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60 Gothic Classics

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1. Caliph This title, amongst the Mahometans, comprehends the concrete character of Prophet, Priest, and King, and is used to signify the Vicar of God on Earth. It is, at this day, one of the titles of the Grand Signior, as successor of Mahomet; and of the Sophi of Persia, as successor of Ali.—Habesci’s State of the Ottoman Empire, p. 9. D’Herbelot, p. 985.

2. Omar Ben Abdalaziz This caliph was eminent above all others for temperance and self-denial, insomuch that he is believed to have been raised to Mahomet’s bosom, as a reward for his abstinence in an age of corruption.—D’Herbelot, p. 690.

3. Samarah A city of the Babylonian Irak; supposed to have stood on the site where Nimrod erected his tower. Khondemir relates, in his life of Motassem, that this prince, to terminate the disputes which were perpetually happening between the inhabitants of Bagdat and his Turkish slaves, withdrew from thence, and having fixed on a situation in the plain of Catoul, there founded Samarah. He is said to have had, in the stables of this city, a hundred and thirty thousand pied horses, each of which carried, by his order, a sack of earth to a place he had chosen. By this accumulation an elevation was formed that commanded a view of all Samarah, and served for the foundation of his magnificent palace.—D’Herbelot, pp. 752, 808, 985. Anecdotes Arabes, p. 413.

4. ... in the most delightful succession The great men of the East have been always fond of music. Though forbidden by the Mahometan religion, it commonly makes a part of every entertainment. Nitimur in vetitum semper. Female slaves are generally kept to amuse them and the ladies of their harems. The Persian Khanyagere seems nearly to have resembled our old English minstrel; as he usually accompanied his barbut, or lute, with heroic songs.—Richardson’s Dissertation on the Languages, etc., of Eastern Nations, p. 211.

5. Mani This artist, whom Inatulla of Delhi styles the far-famed, lived in the reign of Schabur, or Sapor, the son of Ardschir Babegan, was founder of the sect of Manichæans, and was, by profession, a painter and sculptor. His pretensions, supported by an uncommon skill in mechanical contrivances, induced the ignorant to believe that his powers were more than human. After having secluded himself from his followers, under the pretence of passing a year in heaven, he produced a wonderful volume, which he affirmed to have brought from thence; containing images and figures of a marvellous nature.—D’Herbelot, p. 458. It appears, from the Arabian Nights, that Haroun al Raschid, Vathek’s grandfather, had adorned his palace and furnished his magnificent pavilion with the most capital performances of the Persian artists.

6. Houris The virgins of Paradise, called, from their large black eyes, Hur al oyun. An intercourse with these, according to the institution of Mahomet, is to constitute the principal felicity of the faithful. Not formed of clay, like mortal women, they are deemed in the highest degree beautiful, and exempt from every inconvenience incident to the sex.—Al Koran; passim.

7. ... it was not with the orthodox that he usually held Vathek persecuted, with extreme rigour, all who defended the eternity of the Koran; which the Sonnites, or orthodox, maintained to be uncreated, and the Motazalites and Schiites as strenuously denied.—D’Herbelot, p. 85, etc.

8. Mahomet in the seventh heaven In this heaven, the paradise of Mahomet is supposed to be placed, contiguous to the throne of Alla. Hagi Khalfah relates, that Ben Iatmaiah, a celebrated doctor of Damascus, had the temerity to assert that, when the Most High erected his throne, he reserved a vacant place for Mahomet upon it.

