Read an Excerpt
About the Author
A Note on the Text and the Translator
The Story of King Shahryar and His Brother
The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey
The Tale of the Merchant and the Jinnee
The First Sheikh’s Story
The Second Sheikh’s Story
The Third Sheikh’s Story
The Fisherman and the Jinnee
The Tale of King Yunan and the Sage Duban
The Tale of King Sinbad and His Falcon
The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot
The Tale of the Prince and the Ogress
The Tale of the Enchanted Prince
The Ebony Horse
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
Julnar the Mermaid and Her Son Badar Basim of Persia
The Tale About the Thief of Alexandria and the Chief of Police
Prince Behram and the Princess Al-Datma
The Tale of the Three Apples
The Tale of Nur al-Din Ali and His Son
The Hunchback’s Tale
The Christian Broker’s Tale
The Steward’s Tale
The Jewish Doctor’s Tale
The Tailor’s Tale
The Barber’s Tale of Himself
The Barber’s Tale of His First Brother
The Barber’s Tale of His Second Brother
The Barber’s Tale of His Third Brother
The Barber’s Tale of His Fourth Brother
The Barber’s Tale of His Fifth Brother
The Barber’s Tale of His Sixth Brother
The End of the Barber’s Tale
The End of the Hunchback’s Tale
The Hedgehog and the Pigeons
The Tale of the Merchant and the Two Thieves
The Tale of the Thief and His Monkey
The Tale of the Foolish Weaver
The Wily Dalilah and Her Daughter Zaynab
The Tale of Judar and His Brothers
Sinbad the Seaman and Sinbad the Landsman
The First Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
The Second Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
The Third Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
The Fourth Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
The Fifth Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
The Sixth Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad the Seaman
Conclusion: The Marriage of King Shahryar and Scheherazade
The story of the book called The Arabian Nights, it has been said, is a story worthy of being in The Arabian Nights. Three centuries have passed since the publication of the first European translation of the book, whose Arabic title translates as The Thousand and One Nights. The appearance of the work in Europe divides the story of the Nights into two chapters. The first chapter is a dimly known tale. It is the history of the medieval Arabic work. A glimpse of the book is caught—and then centuries pass. The second chapter is a much better known tale, but it is also exceedingly complicated. It is the history of the modern work—or works, I should say, for the title The Arabian Nights now really refers to many works. It is a tale with surprising twists, and a gallery of piquant characters—adventurers, scholars, eccentrics, rogues. Indeed, the translator of the stories in this volume was all of those things. Here I may do no more than mention what is most essential and notable in that long story. Our knowledge of the development of the medieval Arabic work is sketchy, and there are two versions of it. The first is what might be called the consensus version. The second is the “minority report.”
The earliest evidence for the book is a ninth-century papyrus found in Egypt. The papyrus bears the title “the Book of the Tale of the Thousand Nights,” and it contains the beginning of an early version of the Frame Tale. In it the slave girl Dinazad asks her mistress, Shirizad, to tell a pleasant story to pass the night. Their names are Persian, and the tenth-century historian al-Masoudi tells us in his history The Meadows of Gold that a book called Alf Layla (A Thousand Nights) was an Arabic translation of a Persian work, the Hazar Afsaneh, or Thousand Tales. Masoudi says that it is a collection of stories translated from Persian, Indian and Greek sources, and he mentions a Frame Tale about a king, his minister, the minister’s daughter and her slave. Later in the tenth century, the bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim mentions the book near the end of his vast bibliography. He describes the Frame Tale in somewhat more detail than al-Masoudi; he tells us that the king would marry a woman and kill her in the morning until he married the daughter of his minister, a woman named Shahrazad, who tricked him into letting her live by telling him a story she left unfinished at dawn. This, Ibn al-Nadim says, went on for a thousand nights, during which time Shahrazad bore a son for the king, who then decided to keep her alive. It is, Ibn al-Nadim concludes, “a vulgar work, written in a bad style.” From the twelfth century, a loan record from a Jewish bookseller in Cairo mentions the book’s title, The Thousand and One Nights. The fifteenth-century Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi quotes thirteenth-century Spanish-Arabic sources who claim that the book circulated in Cairo in the time of the Fatimid dynasty, say the later eleventh century.
On the basis of these facts, and the internal evidence of the stories themselves, there is general agreement that an Arabic translation of a Persian story collection formed the core of the Nights. The Persian collection itself probably began as a translation of an Indian collection—the device of a frame tale itself is often considered an Indian literary device. The Arabic translation was probably made in Baghdad in the eighth or ninth century, when Baghdad was the center of a vast translation project funded by the Abbasid caliphs. Apart from that single tantalizing fragment in the ninth-century papyrus, the earliest surviving manuscript for the Nights dates from the fourteenth century. If we compare the beginning of the Frame Tale in that manuscript with the ninth-century version, we see that the slave and mistress have become sisters, and the title of the work has become Alf Layla wa Layla, The Thousand and One Nights. The usual course has been to posit first a Baghdad layer of stories being added to the translation, and then later another layer of stories being added in Cairo. Possibly Damascus also was the source of additional tales. In this view, the book grew slowly over the course of six or seven centuries, until in the late medieval period, say the fourteenth or fifteenth century, there existed a work similar to the modern Arabic editions first printed in Egypt and India in the nineteenth century known as the Bulaq and Second Calcutta editions.
There is, as I said, a revisionist view put forth by Muhsin Mahdi. Mahdi has argued that the late-medieval work was much smaller than the versions in the Egyptian manuscripts used to make the Bulaq and Calcutta II editions. It was, in his view, perhaps a quarter of the length of the nineteenth-century Arabic editions. Most of the stories found in those editions, Mahdi argues, were added in response to European demand for more stories, to a shorter and more coherent Syrian work.
My own position is the former, though here I can do no more than touch on the main reasons for it.* The Nights was an unusual work by the standards of medieval Arabic literature. For one thing, its contents were never, it seems, strictly settled. This is due in part to the tale usually known simply as the Frame Tale, the story of Shahrazad and Shahriyar, a story of astonishing content and remarkable form. It is a story constructed to contain other stories, a limitless number of other stories, the stories Shahrazad tells Shahriyar at night in order to defer her death. And it seems that the Nights grew slowly through the Middle Ages, as more and more popular tales were inserted into the Frame Tale. The fact that the Nights was a popular fiction also accounts in part for its permeable borders. The disparaging remarks of Ibn al-Nadim are significant in this respect: It was not the sort of work that a respectable medieval writer would take the time to edit carefully. Hence, it is difficult to say in many cases whether certain stories were or were not a part of the work. As a result of Mahdi’s research, we now know a great deal more about the history of the work, but to conclude, as Mahdi does, that stories about Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad do not “belong” in the Nights misses the point. And the point is that due to the popularity of the work in its many European versions, The Arabian Nights now really refers to something like a family of works.
The modern history of the Nights begins in 1704, with Antoine Galland’s translation into French of a three- or possibly four-volume Arabic manuscript sent to him in Paris. Galland had spent some years in Istanbul, where he was attached to the French embassy to the Ottoman court as a translator of Oriental languages, Turkish, Persian and Arabic. The manuscript of The Thousand and One Nights sent to him in Paris was of Syrian origin, and in 1704, he brought out the first two volumes of his translation Les mille et une nuits. They were an immediate popular success, and soon cheap translations of his translation were made into all the other major European languages.
To Galland belongs much of the credit for the success of the Nights in all the various forms in Western literature it would ultimately take. To comprehend how he shaped his translation, it must be understood that our concept of what translation is differs from the prevalent view in Galland’s era—and indeed from the concept of translation that would hold sway a century later. Galland treated his Arabic manuscript sources with considerable freedom, and in three ways his changes were critical for the work’s subsequent success. First, he bowdlerized the text; second, he made other changes in the stories that he felt necessary for the literary tastes of his time; and third, it seems he inserted Arabic stories not found in his manuscripts—some of the most famous stories in European editions of the Nights are so-called “orphan stories”—stories, that is, that appeared in Galland’s translation for which no Arabic manuscript version has yet been found. The most outstanding examples are “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” All of these things, but especially his censorship of racy episodes, paved the way for the numerous children’s adaptations of stories that would appear for the next two centuries. The influence of the children’s editions can hardly be overestimated. For at least the next two centuries, probably the only work that exercised greater influence on European literature was the Bible. For numerous European and American writers, a childhood reading of stories from the Nights was their first experience of the power of imaginative literature (see, for example, the numerous references to the Nights in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past).
The popular success of Galland’s translation notwithstanding, it was only in the latter part of the eighteenth century that other Arabists would take note of it and begin to delve into its medieval Arabic sources. And then Galland’s translation was also decisive in a rather different way. Study of Galland’s work and the three-volume manuscript in the Bibliothèque nationale of France suggests that he also worked from another manuscript, now lost (the three-volume manuscript also may be missing a fourth volume). What is more, at a certain point in his translation, Galland abandoned the device of the divisions into Nights; Volume 6 concluded with Night 236, and Volume 7 began with a justification for dropping the device. As a result of these things, doubts would ultimately arise as to whether he had translated the entirety of the Arabic work. In 1776, an English scholar, for example, would claim that Galland’s translation covered only about half the stories in the Arabic versions. As a result, our assortment of scholars, adventurers and rogues began searching for the rest of the stories—and they found them. Or at least they found more stories, the stories whose inclusion in the Nights is disputed by Mahdi.
Be that as it may, the results of this new interest were twofold: the first printed Arabic editions were made, and new translations were made based on these Arabic editions.
Between the years 1814 and 1818, the first printed Arabic edition of the Nights was published in Calcutta, under the supervision of the College of Fort William, which had been established by the British colonial government of India. But it was an “incomplete” edition, containing only two hundred nights and the story of Sinbad. Then, in 1835, the first “complete” edition in Arabic—an edition divided into one thousand and one nights—was printed in Cairo. This is known as the Bulaq edition—Bulaq being the district in Cairo where the first printing press in the Arab world had been established by the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali. Then, between 1839 and 1842, another “complete” edition of the Nights was published in Calcutta. Now known as the Second Calcutta edition, it was largely based on the Bulaq edition. Bulaq and Calcutta II would serve as the sources for most subsequent European translations. Of these translations, two in English that preceded Burton’s must be mentioned here, those of Edward Lane and John Payne.
Lane was an Orientalist scholar who resided many years in Cairo. He is remembered today for three works: his Arabic-English lexicon (unfinished at his death), a classic account of contemporary Egyptian society called The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, and his translation of the Nights. Between the years 1838 and 1841, Lane published his translation of the Nights, based on the Bulaq edition, in which he attacked Galland’s work in his preface: “I assert that Galland has excessively perverted the work. His acquaintance with Arab manners and customs was insufficient to preserve him always from errors of the grossest description.” Unfortunately, Lane himself took a number of freedoms with the Bulaq text. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he was thoroughly Victorian in his morals, and he too censored the Bulaq text. So his work was no advance on Galland’s in that respect. What is perhaps worse, he left out those stories he considered inferior, only providing summaries of them in his notes. And he also left out most of the poetry found in the Bulaq edition since he considered it inferior. Much of it is mediocre, but if one claims to be producing a “faithful” translation, then it clearly belongs in the text.
Around 1876, John Payne began a new English translation based on Calcutta II. Payne was what today would be called an “independent scholar.” Besides learning a number of European languages, he also taught himself Turkish, Persian and Arabic. His translation was not heavily censored like Lane’s, but he had a weakness for archaic English words and expressions, which found their way into his translation. Those who liked Lane’s translation attacked Payne’s, and it was their barrage of criticism that attracted the attention of Richard Burton, then languishing as British consul in Trieste.
