The Perfumed Garden/Translator's Note

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The Perfumed Garden by Muhammad al-Nafzawi, translated by Richard Francis Burton
Translator's Note

NOTES OF THE TRANSLATOR
RESPECTING THE
CHEIKH NEFZAOUI[1]


The name of the Cheikh has become known to posterity as the author of this work, which is the only one attributed to him.

In spite of the subject-matter of the book and the manifold errors found in it, and caused by the negligence and ignorance of the copyists, it is manifest that this treatise comes from the pen of a man of great erudition, who had a better knowledge in general of literature and medicine than is commonly found with Arabs.

According to the historical notice contained in the first, leaves of the manuscript, and notwithstanding the apparent error respecting the name of the Bey who was reigning in Tunis, it may be presumed that this work was written in the beginning of the sixth century, about the year 925 of the Hegira.

As regards the birthplace of the author, it may be taken for granted, considering that the Arabs habitually joined the name of their birthplace to their own, that he was born at Nefzaoua,[2] a town situated in the district of that name on the shore of the lake Sebkha Melrir, in the south of the kingdom of Tunis.

The Cheikh himself records that he lived in Tunis, and it is probable the book was written there. According to tradition, a particular motive induced him to undertake a work at variance with his simple tastes and retired habits.

His knowledge of law and literature, as well as of medicine, having been reported to the Bey of Tunis, this ruler wished to invest him with the office of cadi, although he was unwilling to occupy himself with public functions.

As he, however, desired not to give the Bey cause for offence, whereby he might have incurred danger, he merely requested a short delay, in order to be able to finish a work which he had in hand.

This having been granted, he set himself to compose the treatise which was then occupying his mind, and which, becoming known, drew so much attention upon the author, that it became henceforth impossible to confide to him functions of the nature of those of a cadi.[3]

But this version, which is not supported by any authenticated proof, and which represents the Cheikh Nefzaoui as a man of light morals, does not seem to be admissable. One need only glance at the book to be convinced that its author was animated by the most praiseworthy intentions, and that, far from being in fault, he deserves gratitude for the services he has rendered to humanity. Contrary to the habits of the Arabs, there exists no commentary on this book; the reason may, perhaps, be found in the nature of the subject of which it treats, and which may have frightened, unnecessarily, the serious and the studious. I say unnecessarily, because this book, more than any other, ought to have commentaries; grave questions are treated in it, and open out a large field for work and meditation.

What can be more important, in fact, than the study of the principles upon which rest the happiness of man and woman, by reason of their mutual relations; relations which are themselves dependent upon character, health, temperament and the constitution, all of which it is the duty of philosophers to study.[4] I have endeavoured to rectify this omission by notes, which, incomplete as I know them to be, will still serve for guidance.

In doubtful and difficult cases, and where the ideas of the author did not seem to be clearly set out, I have not hesitated to look for enlightment to the savants of sundry confessions, and by their kind assistance many difficulties, which I believed insurmountable, were conquered. I am glad to render them here my thanks.

Amongst the authors who have treated of similar subjects, there is not one that can be entirely compared with the Cheikh; for his book reminds you, at the same time, of Aretin, of the book "Conjugal Love," and of Rabelais; the resemblance to this last is sometimes so striking that I could not resist the temptation to quote, in several places, analogous passages.

But what makes this treatise unique as a book of its kind, is the seriousness with which the most lascivious and obscene matters are presented. It is evident that the author is convinced of the importance of his subject, and that the desire to be of use to his fellow-men is the sole motive of his efforts.

With the view to give more weight to his recommendations, he does not hesitate to multiply his religious citations and in many cases invokes even the authority of the Koran, the most sacred book of the Mussulmans.