9. Genii Genn, or Ginn, in the Arabic, signifies a Genius or Demon, a being of a higher order, and formed of more subtile matter than man. According to Oriental mythology, the Genii governed the world long before the creation of Adam. The Mahometans regarded them as an intermediate race between angels and men, and capable of salvation; whence Mahomet pretended a commission to convert them. Consonant to this, we read that, when the Servant of God stood up to invoke him, it wanted little but that the Genii had pressed on him in crowds, to hear him rehearse the Koran.—D’Herbelot, p. 375. Al Koran, ch. 72. It is asserted, and not without plausible reasons, that the words Genn, GinnGenius, Genie, Gian, Gigas, Giant, Géant—proceed from the same themes, viz. Γὴ, the earth, and γάω, to produce; as if these supernatural agents had been an early production of the earth, long before Adam was modelled out from a lump of it. The Ωντες and Εωντες of Plato bear a close analogy to these supposed intermediate creatures between God and man. From these premises arose the consequence that, boasting a higher order, formed of more subtle matter, and possessed of much greater knowledge, than man, they lorded over this planet, and invisibly governed it with superior intellect. From this last circumstance they obtained in Greece the title of Δαίμονες, Demons, from δαήμων, sciens, knowing. The Hebrew word, נפלים, Nephilim (Gen. vi, 4), translated by Gigantes, giants, claiming the same etymon with νεφέλη, a cloud, seems also to indicate that these intellectual beings inhabited the void expanse of the terrestrial atmosphere. Hence the very ancient fable of men of enormous strength and size revolting against the gods, and all the mythological lore relating to that mighty conflict; unless we trace the origin of this important event to the ambition of Satan, his revolt against the Almighty, and his fall with the angels.

10. Assist him to complete the tower The Genii, who were styled by the Persians Peris and Dives, were famous for their architectural skill. The pyramids of Egypt have been ascribed to them. The Koran relates, that the Genii were employed by Solomon in the erection of his magnificent temple.—Bailly, Sur l’Atlantide, p. 146. D’Herbelot, p. 8. Al Koran, ch. 34.

11. ... the stranger displayed such rarities as he had never before seen In the Tales of Inatulla, we meet with a traveller who, like this, was furnished with trinkets and curiosities of an extraordinary kind. That such were much sought after in the days of Vathek, may be concluded from the encouragement which Haroun al Raschid gave to the mechanic arts, and the present he sent by his ambassadors to Charlemagne. This consisted of a clock, which, when put into motion, by means of a clepsydra, not only pointed out the hours in their round, but also, by dropping small balls on a bell, struck them, and, at the same instant, threw open as many little doors, to let out an equal number of horsemen. Besides these, the clock displayed various other contrivances.—Ann. Reg. Franc. Pip. Caroli, etc., ad ann. 807. Weidler, p. 205.

12. ... characters on the sabres Such inscriptions often occur in Eastern romances. We find, in the Arabian Nights, a cornelian, on which unknown characters were engraven; and, also, a sabre, like those here described. In the French king’s library is a curious treatise, entitled Sefat Alaclam; containing a variety of alphabets, arranged under different heads; such as the prophetic, the mystical, the philosophic, the magical, the talismanic, etc., which seems to have escaped the research of the indefatigable Mr. Astle.—Arabian Nights, vol. ii, p. 246; vol. i, p. 143. D’Herbelot, p. 797.

13. ... beards burnt off The loss of the beard, from the earliest ages, was accounted highly disgraceful. An instance occurs, in the Tales of Inatulla, of one being singed off, as a mulct on the owner, for having failed to explain a question propounded; and, in the Arabian Nights, a proclamation may be seen similar to this of Vathek.—Vol. i, p. 268; vol. ii, p. 228.

14. The old man put on his green spectacles This is an apparent anachronism; but such frequently occur in reading the Arabian writers. It should be remembered, the difficulty of ascertaining facts and fixing the dates of inventions must be considerable in a vast extent of country, where books are comparatively few, and the art of printing unpractised. Though the origin of spectacles can be traced back, with certainty, no higher than the thirteenth century, yet the observation of Seneca—that letters appeared of an increased magnitude when viewed through the medium of convex glass—might have been noted also by others, and a sort of spectacles contrived, in consequence of it. But, however this might have been, the art of staining glass is sufficiently ancient, to have suggested in the days of Vathek the use of green, as a protection to the eye from a glare of light.


15. Accursed Giaour! Dives of this kind are frequently mentioned by Eastern writers. Consult their tales in general; and especially those of the Fishermen, Aladdin, and the Princess of China.

