The Prince and the Christian Ascetic (part one)

Mathnawi V: 3439-3479

The story of the prince1 who told (his) slave, "Bring wine!"
The slave went and fetched a jug of wine. There was an
ascetic (whom he encountered) on the way (back who)
commanded (him to do) what is right, threw a rock, and broke
the jug. The prince heard (about it) and made the punishment
of the ascetic his aim. And this resolution (of his) was
made during the age of the religion of Jesus2-- (may the)
peace (of God) be upon him-- when wine had not yet been
forbidden (to believers).3 However, the ascetic was feeling
aversion (toward the impure effects of wine) and was
hindering (others) from the enjoyment of (worldly) comforts.

3439 There was a happy-hearted prince, one (who was)
addicted to wine, (and who was) the (sheltering) cave of
every drunkard and destitute person.

3440 He was someone (who was) kind and compassionate,
comforting to the poor, just, a jewel (of generosity),
gold-bestowing, (and) ocean-hearted.

(And he was) a king of men, the commander of the
believers,4 a guardian of the (religious) way, a knower of
(spiritual) secrets, and discerning (of the sorrows) of

It was the age of Jesus and the days of the Messiah.5
(The prince was) the beloved of the people, not in the least
cruel, and (was) charming.

One night, a guest came to him suddenly-- another
prince, one of his rank, (and) someone of (the same) good
religious doctrine.

Wine was necessary for them, (in order to put their)
feelings into (good) order.6 (During) that time, wine was
allowed and legally sanctioned (by religion).7

3445 (However), there was no wine (present) for them and
(the prince) said (to one of his retinue), "O slave, go,
fill the jug, (and) bring us wine

"From a certain monk, since he has excellent wine-- so
that the soul may find freedom from (concerns about) nobles
or commoners."

A (single) gulp8 from the goblet of the monk [chosen by
God]9 produces that (state) which (only) thousands of jars
and wine-cellars could make.

In that (Christian monk's) wine was a hidden ferment10--
just as (spiritual) dominion is (hidden) in the cloak (of a
Muslim dervish).11

Don't view (just) the tattered and torn (dervish) cloak,
since they have blackened the external part of the gold.12

3450 (The dervish) becomes (publicly) rejected for the sake
of (avoiding) the evil eye.13 And (similarly) the exterior of
the ruby is stained by smoke.14

Treasure and jewels are never (placed) in the middle of
a house. Treasures are always (hidden) in ruins.15

Since the treasure of (the spiritual worth of) Adam was
buried in a "ruin," the clay (of his external body) became a
blind-fold for (Satan) the Accursed.16

(Satan) was looking (contemptuously) at the clay (body
of Adam) as very weak and feeble.17- (But) the soul (of Adam)
kept saying, "My clay (body) is, to you, (like) a wall
[which bars your vision]."

The (prince's) slave took two jugs and ran willingly.
In a (short) time he arrived at the monastery of the monks.18

3455 He gave gold (coins) and bought wine like gold. He gave
stones and bought jewels in return.

(It was) a wine which would leap to the top of kings'
heads,19 (and which) would place a golden crown upon the head
of the cupbearer.20

(It was a wine by which) discord and agitation (are)
provoked (and by which) slaves and kings (are) mixed

(By it) bones (have) gone (and have) become entirely
soul; that (very) moment, a throne and a (wooden) board
(have) become similar.21

(During) the time of sobriety, (men) are like water and
oil (in their differences); (but during) the time of
drunkenness they are (harmonious) like the soul in the

3460 (They have) become like thick soup;23 there is no
difference there. (And) there isn't any difference which is
not drowned there.

The slave was carrying wine (of a quality) such as this
to the palace of that prince of good reputation,

(When) an ascetic came in front of him, one (who had)
experienced (much) sorrow and longing (for God), one
inclined to (inward) agitation,24 someone (who had) writhed
in trials and afflictions.

(His) body had been melted by the fires of (his) heart,
(and) the house (of his heart) was cleared of (everything)
except God.

The punishment of merciless afflictions (had tormented
him with) scars upon scars-- many thousands.

