The Prince and the Christian Ascetic (part two)

Mathnawi V: 3480- 3506

3480 (The ascetic continued), " O enemy of (spiritual)
knowledge!1 Where, then, is (your) understanding or
intelligence so that you may consume wine [in the right

"(If) your face is very good-looking, paint some purple
dye (on it),3 (otherwise) purple dye on an (ugly) Ethiopian
would be ridiculous.4

"O you (who have been) led astray! No (spiritual) light
has ever reached you, so that you might (us it to) be a
seeker of darkness and unconsciousness.5

"It is customary to seek shade during the day time,6
(but) you have been the seeker of shade during cloudy

"Although (wine) has been legally permitted7 for the
nourishment of the common people, it has been forbidden for
the seekers of the Beloved.

3485 "For the lovers (of God), 'wine' is the blood of (their
own) hearts.8 Their eyes are (concentrated) upon the Way and
upon the Goal.

"On such a road as this (through) the frightful desert,
there are a hundred eclipses for the road-guide of wisdom.

"(If) you hurl dust into the eyes of the road-guides,
you will cause the caravan to go astray and perish.

"Truly, bread (made) of barley is forbidden and grievous
for the ego,9 (so) put (only) bread (made) of
(plain-tasting) bran in front (of it).

"Keep the enemy of the Way to God (in a) despised and
inferior (position). Don't place the thief on the pulpit,
(but) hold him (in public scorn) on the gallows.10

3490 "You should approve of the cutting off of the hand of
the thief.11 (But if) you are not in a position to amputate
(it), (then) you should tie up his hand.

"(For) if you don't tie up his hand, he will tie up
yours; if you don't break his leg, he will break your leg.

"You are giving the enemy wine and sugar-cane (candy)--
(but) for the sake of what? Say (to him instead), 'Eat dust
and smile bitterly!'"

He threw a rock at the jug and broke (it). (The slave)
cast the jug aside and leaped away from the ascetic.

He went before the prince, (who) asked him, "Where (is)
the wine?" (The slave) told what had happened, bit by bit,
to him.

The going of the prince, disturbed by anger, to punish12 the

3495 The prince became like fire (in his fury) (and) sprang
right up. He said, "Show (me) where the house of the ascetic

"So that I may pound his head with this heavy club--
that head of his, of a misinformed ignoramus with a whore
for a mother!

"What does he know about decreeing what is lawful? He's
a (vile and) doggish13 seeker of fame and reputation,

"So that he may make a position for himself by means of
this hypocrisy,14 (and) so that he may make himself visible
(to the public) by means of some (action).

"Since he doesn't have (any) skill except this: that he
acts (like) a hypocrite to this one and that one.

3500 "If he is crazy and digging for trouble, (a whip made
from) an ox's penis15 is the remedy for a crazy (man),

"So that Satan may go out his head.16 Without the
donkey-driver's blows, the donkey will never go (forward)."

The prince sprang out (from his palace), with an
(iron-covered) club in (his) hand; he came at midnight to
the ascetic, half-drunk.17

Due to his fury, he wanted to kill the ascetic. (But)
the ascetic was hidden under (a pile of) wool.

The ascetic had heard about that (anger) of the prince,
(and) he was concealed under the wool of (some) rope-makers.

3505 (The ascetic) said (to himself), "(Only) the mirror
which makes a hard face is able to talk about the ugliness
of man to his face.

3506 "An iron face is needed, like a mirror,18 so that it may
tell you, "Look at your ugly face!"

--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" (,9/13/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (3480) O enemy of (spiritual) knowledge: this line is a
continuation of the last verse spoken by the ascetic to the
prince's slave (in line 3469): "(To be) a seeker of God and
then gratifying (sensual) desires and drinking! (To drink)
the wine of Satan and then (become) half-understanding!"

2. (3480) Where, then, is your understanding or intelligence
so that you may consume wine [in the right way]: Anqaravi
explained that, during the Christian era preceding the
advent of Islam, moderate wine-drinking was allowed, as long
as it did not lead to drunkenness and immoral behavior.
Nicholson referred here to similar verses (which he
translated), "... that stupid fellow also became drunken and
merry. Of course, in consequence of (drunken) glee he became
loquacious [= talkative]: the intoxicated man neglected (to
observe) respect and began to rave. Not on every occasion
does selflessness (intoxication) work mischief, (but) wine
makes the unmannerly person more so. If he (the
wine-drinker) be intelligent, he becomes decorous (displays
goodly qualities when beside himself); and if he be
evil-natured, he becomes worse. But since the majority are
evil and reprobate, wine has been forbidden to all."
(Mathnawi IV: 2154-2158)

3. (3481) paint some purple dye (on it): a blackish-blue
color, made from the indigo plant, which was rubbed on the
faces of children to protect them from the envious "evil
eye" of others (by making them less attractive)-- a
superstitious fear that such envious gazes could cast evil
spells and cause illness, accidents, or death. Nicholson
missed the meaning here in his translation: "put some indigo
on it (as an ornament)..."

