Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/45

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him from insult, and to procure for him whatever he wants. The Mehmandar-Bashee does not fail to pay frequent visits to ambassadors, to inquire how their Mehmandars conduct themselves.

The post of Mihtur, or chamberlain, is always filled by a white eunuch: it is considered as one of the most important in the royal household. In Persia, as in Turkey, there are two sorts of eunuchs, black and white. The latter are very rarely, if ever, admitted among the women, whereas the former never quit the palace. The chamberlain has not a right to enter the women's apartments, unless he be sent for; but he seldom leaves the king. He waits upon him at table on his knees, and tastes the dishes; he dresses and undresses him; and is entrusted with the care of the jewels and precious stones commonly worn by the sovereign. In Europe, gold keys or wands form the characteristic insignia of the office of chamberlain: in Persia, the Mihtur wears suspended from his waist a small gold box, in the shape of a gondola, enriched with precious stones, and containing two or three exquisitely fine white handkerchiefs, opium, perfumes, and cordials.

Several other places of inferior note we shall pass over in silence.



We apply, in our language, the term seraglio to that part of the oriental palaces which is inhabited by the women, and to which the prince alone has access. The idea attached to this term does not precisely agree with its meaning: serail, or serai signifies merely a house. Thus, the public buildings at which caravans stop, are called caravanserais. The spot which we call seraglio, the orientals denominate harem, that is, the sacred place—the place to which access is forbidden.

The harem is in general the most magnificent portion of the palaces of Persia and the East, for here the princes spend the greatest part of their time. All that here passes is enveloped in profound mystery: the harem is the theatre of pleasure, intrigues, and crimes; and them, too, the most important matters are irrevocably decided upon. Chardin, that minute and faithful observer, notwithstanding his familiarity with the great, could not gain much information concerning the harem. The same offices and places exist there as at court; but they are filled by women. The king has his chief and under-equerry who carry his arms, the captain of the gate, the captain of the guard, ushers, and gentlemen, all of whom are females: while others