Even among the colorful cast of characters drawn to the Nights, Burton stands out, but I will mostly comment from the standpoint of an Arabist since Professor Zipes discusses him in his “Note on the Text and the Translator,” which follows this introduction. Most Arabists would, I think, agree that Burton’s translation is the most useful for dealing with difficulties in a text like Calcutta II. Although Burton reused a good deal of Payne’s translation, with Payne’s permission, because Burton was in a hurry—he was always in a hurry, it seems—he clearly superseded Payne by translating everything. That is its chief value. Its greatest drawbacks are the racist descriptions with which he embellished certain stories, the Frame Tale most prominently, and the fact that his prose is quite difficult to read. Zipes’s adaptation is really a translation of Burton’s peculiar English style. Burton’s claim that his idiom was somehow close to that of the Arabic as found in the Calcutta II is patent nonsense. There are many styles of Arabic found in Calcutta II, as one would expect in a book composed by many different hands. But, in general, the prose style of the Arabic is fairly plain, especially when compared with other medieval Arabic prose texts. The editors of Calcutta II and Bulaq fixed most of the colloquial Arabic found in the various manuscripts of the Nights (though not all of it). But Burton’s language has nothing to do with any of that. It is simply his own bizarre concoction. Hence the great value of Zipes’s “translation.”
Elsewhere I have used the term “economy” to describe the narrative style of the Arabic text of Bulaq and Calcutta II. By this I mean that once the storyteller settles on a way of describing an episode, he tends to reuse it. For example, if an event in a story is later described by a character in the story, the wording will almost repeat the original narration with only the necessary changes in pronouns. Dialogue is also repeated verbatim; each of the three Sheikhs addresses the same questions to the merchant in “The Tale of the Merchant and the Jinnee”: “Why are you sitting in this place? Don’t you know it’s the abode of jinn?” Descriptions of characters involve a similar sort of economy. Beauty is described with the same phrases again and again, with hardly any distinction made between males and females, so that every pretty face in the Nights looks like all the other pretty faces. In general there is no attempt to set the scene. If an object is mentioned, it will almost certainly function in the plot. The recycling in the “complete editions” can extend also to episodes and even whole plots. Some sorts of repetition are sometimes attributed to techniques of oral composition, but whatever their source, the cumulative effect of many of the repetitions is to give the Nights the feel of dream narrative.
The other outstanding feature of narrative in the Nights is, of course, the way in which tales are told within other tales. The Frame Tale is the obvious example. This technique is, as I said before, often thought to be of Indian origin since it is a characteristic of the much older Panchatantra. But the artistry of the technique in the Nights surpasses that of the Panchatantra. There stories are hung on didactic pegs: “If you do that, then that which happened to weasel with the snake will happen to you.” In the Nights, however, the didactic frame is the least common way of introducing another story within a story. More commonly, the story is told to answer one of two questions. Either it explains how a character who is part of the preceding story arrived in that situation, or it is in response to the question “Has anyone ever heard a more amazing story?” as in “The Merchant and the Jinnee.” The technique is not merely formal, for these stories dispense with the overt didacticism of a work like Panchatantra in order to link the tales by means of thematic resonances. They “show” rather than “tell,” to fall back on an old (and admittedly artificial) distinction. The outstanding example—for this reader—is “The Hunchback’s Tale,” which frames eleven other tales that all in one way or another chart the vicissitudes of desire in the social circuits of power.
The story of the Nights is the story of a marginalized medieval Arabic work that in its modern guises conquers the world. Galland’s publication of his first two volumes in 1704 pulled the stopper from the bottle, and the jinnee of the Nights escaped. Like a shape-shifting jinnee, the Nights would henceforth take many different guises, and through them, it would adapt itself to literary tastes all around the world. It is a story that, as the recurrent phrase has it, could “be written in letters of gold on the inner corner of the eye.” The Arabian Nights has become one of the essential texts in what is sometimes called “world literature.” Long before Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse, The Arabian Nights conquered the world market. Jack Zipes has provided a valuable service in making one of the important editions available—and readable—to a new generation of readers.
A Note on the Text and the Translator
This adaptation is based on Richard F. Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainment, 10 vols. (Benares: Kamashastra Society, 1885–86). Considered one of the greatest scholar-explorers of the nineteenth century, Burton (1821–90) was the son of a retired lieutenant colonel and was educated in France and Italy during his youth. By the time he enrolled at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1840, he could speak French and Italian fluently along with the Béarnais and Neapolitan dialects, and he had an excellent command of Greek and Latin. In fact, he had such an extraordinary gift as a linguist that he eventually learned twenty-five other languages and fifteen dialects. Yet this ability was not enough to help him adapt to the life and proscriptions at Oxford. He soon encountered difficulties with the Oxford administration and was expelled in 1842. His troubles there may have been due to the fact that he was raised on the Continent and never felt at home in England.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Burton enlisted in the British army and served eight years in India as a subaltern officer. During his time there, he learned Arabic, Hindi, Marathi, Sindhi, Punjabi, Teugu, Pasto, and Miltani, which enabled him to carry out some important intelligence assignments, but he was eventually forced to resign from the army because some of his espionage work became too controversial. After a brief respite (1850–52) with his mother in Boulogne, France, during which time he published four books on India, Burton explored the Nile Valley and was the first Westerner to visit forbidden Moslem cities and shrines. In 1855 he participated in the Crimean War, then explored the Nile again (1857–58), and in 1860 he took a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to do research for a biography of Brigham Young. In 1861, Burton married Isabel Arundell, the daughter of an aristocratic family, and accepted a position as consul in Fernando Po, a Spanish island off the coast of West Africa, remaining until 1864. Thereafter, he was British consul in Santos, Brazil (1864–68), Damascus, Syria (1868–71), and finally Trieste, Italy, until his death in 1890. Wherever he went, Burton wrote informative anthropological and ethnological studies such as Sindh, and the Races That Inhabit the Valley of the Indus (1851) and Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Mecca (1855–56), composed his own poetry such as The Kasidah (1880), and translated unusual works of erotica such as the Kama Sutra (1883) and significant collections of folk tales such as Basile’s The Pentamerone (1893). Altogether he published forty-three volumes about his explorations and travels, over one hundred articles, and thirty volumes of translations.
Burton’s Nights is generally recognized as one of the finest unexpurgated translations of William Hay Macnagh- ten’s Calcutta II edition (1839–42). The fact is, however, that Burton plagiarized a good deal of his translation from John Payne’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (1882–84) so that he could publish his book quickly and acquire the private subscribers to Payne’s edition. Payne (1842–1916), a remarkable translator and scholar of independent means, had printed only five hundred copies of his excellent unexpurgated edition, for he had not expected much of a demand for the expensive nine-volume set. However, there were a thousand more subscribers who wanted his work, and since Payne was indifferent with regard to publishing a second edition, Burton received Payne’s permission to offer his “new” translation to these subscribers about a year after Payne’s work had appeared. Moreover, Burton profited a great deal from Payne’s spadework (apparently with Payne’s knowledge).
This is not to say that Burton’s translation (which has copious anthropological notes and an important “Terminal Essay”) should not be considered his work. He did most of the translation by himself, and only toward the end of his ten volumes did he plagiarize, although he kept his own style and apparently referred to the original text with regard to questions of interpretation. In contrast to Payne, Burton was more meticulous in respecting word order and the exact phrasing of the original; he included the division into nights with the constant intervention of Scheherazade and was more competent in translating the verse. Moreover, he was more insistent on emphasizing the erotic and bawdy aspects of the Nights. As he remarked in his introduction, his object was “to show what The Thousand Nights and a Night really is. Not, however, for reasons to be more fully stated in the Terminal Essay, by straining verbum reddere verbo, but by writing as the Arab would have written in English.”
The result was a quaint, even bizarre and somewhat stilted English that makes for difficult reading today. Even in his own day his language was obsolete, archaic, and convoluted. Therefore, I have endeavored to rework Burton’s accurate but difficult translation into a more modern English idiom while trying to retain the flavor of his original and some of his stock phrases and mannerisms. To make his translation flow more smoothly I have eliminated redundant elements and garrulous passages. In addition, I have discarded all the poetry, since most of the poems were inserted later into the tales, often without reason, and I have changed the spelling of some of the characters’ names and place-names. My small selection of tales from Burton’s comprehensive ten volumes and his publication of supplemental tales has been made with an eye toward representing the various types of narratives that are in the larger collection: the fairy tale, the parable, the didactic tale, the fable, the legend, the jest, the anecdote, the apocryphal tale, etc. The two famous tales “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” did not appear in Burton’s original collection of the Nights but in his supplementary edition. His translation of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” was based on the Arabic manuscript published first in France under the title Histoire d’ Alá al-Din ou La Lampe Merveilleuse, Texte Arabe (1888), edited by Hermann Zotenberg; and the translation of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” was based on a nineteenth-century Hindustani version of Hazar Dastan (“The Thousand Tales”) by Totaram Sháyán. Most of my selections are well-known; others have been, in my opinion, unduly neglected. They are all included within the framework of Scheherazade’s narrative that lends the collection its special meaning and charm, which I hope I have managed to convey.
I would like to express my gratitude to Susan Rogers, who initiated this project, and to Rosemary Ahern, who supervised its completion with great care and concern. I also benefited from the fine editing of the tales by Ted Johnson. Finally, I should like to thank the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, which provided me with a grant in 1989–90 that enabled me to undertake and complete the research for this project.
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, who bestows His mercy on all! Praise be to Allah, the Beneficent King, the Creator of the Universe, Lord of the Three Worlds, and grace and blessing be upon Our Lord Mohammed, Prince of the Apostles!
Verily the works and words of our ancestors have become signs and examples to people of our modern age so that they may view what happened to other folk and take heed; so that they may peruse the annals of ancient peoples and read about everything they have experienced and thereby be guided and restrained.
Praise, therefore, be to Him, who has made the histories of the past an admonition for our own time! Their legacy has been passed on to us in the tales called “The Arabian Nights,” together with their renowned legends and wonders.
And among these tales, thanks to the Omniscient and Almighty Allah, we have been given
The Story of King Shahryar and His Brother
A long time ago there was a mighty king of the Banu Sasan in the lands of India and China, and when he died, he left only two sons, one in the prime of manhood and the other still a youth, both brave cavaliers. But the elder was an especially superb horseman, and he became the successor to the empire and ruled the kingdom with such justice that he was beloved by all the people of his realm. His name was Shahryar, and he appointed his younger brother, Shah Zaman, king of Samarcan. In the years that followed, each brother was content to remain in his own kingdom, and each ruled with such equity and fairness that their subjects were extremely happy. Everything continued like this for twenty years, but at the end of that time, Shahryar yearned to see his younger brother once more before he died.
So he asked his vizier whether he thought it would be a good idea to visit his brother, but the minister found such an undertaking inadvisable and recommended that he write his brother a letter of invitation and send him gifts under the vizier’s charge. Therefore, the king immediately ordered generous gifts to be prepared, such as horses that had saddles lined with gold and jewels, mamelukes, beautiful maidens, high-breasted virgins, and splendid and expensive cloth. He then wrote a letter to Shah Zaman expressing his strong desire to see him, and he ended it with these words: “I, therefore, hope that my beloved brother will honor me with his visit, and I am sending my vizier to make arrangements for the journey. My one and only desire is to see you before I die. If you refuse my request, I shall not survive the blow. May peace be with you!” Then King Shahryar sealed the letter, gave it to the vizier, and urged him to do his utmost to return as soon as possible.
“Your wish is my command,” said the vizier, who began making all the preparations without delay. All this work occupied him three days, and on the dawn of the fourth he took leave of his king and journeyed over hills, deserts, and pleasant valleys without stopping night or day. Of course, whenever he entered a realm whose lord was under the rule of King Shahryar, he would be greeted with magnificent gifts and all kinds of fair and rare presents, and he would be obliged to stay there for three days, the customary term for the ritual to honor guests. And when he left on the fourth, he would be honorably escorted for one whole day to speed him on his way.
