Harlequin’s tunic of patches
This is a note on something which interested or agitated me some 30 years ago, and which I have something worth posting, even if I never got to where I wanted to get to with it.
The website of the Weltmuseum Wien discusses one of their holdings, a hirqa:
In the twenty-first century a Sufi wears completely normal daily clothing and is, therefore, not externally distinguishable from his surroundings. Once upon a time, an individual who wanted to lead the life of a mystic and had renounced the world donned a robe of rough wool and was identified as a Sufi, derived from the Arabic word for wool, ṣūf. Admission into a brotherhood took place by means of a particular ceremony, at the end of which the novice was dressed in the clothing of a dervish, the hirqa; these are differentiated by colour and style from brotherhood to brotherhood. Often this garment was stitched together out of numerous patches. And it is also related that such patched robes were preferably sewn out of rags that the Sufis had torn out of their garments in ecstasy. The tattered clothing of the Sufis expresses poverty. Yet it is somehow also reminiscent of the colourful costume of a harlequin, with his vivid lozenge-shaped stripes. It seems as if the rambling fool of God in the Commedia dell'arte had slipped into the role of the half-clownish, half-demonic prankster, in order to expose the structures and mechanisms of society, attracting ridicule and disdain upon himself. Spirituality and humour are not mutually exclusive. Both can be understood as effective attempts to reveal the complex and paradox situations of which real life is so full. <<
lly made and not at all likely to fall apart in mid-performance. The interesting question is whether the harlequin costume was directly borrowed from Islam, referring to the Eastern links of Venice and Genoa and of course to the Ottoman culture, bringing the East right to the borders or shores of Italy. The Viennese ethnographic museum does not make this claim, and the likely extent of borrowing is the costume; dervishes might dance, but they were not stage figures and did not “become” Harlequin.
ore light is shed on this by Geo Widengren, Harlekintracht und Mönchskutte, Clownhut und Derwischmütze. Eine gesellschafts-, religions- und trachtgeschichtliche Studie. 1953 (in: Orientalia Suecana). In this cross-cultural essay, the Swedish scholar records a Syrian book on saints’ lives which records religious rebels going around the country wearing clothes of rags. The book was by John of Ephesus and was written around 550 AD. It is in Syriac. It seems likely that this practice inspired the Sufis, at least if it was continued over later centuries. I don’t have detailed references on radical Christian groups in the Near East which would be closer in time to Sufism.;“It is likely that Sufiism, as it developed from the ninth century onwards, itself owed much to certain Christian mystical sects in the East.”- Norman O. Cohn. A robe of patches is a convenient garb which refers back to the “rags” without actually being rags. Widengren clouds the picture by describing also a robe of rags called a centunculus worn by mimunculi, a kind of stage performer of the time. The Syrian ascetic was certainly referring back to this familiar figure and was in fact going round the villages preaching while dressed as a clown. Saint Afrem, the most revered figure of the Syrian Church, is recorded as having a worn a “coat of many colours”, made of rags, and acted like a madman in pursuit of humility. (known as Ephraim the Syrian in English texts)
hyme became a permanent - even obligatory - feature of poetry in Hebrew language, around the 4th century CE. It is found in the Jewish liturgical poetry written in the Byzantine empire era. This was realized by scholars only recently, thanks to the thousands of piyyuts that have been discovered in the Cairo Geniza. It is assumed that the principle of rhyme was transferred from Hebrew liturgical poetry to the poetry of the Syriac Christianity (written in Aramaic), and through this mediation introduced into Latin poetry and then into all other languages of Europe.<<