It may be assumed that this book, without being exactly a compilation, is not entirely due to the genius of the Cheikh Nefzaoui, and that several parts may have been borrowed from Arabian and Indian writers. For instance, all the record of Mocailama and of Chedja is taken from the work of Mohammed ben Djerir el Taberi; the description of the different positions for coition, as well as the movements applicable to them, are borrowed from Indian works; finally, the book of "Birds and Flowers," by Azeddine el Mocadecci, seems to have been consulted with respect to the interpretation of dreams. But an author certainly is to be commended for having surrounded himself with the lights of former savants, and it would be ingratitude not to acknowledge the benefit which his books have conferred upon people who were still in their infancy to the art of love.

It is only to be regretted that this work, so complete in many respects, is defective in so far as it makes no mention of a custom too common with the Arabs not to deserve particular attention. I speak of the taste so universal with the old Greeks and Romans, namely, the preference they give to a boy before a woman, or even to treat the latter as a boy.

There might have been given on this subject sound advice as well with regard to the pleasures mutually enjoyed by the women called tribades. The same silence has been preserved by the author respecting bestiality. Nevertheless the two stories which he relates, and which speak, one of the mutual caresses of two women, and the other of a woman provoking the caresses of an ass, show that he knew of such matters. It is, therefore, inexcusable that he should not have spoken more particularly on those points. It would certainly have been interesting to know which animals, by reason of their nature and conformation, are fittest to give pleasure either to man or woman, and what would be the result of such copulation.

Lastly, the Cheikh does not mention the pleasures which the mouth or the hand of a pretty woman can give, nor the cunnilinges.[5]

What may have been the motive for these omissions? The author's silence cannot be attributed to ignorance, for in the course of his work he has given proofs of an erudition too extended and various to permit a suspicion of his knowledge.

Should we look for the cause of this gap to the contempt which the Mussulman in reality feels for woman, and owing to which he may think that it would be degrading to his dignity as a man to descend to caresses otherwise regulated than by the laws of nature? Or did the author, perhaps, avoid the mention of similar matters out of fear that he might be suspected of sharing tastes which many people look upon as depraved?

However this may be, the book contains much useful information and a large number of curious cases, and I have undertaken the translation because, as the Cheikh Nefzaoui says in his preamble: "I swear before God, certainly! the knowledge of this book is necessary. It will be only the shamefully ignorant, the enemy of all science, who does not read it, or who turns it into ridicule."

  1. Note in the autograph edition, 1876. — The reader will bear in mind in perusing this work that the remarks and notes by the eminent translator were written before 1850, when Algiers was but little known, and Kabylia in particular not at all. He will therefore not be surprised to find that some slight details arc not on a level with the knowledge acquired since.
  2. The district of Nefzaoua contains many isolated villages, all on level ground, and surrounded by palm trees; with large reservoirs in their midst. The pilgrims believe that the land is called Nefzaoua, because there are in it thousand "zaoua" (a chapel in which a marabout is buried), and it is alleged that the name was first El Afoun Zaouia, later corrupted into Nefzaoua. But this Arabian etymology does not appear to be correct, as according to the Arabian historians the names of the localities are older than the establishment of Islamism. The town of Nefzaoua is surrounded by a wall built of stones and bricks; having six gateways, one mosque, baths, and a market; in the environs are many wells and gardens.
  3. It is not impossible that the book, written in these circumstances, was only an abridgement of the present one, an abridgement which he refers to in the first chapter of this book under the name of "Torch of the Universe."
  4. "We need not fear to compare the pleasures of the senses with the most intellectual pleasures; let us not fall into the delusion of believing that there are natural pleasures of two sorts, the one more ignoble than the other; the noblest pleasures are the greatest." — Essai de Philosophie Morale, par M. de Maupertius, Berlin, 1749.)
  5. Paediconibus os olere dicis;
    Hoc si, sicut ais, Fabulle, verum est,
    Quid credis olere cunnilingis?

    The mouths of paederasts, you say, smell badly;
    If such be true, as you aver, Fabulus,
    What about those, think you, that lick the vulva?

    MARTIALIS, Book xii., Epig. 86.