As soon as the vizier drew near Shah Zaman’s court in Samarcan, he sent one of his high officials ahead to announce his arrival. This courier presented himself before the king, kissed the ground, and delivered his message. Thereupon, the king commanded various nobles and lords of his realm to go forth and meet his brother’s vizier a good day’s journey from his court. After they encountered him, they greeted him respectfully and formed an escort party. When the vizier entered the city, he proceeded straight to the palace, where he kissed the ground and prayed for the king’s health and happiness and for victory over his enemies. Then he informed the king that his brother was yearning to see him and presented the letter, which Shah Zaman took from his hand and read. When the king fully comprehended its import, he said, “I cannot refuse the wishes of my brother. However, we shall not depart until we have honored my brother’s vizier with three days of hospitality.”
Shah Zaman assigned suitable quarters in the palace for the minister, and he ordered tents pitched for the troops and gave them rations of meat, drink, and other necessities. On the fourth day he prepared himself for the trip, gathered together sumptuous presents befitting his elder brother’s majesty, and appointed his chief vizier to be viceroy of the land during his absence. Then he ordered his tents, camels, and mules to be brought forth, and he set up camp with their bales and loads, attendants and guards within sight of the city in order to set out early the next morning for his brother’s capital.
It so happened, however, that in the middle of the night he suddenly remembered he had forgotten a gift in his palace that he wanted to take to his brother. So he returned alone and entered his private chambers, where he found the queen, his wife, asleep on his own couch, and in her arms she held a black cook with crude features, smeared with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this, the world turned dark before his eyes, and he said, “If this is what happens while I am still within sight of the city, what will this damned whore do during my long absence at my brother’s court?”
So he drew his scimitar, cut the two in four pieces with a single blow, and left them on the couch. Soon thereafter he returned to his camp without letting anyone know what had happened. Then he gave orders for immediate departure and set out on his trip. Nevertheless, he could not help thinking about his wife’s betrayal, and he kept saying to himself over and over, “How could she have done this to me? How could she have brought about her own death?” until excessive grief seized him. His color changed to yellow, his body grew weak, and he appeared to be on the verge of death. So the vizier had to shorten the stages of the journey and remain longer at the watering places in order to take care of the king.
Now, when Shah Zaman finally approached his brother’s capital, he sent messengers to announce his arrival, and Shahryar came forth to meet him with the viziers, emirs, lords, and nobles of his realm. After saluting him, he was overcome with joy and ordered the city to be decorated in his honor. At the same time, however, Shahryar could not help but see how poor his brother’s health was, and he asked him what had happened.
“It’s due to the long, hard journey,” replied Shah Zaman, “and I’ll need some care, for I’ve suffered from the change of water and air. But Allah be praised for reuniting me with my beloved brother!”
Then the two entered the capital in all honor, and Shahryar lodged his brother in his palace overlooking the garden. After some time had passed, King Shahryar noticed that his brother’s condition was still unchanged, and he attributed it to his separation from his country. So he let him do as he pleased and asked him no questions until one day when he said, “My brother, I can’t help noticing that you’ve grown weaker and paler than you were before.”
“I’m sick in my heart,” he replied, but he would not tell Shahryar about his wife and all that he had seen.
Thereupon Shahryar summoned doctors and surgeons and asked them to treat his brother to the best of their ability, which they did for a whole month, but their potions had no effect, for he dwelled upon his wife’s treachery. Indeed, he became more and more despondent, and even the use of leeches failed to change his mood.
One day his elder brother said to him, “I’ve decided to go on a hunting expedition. Perhaps you’d feel better if you joined me.”
However, Shah Zaman declined and said, “I am not in the mood for anything like this, and I beseech you to let me stay quietly in the palace, for I can’t seem to get over this sickness.”
So, King Shah Zaman spent the night in the palace by himself. The next morning, after his brother had departed, he left his room and sat down at one of the lattice windows overlooking the garden. There he rested awhile and became steeped in sad thoughts about his wife’s betrayal, occasionally uttering sighs of grief. Now, as he was moaning and torturing himself, a secret door to the garden swung open, and out came twenty slave girls surrounding his brother’s wife, who was marvelously beautiful and moved about with the grace of a gazelle in search of a cool stream. Shah Zaman drew back from the window, but he kept the group in sight from a place where they could not spot him, even though they walked under the very window where he had stationed himself. As they advanced into the garden, they came to a jetting fountain amidst a great basin of water. Then they stripped off their clothes, and Shah Zaman suddenly realized that ten of them were women, concubines of the king, and the other ten were white slaves. After they had all paired off, the queen was left alone, but she soon cried out in a loud voice, “Come to me right now, my lord Saeed!” and all of a sudden a big slobbering blackamoor with rolling eyes leapt from one of the trees. It was truly a hideous sight. He rushed up to her and threw his arms around her neck, while she embraced him just as warmly. Then he mounted her, and winding his legs around hers, as a button loop clasps a button, he tossed her to the ground and enjoyed her. The other slaves did the same with the girls until they had all satisfied their passions, and they did not stop kissing, coupling, and carousing until the day began to wane. When the mamelukes rose from the bosoms of the maidens and the blackamoor slave let go of the queen, the men resumed their disguises, and all except the Negro, who climbed up the tree, left the garden via the secret door and reentered the palace.
Now, after Shah Zaman had witnessed this spectacle, he said to himself, “By Allah, my misfortune is nothing compared to my brother’s! Though he may be a greater king among kings than I am, he doesn’t even realize that this kind of perfidious behavior is going on in his very own palace, and his wife is in love with the filthiest of filthy slaves. This only proves that all women will make cuckolds out of their husbands when given the chance. Well, then, let the curse of Allah fall upon one and all and upon the fools who need the support of their wives or who place the reins of conduct in their hands!” So, he cast aside his melancholy and no longer had regrets about what he had done. Moreover, he constantly repeated his words to himself to minimize his sorrow and added, “No man in this world is safe from the malice of women!”
When suppertime arrived, the servants brought him the trays, and he ate with a voracious appetite, for he had refrained from eating a long time, no matter how delicious the food. Now he was able once again to give grateful thanks to Almighty Allah for the meal and for restoring his appetite, and he spent a most restful night, savoring the sweet food of sleep. The next day he ate his breakfast with a hearty appetite and began to regain his health and strength and was in excellent condition by the time his brother came back from the hunt ten days later. When Shah Zaman rode out to meet him, King Shahryar looked at him and was astonished by the remarkable change in his brother’s appearance, but Shah Zaman did not say or disclose a thing to him. Instead, the two just embraced, exchanged greetings, and rode into the city.
Later when they were seated at their ease in the palace, the servants brought them food, and they ate to their hearts’ content. After the meal was removed and they had washed their hands, King Shahryar turned to his brother and said, “I am astonished by the change in your condition. I had hoped to take you with me on the hunt, but I realized that your mind was sorely troubled by something, and you looked so pale and sickly. But now—glory be to God!—your natural color has returned to your face, and you’re in fine shape. I had believed that your sickness was due to the separation from your family, friends, and country, so I had refrained from bothering you with probing questions. But now I beseech you to explain the cause of your troubles and the reason for your recovery to such good health.”
When Shah Zaman heard this, he bowed his head toward the ground, and after a while he raised it and said, “I shall tell you what caused my troubles and bad health, but you must pardon me if I don’t tell you the reason for my complete recovery. Indeed, I beg you not to force me to explain everything that has happened.”
Shahryar was much surprised by these words and replied, “Let me hear first what caused you to become so sick and pale.”
“Well then,” began Shah Zaman, “it was like this. When you sent the vizier with your invitation, I made all sorts of preparations for three days and camped before my city to begin the journey early the next day. But that night I remembered that I had left a string of jewels in the palace that I intended to give to you as a gift. I returned for it alone and found my wife on my couch in the arms of a hideous black cook. So I slew the two and came to you. However, I could not help grieving about this affair and regretting what I had done. That’s why I lost my health and became weak. But you must excuse me if I refuse to tell you how I managed to regain my health.”
Shahryar shook his head, completely astonished, and with the fire of wrath flaming in his heart, he cried, “Indeed, the malice of woman is mighty! My brother, you’ve escaped many an evil deed by putting your wife to death, and your rage and grief are quite understandable and excusable, especially since you had never suffered anything as terrible as this before. By Allah, had this been me, I would not have been satisfied until I had slain a thousand women and had gone mad! But praise be to Allah, who has eased your tribulations, and now you must tell me how you regained your health so suddenly, and you must explain to me why you are being so secretive.”
“Oh brother, again I beg you to excuse me for refusing to talk about this!”
“But I insist.”
“I’m afraid that my story may cause you more anger and sorrow than I myself have suffered.”
“That’s even a better reason for telling me the whole story,” said Shahryar, “and in the name of Allah, I command you not to keep anything back from me!”
Thereupon Shah Zaman told him all he had seen from beginning to end, and he concluded his story by saying, “When I saw your misfortune, and your wife’s betrayal, my own sorrow seemed slight in comparison, and I became sober and sound again. So, discarding melancholy and despondency, I was able to eat, drink, and sleep, and thus I quickly regained my health and strength. This is the truth and the whole truth.”
After King Shahryar heard this tale, he became so furious that it seemed his rage might consume him. However, he quickly recovered his composure and said, “My brother, I don’t mean to imply that you have lied to me, but I can’t believe your story until I see everything with my own eyes.”
“If you want to witness your misfortune,” Shah Zaman responded, “rise at once and get ready for another hunting expedition. Then hide yourself with me, and you’ll see everything with your own eyes and learn the truth.”
“Good,” said the king, whereupon he made it known that he was about to travel again, and the troops set up camp outside the city. Shahryar departed with them, and after commanding his slaves not to allow anyone to enter his tent, he summoned his vizier and said, “I want you to sit in my place, and let no one know of my absence until three days have passed.”
Then the brothers disguised themselves and returned secretly to the palace, where they spent the rest of the night. At dawn they seated themselves at the window overlooking the garden, and soon the queen and the slaves came out as before and headed for the fountain. There they stripped, ten men to ten women, and the king’s wife cried out, “Where are you, oh Saeed?”
The hideous blackamoor dropped from the tree right away, and rushing into her arms without delay, he exclaimed, “I am Sa’ad al-Din Saood, the auspicious one!”
The lady laughed heartily, and they all began to satisfy their lust and continued to do so for a couple of hours. Then the white slaves rose from the maidens, and the blackamoor left the queen, and they went into the basin. After bathing themselves, they donned their robes and departed as they had done before.
When King Shahryar saw the perfidious behavior of his wife and concubines, he became distraught and cried out, “Only in utter solitude can man be safe from what goes on in this vile world! By Allah, life is nothing but one great wrong! Listen to what I propose, brother, and don’t stop me.”
“I won’t,” Shah Zaman responded.
So the king continued, “Let us get up just as we are and depart right away. There are other things more important than our kingdoms. Let us wander over Allah’s earth, worshiping the Almighty, until we find someone who has suffered the same misfortune. And if it should turn out that we don’t find anyone, then death will be more welcome to us than life.”
So the two brothers left through a second secret door to the palace, and they journeyed day and night until they came to a large tree in the middle of a meadow right near a spring of fresh water not far from the seashore. Both drank from the spring and sat down to rest. After an hour had passed, they suddenly heard a mighty roar as though the heavens were falling upon the earth. The sea broke with tidal waves, and a towering black pillar arose from it. Indeed, the pillar of smoke grew and grew until it almost touched the sky. Then it began heading toward the meadow, and the two brothers became very frightened and climbed to the top of the tree, from where they hoped to see what the matter was.
To their amazement, the smoke turned into a jinnee, huge, broad-chested, and burly. His brow was wide, his skin black, and on his head was a crystal chest. He strode to the shore, wading through deep water, and came to the tree in which the two kings were hiding, and sat down beneath it. He then set the chest on its bottom and pulled from it a casket with seven padlocks of steel, which he unlocked with seven keys of steel hanging beside his thigh. Suddenly a young lady appeared from the casket, white-skinned and pleasant, fine and thin, and bright as the full moon or the glistening sun. Taking her by the hand, the jinnee seated her under the tree by his side and gazed at her.