3465 Every hour found his heart (making) efforts [against
worldly thoughts and desires];25 day and night sticking to
the struggle.

(For many) years and months (he had) mingled with blood
and dust, (and on that) midnight his patience and restraint
had escaped.

The ascetic asked, "What is that inside the jugs?" (The
slave) said, "Wine." He asked (again), "To whom does it

(The slave) said, "It (is) the property of most
excellent prince so-and-so." (The ascetic) asked, "Is this
the occupation of the (spiritual) seeker?

"(To be) a seeker of God and then gratifying (sensual)
desires and drinking! (To drink) the wine of Satan and then
(become) half-understanding!"

3470 Your understanding is faded and withered in the same
way as this, (even) without wine, so that the discerning
minds (of others) must be joined to that (dim) understanding
of yours.

So, O one (who has) become the prey of the trap of
intoxication, like a bird, what will be (the quality of)
your awareness at the time of wine-intoxication?

The story of Ziya-yi Dalq,26 who was very tall, and his
brother, Taj of Balkh, the Shaykh of Islam,27 (who) was
extremely short of stature. And this Shaykh of Islam had
(feelings of) scorn and disdain in regard to his brother
Ziya. (When) Ziya came to (hear) his lecture-- and all the
prominent leaders of (the city of) Balkh28 were present for
his instruction-- Ziya made a bow (toward his brother) and
went on (walking toward a row to sit). (In response), the
Shaykh of Islam made a feeble and careless (gesture of)
half-rising.29 (Ziya) said, "Yes, you are terribly 'tall,'
(so) rip off30 a part (of your height)!"

Ziya-yi Dalq was (possessed of) pleasing inspiration.31
(And) he was the brother of Taj, the Shaykh of Islam.

Taj, the Shaykh of Islam of the region of the kingdom of
Balkh, was short of stature and small as a baby bird.

Even though he was learned, distinguished, and a master
of (Islamic) branches of learning, Ziya was greater in
sharpness of wit.

3475 He was very short, (but) Ziya (was) extremely tall. (As
a result), the Shaykh of Islam had a hundred conceits and
proud ways of acting.

(And) he would be scornful and disdainful in regard to
this brother Ziya, (who) was also a preacher-- (and)
possessed of right guidance (from God).32

On the day of (the Friday) congregation,33 Ziya came
inside. The hall (of the mosque) was full of (Islamic)
judges and (men known for being) just and virtuous.

The Shaykh of Islam, due to total pride and vanity,
(made) such (an inconsiderate gesture of) half-rising for
(greeting his) brother,

3479 (That Ziya) told him: "You are extremely 'tall,'34 (so)
rip off a bit of that (tall) cypress-like stature of yours
for the sake of (gaining a Divine) reward!"

--From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson's 1934 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (,9/6/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (Heading) The story of the prince: "This story
illustrates v. 3438 [= translated by Nicholson: "How should
thy lofty spirit be satisfied with every loyalty? How should
thy pureness choose (to accept) every sincerity?"] The Amír
[= prince] is a type of those in whom self-will is dominant
and who prefer sensual enjoyment (safá ú dhawq-i majází) [=
enjoyment and taste of what is superficial and worldly] to
the delights of spiritual knowledge and experience (safá ú
dhawq-i haqíqí) [= enjoyment of the taste of spiritual
reality]. Some passages suggest a different interpretation,
and owing to the ambiguity of the term 'wine' as a symbol
for both kinds of pleasure it is easy to see in the Amír a
God-intoxicated mystic scorning the narrow rule of
asceticism and piety; but his furious behaviour (v. 3490
sqq.) indicates the general part he is meant to play in the
story." (Nicholson, Commentary)

2. (Heading) during the age of the religion of Jesus: "I.e.
in the early Christian era." (Nicholson, Footnote)