4. (3481) purple dye on an (ugly) Ethiopian would be
ridiculous: means the case of the face of a child of African
descent, who was ugly, there would be no need to add a dark
purple dye as a protection from envy.

5. (3482) so that you might (us it to) be a seeker of
darkness and unconsciousness: "The intended meaning of
'light': it is the inner light, which is gained plentifully
with the perfection of austerities [riyâZat], efforts, and
worship. The intended meaning of 'unconsciousness':
negligence and forgetfulness. And the intended meaning of
'darkness': (worldly) desires. And the intended meaning of
'shade' is enjoyment and comfort." (Anqaravi, Commentary) It
means that the person who seeks such "darkness" of being
unconscious via alcohol is making himself even more "dark."

6. (3483) It is customary to seek shade during the day
time: "To seek the shade, i.e. refreshment and enjoyment, is
permissible only to those who possess the inner light. The
sálik (= spiritual seeker] must never relax his efforts
(mujáhadah) until the goal (mushâbadah) is reached."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

7. (3484) Although (wine) has been legally permitted: these
words were spoken during the Christian era which preceded
the Islamic revelation (when wine was made unlawful for
Muslims). "In the religion of Hazrat-i `Isà [= Jesus]--
peace be upon him-- wine was (religious) legal for the
common people as (a source of) food and nourishment. But on
condition that it was an amount consumed which did not lead
beyond the bounds of reason and did not draw toward
immorality and disturbance. With this condition, the monks
of that (Christian) religion and the seekers of God
refrained from consuming (wine) and had made it forbidden to
themselves." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

8. (3485) 'wine' is the blood of (their own) hearts: means
that the lovers of God become "drunk" with the passion of
their longing love nearness (called "union" by sufi poets)
to the Beloved.

9. (3488) bread (made) of barley is forbidden and grievous
for the ego: Nicholson translated, "injurious to the carnal
soul." It means, "Don't spoil and fatten the ego by giving
it the pleasurable experiences it desires, for this will
only give it more power over you." "Certainly, barley bread
is forbidden for the sake of the ego [nafs] and brings ruin.
Because when the 'stomach' of the 'commanding self' [nafs-é
amâra] is filled and becomes comfortable, it becomes
increasingly insolent and rebellious. Therefore, it is
necessary to put (only plain-tasting) bran bread in front of
the 'commanding self' so that it does not become strong,
insolent, and rebellious." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

10. (3489) hold (him in public scorn) on the gallows:
criminals convicted for (repeated) theft were not hung to
death on gallows, but had their hands amputated in public.
Here, Rumi uses the word "gallows" [dâr] as a pun on the
word "hold": "hold (him) on the gallows" [bar dâr dâr].

11. (3490) You should approve of the cutting off of the hand
of the thief: means here, the power of ego. "And if you are
unable to break the feet of the desires and demands of the
ego, ego will sever the feet of your reason and spirit."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

Per the Islamic punishment, the Qur'an states: "And in
regard to the male thief or woman thief, amputate his or her
hand as a payment for what they have earned, as an example
and warning from God (of what should be avoided). And God is
All-Mighty, Wise. But whoever repents after his wrongdoing
and reforms, surely God will turn to him (in forgiveness).
Truly, God is Forgiving, Merciful." (5:41-42). The harsh
punishment for theft, commanded by the Qur'an, is carried
out only in cases of repeated theft (and is suspended during
times of famine). In Islam, the rights of the community to
be protected from theft take precedence over any
consideration of rights of the individual thief. (In Western
countries, however, convicted thieves are so "absolved,"
after paying for their crimes, that the people living in
community-- except for law enforcement-- have no warning
that there is a convicted thief living among them who may
rob again. This emphasis on individual rights has begun to
change, however, in a few places in the case of registered
child molesters.)

12. (Heading) to punish: literally "rubbing the ears," a
punishment meted out to children (abrading the ear of the
child with the thumb and fingers), used as an idiom meaning

13. (3497) (vile and) doggish: means shameless, foul,
contemptible-- the well-known behavior of stray dogs in
other cultures (not raised as pets or hunting dogs).