“Oh choicest love of this heart of mine!” he began. “Oh lady of noblest line, whom I snatched away on your wedding night and whom none has loved or enjoyed except myself. Oh, my sweetheart, I must sleep a little while.”
He then laid his head upon the lady’s thighs, and stretching out his legs, which extended down to the sea, he fell asleep and snored like thunder. Soon the lady raised her head and noticed the two kings perched near the top of the tree. Then she softly lifted the jinnee’s head off her lap and placed it upon the ground. Afterwards she stood up and signaled to the kings. “Come down, you two. You have nothing to fear from this ifrit.”
They were terribly scared when they realized that she had seen them and answered her in whispers, “By Allah and by your modesty, oh lady, excuse us from coming down!”
“Allah upon you both,” she replied, “I want you to come down right away, and if you don’t come, I shall wake this jinnee, who will attack you, and you’ll die the worst death imaginable!” And she continued making signs to them to come.
So, being afraid, they came down to her, and she rose before them and said, “I want you to mount me and show me how nicely you can sit on my saddle, or else I’ll set this ifrit upon you, and he’ll slay you in the wink of an eye!”
“Oh lady,” they said to her, “we beseech you, by Allah, don’t force us to do this. We’ve given up such things and are in extreme dread of your husband!”
“No more talk. This is the way it must be,” she said and swore to them by Him who raised the skies on high without prop or pillar that they would be slain and cast into the sea if they did not perform her will. Consequently, out of fear, King Shahryar said to King Shah Zaman, “Brother, do what she wants you to do.”
But Zaman responded, “I won’t do anything until you do it first.”
And they began quarreling about who was to mount her.
“Why are you two quarreling?” she intervened. “If you do not come forward like men and do the deed I ask you to perform, I’ll wake the jinnee!”
Given their fear of the jinnee, they finally did what she asked them to do, one after the other, and after they had dismounted, she said, “Well done!” Next, she took a purse from her pocket and drew out a knotted strand of five hundred and seventy rings and asked, “Do you know what these are?”
“No,” they answered.
“These are the signets of five hundred and seventy men,” she said, “who have futtered me on the horns of this filthy, stupid ifrit. So, brothers, I also want your royal rings.”
After they had taken off their rings and given them to her, she said, “It’s true that this jinnee carried me off on my wedding night, put me into a casket, and placed the casket in a chest. After he attached seven strong padlocks to it, he deposited it at the bottom of the deep sea and guarded me so that I would remain chaste and honest, and so that none but himself could have any contact with me. But I have lain under as many men as I’ve desired, and this wretched jinnee doesn’t realize that destiny cannot be averted or hindered by anything and that whatever a woman wants, she will get, no matter how much a man might try to prevent it.”
Upon hearing her story, the brothers were left speechless and watched her as she went back to the ifrit, put his head on her lap, and told them softly, “Now get on your way, and put the sight of this malice way behind you!”
So they moved on and said to each other, “May Allah help us and save us from women’s malice and cunning! It seems nothing can surpass their power!”
“Just think,” said King Shahryar, “how this marvelous lady has managed to deceive a jinnee, who is much more powerful than we are! Indeed, his misfortune is much greater than ours, so it is time to return to our kingdoms. But I propose that we both never stay married long enough for women to betray us and that we take the proper action to put them in their place!”
Shah Zaman agreed, and they rode back to King Shahryar’s encampment, which they reached on the morning of the third day, and after gathering together his viziers, emirs, chamberlains, and high officials, Shahryar gave a robe of honor to his viceroy and issued orders for an immediate return to the city. As soon as he took his seat upon his throne, he sent for his chief minister and declared, “I command you to take my wife and execute her, for she has broken her marriage vows.”
So, the minister brought her to the place of execution and carried out the king’s orders. Then King Shahryar took his sword in hand and went to the seraglio, where he slew all the concubines and their mamelukes. He also swore a binding oath that whenever he married, he would take his new wife’s maidenhead at night and slay her the next morning to make sure of his honor, for he was convinced that there never was or could be one chaste woman upon the face of this earth.
Soon after Shahryar took this oath, his brother, Shah Zaman, asked permission to return home, and he was provided an escort that accompanied him until he reached his own country. Meanwhile Shahryar commanded his vizier to bring him a bride for that night so that he might enjoy her. Accordingly, the vizier produced a most beautiful girl, the daughter of one of the emirs, and the king broke her maidenhead in the evening, and when morning arrived, he commanded his minister to strike off her head. And the vizier did as he was ordered for fear of the sultan. During the next three years the king continued to act accordingly: he married a maiden every night and had her killed the next morning, until his people raised a great outcry against him. Indeed, they cursed him and prayed to Allah that he be utterly destroyed and dethroned. Women began protesting, mothers wept, and parents fled with their daughters until there was not one virgin left in the city.
Nevertheless, the king ordered his chief vizier, the same man who was charged with carrying out the executions, to bring him a virgin as was his wont. When the minister went forth, however, and searched all over, he returned home in sorrow, fearing for his life because the king would be displeased that there were no more virgins left in the city. Now, he had two daughters, Scheherazade and Dunazade. The older one, Scheherazade, had read the books, annals, and legends of former kings, and the stories, lessons, and adventures of famous men. Indeed, it was said that she had collected a thousand history books about ancient peoples and rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart. She had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts, and practical things. And she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred. Consequently, on that particular day, she said to her father, “Why are you so downcast? You seem to be troubled by something. Remember the words of the poet:
“Tell whoever has sorrow
Grief shall never last.
Just as joy has no tomorrow,
Woe is bound not to last.”
When the vizier heard these words from his daughter, he told her from first to last about everything that had happened between him and the king. Thereupon, she said, “By Allah, oh my father, how long shall this slaughter of women last? Shall I tell you what I’m thinking about that would stop all this destruction?”
“Tell me, my daughter,” he said.
“I would like you to give me in marriage to King Shahryar. If I should live, I’d become the ransom for the virgin daughters of Moslems and rescue them from his hands and yours.”
“Oh Allah!” he cried in his fury. “Have you lost your mind? I won’t let you expose yourself to such danger. How can you be so unwise and foolish? I want you to know that unless you have experience in worldly matters, you’ll be prey to misfortune!”
“I must do this,” she responded. “Come what may!”
Again the vizier became enraged and scolded and reproached her. “In truth, I fear that the same thing that happened to the ox and the donkey will happen to you.”
“And just what did happen to them, Father?” she asked.
Whereupon the vizier began
The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey
There was once a merchant who owned a great deal of money and men, and who had a large number of cattle and camels. He also had a wife and family and dwelt in the country, since he knew a great deal about farming and agriculture. Now Allah Almighty had endowed him with the ability to understand the language of birds and beasts of every kind. However, it was decreed that if he were to divulge the gift to anyone, he would be punished by death. So, out of fear, he kept his unusual gift a secret.
In his barn he had an ox and donkey, each tethered in his own stall next to one another. One day, when the merchant was sitting nearby with his servants and children playing around him, he heard the ox say to the ass, “Greetings, friend. I hope that you continue to enjoy your rest and good care. Everything under you is swept neatly and watered down. Men wait on you and feed you sifted barley, and give you pure spring water to drink. On the other hand, I (unhappy creature!) am led forth in the middle of the night when they set the plow and something called a yoke on my neck. I’m exhausted from cleaving the earth from dawn till dusk. I’m forced to do more than I can and to bear all kinds of mistreatment every night. And at the end of my work they take me back with my sides torn, my neck flayed, my legs aching, and my eyelids sore with tears. Then they shut me up in the barn and throw me beans and hay mixed with dirt and chaff. And I lie in dung and filth, and there is nothing but a foul stench throughout the night. But you are always in a clean place and are always able to relax, except when the master has some business in town, and that’s very seldom. Then he just mounts you and rides to the town and returns right away. This is the way things are: I toil and have no rest, while you relax and have leisure time. You sleep while I am sleepless. I starve while you have all you want to eat.”
When the ox stopped speaking, the donkey turned toward him and said, “Oh you lost soul! Whoever dubbed you bull-head did not lie, for you are denser than the simplest of simpletons! With all your zeal you foolishly toil for the master, and wear yourself out and kill yourself for the comfort of someone else. At the call of dawn you set out to work and don’t return until sundown, and throughout the livelong day you endure all kinds of hardships such as beatings and cursing. Now listen to me, carefully. When you go into the fields and they lay that thing called the yoke on your neck, lie down and don’t get up again, even though they hit you with the switch. And if you do have to rise, lie down a second time. And when they bring you home and offer you beans, fall backward and only sniff your food. Don’t taste it. Withdraw and content yourself only with the hay and chaff. Pretend you are sick, and continue to do this for two or three days. This way you’ll be able to gain some rest from all your hard work.”
When the ox heard these words, he knew that the donkey was his friend and thanked him. “This is good advice,” he said, and prayed that the ass would be blessed with a fine reward.
The next day, the driver took the ox, set the plow on his neck, and made him work as usual. But the ox took the donkey’s advice and shirked the plowing. Consequently, the plowman drubbed him until the ox broke the yoke and made off. But the man caught up to him and tanned him until he thought he would die. Nevertheless, he did nothing but stand still and drop down until evening came. Then the plowman led him home and put him into his stall, but the ox drew back from his manger and neither stamped, nor butted, nor bellowed as he was accustomed to do. Such strange behavior puzzled the plowman. Then he brought the ox beans and husks, but the animal sniffed at them and lay down as far from them as he could and spent the whole night fasting. Next morning the plowman came and saw the manger full of beans, the hay untasted, and the ox lying on his back in a most sorry plight with his legs outstretched and a swollen belly. Of course, he was very worried about him and said to himself, “By Allah, he has certainly become sick, and this is why he wouldn’t plow yesterday.” Then he went to the merchant and reported, “Master, the ox is sick. He refused his fodder last night, and he hasn’t tasted a scrap of it this morning.”
Now the merchant understood what all this meant, because he had overheard the talk between the ox and the ass. So he said, “Take that rascal donkey, and set the yoke on his neck. Tie him to the plow and make him do the ox’s work.”
Accordingly, the plowman took the ass and made him do the ox’s work the entire day long. And when the donkey let up out of weakness, the driver made him feel his stick until the animal’s ribs were sore and his sides were sunken and his neck flayed by the yoke. When the ass returned home in the evening, he could hardly drag his limbs along. Meanwhile, the ox had spent the day lying at full length and had eaten his fodder with an excellent appetite. He continually heaped blessings on the donkey for his good advice, not knowing how the donkey had suffered and that it was on his account. So, when night set in and the donkey returned to the barn, the ox rose up before him in his honor and said, “May good tidings warm your heart, my friend! Because of you I have rested the entire day, and I have eaten my food in peace and quiet.”
But the ass did not reply, because his heart was burning with rage, and he was exhausted from the beating he had gotten. Indeed, he regretted that he had given the ox such good advice and said to himself, “This is the result of your folly in giving good counsel. I was living in joy and happiness until I mixed into somebody else’s business. So now I must think of something and trick the ox so that he’ll return to his place. Otherwise, I’ll die.” Then he went wearily to his stall, while the ox continued to thank and bless him.
“And the same thing will happen to you, my daughter,” said the vizier. “You will die for not having used your brains. Therefore, I want you to sit still, say nothing, and refrain from exposing yourself to danger. By Allah, I’m offering you the best advice that comes from my affection and great concern for you.”
“Father,” she answered. “I must marry the king, and you can’t stop me.”
“I don’t want you to do this.”
“But I must.”
“If you’re not silent and do as I say, I’ll do to you just what the farmer did to his wife.”
“And what did he do?” Scheherazade asked.