3. (Heading) when wine had not yet been forbidden (to
believers): means before the revelation of Islam, which has
never been considered a "new religion," but the final
revelation for humanity which contains the essence of the
past messages and revelations of the prophets of the past
(from Noah and Abraham to Moses and Jesus), as well as
requirements and prohibitions suitable for the age preceding
the Day of Judgment. Among new prohibitions was the
forbidding of making, selling, and drinking wine. The
earliest Muslims were first forbidden to join in the ritual
prayer when intoxicated with wine. In the revelation of the
Qur'an, wine and gambling were first described as having
some benefits and great sin, "And the sins are greater than
the benefits." (2:219) Later, Muslims were ordered to
strictly avoid wine (as well as gambling and divination of
the future) as evils urged by Satan (5:93). (Islamic law has
always allowed Christians and Jews to make and consume wine,
to practice their religion, and to enforce their own
religious laws.) The forbidding of "wine" is understood to
include all alcoholic beverages (and, by analogy, all
intoxicating drugs-- which were unknown to the early
Muslims). Sufis seek to taste something of the spiritual
"wine of Paradise" in this life: "rivers of wine delightful
to those who drink it" (Qur'an 47:15), "wherein is no
headache, nor are they made drunk thereby" (37:47).

4. (3441) the commander of the believers [amîru
'l-mû'minîn]: normally a term for the leader of all the
Muslims, the Khalifa (Caliph). Here it means a local ruler
of the believers, one who commands the right and forbids the

5. (3442) the age of Jesus and the days of the Messiah: see
first Heading note ("during the age of the religion of

6. (3444) (in order to put their) feelings into (good)
order: Nicholson translated, "in order to enjoy themselves."
And he explained: "Literally, 'to harmonise their state of
mind.'" (Footnote) "It means, for the sake of harmonizing
their (mental and emotional) states and producing joy."
(Anqaravi, the famous 17th century Turkish commentator on
the Mathnawi, translated here into English from a Persian

7. (3444) (During) that time, wine was allowed and legally
sanctioned (by religion): see second Heading note ("when
wine had not yet been forbidden (to believers)").

8. (3447) A (single) gulp: Here, Rumi comments on the
preceding lines. "It is said (to mean) a (single) wine-cup
with two handles [dastî]." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

9. (3447) from the goblet of the monk [chosen by God]:
"i.e. the Wine of Divine Love." (Nicholson, Commentary)
"(The term), 'monk': described as someone who chose
seclusion in the religion of (the Prophet) Jesus and who was
occupied with the worship of God. Although these words have
been said in regard to the elderly monk, the religion of
Hazrat-i `Isà [= Jesus], and the prince, yet the intended
(meaning) is the sincere lovers of God who have broken off
(contact) from mankind in the Muhammadan religion [dîn-é
muHammadî] and are abandoners of (the concerns and pleasures
of) the world. A single draught of the wine of love from the
cup of their heart gives such a (spiritual) drunkenness that
thousands of jugs and barrels (which) are full of wine..."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

10. (3448) a hidden ferment: Nicholson translated, "a hidden
(spiritual) substance."

11. (3448) the cloak (of a Muslim dervish): "Dervishes
(ahl-i `abá) [possessors of (woolen) cloaks] are often
contrasted with worldly folk (ahl-i qabá) [= possessors of
(worldly) shirts]." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (3449) they have blackened the external part of the
gold: "I.e. the black woolen cloak worn by the dervish
conceals his spiritual worth like the black pigment with
which gold is disguised." (Nicholson, Footnote)

13. (3450) (The dervish) becomes (publicly) rejected for the
sake of (avoiding) the evil eye: According to ancient folk
belief, a person can become subject to illness and harm from
the magic of an evil gaze. It also refers, in the Qur'an, to
the eyes of the envious unbelievers, who would "almost trip
you up with their (evil) eyes" (68:51) and to the "evil of
the envious who practices envy" (113:5). There has been a
type of sufi, called Malâmâtî (= "blameworthy") who regarded
having a reputation for piety as spiritually dangerous
(because it tends to strengthen one's pride and vanity).
They viewed the negative effects of such public admiration
to be as spiritually dangerous to the soul-- and therefore
worse than the effects of the "evil eye" on one's health and
worldly good-fortune. They deliberately attracted public
blame by giving the impression of being impious, while
keeping their asceticism, daily prayers, and piety secret.

