Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Fricatrices of Fez

Working on a project related to Hasan ibn Muhammed al-Wazzan al-Fasi--John Leo Africanus, as he's known in the Western world--I've seized upon a delightful passage from his Geographical Historie of Africa. The second of nine books focuses on "Maroco" with a plethora of information on the city of Fez, where our hero/historiographer attended university. Among the tourist attractions of the greater Fez metropolitan area are the "women-witches," who, in addition to their relations with devils, engage in an unsavory practice that the concerned residents of Fez find offensive:
[T]he wiser and honester sort of people call these women Sahaoat, which in Latin signifieth Fricatrices, because they haue a damnable custome to commit vnlawfull Venerie among themselues, which I cannot expresse in any modester termes. If faire women come vnto them at any time, these abominable witches will burne in lust towardes them no otherwise then lustie yoonkers doe towards yoong maides, and will in the diuels behalfe demaunde for a rewarde, that they may lie with them: and so by this meanes it often falleth out, that thinking thereby to fulfill the diuels command they lie with the witches. (148-9)
In violation of more than one city ordinance, the fair women are tricked into seeking the devil's favor through intercourse with the witches. The greater victim of these crimes is, of course, the husband: Some wives
will desire the companie of these witches, and faining themselues to be sicke, will either call one of the witches home to them, or will send their husbands for the same purpose: and so the witches perceiuing how the matter stands, will say that the woman is possessed with a diuell, and that she can no way be cured, vnlesse she be admitted into their societie. With these words her silly husband being persuaded, doth not onely permit her so to doe, but makes also a sumptuous banket vnto the damned crew of witches: which being done, they vse to daunce very strangely at the noise of drums: and so the poore man commits his false wife to their filthie disposition. (149)
As if the scenario was not ripe enough for a domestic comedy, our narrator mentions what happens when a husband gets a clue and gets even (i.e. folksy domestic violence):
Howbeit some there are that will soone coniure the diuell with a good cudgell out of their wiues. (149)
I'm not well read in witch narratives, so I wonder if this is a conventional topos that sees any repetition in the period. Either way, it's an elaborate scenario that I'll file away for when I compose my faux-Elizabethan drama titled The Merry Witches of Fez, wherein a Faire Wife is Seduced by the Damned Fricatrices and Cudgelled Forth from Sin by her most Faithfull Husbande, As it hath been Presented by the Children at Paules.


The Bitch of Armenia said...

I just noticed that Valerie Traub uses part of this passage in _The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England_, where she discusses the "manner of naming women erotically engaged with other women" (201). Unfortunately, her focus leads her to leave out the delightful line concerning spousal cudgeling.

DrRoy said...

Welcome to this strange corner of the blogosphere! It's the final week of my teaching term, and I am resting my blogging plough at the end of the furrow. Good post, this, which I must avoid working into my 'witchcraft and drama' course...

Anonymous said...

That's some awesome tags you're setting up for yourself here. Perhaps whole swathes of Blogger will start talking about fricatrices! Meanwhile, thankyou for the link. I shall reciprocate.