After the donkey returned to his stall, the farmer went out on the terrace of his house with his wife and family, for there was a full moon. Now the terrace overlooked the barn, and as the merchant was sitting there with his children playing around him, he soon heard the donkey say to the ox, “Tell me, friend, what do you propose to do tomorrow?”
“To continue to follow your advice, of course,” said the ox. “Indeed, it was as good as it could be, and it has given me a good deal of rest. So when they bring me my food, I’ll refuse it, blow up my belly, and pretend to be sick.”
The ass shook his head and said, “You’d better not do this.”
“Why?” the ox asked.
And the donkey answered, “I must warn you that I heard the merchant say to the plowman, ‘If the ox doesn’t get up from his place to do his work this morning and doesn’t eat his fodder today, take him over to the butcher to be slaughtered. Then give his flesh to the poor and make some leather out of his hide.’ You see now why I’m afraid for your life. So, take my advice before something terrible happens to you: when they bring you your fodder, eat it. Then get up, bellow, and paw the ground, or else our master will surely have you slain. May peace be with you!”
Thereupon the ox arose, bellowed aloud, and thanked the ass. “Tomorrow, I’ll certainly go out into the fields with them,” he said, and he ate up all his food and even licked his manger. (All this took place while the merchant was listening to their talk.)
Next morning the merchant and his wife went to the ox’s stall and sat down, and the driver came and led the ox out. Upon seeing his owner, the beast whisked his tail, broke wind, and frisked about so merrily that the merchant laughed loudly and kept laughing until he fell over on his back.
“Why are you laughing like this so much?” his wife asked.
“I laughed at a secret, something that I heard and saw, but I can’t reveal it to you. If I do, I’ll die.”
“Well, I insist!” replied his wife. “Tell me why you laughed so loudly and what your secret is! I don’t care if you have to die.”
“It has something to do with the language of birds and beasts, but I’m forbidden to tell it to you.”
“By Allah, you’re lying!” she exclaimed. “This is a mere pretext. You were laughing at nobody except me, and now you want to hide something from me. But, by the Lord of the Heavens, if you don’t tell me the cause, I won’t sleep with you anymore. I’ll leave you at once!” And she sat down and cried.
“Why are you weeping?” the merchant responded. “Stop all this jabbering and crying!”
“Tell me why you laughed!”
“Listen, I’m telling you the truth. When Allah granted me the gift of understanding the language of the birds and beasts, I made a vow never to disclose the secret under pain of death.”
“No matter,” cried she. “Tell me what the ox and donkey were saying, and if you have to die, you have to die.”
And she did not stop nagging him until he was worn out and totally distraught. So at last he said, “Summon your father and mother, our kith and kin, and some of our neighbors.”
While she went about doing this, he sent for the lawyers and assessors, intending to make his will, reveal his secret to her, and die under the penalty of death, since his love for her was immense. She was his cousin, the daughter of his father’s brother, and the mother of his children, and he had lived with her for a hundred and twenty years.
Now, after all the members of the family and the neighbors had gathered, the farmer said to them, “Something strange happened to me some time ago, but if I reveal my secret story to anyone, I am bound to die.”
As a result of his remarks, everyone present began saying to the woman, “May Allah be with you, stop being so shamefully obstinate and realize what the consequences are. Otherwise, your husband and father of your children will die.”
“I refuse to change my mind until he tells me his secret,” she replied, “even though he may have to die.”
So they stopped trying to persuade her, and the farmer got up and withdrew to a small chicken house in order to be by himself and pray before his death. Afterward he was going to return to them, tell his secret, and die. Now, in this chicken house the farmer had some fifty hens under one cock, and while he was getting ready to say his farewell to his people, he heard one of his farm dogs talking to the cock, who was flapping his wings, crowing lustily, and jumping from one hen’s back to another and treading all in turn.
“Oh Chanticleer!” the dog cried out. “How can you be so mean and shameless! Whoever brought you up should be burned at the stake! Aren’t you ashamed of doing such things on a day such as this?”
“And just what is so special about today?” asked the rooster.
“Don’t you know that our master is preparing for his death today?” the dog responded. “His wife is determined that he must reveal the secret taught to him by Allah, and the moment he does this he’s bound to die. We dogs are all mourning already, but you, you flap your wings, crow as loud as you can, and tread hen after hen. Is this the time for having fun and taking your pleasure? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
“By Allah,” retorted the cock, “is our master a nitwit? Why doesn’t he come to his senses? If he can’t manage matters with a single wife, his life is not worth prolonging. Now I have some fifty dame partlets, and I please this one and provoke the other and starve one and stuff another. And through my good governance, they are all well under my control. Our master claims that he is smart and wise, but he has only one wife and hasn’t discovered yet how to deal with her.”
“Well, what should our master do?” asked the dog.
“He should get up right away,” answered the cock, “and take some twigs from that mulberry tree over there and give her a good beating until she cries: ‘I repent, oh, my lord! I’ll never ask you another question as long as I live!’ Then let him beat her nice and hard once more, and after he does this, he will sleep soundly and enjoy life. But this master of ours does not appear to have an iota of good sense or judgment.”
When the merchant heard the wise words spoken by the cock to the dog, he arose in haste, cut some mulberry twigs, and hid them in his wife’s room. Then he called to her, “Come into your room so that I may tell you the secret and die without anyone looking on.”
She entered the room, and he locked the door. All of a sudden he began to beat her back, shoulders, ribs, arms, and legs in a great fury. “Are you going to continue to ask questions about things that don’t concern you?” And he kept beating her until she was almost unconscious.
Soon she cried out, “I repent! By Allah, I won’t ask you any more questions. I mean it. I repent with all my heart and life!”
Then she kissed his hands and feet, and he led her out of the room, submissive as a wife should be. Her parents and the entire company rejoiced, and sadness and mourning were changed into joy and gladness. Thus the merchant learned family discipline from his cock, and he and his wife lived happily ever after until death.
“And the same thing will happen to you, too, my daughter!” continued the vizier. “Unless you give up pursuing this matter, I’ll do what the merchant did to his wife.”
But she answered him with firm resolution, “I won’t give up, Father, nor shall this tale make me change my mind. So stop your talk and babbling. I won’t listen to your words, and if you try to prevent me, I’ll go to the king alone and say, ‘I asked my father to allow me to marry you, but he refused, since he begrudged you the right to have a maiden like me.’”
“Must it be this way?” her father asked.
“Indeed, it must.”
Since the vizier was now weary of contending with his daughter and realized he could not dissuade her from doing what she wanted, he went to King Shahryar, and after blessing him and kissing the ground before him, told him all about his dispute with his daughter and how he now intended to bring her to him that night.
The king was most astonished, since he had made a special exception of the vizier’s daughter, and he said to him, “Oh most faithful of counselors, how has this come about? You know that I have sworn by Almighty Allah that after I enter her this night, I shall say to you tomorrow morning: ‘Take her and slay her!’ And if you don’t do this, I’ll slay you in her place.”
“May Allah guide you to glory and give you long life, your majesty,” answered the vizier. “It was she who made this decision. I have told her what is to happen and more, but she won’t listen to me, and she insists on spending this coming night with your highness.”
So Shahryar rejoiced greatly and said, “So be it. Go get her ready and bring her to me this night.”
The vizier returned to his daughter and informed her of the king’s command. “By Allah, please don’t make your father do this. I’m sure to lose you.”
But Scheherazade rejoiced and got everything ready that she needed. Then she said to her younger sister, Dunazade, “Pay attention to what I tell you! After I have entered the king’s private chamber, I’ll send for you, and when you come and see that he has had his carnal pleasure with me, you’re to say to me: ‘Oh sister, since you’re not sleepy, tell me some new delightful story to entertain us while we are still awake.’ And I’ll tell you a tale that will be our salvation, if it pleases Allah, for I’m going to tell a tale that will, I hope, divert the king from his bloodthirsty custom.”
“I’ll do whatever you say,” Dunazade replied, “with all my heart.”
So when it was night, their father led Scheherazade to the king, who was glad to see her and asked, “Have you brought me what I need?”
“I have,” the vizier said.
But when the king took her to his bed, began toying with her, and was about to penetrate her, she wept, and consequently he asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
“Your majesty,” she replied, “I have a younger sister, and I would like very much to take leave of her tonight before dawn comes.”
So he sent at once for Dunazade, and she came and kissed the ground, and he permitted her to take a seat near the foot of the couch. Then the king arose and did away with his bride’s maidenhead, and the three fell asleep. But when midnight arrived, Scheherazade awoke and signaled to her sister, Dunazade, who sat up and said, “May Allah be with you, my sister, please tell us some delightful story to while away the waking hours before dawn.”
“I’d be most happy and willing to do this,” answered Scheherazade, “if this pious and auspicious king will permit me.”
“Permission granted,” said the king, who happened to be sleepless and restless and was therefore pleased by the prospect of hearing her story. So Scheherazade rejoiced, and on the first night of many nights to come, she began telling the tales that were to fill the volumes of The Arabian Nights.
The Tale of the Merchant and the Jinnee
There was once a very wealthy merchant who had a great deal of business in various cities. Now, one day he mounted his horse and went forth to collect debts that were owed to him in certain towns. The heat was so terrible along the way that he dismounted and sat down beneath a tree. He put his hand into his saddlebags, took out some bread and dry dates, and began to break his fast. When he had finished eating the dates, he threw away the pits with all his might, and suddenly a huge jinnee appeared brandishing a drawn sword. As he approached the merchant, he said, “Stand up so I can slay you just as you’ve slain my son!”
“How have I slain your son?” asked the merchant.
“When you ate the dates and threw away the pits, they struck my son in the breast as he was walking by, and he died right on the spot.”
“By Allah, if I slew your son,” the merchant responded, “I slew him by chance. Therefore, I beg your pardon.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” asserted the jinnee. “You must die.” Then he seized the merchant, threw him down on the ground, and raised his sword to strike him. But the merchant wept and cried out, “May Allah take pity on me and hear my plea!”
“Cut your words short,” the jinnee answered. “You must die.”
But the merchant pleaded with him, “Listen to me. There’s a great deal of money that’s owed to me. I’m very wealthy and have a wife and children and many pledges in hand. So, permit me to go home and take care of all my claims, and I shall come back to you at the beginning of the new year. Allah be my witness that I’ll return to you, and then you can do what you want with me.”
The jinnee accepted his promise and let him go. So the merchant returned to his city and completed all his transactions. He gave all people their due, and after informing his wife and children what had happened to him, he appointed a guardian and lived with his family for a full year. At the end of that time, he performed the Wuzu ablution to purify himself before death, took his shroud under his arm, said farewell to family, friends, and neighbors, and went forth against his own will. As he left, they began weeping, wailing, and beating their breasts, but he traveled until he arrived at the same garden where he had encountered the jinnee. The day of his arrival was the beginning of the new year, and as he sat weeping over what had happened to him, a very old and honorable sheikh approached, leading a gazelle on a chain. After saluting the merchant and wishing him a long life, he asked, “Why are you sitting all alone in this place? Don’t you know that it’s the abode of evil spirits?”
The merchant related to him what had happened with the jinnee, and the old man was astounded and said, “By Allah, I’ve never seen such fidelity, nor have I ever heard such a strange story. If it were engraved for all to see, it would serve as a warning for all those who need to be warned.” Then, seating himself near the merchant, he said, “My brother, I won’t leave you until I see what is going to happen between you and this ifrit.”
And after he sat down and the two were talking, the merchant became extremely anxious, terrified, and depressed. Just then a second sheikh approached them, and with him were two dogs, both black greyhounds. After the second man greeted them with the salaam, he asked them, “Why are you sitting in this place? Don’t you know that it is the abode of the demon jinnees?”
So they told him the tale from beginning to end, and they had not been conversing very long before a third sheikh arrived, and with him was a she-mule with a bright bay coat. He saluted them and asked them why they were seated in that place, and they told him the entire story, and he, too, sat down with them. Just then a dust cloud advanced, and a mighty sand devil appeared amidst the waste. Soon the cloud opened, revealing the jinnee with a drawn sword and eyes shooting fire-sparks of rage, and he stepped forward, grabbed hold of the merchant, and separated him from the rest of the men.