"Because those (dervishes) are, in meaning, like gold:
for the sake of protecting their existence from the evil of
thieves and deceivers, they make their exterior 'black' ...
so that no one may know that that (nature of theirs) is gold
and (so that they) may not fetter them with (their worldly)
desires." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

14. (3450) is stained by smoke: similarly, rubies were
blackened with soot as a protective disguise.

15. (3451) Treasures are always (hidden) in ruins: a
frequent theme of Rumi's.

16. (3452) a blind-fold for (Satan) the Accursed: means an
eye-covering, such as is used for animals used to turn a
mill. This line refers to the blindness of Satan, who
refused God's order for all the angels to bow in obeisance
to Adam (Qur'an 2:34). Satan refused, asserted that he was
made of a more sublime substance ("fire"), whereas Adam was
made of lowly clay, and therefore, "I am better than him."
(38:76). However, Adam had revealed that God had taught him
the "names of all things" (interpreted by the sufis as the
Names of God), which even the angels did not know (2:31-33).
Because of this disobedience of a direct order from his
Creator, Satan was told, "Truly, My curse will be upon you
until the Day of Judgment" (38:78). Therefore, Satan is
sometimes called "the Accursed one" in Islamic literature.

"It means, 'Most of the (saintly) people of religion and
the companions of (spiritual) certainty take care to hide
themselves from the eyes of people. They have made their
outer forms (appear) "wrecked and ruined" so that they may
protect the treasury of their (spiritual) secrets and lights
from unworthy groups (of people).'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

17. (3453) (Satan) was looking (contemptuously) at the clay (body
of Adam) as very weak and feeble: "(God) said, 'O Iblis, what
prevented you from bowing (in obeisance) to the one I created with
My hands? Are you (too) proud? Or are you (in your view) among
the exalted ones?' (Iblis) said,' I am better than him. You created
me from fire and You created him from clay.'" (Qur'an 38:75)

18 (3454) the monks: Nicholson explained that the word for
"monk" [rohbân] here is a Persianized form of the Arabic
term [râhib] for a Christian monk.

19 (3456) a wine which would leap to the top of kings'
heads: describes the state of drunkenness, in which wine
seems to "rush" upwards to the brain.

20. (3456) which) would place a golden crown upon the head
of the cupbearer: the cupbearer [saqi] was often an
attractive young man or boy, whose charms would be rewarded
by gifts from drunken guests. Here, Rumi humorously depicts
kings as so intoxicated that the power of the wine
"displaces" their crowns (perhaps symbolizing intelligence
and wisdom) and causes them to drunkenly put their crowns
upon the heads of their favorite wine-serving slaves.

21. (3458) a throne and a (wooden) board (have) become
similar: there is a word-play between "throne" [takht] and
"board" [takhta], with an additional play on the fact that
both words are "similar" in spelling.

"And the seeker in that (spiritual) stage sees the
throne of kings and the board of dervishes as similar..."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

22. (3459) (but during) the time of drunkenness they are
(harmonious) like the soul in the body: "(It means), 'But in
the moment when they have become drunk with the wine of
Love, they are united like a single soul in one body.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

23. (3460) thick soup [harîsa]: a soup made of boiled wheat
and meat pounded together and mixed with butter, cinnamon,
and other aromatic herbs.

24. (3462) one inclined to (inward) agitation: Nicholson
translated literally, "whose brain was dry." "... an
inwardly agitated [shôrida-darûn], austerity-enduring, inner
darkness-suffering ascetic whose brain had become dry from
the effects of yearning." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

25. (3465) (making) efforts [against worldly thoughts and
desires]: the Arabic word here [jihâd] has been
mistranslated by the Christian term, "Holy War." It means
striving for the sake of God (and warfare in defense or
against oppression is only one form if it). In sufism, this
word usually means struggling against the ego [nafs] and its
constant self-centered preoccupations with worldly concerns
and desires-- which distract the sufi from contemplating God
alone and being attuned to His Will.

26. (Heading) Ziya-yi Dalq: this name may indicate that he
was a dervish, since it can be interpreted to mean "the
(inner) light [Ziyâ] of the (ragged dervish) cloak [dalq]."
It may be a name chosen by Rumi in regard to line 3449 about
the spiritual qualities within the dervish cloak, in
contrast to its ragged appearance. The name of his brother
is "crown" [tâj], a name relating to high rank.

