I've been reading the Memoirs of Usama Ibn-Munqidh, translated by Philip K. Hitti. The memoirs provide the fascinating perspective of a Syrian poet reminiscing on his escapades around the time of the First Crusade. It is unclear how much of the memoirs are dramatized false memories, but it is fair to say that much of what Usama describes is influenced by his central belief that fate offers dramatic reversal of fortune. For instance, there is a passage that describes a grievous wound a horse receives and shrugs off, followed by one describing a horse who is killed by a minor scratch.
In other passages, we learn that if a man can still bite, his head injury is nonfatal; that striking an apostate with a sword just might invert his eyelids; that a clan of Arabs called the Banu-Ubayy eats only dead animals, don't contract diseases, and eat their guests. There are also many sections that describe loot acquired in this tumultuous time:
d18 Plunder of an Arab-Syrian Gentleman
- Six thousand egyptian dinars
- A camel-load of dablqi clothes (warm and silky fabric)
- Ciclatoun (an expensive red cloth)
- Squirrel-furred gowns
- Dmyati brocade
- Either turbans or ravens (translators aren’t sure)
- A gold bridle
- A robe of honor
- Twenty trays of silver holding twenty thousand dinars
- An assortment of clothing of all kinds, the like of which I never saw before in one collection.
- Thirty saddle mules and forty camels, all fully provided with their outfits, bags, and ropes.
- A young graceful ambler of a Frankish breed.
- A saddle that was quilted, had a black border, and was of extraordinarily beautiful effect.
- Jewelry, which had been entrusted to the women, clothes, gems, swords, weapons and gold and silver amounting to about thirty thousand dinars.
- Books, which were four thousand volumes, all of the most valuable kind. Their loss has left a heartsore that will stay with me to the last day of my life.
- Forty-three copies of the Koran, each containing the full text. One of the copies was huge, written in gold, and in which the writer included all the sciences of the Koran— its different readings, its obscure terms, its Arabic style and grammar, its abrogating and abrogated passages, its commentary, reasons for its revelation, and its jurisprudence. This copy, styled al-Tafsir al Kabir (the Great Commentary) was written in black ink alternating with red and blue. Another copy is transcribed with letters of gold, but this had no commentary. The rest of the copies were written in black ink with the following in gold: the first words of the tenth and fifth parts of the book, the number of verses, the first word of the Surahs, the titles of the Surahs and the headings of the sections.
- A jerkin enclosing a Frankish coat of mail extending to the bottom of it, with another coat of mail on top of it reaching as far as the middle. Both were equipped with the proper linings, felt pads, rough silk, and rabbit’s hair.
- A compound lance, which was formed by attaching one lance to another until the weapon became twenty cubits or eighteen cubits in length.
d8 Adventure Hooks for an Arab-Syrian Gentleman
- Your rival's father thinks he has left the military camp for amusements and pleasures, but in truth, he has gone to Cairo to conspire to kill you.
- Your father's rival offers you your father's place in the vizieriate if you kill him.
- The caliph travels in disguise with comrades of the same age, and that includes you; make sure no one kills him and dumps his body in a pit under their house.
- Your elder brother has been assassinated, and his killer declares you are to blame; you are to be put to death.
- When you march out to battle, your enemies close the gate and perform a coup.
- Your liege forces you to swear to travel with him; your wife, mother and children are forced to join his mother's baggage train.
- Your liege forces you to promise not to conspire against him, by the Koran and by divorce; this is in the middle of a conspiracy to overthrow him.
- The governor of a nearby city detains your family until the Franks promise them safe conduct. (Also, Franks love to break promises of safe conduct.)
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