16. Bababalouk, the chief of his eunuchs As it was the employment of the black eunuchs to wait upon and guard the sultanas; so the general superintendence of the harem was particularly committed to their chief.—Habesci’s State of the Ottoman Empire, pp. 155, 156.

17. ... the divan This was both the supreme council and court of justice, at which the caliphs of the race of the Abassides assisted in person, to redress the injuries of every appellant.—D’Herbelot, p. 298.

18. The officers arranged themselves in a semicircle Such was the etiquette, constantly observed, on entering the divan.—Arabian Nights, vol. iv, p. 36. D’Herbelot, p. 912.

19. ... the prime vizier Vazir, vezir, or, as we express it, vizier, literally signifies a porter; and, by metaphor, the minister who bears the principal burden of the state, generally called the Sublime Porte.

20. The muezzins and their minarets Valid, the son of Abdalmalek, was the first who erected a minaret, or turret; and this he placed on the grand mosque at Damascus, for the muezzin, or crier, to announce from it the hour of prayer. This practice has constantly been kept to this day.—D’Herbelot, p. 576.

21. Soliman Ben Daoud The name of David in Hebrew is composed of the letter ו Vau between two ד Daleths דוד; and, according to the Masoretic points, ought to be pronounced David. Having no U consonant in their tongue, the Septuagint substituted the letter B for V, and wrote Δαβιδ, Dabid. The Syriac reads Dad or Dod; and the Arabs articulate Daoud.

22. I require the blood of fifty of the most beautiful sons of the viziers Amongst the infatuated votaries of the powers of darkness, the most acceptable offering was the blood of their children. If the parents were not at hand to make an immediate offer, the magistrates did not fail to select those who were most fair and promising, that the demon might not be defrauded of his dues. On one occasion, two hundred of the prime nobility were sacrificed together.—Bryant’s Observations, p. 279, etc.

23. ... bracelet The bracelet, in the East, was an emblem of royalty.—D’Herbelot, p. 541. For want of a more proper term to denominate the ornament serkhooj, the word aigret is here used.

24. ... mutes It has been usual, in Eastern courts, from time immemorial, to retain a number of mutes. These are not only employed to amuse the monarch, but also to instruct his pages in an art to us little known, of communicating everything by signs, lest the sounds of their voices should disturb the sovereign.—Habesci’s State of the Ottoman Empire, p. 164. The mutes are also the secret instruments of his private vengeance, in carrying the fatal string.

25. Prayer announced at break of day The stated seasons of public prayer, in the twenty-four hours, were five: daybreak, noon, midtime between noon and sunset, immediately as the sun leaves the horizon, and an hour and a half after it is down.

26. Skulls and skeletons Both were usually added to the ingredients already mentioned. These magic rites sufficiently resemble the witch scenes of Middleton, Shakespeare, etc., to show their Oriental origin. Nor is it to be wondered if, amongst the many systems adopted from the East, this should have been in the number. It may be seen, from the Arabian Tales, that magic was an art publicly taught; and Father Angelo relates of a rich enchanter, whom he knew at Bassora, that his pupils were so numerous as to occupy an entire quarter of the city.

27. Flagons of wine and vases of sherbet reposing on snow Sir John Chardin speaks of a wine much admired in the East, and particularly in Persia, called roubnar; which is made from the juice of the pomegranate, and sent abroad in large quantities. The Oriental sherbets, styled by St. Jerome, sorbitiunculæ delicatæ, consisted of various syrups (such as lemon, liquorice, capillaire, etc.) mixed with water. To these, Hasselquist adds several others, and observes, that the sweet-scented violet is a flower greatly esteemed, not only for its smell and colour, but, especially, for its use in sherbet; which, when the Easterns intend to entertain their guests in an elegant manner, is made of a solution of violet-sugar. Snow, in the rinfrescos of a hot climate, is almost a constant ingredient. Thus, in the Arabian Nights, Bedreddin Hassan, having filled a large porcelain bowl with sherbet of roses, put snow into it.

