Death-defying fool

​An unusual account of a jester talking his way out of possible execution, following the regicide of his patron, the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil (r. 847-61).  Sir John Malcolm, travelling in the region about 1,000 years after the Caliph’s murder, tells us that:

This caliph was put to death in the year of the Hejirah 247, by some conspirators, who were headed by his son, Moutaher.  He was murdered as he was drinking with his friends.  His vizier, Futteh, seeing he could not defend his master, exclaimed, “O Mutawukel!  I do not desire to survive thee!” and received from a conspirator the death he wished. Mutawukel had a jester, as all Asiatic princes have.  This man, when he saw the work of death commence, crept into a corner: but when he observed the vizier’s fate, he rushed out, and, imitating his solemnity of manner, exclaimed, “O Mutawukel!  I do most anxiously desire to survive thee!”  The men of blood could not help smiling, and the wit escaped.

Note: ‘Moutaher’ perhaps refers to the eldest son Al-Muntasir (r. 861-62) who was responsible for the murder of his father and briefly succeeded him as Abbasid Caliph. ‘Futteh’ perhaps refers to his secretary Al-Fatḥ ibn Khāqān (c. 817-861) who was assassinated immediately after the Caliph. These deductions follow some sleuthing on my part.

Malcolm provides us with insights and anecdotes concerning Persian jesters, with this story being the only one concerning an Arab monarch. 

Source: Malcolm, Sir John (1769-1833), The History of Persia, from the Most Early Period to the Present Time, vol. 1 (London: J. Murray, 1815), p. 280

Image credit: Silver coin featuring Al Mutawakkil (847–861), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


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