LATELY — 3 September 2001

Three Euphemisms for Sex

Three eu­phamisms for sex, by way of “The Whorish Wife who Vaunted Her Virtue,” a story from “[1001] Arabian Nights,” trans­lated by Sir Richard Burton, abridged by me.

The Astronomer’s wife would fre­quently boast to him, “O man, there is not amongst wom­ankind my peer in no­bil­ity and chastity.” The As­tronomer was proud of his wife’s fidelity, and he would fre­quently repeat this boast in public. On one such occasion, one of those present sug­gested that the As­tronomer test his wife: tell her, the doubter said, that you are going on a journey of some days’ du­ra­tion and ask her for suit­able provisions. Then, upon re­ceiv­ing them, depart as if em­bark­ing on a journey, but, after dis­ap­pear­ing for a while, return home and hide oneself in a private place.

The As­tronomer went home and did as described. Upon hearing of his plans to travel his wife cried, “O my lord, Thou art about to des­o­late me nor can I on any wise bear parting from thee; and if thou needs must journey do thou take me with thee.” Now when the man heard these the words of his wife he said to himself, “By Allah, there cannot be the fellow of my spouse amongst the sum of womankind,” presently adding to her, “I shall ward upon thyself and open not my door to anyone at all.” Quoth she, “O Man, how canst thou quit me? and indeed I cannot suffer such separation.” Quoth he, “I shall not long be sep­a­rated from thee;” and so saying he fared forth from her and dis­ap­peared for the space of an hour, after which he re­turned home softly walking and hid himself in a place where none could see him.

Now after the space of two hours behold, a Coster­mon­ger came into the house and she met him and salam’d to him and said, “What hast thou brought for me?” “Two lengths of sugar-cane,” said he … Then he asked her, “Whither is thy husband gone?” and she answered, “On a journey: may Allah never bring him back nor write his name among the saved and our Lord deliver me from his as soon as possible!” After this she em­braced him and he em­braced her and she kissed him and he kissed her and enjoyed her favours till such time as he had his will of her; after which he went his ways.

When an hour had passed a Poul­terer came to the house, where­upon she arose and salam’d to him and said, “What hast though brought me?” He answered, “A pair of pigeon-poults” … Then the man went up to the woman and he em­braced her and she em­braced him and he tumbled her and she tumbled him; after which he had his will of her and presently he went off about his own business.

When two hours or so had gone by there came to her another man which was a Gardener; so she arose and met him with a meeting still fairer than the first two and asked him, “What has though brought with thee?” “A some­what of pomegranates,” an­swered he; so she took them from him and led him to a secret place where she left him and changed her dress and adorned herself and per­fumed herself and kohl’d her eyes. After that she re­turned to the pomegranate-man and fell a-toying with him and he toyed with her and she hugged him and he hugged her and at last he rogered and had his wicked will of her and went his ways."

The As­tronomer re­vealed himself to his whorish wife and told her that he had seen all. “O Whore! O Fornicatress, O Adulteress. How durst thou say to me, ‘There is not amongst wom­ankind my better in no­bil­ity and purity?’ and this day I have beheld with my own eyes what thy chastity may be. So do thou take thy be­long­ings and go forth from me and be off with thyself and thine own folk.”

And so saying he di­vorced her with the triple divorce and thrust her forth the house.