Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of “the Fariyaq,” alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England, and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussions of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments, freedom of conscience, women’s rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European and Arabic literatures, all the while celebrating the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language.
Volumes One and Two follow the hapless Fariyaq through his youth and early education, his misadventures among the monks of Mount Lebanon, his flight to the Egypt of Muhammad 'Ali, and his subsequent employment with the first Arabic daily newspaper—during which time he suffers a number of diseases that parallel his progress in the sciences of Arabic grammar, and engages in amusing digressions on the table manners of the Druze, young love, snow, and the scandals of the early papacy. This first book also sees the list—of locations in Hell, types of medieval glue, instruments of torture, stars and pre-Islamic idols—come into its own as a signature device of the work.
Akin to Sterne and Rabelais in his satirical outlook and technical inventiveness, al-Shidyaq produced in Leg Over Leg a work that is unique and unclassifiable. It was initially widely condemned for its attacks on authority, its religious skepticism, and its “obscenity,” and later editions were often abridged. This is the first complete English translation of this groundbreaking work.
About the Author
Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1805 or 1806-1887) was a foundational figure in modern Arabic literature. Born to a prominent Maronite family in Lebanon, al-Shidyaq was a pioneering publisher, poet, essayist, lexicographer and translator. Known as "the father of Arabic journalism," al-Shidyaq played a major role in reviving and modernizing the Arabic language.
Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of some twenty works of modern Arabic literature,
among them Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building , four novels by Elias Khoury, including Gate of the Sun , and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg over Leg. He has also made a critical edition, translation, and lexicon of the Ottoman-period Hazz al-quhuf bi-sharh qasid Abi Shaduf ( Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded ) by Yusuf al-Shirbini and compiled with a colleague an anthology entitled Al-‘ammiyyah al-misriyyah al-maktubah: mukhtarat min 1400 ila 2009 ( Egyptian Colloquial Writing:
selections from 1400 to 2009 ). He read Arabic at the University of Cambridge, received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and previous to undertaking his first translation in 2003, worked for social development and research organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Sudan. He is affiliated with the American University in Cairo, where he lives.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Raising a Storm 36
Chapter 2: A Bruising Fall and a Protecting Shawl 64
Chapter 3: Various Amusing Anecdotes 72
Chapter 4: Troubles and a Tambour 84
Chapter 5: A Priest and a Pursie, Dragging Pockets and Dry Grazing 92
Chapter 6: Food and Feeding Frenzies 108
Chapter 7: A Donkey that Brayed, a Journey Made, a Hope Delayed 116
Chapter 8: Bodega, Brethren, and Board 124
Chapter 9: Unseemly Conversations and Crooked Contestations 134
Chapter 10: Angering Women Who Dart Sideways Looks, and Claws like Hooks 148
Chapter 11: That Which Is Long and Broad 162
Chapter 12: A Dish and an Itch 174
Chapter 13: A Maqamah, or, a Maqamah on “Chapter 13” 190
Chapter 14: A Sacrament 202
Chapter 15: The Priest’s Tale 212
Chapter 16: The Priest’s Tale Continued 222
Chapter 17: Snow 244
Chapter 18: Bad Luck 254
Chapter 19: Emotion and Motion 282
Chapter 20: The Difference between Market-men and Bag-men 312