“Stand up so I can slay you just as you slew my son, the soul of my life,” the jinnee bellowed.
The merchant wailed and wept, and the three old men began sighing and crying with their companion. Soon the first man, the owner of the gazelle, approached the ifrit and kissed his hand. “Oh jinnee, crown of the kings of the jinn, if I were to tell you a story about me and this gazelle, and if you were to consider it wondrous, would you give me a third of this merchant’s blood?”
“If you tell me your tale, oh sheikh, and it is indeed marvelous,” the jinnee replied, “I’ll give you a third of his blood.”
Thereupon the old man began to tell
The First Sheikh’s Story
I’ll have you know, oh jinnee, that this gazelle is the daughter of my paternal uncle, my own flesh and blood, and I married her when she was a young maid. I lived with her for close to thirty years, but I was not blessed with any offspring. So I took me a concubine, who gave birth to a boy, fair as the full moon with glistening eyes, straight eyebrows, and perfect limbs. Little by little he grew to be a tall young man, and when he was fifteen, it became necessary for me to journey to certain cities with a large amount of goods. But my wife had learned the art of witchcraft, and she turned my son into a calf and his mother into a cow and placed them under the care of the herdsman. So, after a long time had passed and I returned from my journey, I asked for my son and his mother, and she answered me by saying, “Your slave girl is dead, and your son has fled, and I don’t know where he’s gone.”
So my heart grieved for an entire year, and my eyes did not stop weeping until the time came for the Great Festival of Allah. Then I sent for my herdsman and asked him to choose a fat cow for me. He brought me the one which had been my handmaid, whom this gazelle had bewitched. I tucked up my sleeves, put on an apron, and taking a knife, I began to cut her throat, but she bellowed so loudly and wept such bitter tears that I was astonished. Out of pity, I dropped the knife and said to the herdsman, “Bring me a different cow.”
Then my wife cried out, “Slay her! There’s none fatter or fairer.”
Once more I made a move to sacrifice her, but again the cow bellowed loudly, and I could not bring myself to kill her. Instead, I commanded the herdsman to slay her and flay her. So, he performed the sacrifice and skinned her, but could not find fat or flesh, only hide and bone. I repented when it was much too late, and I gave her to the herdsman and said to him, “Fetch me a fat calf.”
So he brought me my bewitched son. When the calf saw me, he broke his tether, ran to me, fawned upon me, and shed tears. Consequently, I took pity on him and said to the herdsman, “Bring me a cow, and let this calf go.”
But my wife cried out, “You must kill this calf. It is a holy and blessed day, and nothing is to be slain except what is pure and perfect. And there is nothing among our calves that is fatter or fairer than this one!”
“Look at the cow that I have just had slaughtered at your request and how disappointed we are by the results,” I said. “There was no benefit from her at all, and I’m extremely sorry for having killed her. So this time I’m not going to listen to you, and the calf will not be sacrificed.”
“By Allah, you have no choice. You must kill him on this holy day, and if you don’t kill him, you’re no man for me, and I shall not be your wife.”
Now, when I heard those hard words, I went up to the calf with knife in hand, unaware of my wife’s real purpose. However, when I looked at the calf, I commanded the herdsman to take it away, and he did as I ordered him to do. On the next day as I was sitting in my own house, the herdsman came up to me and said, “Master, I want to tell you something that will make your soul rejoice and enable me to be the bearer of good tidings.”
“I’m listening,” I said.
“I have a daughter,” he began, “and she learned magic in her childhood from an old woman who lived with us. Yesterday, when you gave me the calf, I went into the house with it, and she looked at it and veiled her face. Then she kept laughing and weeping and at last said to me, ‘Oh Father, has my honor become so cheap that you’re now bringing strange men into the house for me?’ I asked her, ‘Where are these strange men and why are you laughing and crying?’ She answered, ‘To tell you the truth, the calf that you have with you is the son of our master, the merchant, but his wife bewitched him and his mother. That’s why I laughed, and I wept because of his mother, whom the merchant slew unaware that it was she.’ Of course, I was most astonished by this revelation, and I could hardly wait until the break of day to come and tell all this to you.”
When I heard my herdsman’s words, I went with him to his house and was drunk with joy without having the least bit of wine. His daughter welcomed me and kissed my hand, and the calf came right away and fawned all over me as before. “Is it true,” I asked the herdsman’s daughter, “all that you’ve said about this calf?”
“Yes, oh master,” she said. “He’s your son, your very own flesh and blood.”
I rejoiced and said to her, “If you can release him from this spell, you can have whatever property and cattle I have.”
“Master,” she smiled, “I don’t desire such goods, and I shall take them only under two conditions: the first, that you marry me to your son, and the second, that you allow me to bewitch your wife and imprison her. Otherwise, I won’t be safe from her malice.”
Now when I heard these words, I replied, “Not only do I grant you your wish, but you may have all the cattle and the household stuff in your father’s charge, and as for my wife, anything you do to her is all right with me.”
After I had spoken, she took a cup and filled it with water. Then she recited a spell over it and sprinkled it on the calf, saying, “If Almighty Allah created you as a calf, then remain as you are and don’t change. But if you are enchanted, return to your rightful form!”
All of a sudden, the calf trembled and became a man, and I embraced him and said, “By Allah, tell me all that the daughter of my uncle did to you and your mother.” And when he told me how everything had happened, I said, “My son, Allah blessed you by enabling someone to restore you to your real form, and you may now receive your rightful due.”
Then I married him to the herdsman’s daughter, and she transformed my wife into this gazelle by giving her a shape that is by no means loathsome. After this the herdsman’s daughter lived with us day and night until she died. Then my son journeyed forth to the cities of Hind and also to the city of this man who has offended you. And I also took this gazelle and wandered with her from town to town seeking news of my son until destiny drove me to this place where I saw the merchant sitting and weeping. Such is my tale!
“This story is indeed strange,” said the jinnee, “and thus I shall grant you a third of the merchant’s blood.”
Thereupon the second old man, who owned two greyhounds, came up and said, “Oh jinnee, if I relate to you what my brothers, these two hounds, did to me, and if you admit that it is more wondrous and marvelous than the tale that you’ve just heard, will you grant me a third of the merchant’s blood as well?”
“I give you my word,” said the jinnee, “but only if your adventures are truly more marvelous.”
Thereupon the old man began
The Second Sheikh’s Story
Let me begin by telling you, oh lord of the kings of the jinn, that these two dogs are my brothers, and I am the third. When our father died and left us a capital of three thousand gold pieces, I opened a shop with my share, and my brothers did the same. However, I had been in business just for a short time when my elder brother sold his stock for a thousand dinars, and after buying equipment and merchandise, he journeyed to foreign lands. He had been gone with his caravan for one whole year when, one day, as I was sitting in my shop, a beggar stood before me asking for alms, and I said to him, “Go try somewhere else!”
In response, the beggar began weeping. “Have I changed so much that you don’t recognize me anymore?”
Then I looked at him more closely, and I realized it was my brother. So I stood up and welcomed him, and after seating him in my shop, I asked him what had happened.
“Don’t ask me,” he replied. “My wealth is all gone, and so is my health.”
So I took him to the public bath, dressed him in a suit of my own, and gave him a room in my house. Moreover, after looking over the accounts of my stock in trade and my business profits, I found that my hard work had enabled me to earn one thousand dinars while my principal amounted to two thousand. So I shared the whole thing with him and said, “Just assume that you didn’t make a journey abroad but remained at home. There’s no reason now for you to be dejected about your bad luck.”
He took the share gleefully and opened up his own shop. Things went well for some days, but soon my second brother, that dog over there, also set his heart on traveling. He sold whatever goods and stock in trade that he had, and although we tried to prevent him from leaving, he would not listen to us. He equipped himself for the journey and joined a group of travelers. After an absence of one year, he came back to me just as my elder brother had, and I said to him, “Didn’t I try to dissuade you from traveling?”
“Destiny decreed it this way!” he wept and cried out. “Now I am a mere beggar without a penny to my name or a shirt on my back.”
So I led him to the bath and dressed him in my own new clothes. Then I went with him to my shop, where I gave him something to eat and drink. Furthermore, I told him, “Brother, I generally draw up the accounts of my shop at the beginning of every year, and I intend to share the surplus with you.”
Thus, some time later, when I found a profit of two thousand dinars, I praised the Lord and gave my brother one half and kept the other for myself. Thereupon, he set up his own shop, and we lived peacefully for many days. After a while, however, my brothers began to urge me to travel with them, but I refused and argued, “What did you two gain from all your voyages that would make me want to travel?”
Since I would not listen to them, we each returned to our own shops, where we bought and sold as usual. They kept urging me to travel for a whole year, but I continued to refuse. Finally, after six years had passed, I consented and said, “All right, my brothers, I shall be your companion and am ready to travel. Now, let me see what money you intend to bring with you.”
I found, however, that they did not have anything, for they had squandered their funds on rich food, drink, and carnal pleasure. Still, I did not reproach them. Far from it. Instead, I looked over my shop accounts once more, sold what goods and stock in trade were mine, and came out with a profit of six thousand ducats, which I divided into half. After doing this, I went to my brothers and said, “These three thousand gold pieces are for me and you to conduct our trade during our travels. Let’s bury the other three thousand in the ground in case anything should happen to us. And if something does, each shall take a thousand to open new shops.”
Since they both agreed, I gave each one a thousand gold pieces and kept the same sum for myself. Then we prepared some goods for trading and hired a ship to carry our merchandise and proceeded on our voyage. After a month at sea, we reached a city, where we sold our goods, and for every piece of gold that we had invested we gained ten. And when we were about to resume our voyage, we found a maiden on the seashore clad in worn and ragged clothes. She kissed my hand and said, “Oh master, are you a man of charity and kindness? If so, I am prepared to repay you for your aid.”
“You may find me benevolent and a man of good works,” I said. “But I don’t want any return for my deeds.”
Then she said, “Please have me as your wife, oh master, and take me to your city, for I’m giving myself to you. Be kind, for I am one of those on whom charity and good works will not be lost. I can make you a fitting return for them, and you will not be shamed by my condition.”
When I heard her words, my heart went out to her as though Allah had willed it. Therefore, I took her, clothed her, gave her a comfortable place in the vessel, and treated her with honor. So we continued our voyage, and I became more and more attached to her so that I could not bear to be separated from her day or night. Indeed, I paid more attention to her than to my brothers, with the result that they grew apart from me and became jealous of my wealth and the large amount of merchandise that I had acquired. So they planned to murder me and seize my wealth, and Satan made this seem right in their eyes.
They waited one night and found me sleeping by my wife’s side, whereupon they carried us up to the deck of the ship and threw us overboard. My wife awoke startled from her sleep, and immediately she changed into a jinnee, whereupon she lifted me up, carried me to an island, and disappeared for a short time. When she returned in the morning, she said, “Here I am, your faithful slave, who has duly repaid you for your kindness, for I have saved you from death in the deep waters. I am a jinniyah, and when I first saw you, my heart went out to you by the will of the Lord, for I am a believer in Allah. So I went to you in the condition you saw me, and you married me. But I’m angry at your brothers, and I must certainly slay them.”
When I heard her story, I was surprised and thanked her for all she had done. “But,” I said, “when it comes to slaying my brothers, you must not do this.”
Then I told her the tale of our lives from the beginning to the end, and on hearing it, she said, “Tonight I shall fly like a bird over their ship and sink it, causing them to die.”
“By Allah,” I responded, “don’t do this! Remember the proverb: Whoever helps an evildoer should let the evildoer do his own evil deeds.”
“Nothing can help them,” the jinniyah replied. “By Allah, I must slay them.”