28. ... a parchment Parchments of the like mysterious import are frequent in the writings of the Easterns. One in particular, amongst the Arabians, is held in high veneration. It was written by Ali, and Giafar Sadek, in mystic characters, and is said to contain the destiny of the Mahometan religion, and the great events which are to happen previous to the end of the world. This parchment is of camel’s skin; but it was usual with Catherine of Medicis to carry about her person, a legend, in cabalistic characters, inscribed on the skin of a dead-born infant.—D’Herbelot, p. 366. Wraxall’s House of Valois.

29. Istakar This city was the ancient Persepolis, and capital of Persia, under the kings of the three first races. The author of Lebtarikh writes, that Kischtab there established his abode, erected several temples to the element of fire, and hewed out for himself and his successors sepulchres in the rocks of the mountain contiguous to the city. The ruins of columns and broken figures which still remain, defaced as they were by Alexander and mutilated by time, plainly evince that those ancient potentates had chosen it for the place of their interment. Their monuments, however, must not be confounded with the superb palace reared by Queen Homai, in the midst of Istakhar; which the Persians distinguish by the name of Tchilminar, or the forty watch-towers. The origin of this city is ascribed by some to Giamschid, and others carry it higher; but the Persian tradition is, that it was built by the Peris, or Fairies, when the world was governed by Gian Ben Gian.—D’Herbelot, p. 327.

30. Gian Ben Gian By this appellation was distinguished the monarch of that species of beings, whom the Arabians denominate Gian or Ginn; that is, Genii; and the Tarikh Thabari, Peris, Feez, or Fairies. He was renowned for his warlike expeditions and stupendous structures. According to Oriental writers, the pyramids of Egypt were amongst the monuments of his power. The buckler of this mighty sovereign, no less famous than that of Achilles, was employed by three successive Solimans, to achieve their marvellous exploits. From them, it descended to Tahamurath, surnamed Divbend, or Conqueror of the Giants. This buckler was endowed with most wonderful qualities, having been fabricated by talismanic art; and was alone sufficient to destroy all the charms and enchantments of demons or giants; which, on the contrary, were wrought by magic. Hence we are no longer at a loss for the origin of the wonderful shield of Atlante. The reign of Gian Ben Gian over the Peris is said to have continued for two thousand years; after which, Eblis was sent by the Deity to exile them, on account of their disorders, and confine them in the remotest region of the earth.—D’Herbelot, p. 396. Bailly, Sur l’Atlantide, p. 147.

31. ... the talismans of Soliman The most famous talisman of the East, and which could control even the arms and magic of the dives or giants, was Mohur Solimani, the seal or ring of Soliman Jared, fifth monarch of the world after Adam. By means of it the possessor had the entire command, not only of the elements, but also of demons and every created being.—Richardson’s Dissertation on the Languages, etc., of Eastern Nations, p. 272. D’Herbelot, p. 820.

32. ... pre-Adamite sultans These monarchs, which were seventy-two in number, are said to have governed each a distinct species of rational beings, prior to the existence of Adam. Amongst the most renowned of them were Soliman Raad, Soliman Daki, and Soliman Di Gian Ben Gian.—D’Herbelot, p. 820.

33. ... beware how thou enterest any dwelling Strange as this injunction may seem, it is by no means incongruous to the customs of the country. Dr. Pocock mentions his travelling with the train of the governor of Faiume, who, instead of lodging in a village that was near, passed the night in a grove of palm-trees.—Travels, vol. i, p. 56.

34. ... the ass of Balaam, the dog of the seven sleepers, and the other animals admitted into the paradise of Mahomet It was a tenet of the Mussulman creed, that all animals would be raised again, and many of them honoured with admission to paradise. The story of the seven sleepers, borrowed from Christian legends, was this: In the days of the Emperor Decius, there were certain Ephesian youths of a good family, who, to avoid the flames of persecution, fled to a secret cavern, and there slept for a number of years. In their flight towards the cave, they were followed by a dog, which, when they attempted to drive back, said, “I love those who are dear unto God; go sleep, therefore, and I will guard you.” For this dog the Mahometans retain so profound a reverence, that their harshest sarcasm against a covetous person is, “He would not throw a bone to the dog of the seven sleepers.” It is even said that their superstition induces them to write his name upon the letters they send to a distance, as a kind of talisman, to secure them a safe conveyance.—Religious Ceremonies, vol. vii, p. 74 n. Sale’s Koran, chap. xviii and notes.

