The perils of marrying an ignorant woman (however hot)

Ibn Abi Usaibia tells the story of an Egyptian physician and scholar, who evidently married a woman of no education, as some scholars have been led to do, down the centuries.  The consequences of this particular mistake have been pleasantly depicted by no less a hand than Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice.[1]  Here is what Ibn Abi Usaibia tells us of Ibn Fātik[2]:

Al-Mubashshir bin Fātik, i.e., the Emir Mahmūd al-Dawlah Abū ‘l Wafā’ al-Mubashshir ibn Fātik al-Amirī, was one of the most eminent emirs and most distinguished scholars of Egypt. He was always busily occupied, loved learning and was fond of meeting scholars, debating with them and putting to use what he imbibed from them. One of those with whom he associated and from whom he learnt a great deal about astronomy and mathematics was Abū `Alī Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haitham. He was also acquainted with Shaikh Abū ‘l-Husayn, known as al-Āmidī under whom he studied many philosophical disciplines. Moreover, he applied himself to medicine, keeping company with the physician Abū ‘l-Hasan Alī ibn Ridwān.

Al-Mubashshir ibn Fātik was the author of excellent works on logic and other philosophical disciplines, which have become renowned among specialists. He also engaged assiduously in copying books; I have seen numerous volumes in his handwriting, containing works by ancient authors. He acquired a huge number of books, many of which are still extant, but the color of their leaves has changed owing to immersion in water.

Shaikh Sadīd al-Dīn al-Mantiq told me in Cairo: “The Emir Ibn Fātik was eager to acquire knowledge and possessed a collection of books. On coming home, he spent most of his time with them, finding no better occupation than reading and writing and convinced that this was the most important pursuit. He had a wife of noble descent like him, of the family of one of the state dignitaries. After his death — may Allāh have mercy upon him — she betook herself with her maids to his library. She bore a grudge against the books, since her husband had devoted himself to them and neglected her. While bewailing him, she, together with her maids, threw the books into a large water basin in the center of the building. Later the books were retrieved and this is why the many books of Ibn Fātik which have been preserved are in such a state.”

I say: Among the pupils of al-Mubashshir ibn Fātik was Abū ‘l- Hair Salāma ibn Rahmūn.

Ibn Fātik wrote the following books:

1) “K. al-Wasāya wal-Amtāl wal-Mūgaz min Muhkam al-Aqwāl.”
2) “Choice Maxims and Best Sayings.”
3) “The Book of the Beginning,” on logic.
4) A book on medicine.

(After some thought I have refrained from posting an image of an “ignorant but hot” woman as an illustration.  I have a feeling it might give the wrong message).

  1. [1] Chapter 42: “Had Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly or their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments. To his wife he was very little otherwise indebted, than as her ignorance and folly had contributed to his amusement. This is not the sort of happiness which a man would in general wish to owe to his wife; but where other powers of entertainment are wanting, the true philosopher will derive benefit from such as are given.
  2. [2] Translated L. Kopf, p.705-6.

4 Responses to “The perils of marrying an ignorant woman (however hot)”


  1. Maureen

    My opinion of this story probably depends on how strict the purdah was. If the man was staying in his library having fun and ignoring his wife’s sad existance in durance vile (or even durance pleasant), he really was a stinker.

    Though it’s a bit hard on the books, to chuck them in a fountain or cistern.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Well you never know, of course. She probably had cause.

  3. EposNekerdes

    This also reminds me of Hedda Gabler, who burns Lovborg’s ingenious manuscript, although in that case, she actually spins it so that she is helping her husband’s academic career.

    More broadly, that play also explores at some length the same theme, with the bookish academic type married to the hot (though not stupid) woman, and the impulsive academic type who is “with” the ignorant woman (Thea).

  4. Roger Pearse

    I fear there are many examples of this story down the centuries. The luckier scholars marry a babe who is at least hot when they marry them. The less lucky ones marry some girl who just happens to be there at a vulnerable moment, and later find they have married a shrew as well as a stupid person.