Account of the Famine at Nísápúr.

In the year 401, in the province of Khurásán, generally, and in the city of Nisápúr, particularly, a wide-spread famine, and a frightful and calami­tous scarcity occurred, such that the girdle of patience was too narrow to bear the measure of that distress and the pressure of that misfortune, so that, from the difficulty of finding food no strength remained, and every one ate the grain of the heart (i. e., original sin, or misery) like the grains of the pomegranate from the skin (i. e., innate corruption appeared in its effects). All con­veyed within their dwellings the vegetation and sprouts adapted for animals, as delicious food, until all cheeks withered, and all bright faces scattered their freshness like autumn leaves; vacant eyes fell into a pit and sweet lips were ruined. The nerves of articulate speech were unable to express clear chants by the organ of the tongue, and pearl-like teeth, from the saliva of inward fever, became yellow; sweet-scented mouths sent up to Heaven, from the burning flame of hunger, continual sighs, and life, from the desolation of its lodging-body, laid itself down at its halting-place or inn. Grains of wheat were more valuable than grains of pearl, and the Virgin’s ear of corn in the heavens envied the esteem afforded to the ears of corn on earth. The granaries of those who laid up in store were as empty, i. e., forlorn, as the heart of the mother of Moses, and the stomachs of the wealthy were as void as a drum: no trace of bread remained; and that which all coveted was annihilated. Such was the extent of the calamity that, in the district of Nisápúr, nearly 100,000 men perished, and no one was at liberty to wash, coffin, or inter them, but placed them in the ground in the clothes they had. Women and men, old and young, uttered cries for help, and, exclaiming “Bread! bread!” lay cold (in death) upon the spot. Some arrested their last breath by means of grass and hay, until all sustenance from sown fields and cultivated things were cut off, and that resource was also drawn beneath the veil, until they took the bones from the ceme­teries, and broke them into small pieces, and boiled them, and, as when a butcher slaughters, the poor quarrelled for the bloody portions, and therewith quieted the cry of hunger and struggle to ward off the last agony. However every one who partook of these impurities fell upon the spot and yielded up life. Otbi says, I knew a man whom they were seeking and enquiring for, as heir to property that was falling in, but possessed not one grain of wheat in reality or prospect. This man of noble feelings and high rank could in no way obtain grains of corn, so destitute had he become. And the intensity of this distress was so great that mothers ate their children and brothers made brothers’ flesh the means of preserving life, and husbands killed their wives and boiled them, and cutting their members and limbs into pieces, dined upon them; and they seized men in the streets, killed and ate them, and people separating the flesh from the fat, would talk familiarly in the market and hold them up with the fingers, show­ing which of the joints and pieces of human flesh would best melt together (or cleaned the best joints and pieces of human flesh) and sold them in the market. And they seized many for this offence and found in their houses men’s bones, and carried them to execution. But the source of this misery was not cut off, and no more animals, as dogs and cats, and such like, remained. And no one was so bold as to stir far from his house or to go far into the city, unless in company with others and well armed. A clever man, a theological Imám, went to visit the Imám Taib-Salaokí. The Imám Abú-Taib said: “It is long since you have set foot in my house or have directed your will towards me, what is the cause?” He replied: “My story is a strange story and a wondrous inci­dent; if the Shaikh Imám, on account of its sin­gularity, will allow me a hearing and grant me his illustrious attention I will tell a tale, how God, in my behalf, hath granted a solid favour and a generous interposition, and hath saved my life from the precipice of destruction.” The Shaikh said: “You must tell the story, by all means.” Then he said: “I was passing, at night-time, through such a street, when suddenly a snaring noose fell upon my neck, and, with successive stretchings, so compressed my throat that my breath was stopped, and from the violence of the strangling I became a prisoner, and went as the rope (pulled me) until it drew me to a certain lane, and an old woman ran out of the house, and both of them struck their knees upon the lower parts of my stomach, until from those injuries I became insensible, and had no knowledge of that which afterwards followed, until after a while, by means of fresh water which was thrown upon my face, I recovered, when I saw several sitting by my pillow and treating me kindly. They represented to me the conduct of these deceitful and designing people, and removed the curtain of concealment from the secret of the description of the event. Thus I became acquainted with the certainty of that affair, namely, that at the juncture of time when that man was dragging me, they were proceeding towards their residences and abodes, and that impure wretch was sharpening a knife to murder me, when, being alarmed at them, he left me in that condition and fled, and after a little space I recovered my breath, and went home; but, from the horror of that affair, I was some days upon my bed, until Heaven was so gracious that the pain of that injury ceased. And when the marks and proofs of convalescence were perfect, I went, at the hour of dawn, to fulfil my religious duty at the mosque; and I went, at the time of the proclama­tion of prayer, to the minaret, to a seat, awaiting the hour of the proclamation. Suddenly a noose was in motion by my side, directed towards my throat. However the mercy of the Supreme inter­posed, and this attempt at injury missed my neck, and my handkerchief was the preservation of my life, and my turban remained in the knot of the noose. I ran down from the mizanat (place where the Muezzin stands to proclaim the hour of prayer) and made a vow that, for the space of this calamity and the days of this distress, I would never come from the house, except in bright day, and would go for all necessaries before the sun began to incline to twilight. These were the circumstances which hindered my service and prevented my presence.” When I had concluded my tale all expressed astonishment at that blow and astounding event, and I sought the benignity of God, and fled to the canopy of his guardianship and compassion. And Master Abdul-Malik-Waíz, who was one of the pious Imáms and esteemed for his good conduct, relates that on one day, during that distress, they carried four hundred from the streets of the city to the hospital, that I might arrange for them to be put into coffins and buried. (And another said) at evening prayer a baker, who was settled at the station of the flag of my serai, came to me and said: “To-day four hundred máns of bread remain, which no one demands.” At this state of things I was surprised, that, even at times when food can be obtained, if God issues his decree and appoints the (prophetic) mirror of death for the people it is impossible to avert his judgment and to obstruct his preordaining decree. The talented of that time put forth poems, in commemoration of this scarcity. Abú-Mansúr, of Raí, the scribe, says (Verse)

“Oh what happened to men during the famine!
“What alternatives during that calamity!
“He who remained fixed at home died of hunger,
“Or (he who went abroad) witnessed others eating him” (who had died so).

And Abd Lekani says (Verse)

“Do not on any account go forth from the houses, whether there be need or whether there be no need;
“Fasten thy gates firmly with the bars,
“Lest the famishing hunt for thee and cook thee into broth.”

And the Sultán during those days commanded, and sent an edict into the provinces of the king­dom, ordaining that the revenue officers and magistrates should empty the granaries of corn, and distribute amongst the poor and wretched, and thus save them from the claws of destruction, and the talons of want. And that year came to an end in the same state, until the produce of the year 402 arrived, when the fire of that calamity was extinguished, and that extremity was remedied, and God sent down mercy, so that the appearance of seeds and the blessings of increase returned in their accustomed course. “What mercy does God open to man, and he will not take hold of it, and what does he hold and (man) will not send to him after it, although he be the mighty Ordainer.” (Kurán).