Sheizar Castle, in Syria – and a cuckold’s tale

The castle, once it had been fortified by the Munqidth family, was used by them for forays against the aggrandising Franks and if I close my eyes I can imagine the throngs of Arab foot soldiers milling about, the sound of horses’ hooves clattering across the bridge – this was a well-known area for breeding Arab horses – and the mundane sounds of children playing, of clanging cooking pots, of ordinary family life:Usama Ibn Munqidth was an educated, courtly man who conducted his affairs with style and elegance and, being a Sunni, with genial formality.
The diplomatic skills displayed by Usama were not his alone. Following the appalling cannibalistic massacre at nearby Ma`arat al Nu`man and fearing the same fate might await Sheizar, his uncle, the Sultan, chose avoidance rather than confrontation by doing a deal with the Frankish leader. Richard de Gilles, whereby Sheizar’s citizens were to be left in peace in return for which de Gilles was granted permission to go shopping in Sheizar market for Arab horses.
It was during this time of intense and protracted diplomacy that Usama got to know the Franks and to wonder at if not accept their, to him, strange and unintelligible ways. At their lowest level, he regarded them as less than dogs – an opinion shared by many and based on the terrible happenings at Ma àrat al Nu`man. Cannibalism, however, was not the only aspect of Frankish behaviour he had to deal with. “The Franks,” he wrote, “are void of all zeal and jealousy. One of them may be walking along with his wife. He meets another man who takes the wife by the hand and steps aside to converse with her while the husband is standing on one side waiting for his wife to conclude the conversation. If she lingers too long for him, he leaves her alone with the conversant and goes away.”
Used to a degree of formality in his dealings with women and men, he found himself both intrigued and amused by the strange behaviour of the Franks. While in Nablus once, he came across the story about one of them who, arriving home one day – one has to assume unexpectedly – found another man in his bed, together with his wife. The Frank remonstrated with the intruder who explained that he had been feeling tired, had found a made-up bed and had simply got in to it.
“But my wife was already in the bed,” protested the Frank.
“True,” replied the cuckolder, “but as it was her bed I could hardly throw her out of it.”


This is an excerpt from my book about Syria:

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