I humbled myself before her and begged that she pardon them, whereupon she picked me up and flew away with me until she set me down on the terrace of my own house. Then I took what I had hidden in the ground, bought new merchandise, greeted various people, and reopened the doors of my shop. When night came, I went home, and there I saw these two hounds tied up. Upon seeing me, they arose, whined, and fawned upon me, and before I knew what was happening, my wife said, “These two dogs are your brothers!”
“Who has done this to them?” I asked.
“I sent a message to my sister, and it was she who transformed them into dogs. And they will not be released from their present shape until ten years have passed.”
You find me now, oh jinnee, on my way to my wife’s sister, because the time has come to release my brothers from their condition. I stopped at this place when I saw this young man, who told me all that had occurred to him, and I decided not to leave here until I saw what would happen between you and him. Such is my tale!
“This is certainly a remarkable story,” said the jinnee. “Therefore, I’ll give you a third of this man’s blood.”
Now the third sheikh, the master of the she-mule, approached the jinnee and said, “If I can tell you a tale more wondrous than these two, will you grant me the remainder of the merchant’s blood?”
“You have my word!” the jinnee answered.
Then the old man began
The Third Sheikh’s Story
I’ll have you know, oh jinnee, that this mule was my wife. Now, it so happened that I had to leave home for one year, and when I returned from my journey, it was night, and I found my wife lying with a black slave on my couch. They were talking, laughing, kissing, and playing the close-buttock game. When she saw me, she stood up and rushed over to me with a jug of water. As she ran toward me, she muttered spells over the water and sprinkled me with it. “Change your shape,” she exclaimed, “and become a dog!”
All of a sudden, I was a dog, and she drove me out of the house. I ran through the doorway and did not stop running until I came to a butcher’s stall, where I rested and began to eat what bones were there. When the butcher saw me, he grabbed me and carried me into his house, but as soon as his daughter caught sight of me, she veiled her face and cried out, “What are you doing? Why are you bringing men to me?”
“Where’s the man?” her father asked.
“This dog is a man, and his wife has enchanted him,” she replied. “If you want, I can release him from the spell.”
When her father heard her words, he said, “May Allah be with you, my daughter, release him.”
So she took a jug of water, and after uttering words over it, she sprinkled a few drops on me and said, “Leave that shape and return to your former one.”
And I returned to my natural shape. Then I kissed her hand and said, “I wish you’d transform my wife the same way you just changed me.”
Thereupon she gave me some water and said, “As soon as you see her asleep, sprinkle this liquid on her and say the words you heard me utter. Then she’ll become whatever you desire.”
I returned to my house and found my wife fast asleep, and as I sprinkled the water on her, I said, “Leave that shape and change into a mule.”
Within seconds she became a mule, and you are looking at her now, oh jinnee, with your own eyes!
Then the jinnee turned toward her and asked, “Is this true?”
And she nodded her head and replied by signs, “Indeed, it’s the truth, for such is my tale.”
The jinnee was very pleased by the old man’s extraordinary story, and he gave him a third of the merchant’s blood. Shaking with delight, he told the three sheikhs, “Thanks to you and your storytelling, the merchant is yours! You’ve saved him, and I now release him from his punishment.”
Thereupon, the jinnee disappeared, while the merchant embraced the old men and thanked them. Then the sheikhs wished him happiness and continued their journeys, each one heading toward the city of his destination.
And Scheherazade noticed that dawn was approaching and stopped telling her tale. Thereupon Dunazade said, “Oh sister, your tale was most wonderful, pleasant, and delightful!”
“It is nothing compared to what I could tell you tomorrow night if the king would spare my life and let me live.”
“By Allah,” the king thought to himself, “I won’t slay her until I hear some more of her wondrous tales.”
So they continued to rest in mutual embrace until daylight finally arrived. After this the king got up to perform his official duties, but he did not call upon the vizier to perform the execution. Instead, he went to his assembly hall and began holding court. He judged, appointed, and deposed, forbidding this and permitting that, the rest of the day. After the divan was adjourned, King Shahryar returned to the palace. That night he had his will of Scheherazade, as was his wont, and afterward, as they were relaxing, Dunazade came to her sister and asked her to tell another tale.
“With the king’s permission,” she said.
And Shahryar replied, “You have my permission.”
So Scheherazade resumed her storytelling.
The Fisherman and the Jinnee
There was once a poor old fisherman who had a wife and three children to support. When he went to work, he customarily cast his net four times a day, and no more than that. Now, one day he went to the seashore about noon and set his basket on the ground. After rolling up his shirt and plunging into the water, he cast his net and waited until it settled to the bottom. Then he gathered the cords together and tried to haul in the net. However, he found it too heavy, and no matter how hard he pulled, he could not bring the net up. So he carried the ends ashore, drove a stake into the ground, and tied the net to it. Afterward he stripped, dived into the water, and kept working until he had brought the net up. Filled with joy, he put on his clothes again and went to the net, in which he found a dead jackass that had torn the meshes. In his grief, he exclaimed, “By Allah, this is a strange way to earn a living!” Then he said to himself, “Up and at it! I’m sure that this must be some sort of blessing.”
Once the fisherman got the dead ass free of the cords, he wrung out the net and spread it on the shore. Then he plunged into the sea, cast the net again, and cried out, “In Allah’s name!” When he began pulling the net, it grew heavy and settled down more firmly than the first time. Now he thought that there were fish in it and tied the net to the stake again. He took off his clothes, dived into the water, and pushed and pulled until he got the net on dry land. Then he found a large clay pitcher filled with sand and mud and was very disappointed.
After throwing away the pitcher, he wrung his net, cleaned it, and cast it into the sea for a third time. Once it had sunk, he pulled at it and found potsherds and broken glass in it. Raising his eyes toward heaven, he cried out, “By Allah, don’t You know that I cast my net only four times a day? The third is done, and thus far, You have granted me nothing. So, I beseech You, this time give me my daily bread.”
Then he cast his net again and waited for it to sink and settle. When he tried to haul it in, he found that it had become entangled at the bottom. “By Allah!” he exclaimed as he stripped again and dived down into the sea. After freeing the net, he dragged it to land and found a copper jar in the shape of a cucumber. It was evidently filled with something. The mouth was sealed by a lead cap and stamped with the signet of our Lord Solomon, son of David. Seeing this, the fisherman rejoiced and said, “If I sell it in the brass bazaar, I should be able to get ten golden dinars for it.” When he shook it, he found that it was heavy and remarked, “If only I knew what was inside! Well, I’ve got to open it, and then I’ll store it in my bag and sell it at the brass market.” Taking out his knife, he worked at the lead until he had loosened it from the jar. Then he laid the top on the ground and shook the jar, but he was astonished to find nothing in it. After a while, however, some smoke burst from the jar and soared like a spiral toward the heavens. Once the smoke reached its full height, the thick vapor condensed and became a huge jinnee, whose head touched the clouds while his feet were on the ground. His head was as large as a dome; his hands like pitchforks; his legs as long as masts; and his mouth as big as a cave. His teeth were like large stones; his nostrils, jars; his eyes, two lamps; and his look was fierce and threatening. Now, when the fisherman saw the ifrit, his entire body quivered; his teeth chattered; his spit dried up, and he was so terrified that he could not move or run away.
The ifrit gazed at him and cried, “There is no god but the God, and Solomon is the prophet of God.” Immediately afterward, he added, “Oh Apostle of Allah, don’t slay me. Never again will I slander you, or commit a sin against your laws.”
“Oh jinnee,” said the fisherman, “did you say, ‘Solomon, the Apostle of Allah’? Solomon has been dead for some eighteen hundred years, and we are now approaching the end of the world! What happened to you? Tell me about yourself. How did you get into that jar?”
Now, when the evil spirit heard the words of the fisherman, he said, “There is no god but the God. Be of good cheer, fisherman!”
“Why should I be of good cheer?” asked the fisherman.
“Because you shall have to die this very hour.”
“May heaven abandon you because of your good tidings!” replied the fisherman. “Why should you kill me? What have I done to deserve death? After all, it was I who freed you from the jar, saved you from the depths of the sea, and brought you up to dry land!”
“Ask me only how you will die, and how I shall slaughter you,” the jinnee declared.
“What’s my crime?” exclaimed the fisherman. “Why such retribution?”
“Hear my story, oh fisherman,” answered the jinnee.
“Tell it to me,” said the fisherman, “and be brief, for my heart is in my mouth.”
“I’ll have you know that I am one among the heretical jinn, and I sinned against Solomon. Consequently, the prophet sent his minister, Asaf son of Barkhiya, to seize me, and this vizier had me bound and brought me against my will to stand before the prophet as a suppliant. When Solomon saw me, he demanded that I embrace the true faith and obey his commands. But I refused, and he had me imprisoned in the jar, which was sealed by lead and stamped by his signet. After Solomon gave orders to a jinnee, I was carried off and cast into the middle of the ocean. I lived in the jar for a hundred years, during which time I said in my heart, ‘I’ll reward whoever releases me with great riches.’ But a full century went by, and when no one set me free, I began the second and said, ‘I’ll open the hidden treasures of the earth for whoever releases me.’ But still no one set me free, and four hundred years went by. Then I said, ‘I’ll grant three wishes to whoever releases me.’ Yet no one set me free. Thereupon I became extremely furious and said, ‘From this time on I promise to slay whoever releases me, and the only choice I’ll give him will be the kind of death he’ll die.’ And now, since you’ve released me, I’ll give you your choice of death.”
Upon hearing the ifrit’s words, the fisherman exclaimed, “Oh Allah, why couldn’t I have freed him before this! Spare my life, jinnee, and Allah will spare yours.”
“Nothing can help you,” replied the jinnee. “You must die! I’ll only grant you your choice of death. So tell me how you want to die.”
“I’d prefer that you pardon me for having freed you.”
But the jinnee was resolute and said, “It’s precisely because you’ve released me that I must slay you.”
“Oh Chief of the Ifrits,” said the fisherman, “I do you a good deed, and you return my good deed with evil.”
“No more of this talk,” the jinnee answered. “I must kill you.”
Now the fisherman paused and thought to himself, “This is a jinnee, and I am a man whom Allah has blessed with cunning. So I must use my brains just as he has sought to make use of his malice.” Then he said to the jinnee, “So you’re really determined to kill me?”
“Indeed I am.”
“But if I ask you a certain question, will you swear on the name engraved on the ring of Solomon that you will give me a truthful answer?”
The ifrit replied, “Yes.” But hearing the holy name disturbed him, and he began to tremble. “Ask, but be brief.”
“How did you fit into this bottle, which is not even large enough to hold your hand or even your foot? And how did it become large enough to contain you?”
“What?” exclaimed the jinnee. “You don’t believe that all of me was in there?”
“No, I don’t,” responded the fisherman. “I’ll never believe it until I see you inside with my own eyes.”
And Scheherazade noticed that dawn was approaching and stopped telling her story. Then, when the next night arrived, her sister said to her, “Please finish the tale for us, since we’re not sleepy.”
The king nodded his approval, and so she resumed.
After the fisherman said to the ifrit that he would never believe him until he saw him inside the jar with his own eyes, the jinnee immediately shook and became a vapor, which condensed and gradually entered the jar until all of it was well inside. Right then and there the fisherman quickly took the lead cap with the seal, stopped the mouth of the jar, and cried out to the ifrit, “Ask me for a favor, and I’ll grant you your choice of death! By Allah, I’ll throw you into the sea right here, and I’ll build a lodge on this spot. And I’ll warn whoever comes not to fish here because a jinnee dwells in the waters, a jinnee who graciously rewards the person who saves him with a choice of death!”
Now, when the jinnee heard the fisherman’s words and saw himself in limbo, he tried to escape, but he was prevented by Solomon’s seal. So he knew that the fisherman had outwitted him, and he became submissive. “I was only jesting with you,” he said in a humble manner.
