Dogging his steps II

The British diplomat Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) recounts a story concerning the Persian Zand king, Muḥammad Karīm Khān (r. 1751-79).  Hearing a loudly barking dog, the king sent his jester Lūṭī Ṣāleḥ to find out what it wanted, perhaps sending him on a merry errand to see what he’d come up with.  Note that the king was from a tribe whose dialect was generally considered ‘barbarous’.  The jester duly investigated, and returned to tell the king he should send members of his own family to interpret the dog’s ‘barbarous dialect’, as he himself couldn’t understand a word of it.

The king was amused and, as sometimes happens, rewarded the jester for the joke, even though it mocked him.  As Sir John tells it:

Kurreem Khan, as has been before stated, belonged to one of the native tribes of Persia who speak a language which, from its rudeness, is universally denominated by the other inhabitants of that nation “the barbarous dialect.” This prince, as he was one day sitting in public, commanded his jester to go and bring him word what a dog, which was barking very loud, wanted.  The courtiers smiled at this sally of the monarch.  The jester went, as desired; and, after appearing to listen for some time with profound attention, he returned, and said, with a grave air, “Your majesty must send one of the chief officers of your own family to report what that gentleman says: he speaks no language except the ‘barbarous dialect,’ with which they are familiar, but of which I do not understand one word.”  The good humoured monarch, we are told, laughed most heartily at this ridicule of the rude dialect of his tribe, and gave the wit a present, as the reward of his retort.

The anecdote has a canine counterpart in the Chinese court of emperor Tang Zhuangzong 唐莊宗 (r. 923-26) in which the jester Jing Xinmo (鏡新磨 Newly Polished Mirror) cracks a joke that borders on lèse majesté, implying the emperor was from a family of dogs.

Note the jester’s name, Lūṭī Ṣāleḥ, with lūṭī being a term which seems to run the gamut from ‘rogue’ to ‘jester’, which we have added to the fools’ Lexicon.  Sir John Malcolm, the source of this anecdote, interprets it to mean ‘buffoon’ or ‘jester’:

The Persians say, that a good Loottee, or “buffoon,” ought to be able to laugh, cry, weep, sit still, and dance, at the same moment. Some of these jesters approach very near this idea of perfection.

Source: Gianni Izzo, ‘Playing the fool: jesters of the Safavid and Zand courts’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (August 2023), p. 9; Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), The History of Persia, from the Most Early Period to the Present Time, vol. 2 (London: J. Murray, 1815), pp. 551-2 and p. 611.

Image credit: Baptist Standaert at unsplash


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