14. (3497) hypocrisy [sâlûs]: literally "trinitarianism."
Christian ascetics were considered to be hypocritically
devout because, while outwardly religions, they blasphemed
God by believing that He was three persons-- a violation of
the pure monotheism revealed to all of the Prophets,
including Jesus, who never spoke about the "Trinity" or
taught that he himself was part of the One Deity (see
Qur'an 5:76). A similar word, "hypocrite" [tasallus], occurs
in the next line.

15. (3500) (a whip made from) an ox's penis: refers to a
castrated bull's penis. Nicholson translated, "an ox-hide
whip," and translated the literal meaning into Latin."
(Footnote) "The intended meaning of 'ox's penis': a whip or
lash." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

16. (3501) So that Satan may go out his head: based on the
ancient belief that mental illness was caused by being
possessed by a demon, which could be driven out by making
its dwelling place (the body of the human victim) painfully

17. (3502) half-drunk: means half-intoxicated from anger.

18. (3506) An iron face is needed, like a mirror: in past
centuries, mirrors were made of polished iron. "None but the
prophet or saint, whose heart is as pure, bright, and hard
as a steel mirror, can fearlessly confront the ungodly
princes of this world and show them to themselves in their
real deformity." (Nicholson, Commentary)


3480 pas to-râ khwad hôsh kô, yâ `aql kô
tâ khwor-î may, ay tô dânesh-râ `adû?

rô-t bas zîbâ-st, nîlê ham be-kash
ZuHka bâsh-ad nîl bar rôy-é Habash

dar tô nûrê kay dar âmad ay ghawî
tâ tô bê-hôshiyy-o Zulmat-jô shaw-î?

sâya dar rôz-ast jostan qâ`ida
dar shab-é abrî tô sâya-jô shoda

gar Halâl âmad pay-é qût-é `awâm
Tâlib-ân-é dôst-râ âmad Harâm

3485 `âshiq-ân-râ bâda khûn-é del bow-ad
chashm-eshân bar râh-o bar manzil bow-ad

dar chôn-în râh-é bayâbân-é makhûf
în qalâwûz-é kherad bâ Sad kasûf

khâk dar chashm-é qalâwûz-ân zan-î
kârwân-râ hâlik-o gom-rah kon-î

nân-é jaw Haqqâ Harâm-ast-o fesôs
nafs-râ dar pêsh neh nân-é sabôs

doshman-é râh-é khodâ-râ khwâr dâr
dozd-râ minbar ma-neh, bar dâr dâr

3490 dozd-râ tô dast-be-b'rîdan pasand
az borîdan `âjiz-î, dast-ash be-band

gar na-band-î dast-é ô, dast-é tô bast
gar tô pây-ash na-sh'kan-î, pây-at shekast

tô `adû-râ may deh-î-wo nay-shakar
bahr-é che? gô zahr-khand-o khâk khwar

zad ze-ghayrat bar sabô sang-o shekast
ô sabô andâkht w-az zâhid be-jast

raft pêsh-é mîr-o goft-ash bâda kô?
mâ-jarâ-râ goft yak-yak pêsh?é ô

raftan-é amîr-é khashm-âlûd barây-é gôsh-mâl-é zâhid

3495 mîr chûn atesh shod, bar jast râst
goft be-n'mâ khâna-yé zâhid ko-jâ-st

tâ ba-d-în gorz-é gerân kôb-am sar-ash
ân sar-é bê-dânesh-é mâdar-ghar-ash

ô che dân-ad amr-é ma`rûf az sagî
Tâlib-é ma`rûfiy-ast-o shohragî

tâ ba-d-în sâlûs khwad-râ jâ kon-ad
tâ ba-chêzê khwêshtan paydâ kon-ad

k-ô na-dâr-ad khwad honar illâ ham-ân
ke tasallus mê-kon-ad bâ în-o ân

3500 ô agar dêwâna-ast-o fitna-kâw
dârôy-é dêwâna bâsh-ad kêr-é gâw

tâ ke shayTân az sar-ash bêrûn raw-ad
bê-lat-é khar-bandag-ân khar chûn raw-ad?

mîr bêrûn jast dabbûsê ba-dast
nêm-shab âmad ba-zâhid, nêm-mast

khwâst koshtan mard-é zâhid-râ ze-khashm
mard-é zâhid gasht penhân zêr-é pashm

mard-é zâhid mê-shenîd az mîr ân
zêre-é pashm-é ân rasan-tâb-ân nehân

3505 goft dar rô goftan-é zeshtiy-é mard
âyena tân-ad ke rô-râ sakht kard

3506 rôy bây-ad âyena-wâr âhanîn
tâ-t gôy-ad rôy-é zesht-é khwad be-bîn

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)