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Those Naughty

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More goings-on among the Franji ...


Blue Band For a further insight into both the Franks and the Muslims, consider the following from another Muslim historian of the day, Imad ad-Din (passages 228-30; pp. 204-207 of the Gabrieli book):

There arrived by ship three hundred lovely Frankish women, full of youth and beauty, assembled from beyond the sea and offering themselves by sea. They were expatriates come to help expatriates, ready to cheer the fallen and sustained in turn to give support and assistance ...

Surely these gallant ladies fit well in the tale of the Crusades as we learned it in childhood, alongside that clash of lionhearts, Richard and Saladin.  We might imagine so many Florence Nightingales, come to tend the wounded heroes.  Yet perhaps we have a niggling doubt as to their actual role?  Our doubt is confirmed as Imad ad-Din goes on:

                 ... and they glowed with ardour for carnal intercourse. They were all licentious harlots, proud and scornful, who took and gave, foul-fleshed and sinful ...

For a moment Imad rouses himself to moral wrath, and we prepare ourselves for an excoriation worthy of the sternest mullah, or even of Alan Keyes.  But in the soul of Imad ad-Din the poet overcomes the moralist.  The following can only be done justice by quoting it at full length -- and the prosaic English translation must give only a faint echo of the classical Arabic original:

... foul-fleshed and sinful, singers and coquettes, appearing proudly in public, ardent and inflamed, tinted and painted, desirable and appetizing, exquisite and graceful, who ripped open and patched up, lacerated and mended, erred and ogled, urged and seduced, consoled and solicited, seductive and languid, desired and desiring, amused and amusing, versatile and cunning, like tipsy adolescents, making love and selling themselves for gold, bold and ardent, loving and passionate, pink-faced and unblushing, black-eyed and bullying, callipygian [lit: "having a nice ass"] and graceful, with nasal voices and fleshy thighs, blue-eyed and grey-eyed, broken-down little fools.

Each one trailed the train of her robe behind her and bewitched the beholder with her effulgence. She swayed like a sapling, revealed herself like a strong castle, quivered like a small branch, walked proudly with a cross on her breast, sold her graces for gratitude, and longed to lose her robe and her honour. They arrived after consecrating their persons as if to works of piety, and offered and prostituted the most chaste and precious among them. They said that they set out with the intention of consecrating their charms, that they did not intend to refuse themselves to bachelors, and they maintained that they could make themselves acceptable to God by no better sacrifice than this.

So they set themselves up each in a pavilion or tent erected for her use, together with other lovely young girls of their age, and opened the gates of pleasure. They dedicated as a holy offering what they kept between their thighs; they were openly licentious and devoted themselves to relaxation; they removed every obstacle to making of themselves free offerings. They plied a brisk trade in dissoluteness, adorned the patched-up fissures, poured themselves into the springs of libertinage, shut themselves up in private under the amorous transports of men, offered their wares for enjoyment, invited the shameless into their embrace, mounted breasts on backs, bestowed their wares on the poor, brought their silver anklets up to touch their golden ear-rings, and were willingly spread out on the carpet of amorous sport.

A man of refined if worldly sensibilities, Imad ad-Din does not allow himself to be crudely literal about the goings-on on those carpets.  He launches instead upon a matchless flight of metaphorical fancy ...

They made themselves targets for men's darts, they were permitted territory for forbidden acts, they offered themselves to the lances' blows and humiliated themselves to their lovers. They put up the tent and loosened the girdle after agreement had been reached. They were the places where tent-pegs were driven in, they invited swords to enter their sheathes, they razed their terrain for planting, they made javelins rise toward shields, excited the plough to plough, gave the birds a place to peck with their beaks, allowed heads to enter their ante-chambers and raced under whoever bestrode them at the spur's blow. They took the parched man's sinews to the well, fitted arrows to the bow's handle, cut off sword-belts, engraved coins, welcomed birds into the nest of their thighs, caught in their nets the horns of butting rams, removed the interdict from what is protected, withdrew the veil from what is hidden.

They interwove leg with leg, slaked their lovers' thirsts, caught lizard after lizard in their holes, disregarded the wickedness of their intimacies, guided pens to inkwells, torrents to the valley bottom, streams to pools, swords to scabbards, gold ingots to crucibles, infidel girdles to women's zones, firewood to the stove, guilty men to low dungeons, money-changers to dinar, necks to bellies, motes to eyes. They contested for tree-trunks, wandered far and wide to collect fruit, and maintained that this was an act of piety without equal, especially to those who were far from home and wives. They mixed wine, and with the eye of sin they begged for its hire ...

Imad ad-Din, it is clear, could hardly keep his hands off those three hundred Frankish comfort girls, and couldn't keep his mind off them at all.  But he does find occasion for a brief commentary on Western applied theology:

Now among the Franks a woman who gives herself to a celibate man commits no sin, and her justification is even greater in the case of a priest, if chaste men in dire need find relief in enjoying her.

So much for Florence Nightingale.  But as it turns out, not all the Frankish women came only to invite swords into their sheaths.  According to Imad ad-Din, some were fairly handy with a sword themselves:

Another person to arrive by sea was a noblewoman who was very wealthy. She was a queen in her own land, and arrived accompanied by five hundred knights with their horses and money, pages and valets, she paying all their expenses and treating them generously out of her wealth. They rode out when she rode out, charged when she charged, flung themselves into the fray at her side, their ranks unwavering as long as she stood firm.

Among the Franks there were indeed women who rode into battle with cuirasses and helmets, dressed in men's clothes; who rode out into the thick of the fray and acted like brave men although they were tender women, maintaining that all this was an act of piety, thinking to gain heavenly rewards by it, and making it their way of life. Praise be to him who led them into such error and out of the paths of wisdom!

Imad ad-Din, alas, gives no specific context for this episode by which we might identify the gallant, unnamed queen.  Western chronicles, however, may come to our rescue.  The redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine accompanied her husband -- not Henry II but her first husband, the distressingly pious Louis ? of France -- to the Holy Land during the misfired Second Crusade.  Fans of The Lion in Winter will remember her account in the play, where she says she performed the exploit sans cuirass: "We rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus.  I damned near died of windburn -- but the army was dazzled." 

If indeed this was the episode recorded by Imad ad-Din, he surely was dazzled as well.

-- Rick Robinson


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