27. (Heading) the Shaykh of Islam: the position of highest
rank among Islamic scholars and preachers, often appointed
by the king.

28. (Heading) Balkh: an ancient city (now in present day
Afghanistan), a center of Islamic learning for centuries. It
was also the region where Rumi was born and raised (which
scholars now believe was in a town about 70 miles away on
the other side of the Amu Darya River, in present day
Tajikistan). Rumi's father was said to have preached in the
city of Balkh.

29. (Heading) made a feeble and careless (gesture of)
half-rising: Nicholson translated, "half rose (from his
seat) in a negligent manner..." This story illustrates the
preceding lines (3470-71) in that the Shaykhu 'l-Islam was
intoxicated by vanity and arrogance, so that the quality of
his understanding and awareness was poor.

30. (Heading) rip off: literally, "steal."

31. (3472) (possessed of) pleasing inspiration: Nicholson
translated, "a man of goodly inspiration." Means that he
would be inspired (by God) to say and do things that were
delightful, pleasing, charming, etc. because he was gifted
with a witty sense of humor (line 3474).

32. (3476) (who) was also a preacher-- (and) possessed of
right guidance (from God): Nicholson translated, "was a
preacher in the way of salvation." And he explained:
"Literally, '(endowed by God) with right guidance.'"

33. (3477) the day of (the Friday) congregation: the day
when Muslim men are required to attend congregational
prayers at noon-time, usually in mosques. (Women are legally
allowed to attend, but are generally discouraged.) This holy
day of the week in Islam is different from the Sabbath in
Judaism and Christianity: after hearing a sermon and doing
the prayer together, the congregation disperses and all
return to their daily jobs and activities.

34. (3479) You are extremely 'tall': "A sarcastic reference
to his brother's full-length display of hauteur [= arrogant
haughtiness]." (Nicholson, Commentary)


Hikâyat-é ân amîr ke ghulâm-râ goft ke may be-y-âr. ghulâm
raft wa sabôy-é may âward dar râh zâhidê bûd, amr-é ma`rûf
kard zad sangê wa sabô-râ be-shekast. amîr be-shenîd wa
qaSd-é gôsh-mâl-é zâhid kard wa în qaSd dar `ahd-é dîn-é
`îsà-- `alay-hi 's-salâm-- bûd ke hanôz may Harâm na-shoda
bûd wa lêkin zâhid taqazzuzê mê-kard wa az tana``um mana`