“You’re lying!” replied the fisherman. “You’re the vilest, meanest, and filthiest of jinnees!” And he moved toward the sea with the ifrit crying out, “No! No!” and him responding with “Yes! Yes!”
Then the evil spirit softened his voice, sweetened his speech, and abased himself. “What are you going to do with me, fisherman?” he asked.
“I’m going to throw you back into the sea,” he answered, “where you were housed for eighteen hundred years. And I’m going to leave you there until Judgment Day. Didn’t I say to you, spare me, and Allah will spare you, and don’t slay me or Allah will slay you? But you spurned my pleas and intended only to treat me ungraciously. So now Allah has thrown you into my hands, for I am more cunning than you!”
“If you open the bottle, I’ll make you a wealthy man,” the jinnee replied.
“You’re lying, you cursed jinnee,” exclaimed the fisherman. “You and I are in exactly the same situation as King Yunan was with the Sage Duban.”
“And who were King Yunan and the Sage Duban? What happened to them?” asked the jinnee.
Thereupon the fisherman began to tell
The Tale of King Yunan and the Sage Duban
A long time ago there lived a king called Yunan, who reigned over the city of Fars in the land of Persia. He was a wealthy and powerful ruler, who had massive armies and was allied with all nations of men. However, his body was afflicted with a leprosy that the doctors were unable to heal. He drank potions, swallowed pills, and used salves, but nothing would help. Finally, a mighty healer of men came to his city, the Sage Duban, who was extremely old and well versed in the works of the Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs, and Syrians. Moreover, he was skilled in astronomy and knew everything in theory and practice that could heal or harm a body. Indeed, he was familiar with the virtues of every plant, grass, and herb in the world and how they could benefit or damage a person, and he understood philosophy, medical science, and other branches of the tree of knowledge. Now, this physician had been in the city for only a few days when he heard about the king’s malady and how he had been suffering from leprosy and how all the doctors and wise men had failed to heal him. As a result, he sat up the entire night and thought about the king’s condition. When dawn broke, he put on his most becoming outfit and went to see King Yunan. After he kissed the ground before him, he wished the king long life and prosperity and introduced himself. “Your majesty, news has reached me that none of your physicians have been able to stop your sickness. However, you will see that I can cure you, and I shall have no need of potions or ointments.”
When King Yunan heard these words, he responded with great surprise, “How are you going to do this? By Allah, if you heal me, I will make you and your grandchildren rich, and I will give you sumptuous gifts. Whatever you wish will be yours, and you will be my friend and boon companion.” Then the king had him dressed in a robe of honor and asked him graciously, “Is it really possible for you to cure me without drugs and potions?”
“Yes!” he answered. “I’ll heal you without the pains and drawbacks of medicine.”
The king was astonished and said, “When will all this take place, and how soon? Let it be soon.”
“As you wish,” he replied. “The cure will begin tomorrow.”
Upon saying this, the sage departed and rented a house in the city in order to store his books, scrolls, medicines, and aromatic roots in a better way. Then he set to work by choosing the most effective drugs and balsams. Afterward he carved a polo stick with a hollow inside and a wide end with which to hit a ball. All this was made with consummate art. On the next day when both the stick and ball were ready for use, he went to the king, and after kissing the ground, he asked the king to ride out onto the parade ground to play polo. He was accompanied by his emirs, chamberlains, viziers, and lords of the realm, and before he was seated, the Sage Duban went up to him, handed him the stick, and said, “Take this stick and grip it as I do. Good! Now lean over your horse and drive the ball with all your might until your palm is moist and your body perspires. Then the medicine will penetrate through your palm and will permeate your body. After you have finished playing and you feel the effects of the medicine, return to your palace and wash yourself in the Hammam bath. Then lie down to sleep, and you will be healed. Now, peace be with you!”
Thereupon King Yunan took the stick from the sage and grasped it firmly. After mounting his steed, he drove the ball before him and galloped after it until he reached it, and he did not stop hitting the ball until his hand became moist and his skin perspired so that he imbibed the medicine from the wood. Then the Sage Duban knew that the drugs had penetrated his body, and he told the king that it was time to return to the palace and enter the bath without delay. So King Yunan returned immediately and ordered them to prepare the bath for him. The carpet spreaders rushed about, and the slaves hurried and prepared a change of clothes for the king, who entered the bath and made the total ablution long and thorough. Then he put on his clothes within the Hammam and rode from there to his palace, where he lay down and slept.
Meanwhile, the Sage Duban returned home and slept as usual. When morning dawned, he went back to the palace and asked for an audience with the king. The king ordered him to be admitted, and after the Sage Duban sang a solemn song in honor of the king, the king rose to his feet quickly and embraced him. After giving him a seat by his side, the king had him clothed in a sumptuous robe, for it so happened that after the king had left the Hammam bath, he had looked at his body and had not been able to find a single trace of leprosy. Indeed, his skin had become as clean as pure silver, and he had rejoiced. Now the food trays carrying the most delicious viands were brought, and the physician ate with the king and remained with him all that day. Then at nightfall the king gave the Sage Duban two thousand gold pieces besides the usual robe of honor and other gifts galore. Finally, he sent him home on his own steed.
After the sage had departed, King Yunan again expressed his amazement at the doctor’s art and said, “This man cured my body without the aid of ointments. Surely, this shows how great and consummate his skills are! I feel obliged to honor such a man with rewards and distinction and make him my friend and companion until the end of my days.”
So King Yunan spent the night in joy and happiness because his body had been healed and had overcome such a pernicious malady. The next day the king left his seraglio and sat on his throne. The lords of estate stood around him, and the emirs and viziers sat on his right and on his left as was their custom. Then the king asked for the Sage Duban, who came in and kissed the ground before him. After the king rose to greet him and seated him by his side, he ate with him and wished him long life. Moreover, he gave him clothes and gifts and did not stop conversing with him until night approached. Then, as a kind of salary, the king gave him five robes of honor and a thousand dinars, whereupon the doctor returned to his own house full of gratitude to the king.
When the next morning dawned, the king went to his audience hall, and his lords, nobles, chamberlains, and ministers surrounded him just as the white encompasses the black of the eye. Now the king had a vizier among the nobility, unpleasant in appearance, sordid, ungenerous, full of envy and ill will. When this minister saw the king place the physician near him and give him all those gifts, he was jealous of him and planned to do him harm. So the minister went before the king and, kissing the ground between his hands, said, “Your majesty, I have some serious advice for you, and though you may not like it, I would be amiss in my duties as your minister if I did not speak my piece.”
The king was troubled by the words of the minister and said, “What is this advice of yours?”
“Oh glorious monarch,” he responded, “the wise men of former times have a saying which runs like this: whoever does not regard the end will not have Fortune as his friend. And indeed, I have recently seen the king heading in the wrong direction, for he has been bestowing lavish presents on his enemy, on one whose intention is to bring an end to your rule. You have favored this man and honored him unduly by making him an intimate friend. Consequently, I fear for the king’s life.”
The king, whose face changed color, was greatly disturbed and asked, “Whom do you suspect?”
“Oh king,” the minister said, “if you are asleep, wake up! I am pointing at the physician Duban.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” the king cried out. “He is a true friend, and I’ve favored him above all other men because he cured me of my leprosy, which had baffled all the physicians of my land. Indeed, there is no one like him to be found in these times—no, no one in the entire world from the far east to the far west! And this is the man whom you are accusing! Why, this very day I granted him a monthly salary and allowance of one thousand gold pieces, and were I to share my realm with him, it would be inconsequential. Therefore, I must assume that you are speaking about him out of mere envy and jealousy just as one spoke about King Sinbad.”
And Scheherazade noticed that dawn was approaching and stopped her story. Then Dunazade said, “Oh my sister, your tale is delightful. How sweet and graceful!”
“This is nothing compared with what I could tell you tomorrow night if the king would spare my life,” she replied.
Then the king said to himself, “By Allah, I won’t slay her until I hear the rest of her tale, for it is truly wondrous.”
So they rested that night in mutual embrace until dawn. Then the king went to his audience hall, and the vizier and the troops entered. The reception chamber was thronged, and the king judged, appointed, deposed, permitted, and prohibited during the rest of the day until the court was adjourned, whereupon King Shahryar returned to his palace. Later that night, Dunazade said to Scheherazade, “If you’re not sleepy, will you please finish the story for us?”
“With the king’s permission,” she replied.
“You have my permission,” said Shahryar.
And Scheherazade resumed:
If you recall, oh mighty monarch, King Yunan had said to his minister, “Oh vizier, the evil spirit of envy has contaminated you because of this physician, and you are trying to urge me to put him to death, after which I would sorely repent just as King Sinbad repented the killing of his falcon.”
“Pardon me, your majesty, what was that about?” asked the vizier.
In reply the king began
The Tale of King Sinbad and His Falcon
There was once a king of Persia who enjoyed all the sporting life, especially hunting. He had raised a falcon which he carried all night on his fist, and he had a little gold cup made for it that was draped around its neck so it could drink at will. Of course, whenever he went hunting, he took this bird with him.
Now, one day as the king was sitting quietly in his palace, the high falconer of his household appeared before him and said, “Your majesty, this is just the right day for hunting.”
So the king gave orders accordingly and set out with the falcon on his fist. They went merrily on their way until they found a ravine, where they laid their nets for the chase. Just then a gazelle came within sight, and the king cried, “I’ll kill any man who allows that gazelle over there to jump over his head and get away!”
They closed in on the gazelle with the nets, driving it near the king’s post. Then it squatted on its hindquarters and crossed its forehead over its breast, as if about to kiss the earth before the king. So unusual was this behavior that the king bowed his brow in acknowledgment to the gazelle, allowing the beast time to jump quickly over his head and disappear from sight. Thereupon, the king turned toward his troops and saw them pointing at him. “Oh vizier,” he asked, “what are my men saying?”
“They say,” the minister replied, “that you had proclaimed you would kill any man who allowed the gazelle to jump over his head.”
“Well, by the life of my head, I shall pursue that gazelle until I bring it back!”
So he set off on his horse, galloping after the gazelle’s trail, and he did not stop tracking the beast until he reached the foothills of a mountain chain where the quarry had made for a cave. Then the king set the falcon loose, and when the bird caught up with it, she swooped down, and drove her talons into its eyes, bewildering and blinding it. When he saw this, the king came up, drew his mace, and struck a blow that killed the beast. After that he dismounted, cut the antelope’s throat, flayed the body, and hung it on the pommel of his saddle.
Now the time for siesta had arrived, and the surrounding land was parched and dry. There was no water to be found anywhere, and the king and his horse were thirsty. So he went searching until he found a tree moist with water on its boughs, as if butter were melting from its branches. Thereupon the king, who wore leather gauntlets to protect him against poison, took the cup from the hawk’s neck, and after filling it with water, he set it before the bird, who suddenly struck it with her claws so that the liquid poured out. The king filled it a second time with the drops from the branches, thinking his falcon was thirsty, but the bird struck the cup again with her claws and knocked it over. Now the king became mad at the falcon and filled the cup a third time but offered it to his horse. Once more, the bird upset it with a flick of her wings.
“By Allah,” said the king, “you miserable flying creature! You’re keeping all of us from drinking.”
So he struck the falcon with his sword and cut off her wing, but the bird raised her head and said by signs, “Look at what’s hanging on the tree!”
The king lifted his eyes and caught sight of a brood of vipers, whose poison drops he had mistaken for water. Thereupon he repented for having lopped off the falcon’s wing, and after mounting his horse, he moved on with the dead gazelle until he arrived at his camp. After throwing the quarry to the cook, he said, “Take it and broil it.” Then he sat down on his chair to relax, but the falcon, still on his wrist, gasped and died. There was nothing left for the king to do but to cry in sorrow and remorse for having slain the falcon which had saved his life.
“Such was the sad story about King Sinbad, and I’m certain that if I were to do as you desire, I would regret it. In fact, I’d be in the same situation as the man who killed his parrot.”
“And what happened to him?” the vizier asked.