Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/48

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37
PERSIA.

read public prayers, and perform the rites of religion. These follow professions useful in common life; those practise medicine; and others inter the dead: for a harem contains a mosque, a cemetery, in short, all that is to be found in a city—in fact, it is a colony of Amazons.

In the harem, there are three classes of females distinguished by different appellations. The princesses of the blood are called Begum, and such of the king's women as have brought him children, are called Kanoom. Under the denomination of Kanoom are comprehended the women of inferior rank: and all those not belonging to any of these three classes are termed slaves.

Each female of the harem, one of whom is represented in the engraving at the beginning of this section, has an apartment to herself, or lodges with some aged woman, and cannot visit her fellow-prisoners without permission. Besides subsistence, she receives an allowance, half of which is paid in money, and the rest in stuff for wearing apparel. The number of her attendants increases with her rank. One of the black female slaves, kept for the purpose of waiting on the women belonging to the harem, is shown in the opposite plate.

When the king dies, the harem is filled with mourning, consternation, and dismay: but the tears that are shed, are not those of regret for the lost object. What these women deplore is the loss of the shadow of liberty, and of the illusory pleasures which charmed their captivity: they will be shut up for the remainder of their lives in the most retired part of the harem, and a guard of ferocious eunuchs will prohibit the entrance of all who are not brought thither by the natural wants of the victims.

The harem is divided into several quarters; each of which has its governor, and these governors are all under a Darogha, or general superintendent. The Darogha is like the Argus chosen by Juno to watch young Io: he has a hundred eyes, fifty of which sleep while the others wake. Age and ugliness are indispensable requisites for this office, to which immense responsibility is attached.

According to the report of the Persians, the king's harem contains the most beautiful women in the East. In any other country, the manner of supplying it would be the most execrable tyranny: in Persia, it is an honour combed by the most distinguished persons. No sooner does a beauty spring up in any part of the kingdom, and the rumour of her charms reach the court, than she is taken from her family, or, more properly speaking, her parents are anxious to offer her for his majesty's acceptance, and she is transferred from the paternal habitation to the royal harem. The favour and fortune of the parents