3439 bûd amîrê, khwash-delê, may-bâra'ê
kahf-é har makhmûr-o har bê-châra'yê

3440 mushfiqê, miskîn-nawâzê, `âdilê
jawharê, zar-bakhsheshê, daryâ-delê

shâh-é mard-ân-o amîru 'l-mû'minîn
râh-bân-o râz-dân-o dôst-bîn

dawr-é `îsà bûd-o ayyâm-é masîH
khalq-del-dâr-o kam-âzâr-o malîH

âmad-ash mehmân ba-nâgâhân shabê
ham amîrê, jins-é ô, khwash-maZhabê

bâda mê-bâyest-eshân dar naZm-é Hâl
bâda bûd ân waqt mâ'Zûn-o Halâl

3445 bâda-shân kam bûd-o goftâ ay ghulâm
raw, sabô por kon, ba-mâ âwar mudâm

az fulân râhib ke dâr-ad khamr-é khâS
tâ ze-khâSS-o `âmm yâb-ad jân khalâS

jur`a'yê z-ân jâm-é râhib ân kon-ad
ke hazâr-ân jarra-wo khumdân kon-ad

andar ân may mâya-yé penhâniy-ast
ân-chon-ân-k andar `abâ sulTâniy-ast

tô ba-dalq-é pâra-pâra kam negar
ke seyah kard-and az bêrûn-é zar

3450 az barây-é chashm-é bad mardûd shod
w-az berûn ân la`l dûd-âlûd shod

ganj-o gawhar kay meyân-é khâna-hâ-st?
ganj-hâ paywasta dar wêrâna-hâ-st

ganj-é âdam chûn ba-wêrân bod dafîn
gasht Tîn-ash chashm-band-é ân la`în

ô naZar mê-kard dar Tîn sost-sost
jân hamê goft-ash ke Tîn-am sadd-é to-st

dô sabô be-s-tad ghulâm-o khwash-dawîd
dar zamân dar dayr-é rohbân-ân rasîd

3455 zar be-dâd-o bâda-yé chûn zar kharîd
sang dâd-o dar `iwaZ gawhar kharîd

bâda'yê k-ân bar sar-é shâh-ân jah-ad
tâj-é zar bar târak-é sâqî neh-ad

fitna-hâ-wo shôr-hâ angêkhta
bandag-ân-o khosrow-ân âmêkhta

ostokhwân-hâ rafta jumla jân shoda
takht-o takhta ân zamân yak-sân shoda

waqt-é hoshyârê chô âb-o rôghan-and
waqt-é mastî ham-chô jân andar tan-and

3460 chûn harîsa gashta, ân-jâ farq nêst
nêst farqê k-andar ân-jâ garq nêst

în chon-în bâda hamê bord ân ghulâm
sôy-é qaSr-é ân amîr-é nêk-nâm

pêsh-ash âmad zâhidê gham-dîda'yê
khoshk-maghzê dar balâ pêchîda'yê

tan z-âtesh-hây-é del be-g'dâkhta
khâna az ghayr-é khodâ pardâkhta

gôsh-mâl-é miHnat-é bê-zînhâr
dâgh-hâ bar dâgh-ha, chand-în hazâr

3465 dîda har sâ`at del-ash dar ijtihâd
rôz-o shab chafsîda ô bar ijtihâd

sâl-o mah dar khûn-o khâk âmêkhta
Sabr-o Hilm-ash nêm-shab be-g'rêkhta

goft zâhid dar sabô-hâ chîst ân?
goft bâda, goft ân-é kî-st ân?

goft ân-é ân fulân mîr-é ajal
goft Tâlib-râ chon-în bâsh-ad `amal?

tâlib-é yazdân-o ân-gah `aysh-o nôsh
bâda-yé shayTân-o ân-gah nêm-hôsh?

3470 hôsh-é tô bê-may chon-în pazhmorda'ast
hôsh-hâ bây-ad bar ân hôsh-é tô bast

tâ che bâsh-ad hôsh-é tô hangâm-é sukr
ay chô morghê gashta Sayd-é dâm-é sukr?

Hikâyat-é Ziyâ'i dalq ke sakht darâz bûd wa barâdar-ash
shaykh-é islâm tâj-é balkh ba-ghâyat kôtâh-é bâlâ bûd wa în
shaykh-é islâm az barâdar-ash Ziyâ nang dâshty. Ziyâ dar
âmad ba-dars-é ô wa hama-yé Sudûr-é balkh HâZir ba-dars-é ô,
Ziyâ khidmatê kard wa be-goZashat, shaykh-é islâm ô-râ
nêm-qiyâmê kard sar-sarî, goft ârî sakht darâz-î pâra'yê dar

ân Ziyâ'-yé dalq khwash-ilhâm bûd
dâdar-é ân tâj-é shaykh-islâm bûd

tâj-é shaykh-islâm-é dâru 'l-mulk-é balkh
bûd kôtah-qadd-o kôchak ham-chô farkh

gar-che fâzil bûd-o faHl-o Zû-funûn
în Ziya andar Zarâfat bod fuzûn

3475 ô basê kôtah, Ziyâ bê-Had darâz
bûd shaykh-islâm-râ Sad kibr-o nâz

z-în barâdar `âr-o nang-ash âmady
ân Ziya ham wâ`izê bod bâ-hudî

rôz-é maHfil andar âmad ân Ziyâ
bâr-gah por qâZiy-ân-o aSfiyâ

kard shaykh-islâm az kibr-é tamâm
în barâdar-râ chon-în niSfu 'l-qiyâm

3479 goft ô-râ bas darâz-î bahr-é muzd
andakê z-ân qadd-é sarw-at ham be-dozd

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)