From our encampment near the shore of this famous lake [Lake Urmia] to the city or Mârâgâ [Maragheh] is eighteen miles: we made this march at night. Moollâh Adeenah, the story-teller of his majesty, was one of our party. The Elchee [ambassador] asked him to beguile the weariness of our road with a tale.
‘How many farsekhs* long do you wish it?’ was his reply.
‘At least five,’ was the answer.
‘I can exactly suit you,’ said the Moollâh; ‘you shall have Ahmed the cobbler.’
I could not help laughing at this mode of measuring a tale; but I was assured it was a common custom, arising out of the calculation professed story-tellers were compelled to make of the leisure of their hearers. All further remarks upon this usage were put an end to, by Moollâh Adeenah desiring us to be silent and attentive; his wish being complied with, he commenced as follows:
‘In the great city of Isfahan lived Ahmed the cobbler, an honest and industrious man…’ [the retelling of the story takes 19 pages ]”.
* 1 farsekh = c. 3 miles = 5 kilometres
Sketches of Persia, from the journals of a traveller in the East, London: J. Murray, 1845 , p. 252 (first published in 1827).
Illustration inspired by Bushman rock paintings in the Cederberg, South Africa