The name of the Sheikh has become known to posterity as the author of this work, which is the only one attributed to him.
In spite of the subject-matter of the book, and the manifold errors found in it and caused by the negligence and ignorance of the copyists, it is manifest that this treatise comes from the pen of a man of great erudition, who had a better knowledge in general of literature and medicine than is commonly found with Arabs.
According to the historical notice contained in the first leaves of the manuscript, and notwithstanding the apparent error respecting the name oft he Bey who was reigning in Tunis, it may be presumed that this work was written in the beginning of the sixteenth century, about the year 925 of the Hegira.
As regards the birthplace of the author, it may be taken for granted, considering that the Arabs habitually joined the name of their birth-place to their own, that he was born at Nefzaoua, a town situated in the district of that name on the shore of the lake Sebkha Melrir, in the south of the kingdom of Tunis.
The Sheikh himself records that he lived in Tunis, and it is most probable the book was written in that city. According to tradition, a particular motive induced him to undertake a work entirely at variance with his simple tastes and retired habits.
His knowledge of law and literature, as well as of medicine, having been reported to the Bey of Tunis, this ruler wished to invest him with the office of Cadi, although he was unwilling to occupy himself with public functions.
As he, however, desired not to give the Bey cause for offence, whereby he might have incurred danger, he merely requested a short delay, in order to be able to finish a work which he had in hand.
This having been granted, he set himself to compose the treatise which was then Occupying his mind, and which, becoming known, drew so much attention upon the author, that it became henceforth impossible to confide to him functions of the nature of those of a Cadi.
But this version, which is not supported by any authenticated proof, and which represents the Sheikh Nefzaoui as a man of light morals, does not seem to be admissible. One need only glance at the book to be convinced that its author was animated by the most praiseworthy intentions, and that, far from being in fault, he deserves gratitude for the services he has rendered to humanity. Contrary to the habits of the Arabs, there exists no commentary on this book; the reason may, perhaps, be found in the nature of the subject of which it treats, and which may have frightened, unnecessarily, the serious and the studious. I say unnecessarily, because this book, more than any other, ought to have commentaries; grave questions are treated in it, and open out a large field for work and meditation.
What can be more important, in fact, than the study of the principles upon which rest the happiness of man and woman, by reason of their mutual relations; relations which are themselves dependent upon character, health, temperament and the constitution, all of which it is the duty of philosophers to study.
In doubtful and difficult cases, and where the ideas of the author did not seem to be clearly set out, I have not hesitated to look for enlightenment to the savants of sundry confessions, and by their kind assistance many difficulties, which I believed insurmountable, were conquered. lam glad to render them here my thanks.
Amongst the authors who have treated of similar subjects, there is not one that can be entirely compared with the Sheikh; for his book reminds you, at the same time, of Aretin, of the book Conjugal Love, and of Rabelais. But what makes this treatise unique as a book of its kind, is the seriousness with which the most lascivious and obscene matters are presented. It is evident that the author is convinced of the importance of his subject, and that the desire to be of use to his fellowmen is the sole motive of his efforts.
With the view to giving more weight to his recommendations, he does not hesitate to multiply his religious citations, and in many cases invokes even the authority of the Koran, the most sacred book of the Mussulmans.
It may be assumed that this book, without being exactly a compilation, is not entirely due to the genius of the Sheikh Nefzaoui, and that several parts may have been borrowed from Arabian and Indian writers. For instance, all the record of Mo&aced;ailama and of Chedja is taken from the work of Mohammed ben Djerir el Taberi; the description of the different positions for coition, as well as the movements applicable to them, are borrowed from Indian works; finally, the book Birds and Flowers by Azeddine el Mocadecci seems to have been consulted with respect to the interpretation of dreams. But an author certainly is to be commended for having surrounded himself with the lights of former savants, and it would be ingratitude not to acknowledge the benefit which his books have conferred upon people who were still in their infancy in the art of love.
It is only to be regretted that this work, so complete in many respects, is defective in so fir as it makes no mention of a custom too common with the Arabs not to deserve particular attention. I speak of the taste so universal with the old Greeks and Romans, namely, the preference they give to a boy before a woman, or even to treat the latter as a boy.
There might have been given on this subject sound advice as well with regard to the pleasures mutually enjoyed by the women called tribades. The same reticence has been observed by the author with regard to bestiality. Nevertheless he does speak, in one story (i.e. 'The History of Zohra', in the concluding chapter of the work), of the mutual caresses of women; and he relates an anecdote concerning a woman who provoked the caresses of an ass [which has been eliminated from the present edition], thus revealing that he knew of such matters.
Lastly, the Sheikh does not mention the pleasures which the mouth or the hand of a pretty woman can give, nor the cunnilinges.
What may have been the motive for these omissions? The author's silence cannot be attributed to ignorance, for in the course of his work he has given proofs of an erudition too extended and various to permit a suspicion of his knowledge.
Should we look for the cause of this gap to the contempt which the Mussulman in reality feels for woman, and owing to which he may think that it would be degrading to his dignity as a man to descend to caresses otherwise regulated than by the laws of nature? Or did the author, perhaps, avoid the mention of similar matters out of fear that he might be suspected of sharing tastes which many people look upon as depraved?
However this may be, the book contains much useful information and a large number of curious cases, and I have undertaken the translation because, as the Sheikh Nefzaoui says in his preamble: 'I swear before God, certainly! the knowledge of this book is necessary. It will be only the shamefully ignorant, the enemy of all science, who does not read it, or who turns it into ridicule.'