certe penis tuus coelum versus erectus est” in Vit. Mohammed, p. 140.
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.211,fn 151)
The translation of the first – from Latin – Mohammed was able to satisfy 11 women in one hour. Although, I have to say, this looks like some nebulous quote from a hateful monk as the reference is only to an “Arab book” – but it’s impressive if it’s true.
The translation of the second – “O Prophet, certainly your penis stands pointed towards heaven.”