From crusader captive to married life - a story from Saadi Shirazi

One of the great writers of the Middle Ages is Saadi Shirazi. He may have also been a prisoner of the crusaders in the Near East. Saadi was a thirteenth-century Persian poet known for his works Bustan (The Orchard) completed in 1257 and Gulistan (The Rose Garden) written a year later. They both contain short stories and poems that look at the human experience in thoughtful and sometimes funny ways. In both works, he offers some personal anecdotes, including one in the Gulistan that relates a time he was captured, freed, but had to marry his rescuer's daughter. Saadi writes:

I became bored with the company of my friends in Damascus, so I headed off for the desert of Jerusalem and became intimate with the animals until I was captured by the Franks, who put me to work with Jews in the mud of the trenches in Tripoli. One of the chiefs of Aleppo with whom I had a prior acquaintance passed by and recognized me.

“What is this situation you're in?” he asked.

“What should I say? I replied.

He felt sorry for me, ransomed me from the Franks for ten dinars, took me with him to Aleppo, and married me to a daughter he had with a dowry of a hundred dinars. Some time passed. The woman was ill-tempered, sour-faced, and shrewish. She began to nag and make my life hell.

Once she was taunting me by saying, “Aren't you the one my father ransomed from the Franks?”

“Yes,” I said, “for ten dinars he ransomed me from the Franks, and for a hundred dinars he made me captive to you!”

This interesting and humourous episode may or may not be true. We only have Saadi’s version of it, and he could have just made it up to serve as a good story. On the other hand, it would not be surprising to read that crusaders (referred to here as Franks) would take captives and then put then to work, including digging ditches. We will leave it for the readers to decide. You can read this section and the rest of the Gulistan, translated by Wheeler M. Thackston (Ibex Publishers, 2008)

Top Image: Saadi in a Rose garden, from a 17th-century manuscript of the Gulistan. Freer Library / Wikimedia Commons

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