Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/49

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38
PERSIA.

keep pace with the king's fondness for his new mistress; and when she becomes a mother, the most elevated dignities are conferred on her father.

The name of mother, however, though it confirms the influence of her who presents the monarch with the first son, becomes to the others a source of apprehension and sorrow. Confined with their infants in a corner of the seraglio, they live in continual fear lest a supreme order should deprive them of life, or at least of sight. Hence the crimes of which the seraglio is the theatre — crimes, which the hand could sooner commit than the imagination conceive. When the number of children is too great, the queen-mother, who rules with despotic sway in the harem, coolly orders a certain proportion of them to be despatched, and custom stifles all remorse in her soul.

The only chance which such a female has of improving her condition, is that of being transferred from the royal harem to the arms of some grandee: for the king, by way of expressing his satisfaction with his favourites, makes them a present of one of his women; nay, it is often the case that a noble solicits this favour of the queen-mother. Fortunate is the lot of the lady thus given away: she receives the title of a lawful wife, exercises the rights which it confers, and is treated in every respect as a princess. Sometimes, however, it happens that a woman who has incurred the displeasure of the king or of the queen-mother, also quits the harem to be married: but in that case, she is given to some menial of the palace, and a more ignominious punishment than this cannot be inflicted.

There are three sorts of guards to the harem. The white eunuchs guard the outside, without ever entering the interior. The black eunuchs, mostly brought from the coast of Malabar, dwell round the second inner inclosure; within which women are on duty night and day, relieving each other by turns.

The Persians give the eunuchs the name of Kodja, which is equivalent to an old fellow. Their power is great, for they enjoy the full confidence of their master, transact his business, and manage his revenues. In the houses of the great, they superintend the education of children, who are instructed by them in the rudiments of science and the principles of religion. Till the moment when the princes of the blood quit the harem, either to fill some elevated post in the empire, or to ascend the throne, they are under the care of eunuchs, who act in the double capacity of preceptors and governors.