Persia/Chapter 32

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CHAPTER X.

OF THE MANNER IN WHICH THE PERSIANS CALCULATE AND SPEND THEIR TIME.

The Persians have no other guide for the division of time, than the sun. They delight in our watches, particularly if they get them for nothing: their curiosity, however, soon spoils them. They have a story, says a late traveller, of an inhabitant of Tungsteer, to the southward of Bushire, finding a watch which some one had dropped. He held it in his hand till he heard it beating, which he thought very extraordinary, as it neither walked nor moved. He put it to his ear, and heard it more distinctly. After considering some time, he cried out: "Wretch, where are you? come out!" and threw it in a passion on the ground. The watch still went: he then very deliberately took up a large stone, and dashed it to pieces. The noise ceased, and congratulating himself upon it, he exclaimed: "Aha! have I killed you?"

They divide the day into three parts; from sun-rise to noon; from noon till three o'clock; and from three till sunset. Thus if you ask what time it is, a Persian will tell you how many hours have elapsed since sun-rise, or mid-day. The muezzin who summons the people to prayers, proclaims the arrival of noon; but as he waits till the shadow has traversed the whole length of the meridian, he is frequently an hour later than the real time.

The months are lunar, and the days are reckoned from sun-set to sun-set. The almanacs in general are repositories of superstition, filled with indications of lucky and unlucky hours, and astrological predictions. Owing to this defective method of computing time, the Persians cannot reckon beyond a month, since their computations are regulated by the phases of the moon alone. If therefore you question them concerning their age, it would be as difficult for them to answer your inquiry as to resolve a problem of Euclid.

A Persian, of what condition soever, rises as soon as it is light, and performs his morning devotions. Then comes the nachtah, or breakfast, which consists of grapes and other kinds of fruit that are in season, cheese and goat's milk, and finishes with a cup of very strong coffee. The artisan then goes to his master's and begins his work, the tradesman applies to business; the great man repairs to his divan-kaneh, or the apartment in which he receives company, and while smoking his kallioun, chats with his inferiors or visitors: gives directions relative to his domestic affairs; adjusts the quarrels or listens to the reports of his dependants. At nine o'clock he visits the prince or the governor. At noon, he returns to the divan-kaneh, where he takes his tchacht or dinner, usually consisting of bread, cheese, butter, and different sorts of fruit. After dinner, he says his noontide prayers, and retires to the inner apartments to enjoy the society of his women. At three o'clock, he goes abroad to pay visits, or receives visitors at home. At four, he recites the afternoon prayer. When night comes on, his carpet is spread in the open air, and he prepares to spend the evening in the company of his friends or dependants. They converse upon the events of the day, or the news of the court; they relate extraordinary adventures, for the Orientals are admirable story-tellers, or repeat passages of the most eminent poets. The hour for the fourth prayer arrives, but without causing the slightest interruption in the conversation. Each rises in turn, goes to a corner of the room, places himself on a small carpet with his face turned towards Mecca, and performs this religious duty with much greater despatch than devotion. Such indeed is their precipitation, that the duty of prayer seems to be quite as irksome as it is indispensable. At ten o'clock, a servant announces that supper, shamee, is ready: at the same time, he brings with him a ewer of water; each of the party washes his hands; and they then seat themselves round the tray on which the dishes are placed. Eleven o'clock usually breaks up the company, and puts an end to the occupations of the day.

The time which a person of distinction passes at court, or in his divan-kaneh, the tradesman devotes to business. He has commonly a shop at the bazar, where he exhibits his commodities, makes bargains, and carries on all his traffic.

Besides the four prayers enjoined by religion, there is a fifth or night-prayer, which, however, is more frequently omitted than observed.