Observing how Western accounts of various minority communities in the Middle East evolved over time is a fascinating exercise. This is why I like to explore those accounts and present them in easily accessible translation for the readers of this blog. Recently I stumbled on a very interesting appendix entry on the Druze and Yezidis in a work called Veterum Persarum et Parthorum et Medorum Religionis Historia ('History of the Religion of the Ancient Persians, Parthians and Medes'), a Latin work by Thomas Hyde first published in 1700. It is also called Historia Religionis Veterum Persarum Eorumque Magorum ('History of the Religion of the Ancient Persians and their Magi'). Hyde was an English Orientalist at Oxford University and had mastered multiple Oriental languages. The work in question is best known for being an early Western examination of Zoroastrianism.
The account that Hyde presents of the Druze and Yezidis is almost wholly inaccurate but very interesting nonetheless. Hyde presents both communities as Kurdish ethnically, and traces the Druze in particular as a group going back to the times of antiquity before the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus. This portrayal is generally wrong (the Druze in general identify as an ethnically Arab community) but has a kernel of truth in it because at least one prominent Druze family (the Jumblatts) has Kurdish origins and that kernel of truth may be the source of Hyde's account of Druze ethnic origins. As for the Yezidis, the question of current ethnic identity is more complicated. Some Yezidis identify as Kurds, others do not. Hyde portrays the religion of the Druze as embodying worship of the black dog and the the religion of the Yezidis as worship of Satan.
While it is easy in retrospect to criticise Hyde for his inaccuracies, many of his misconceptions about the Druze and Yezidi religions could perhaps be traced to local Muslim and Christian prejudices against these minority groups. Note for example the account Hyde presents of Maslawi Christian and Muslim derision of the Yezidis. Further, in his account of a supposed Druze orgy festival, Hyde traces the account to the friend of a certain local Latakian informant called Andréas Phárah (/Farah), who then relayed it to Hyde.
Below is the appendix entry in Latin with my translation. I have included my own footnotes for contextual purposes where necessary. For the sake of authenticity, I have mostly preserved the author's original transliterations of names.
In this appendix are contained certain particular sections of dissertations dealt with earlier in a very light manner, which (since in their own places they had to be considered as amounting to digressions) we had decided to insert into the preface, with the appendix having been omitted previously. But afterwards (since they multiplied), it was decided to add an appendix, and to throw the aforementioned sections into the same place. So if previously we sometimes send the reader back to the preface, now he is to be advised to approach the appendix.
1. On page 36 are mentioned the Calbii and Durzii etc. These people are less correctly called Durcaei by certain Europeans, and by Benjaminus in the Hebraic Itinerary[i] Dûgzii (דוגזי) for Dûrzii (דורזי). In Rawolfius Itinerary part 2 section 13, they are called Trusci. For the inhabitants of Syria, they hear Dúrzi (درزي) or in the plural form Durûzi (دروزي). These are of the current inhabitants of Mount Lebanon and Curdistania,[ii] who deeply seek the origin of their very bad religion, some from Noach,[iii] others from the antediluvian Patriarch Enoch, and also from Seth. Today various peoples of the Curds in Lebanon and Curdistân follow this wretched religion contained in the book called Sóhuph Sheit (صحف شيث) (which therefore we call: of Seth). So they are called Dúrzii, and Homéidii (حميدي), and they are thus called by some Kelbii (كلبي) or Calbii- i.e. Canicularii (for Kelb or Calb is dog) because they worship the black dog. The same thing is done in the mountains of Curdistan or Gordyaea[iv] by those Curdi[v] who are called Yezidi or Yezidaei, who also hold in much esteem the black dog and anything black on account of the colour (as is believed) of the Devil, whom they venerate and who is called by them Ustâd (أستاذ): i.e. Master. And the priest of the Yezidaei (who proceeds clothed in black as the suitable disciple of such a master) is called by them Murîd al-Yezidi (مريد اليزيدي): i.e. the Yezidaen disciple. But all the people of this group are called by the Mohammedans[vi] and Christians: Sheitáni (شيطاني): i.e. Satanic, Diabolic. This is because they profess that Satan is their Pyr (پیر) or Sheich (شيخ) [vii]: i.e. their teacher. For (as the Orientals say), whoever does not have a teacher, the Devil will be his teacher. These people deny the resurrection, and are of the middle opinion between the Mohammedans and Pagans. They think God is (علي), not Ali, but Alî or high. They recognise His existence, but do not worship Him.
