Several historians, in mentioning the ancient Persians, have dwelt with peculiar severity on the manner in which they treated their women. Jealous, almost to distraction, they confined the whole sex with the strictest attention, and could not bear that the eye of a stranger should behold the beauty whom they adored.
When Mahomet, the great legislator of the modern Persians, was just expiring, the last advice that he gave to his faithful adherents, was, “Be watchful of your religion, and your wives.” Hence they pretend to derive not only the power of confining, but also of persuading them, that they hazard their salvation, if they look upon any other man besides their husbands. The Christian religion informs us, that in the other world they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. The religion of Mahomet teaches us a different doctrine, which the Persians believing, carry the jealousy of Asia to the fields of Elysium, and the groves of Paradise; where, according to them, the blessed inhabitants have their eyes placed on the crown of their heads, lest they should see the wives of their neighbors.
To offer the least violence to a Persian woman, was to incur certain death from her husband or guardian. Even their kings, though the most absolute in the universe, could not alter the manners or customs of the country, which related to the fair sex.
Widely different from this is the present state of Persia. By a law of that country, their monarch is now authorized to go, whenever he pleases, into the harem of any of his subjects; and the subject, on whose prerogative he thus encroaches, so far from exerting his usual jealousy, thinks himself highly honored by such a visit.
A laughable story, on this subject, is told of Shah Abbas, who having got drunk at the house of one of his favorites, and intending to go into the apartment of his wives, was stopped by the door-keeper, who bluntly told him, “Not a man, sir, besides my master, shall put a mustachio here, so long as I am porter.” “What,” said the king, “dost thou not know me?” “Yes,” answered the fellow, “I know that you are king of the men, but not of the women.”