The Ambassadors

The Innocence and Reputation of Man



White ships come over the sea from the Sultan of Ind;1) it is their mission to enquire about the reputation of thy podex, O Habib!

Caravans of camels, laden with presents, come from Damascus and Samarkand, Bukhara and Baghdad; for rich men and men of war,2) princes and amirs, wise men and even holly mullahs, having heard of the black-violet3) mole upon thy buttocks, cannot endure the sweet pain, and lay all their homage below those twin crescents, thy curving feet, like the tusks of a young elephant.

But no crone in Shiraz can seduce thee, O virtuous one! Thou openest, it is true, thy podex, which appears like the sun through a dissolving mist upon Friday,4)) but it is only to admit the dragon of El Qahar. Then there is an eclipse5) of all things: Allah is the uniter.6)

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About as vague a personage as we find in Mandeville, Malory, or Moore. It is a curious literary phenomenon that in all countries poets will talk about “Cashmere” and “Cathay” and so on without the smallest fact to guide them. Yet there is a certain consistency in the conception.
[Arabic] Ghazi warrior; sometimes used only of one who has slain an infidel. A common piece of mild chaff to a harlot (male or female) is: “Why have you stuck rouge ([Arabic] Ghaza) on your face? In order to stick a Ghazi to your bottom!”
Black-violet: so in text [Arabic]. A black mole, in Sufi cipher, means the “point of indivisible unity”. But El Haji more scandalously and obviously chooses the podex itself throughout most of his masterpiece.
Friday. This appears at first sight an obvious misreading. But (if you please) Mahbub says: “When a boy opens his podex, the hairs depart one from another like true believers quitting the mosque on Friday. [Arabic] (mist) also means a worm in Arabic and the passage implies that all Arabs have tape-worms!” As is well known, they pay respect to Abu Bekr and Omar, and make things very hot for the Arami every year at Mecca. The dragon is of course the universal one; Rahu in India; Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis in the West, famed in Astrology as the powers of the Eclipse.

But I personally support the misreading theory for [Arabic] though I can offer no conjectural restoration. The text makes nonsense, and Abdullah, with all his puns and eccentricities, rarely does this. (In Morocco the appearance of hair on face or privates utterly disqualifies a boy for pathic.
[Arabic] This is one of El Haji's “portmanteau” words. He will not specify [Arabic] (solar) or [Arabic] (lunar) eclipse; so calmly invented a word with the third possible guttural to include all kinds!
From the Q'uran. Used however to *reject* amorous advances, as they say “Allah is bountiful” to a beggar, meaning “I am not”. But here it is meant seriously, or at worst to imply; “This is a very disgraceful conduct – let us blame it on Allah”!


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