When the wretched people of this sort come from Gordyaea to the forum of the city of Mausil,[viii] the Mausilensian Christians and the Turks[ix] normally mock them, for if by chance they find such a Yezidaean among themselves, they normally form on the ground a circle around him, from which he thinks that he cannot get out on account of superstition, until the said circle should be broken by someone. And in the meantime (while he cannot get out) they harass him by shouting Náalat Sheitan: i.e. May the Devil be cursed. Thus indeed the common people incorrectly proclaim Náalat instead of ( لعنة) Láanat. Nonetheless no Christian or Turk situated in any way by chance among the Yezidaei ventures to call the horseshoe (which nearly approaches Naalat) Náal (نعل) or pronounce the sound Náal on any occasion, lest by chance he should be understood as having cursed the Devil, because he fears they would immediately butcher him. And so the horseshoe is rather normally called (أرضي) Ardî, which is nearest to earth.
Those Durûzi were once in mount Lebanon before the times of Herodotus, by whom they are called Δηρουσιαιοι,[x] from whom the kings of the ancient Persians would recruit soldiers. And the aforementioned Calbii are those who in D. Sponius Article I, are called in an old inscription Calbienses Coh. III: that is, soldiers of the third Cohort whom the Romans had once recruited from the Calbii who inhabit Mount Lebanon and were a people most strong in war from among those Curdi who had once been masters of Egypt. Concerning this matter, see Abu Mohammed Mustapha. The aforementioned inscription is contained on a stone dedicated to the Sun, which seems from the inscribed characters to have been carried from Palmyra to Rome. As an example of their fortitude are certain civil battles or struggles which lasted for some years in Syria before the middle of the last century and were between the mountain chiefs and the inhabitants of the plains, in which wars it was indeed established that the mountain people always prevailed.[xi] Indeed those who have been born in colder air, have been endowed with greater strength, as is the case with peoples everywhere. Thus it was that Othmân[xii] once the emperor of the Turks, sensing some defect in the fortitude of his Janizarii,[xiii] intended to lay these people aside and recruit an army for himself from the Curdi, by the counsel of his Vezîr.
But the Janizarii perceived that and butchered their emperor. Among these people were once the Hassâsîn (حساسين) or Assasini about whom one should consult the writers of the Holy War. The name Hassâsîn means butchers or killers and sicarii, who dared to attack anything.
All these peoples of Lebanon and Gordyaea have on an annual basis the nightly festival of their Bacchanalia on the Calends of January, about which rite I was informed by our friend called Andréas Phárah a Ladikensian[xiv] Syrian by nation. A certain friend of his narrated to him that he once secretly participated in the aforementioned Bacchanalia (this charming thing). So after the drinking and eating together of the men and women in the evening, they all rushed promiscuously into illicit sex. The aforementioned companion, having previously seen a young maiden who was sitting next to a little old woman, intended his mind towards her. And so when the lights were extinguished, he unknowingly in the dark had fallen onto both of these women, and by the spur of bad luck he fell onto the little old woman; and in order to be more certain, he explored with his finger the mouth of that women to see whether she was toothless. After this was done, that little old woman immediately exclaimed: (غريب غريب), i.e. a stranger, a stranger! But he soon escaped for his own life. And so these sacred solemnities of theirs are the profane works of the darkness.
[i] Referring to Benjamin of Tudela's Itineraries. As for the citation of Rawolfius in the next sentence, it is referring to the work of Leonhard Rauwolf, a German botanist and physician who travelled in the Middle East in the late sixteenth century and wrote an account of it.
[iv] Also called Corduene. This is the name of an ancient region that existed south of Lake Van (modern-day south-east Turkey).
[vi] The Muslims.
[ix] Here, Turk is effectively synonymous with Muslim.
[x] Cf. Herodotus Histories 1:125:
ἄλλοι δὲ Πέρσαι εἰσὶ οἵδε, Πανθιαλαῖοι Δηρουσιαῖοι Γερμάνιοι. οὗτοι μὲν πάντες ἀροτῆρες εἰσί, οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νομάδες, Δάοι Μάρδοι Δροπικοὶ Σαγάρτιοι.
('But there are other Persians who are these people: the Panthialaians, Derousiains, Germanians. While all these people are farmers, the others are nomads: Daans, Mardans, Dropikans, Sagartians').
[xi] The reference here appears to be to the conflict between the Druze leader Fakhr al-Din II and the Ottomans in the 1620s and 1630s.
[xii] Osman II, who was Ottoman emperor in the period 1618-1622. He was overthrown from power and killed in a Janissary uprising, as the Janissaries felt threatened by his attempts to form a new army more loyal to him.
[xiii] The Janissaries.
(Update 23 February 2021: issues with transcription of accents fixed. Also added to the first endnote on the citation of Leonhard Rauwolf).