The Nadim as a precursor of the Almeh, in the oration about medieval Middle Eastern Dances in al-Mas’udi Meadows of Gold.

Almeh or alima refers to a professional singing girl or dancer, and it also means a learned woman, and a scholar in many branches of learning. This status clearly negates the negative stereotypes of the meaning of almeh in modern times. The origin and multidisciplinary background of the almeh quite likely goes back to the nadim and zarif in the medieval Arabic courts.

The oration is the earliest and clearest description of Middle Eastern medieval dance. It was delivered not by a dancer or a choreographer, but by a boon-companion (drinking companion) and singer of the Caliph al-Mu’tamid (d. 279/892) and was reported in the Meadows of Gold of al-Mas’udi (d. 345/956). The singer was knowledgeable, as clearly apparent in the text, in both dance and music, and being a boon-companion (nadim) meant he was also a renaissance man. See below for the all rounded education of a nadim and his role in the court.

The medieval passage is short, extremely rich and quite difficult to comprehend for the modern Arab reader (For the complete passage, follow this link: It requires knowledge of Arabic medieval musicology; of ancient Greek rhythmic theory and aesthetics which influenced Arabic writings immensely; socio-cultural history of the broader Middle East, and that includes knowledge of both Arabic and Persian; and medieval Arabic narratives. For this reason I will be writing a number of posts about it.


The nadim or boon-companion, was highly educated individual, well-versed in music, dance, literature, poetry, prosody, grammar, history, narration of anecdotes, Qur’an, Hadith, jurisprudence, astrology, medicine, the art of cooking, preparation of beverages, horse-breeding, backgammon, chess, buffoonery, magic. The Egyptian scholar Ibn al-Tahhan (d. after 1057) adds the knowledge of jewelry, swords, furniture, and the sciences (Hawi al-Funun, fol. 70b). The nadim befriended the ruler and held a permanent position at his court, educating and entertaining him. In addition, the nadim had to be endowed with the qualities of a zarif, that is, a gentleman of good behavior who avoided joking and loose talk, a gentleman of virtue and refined and elegant manners. The zarif gave special attention to his clothes, which had to be clean and in good taste. He followed strict and genteel table manners, that is, took small mouthfuls, conversed and laughed only a little, chewed slowly, did not lick his fingers, and avoided eating food which gave bad odor to the breath. (For more details see Anwar Chejne, “The Boon-Companions in Early Abbasid Times, JAOS, 85 (1965), 327-335; George Sawa, Music Performace Practice in the Early Abbasid Era, p. 119). Ibn Tahhan adds to these qualities: nice smelling, no extravagant behavior, not drinking too much, keeping the secrets, only talking to answer a question when asked by a nobleman (Hawi al-Funun, fol. 70a-b). Singers with good character and knowledge added much to the refinement at the court. Those who behaved badly were kicked out.

The Arabic text can be found in al-Mas’udi, Muruj al-Dhahab, ed. C. Pellat, vol. 5, pp. 131-132 (Beirut 1965).

DEAR DANCERS: this is for your information and education, please share it, but do not plagiarized it. Thank you and see you in the next post.

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