The Dervish Who Knew Swedish
I found this story in Sven Hedin's My Life as an Explorer:
In 1863, a Swedish doctor of medicine, named Fagergren, came to live in Shiraz and spent thirty years in the City of Roses and Poets. He lies buried in the Christian churchyard there. One day a dervish pounded on his door. Fagergren opened it, and threw a copper coin to the beggar. The dervish exclaimed scornfully that he had not come to beg, but to convert the infidel to Islam. First give me a proof of your miraculous powers, demanded Fagergren. Yes, replied the dervish, I can speak in any language you may name. Well, then, said Fagergren in his own tongue, speak a little Swedish. The dervish lifted his voice, and in faultless Swedish recited some verses from Tegnér's Frithiof's Saga. Our good doctor was amazed. He could hardly trust his years. Then the dervish, thinking he had tormented the doctor long enough, removed his disguise and revealed himself as Arminius Vámbéry, professor of Oriental languages at the University of Budapest, who later became world-famous.
This book of Hedin, My Life as an Explorer, if you start reading it cannot be left. From Pole to Pole was my constant companion during childhood.
I looked on the web to find information on this doctor Fagergren. I found an article published in NY Times in 1853! Here is a fragment from the article:
Well, it seems that Hedin made a slight error in his book: he said that Dr. Fagergren had come to Shiraz in 1863, while the article in NY Times dates from 1853! So I searched a bit more the web. Here is what Bo Utaz says about Conrad Gustav Fagergren in Encyclopaedia Iranica:
(b. Stockholm, 7 August 1818, d. Shiraz, 10 October 1879), Swedish physician in Shiraz, 1266-96/1848-79. Fagergren was the son of a wood-carver and was first trained as a bath attendant and barber-surgeon. Later he studied medicine in Stockholm and traveled in Europe, eventually enrolling in Russian military service. While with an army corps in Circassia, he was captured but escaped to Istanbul and became captain surgeon in the Turkish army. He proceeded to Persia, arriving in Tehran in 1265/1847. There he attracted the favor of Moḥammad Shah (1250-64/1834-48), but after the shah’s death he fled to Shiraz, where he served as physician and medical officer to the governor.
As for Vámbéry, the fake dervish, he was a remarkable linguist and a great traveler: he was able to reach, under the disguise of a Sunni dervish, Trebizond, Tehran, Tabriz, Zanjan, Kaswin, Ispahan, Shiraz (where he met Fagergren, as we see), Khiva, Bokhara, Samarkand, and Herut on his way back to Constantinople. The guy knew about 20 Ottoman dialects! He considered that Turksih and Hungarian have common origin; here's what the article in Wikipedia says:
Furthermore, he enthusiastically advocated the theory of a close Turkish-Hungarian linguistic relationship, provoking a harsh scientific and political debate in Hungary. Vámbéry argued that the similarities between Turkish and Hungarian pointed to a common origin for the two languages in Northern Asia. This theory was opposed by followers of the Finno-Ugric theory of the origins of Hungarian, who gradually triumphed in Hungary but not in Turkey. In Turkey, Hungarian and Turkish are still considered as two branches of the same language family, the Ural-Altaic.
I have just bought his autobiography on the Amazon (The Life and Adventures of Arminius Vambéry: Written by Himself. With an Appreciation by Max Nordau).
As for Frithiofs Saga, the poem of Bishop Tegnér was based on an ancient lore; here's how it starts in Old Norse:
Beli hefir konungr heitit, er réð fyrir Svignafylki. Hann átti tvá sonu ok eina dóttur. Helgi hét sonr hans, en annar Hálfdan. Dóttir hans er Ingibjörg nefnd. Hún var væn ok vitr ok at öllu fremst konungs barn.
If you feel uncomfortable, I found also an English translation:
Thus beginneth the tale, telling how that King Beli ruled over Sogn-land; three children had he, whereof Helgi was his first son, and Halfdan his second, but Ingibiorg his daughter. Ingibiorg was fair of face and wise of mind, and she was ever accounted the foremost of the king's children.
(German and Nordic Literature)
Labels: Sven Hedin