35. Rocnabad The stream thus denominated flows near the city of Schiraz. Its waters are uncommonly pure and limpid, and their banks swarded with the finest verdure.

36. Do you, with the advice of my mother, govern Females in the East were not anciently excluded from power. In the Story of Zeyn Alasnam and the King of the Genii, the mother of Zeyn undertakes, with the aid of his viziers, to govern Bassora during his absence on a similar expedition.

37. Chintz and muslin For many curious particulars relative to these articles, consult Mr. Delaval’s Inquiry concerning the Changes of Colours, etc.; to which may be added, Lucretius, lib. iv, 5. Petronius, c. 37. Martial, viii, Ep. 28, 17; xiv, Ep. 150. Plutarch, in Vita Catonis. Pliny, viii, 48.

38. Moullahs Those amongst the Mahometans who were bred to the law had this title; and from their order the judges of cities and provinces were taken.

39. ... the sacred Caaba That part of the temple at Mecca which is chiefly revered, and, indeed, gives a sanctity to the rest, is a square stone building called the Caaba, probably from its quadrangular form. The length of this edifice, from north to south, is twenty-four cubits, and its breadth, from east to west, twenty-three. The door is on the east side, and stands about four cubits from the ground, the floor being level with the threshold. The Caaba has a double roof, supported internally by three octangular pillars of aloes wood, between which, on a bar of iron, hangs a row of silver lamps. The outside is covered with rich black damask, adorned with an embroidered band of gold. This hanging, which is changed every year, was formerly sent by the caliphs.—Sale’s Preliminary Discourse, p. 152.


40. ... the supposed oratory The dishonouring such places as had an appearance of being devoted to religious purposes, by converting them to the most abject offices of nature, was an Oriental method of expressing contempt, and hath continued from remote antiquity.—Harmer’s Observations, vol. ii, p. 493.

41. ... regale these pious poor souls with my good wine from Schiraz The prohibition of wine in the Koran is so rigidly observed by the conscientious, especially if they have performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, that they deem it sinful to press grapes for the purpose of making it, and even to use the money arising from its sale.—Chardin, Voy. de Perse, tom. ii, p. 212. Schiraz was famous in the East for its wines of different sorts, but particularly for its red, which was esteemed more highly than even the white wine of Kismische.

42. ... the most stately tulips of the East The tulip is a flower of Eastern growth, and there held in great estimation. Thus, in an ode of Mesihi: “The edge of the bower is filled with the light of Ahmed; among the plants the fortunate tulips represent his companions.”

43. ... certain cages of ladies There are many passages of the Moallakat in which these cages are fully described. Thus, in the poem of Lebeid: “How were thy tender affections raised, when the damsels of the tribe departed; when they hid themselves in carriages of cotton, like antelopes in their lair, and the tents as they were struck gave a piercing sound! “They were concealed in vehicles, whose sides were well covered with awnings and carpets, with fine-spun curtains and pictured veils.”—Moallakat, by Sir W. Jones, pp. 46, 35. See also Lady M. W. Montagu, Let. xxvi.

44. ... dislodged Our language wants a verb, equivalent to the French dénicher, to convey, in this instance, the precise sense of the author.

45. ... those nocturnal insects which presage evil It is observable that, in the fifth verse of the Ninety-first Psalm, “the terror by night,” is rendered, in the old English version, “the bugge by night.” In the first settled parts of North America, every nocturnal fly of a noxious quality is still generically named a bug; whence the term bugbear signifies one that carries terror wherever he goes. Beelzebub, or the Lord of Flies, was an Eastern appellative given to the Devil; and the nocturnal sound called by the Arabians azif was believed to be the howling of demons.