One Thousand and One Nights

Various

Preview: Issue 1 of 61

Translation by Edward William Lane.

INTRODUCTION

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Praise be to God, the Beneficent King, the Creator of the universe, who hath raised the heavens without pillars, and spread out the earth as a bed; and blessing and peace be on the lord of apostles, our lord and our master Moḥammad, and his Family; blessing and peace, enduring and constant, unto the day of judgment.

To proceed:--The lives of former generations are a lesson to posterity; that a man may review the remarkable events which have happened to others, and be admonished; and may consider the history of people of preceding ages, and of all that hath befallen them, and be restrained. Extolled be the perfection of Him who hath thus ordained the history of former generations to be a lesson to those which follow. Such are the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, with their romantic stories and their fables.

It is related (but God alone is all-knowing, as well as all-wise, and almighty, and all-bountiful,) that there was, in ancient times, a King of the countries of India and China, possessing numerous troops, and guards, and servants, and domestic dependents: and he had two sons; one of whom was a man of mature age; and the other, a youth. Both of these princes were brave horsemen; but especially the elder, who inherited the kingdom of his father; and governed his subjects with such justice that the inhabitants of his country and whole empire loved him. He was called King Shahriyar: his younger brother was named Shah-Zeman, and was King of Samarḳand. The administration of their governments was conducted with rectitude, each of them ruling over his subjects with justice during a period of twenty years with the utmost enjoyment and happiness. After this period, the elder King felt a strong desire to see his brother, and ordered his Wezeer to repair to him and bring him.

Having taken the advice of the Wezeer on this subject, he immediately gave orders to prepare handsome presents, such as horses adorned with gold and costly jewels, and memlooks, and beautiful virgins, and expensive stuffs. He then wrote a letter to his brother, expressive of his great desire to see him; and having sealed it, and given it to the Wezeer, together with the presents above mentioned, he ordered the minister to strain his nerves, and tuck up his skirts, and use all expedition in returning. The Wezeer answered, without delay, I hear and obey; and forthwith prepared for the journey: he packed his baggage, removed the burdens, and made ready all his provisions within three days; and on the fourth day, he took leave of the King Shahriyar, and went forth towards the deserts and wastes. He proceeded night and day; and each of the kings under the authority of King Shahriyar by whose residence he passed came forth to meet him, with costly presents, and gifts of gold and silver, and entertained him three days; after which, on the fourth day, he accompanied him one day's journey, and took leave of him. Thus he continued on his way until he drew near to the city of Samarḳand, when he sent forward a messenger to inform King Shah-Zeman of his approach. The messenger entered the city, inquired the way to the palace, and, introducing himself to the King, kissed the ground before him, and acquainted him with the approach of his brother's Wezeer; upon which Shah-Zeman ordered the chief officers of his court, and the great men of his kingdom, to go forth a day's journey to meet him; and they did so; and when they met him, they welcomed him, and walked by his stirrups until they returned to the city. The Wezeer then presented himself before the King Shah-Zeman, greeted him with a prayer for the divine assistance in his favour, kissed the ground before him, and informed him of his brother's desire to see him; after which he handed to him the letter. The King took it, read it, and understood its contents; and answered by expressing his readiness to obey the commands of his brother. But, said he (addressing the Wezeer), I will not go until I have entertained thee three days. Accordingly, he lodged him in a palace befitting his rank, accommodated his troops in tents, and appointed them all things requisite in the way of food and drink: and so they remained three days. On the fourth day, he equipped himself for the journey, made ready his baggage, and collected together costly presents suitable to his brother's dignity.

These preparations being completed, he sent forth his tents and camels and mules and servants and guards, appointed his Wezeer to be governor of the country during his absence, and set out towards his brother's dominions. At midnight, however, he remembered that he had left in his palace an article which he should have brought with him; and having returned to the palace to fetch it, he there beheld his wife sleeping in his bed, and attended by a male negro slave, who had fallen asleep by her side. On beholding this scene, the world became black before his eyes; and he said within himself, If this is the case when I have not departed from the city, what will be the conduct of this vile woman while I am sojourning with my brother? He then drew his sword, and slew them both in the bed: after which he immediately returned, gave orders for departure, and journeyed to his brother's capital.

Shahriyar, rejoicing at the tidings of his approach, went forth to meet him, saluted him, and welcomed him with the utmost delight. He then ordered that the city should be decorated on the occasion, and sat down to entertain his brother with cheerful conversation: but the mind of King Shah-Zeman was distracted by reflections upon the conduct of his wife; excessive grief took possession of him; and his countenance became sallow; and his frame, emaciated. His brother observed his altered condition, and, imagining that it was occasioned by his absence from his dominions, abstained from troubling him or asking respecting the cause, until after the lapse of some days, when at length he said to him, O my brother, I perceive that thy body is emaciated, and thy countenance is become sallow. He answered, O brother, I have an internal sore:--and he informed him not of the conduct of his wife which he had witnessed. Shahriyar then said, I wish that thou wouldest go out with me on a hunting excursion; perhaps thy mind might so be diverted:--but he declined; and Shahriyar went alone to the chase.

Now there were some windows in the King's palace commanding a view of his garden; and while his brother was looking out from one of these, a door of the palace was opened, and there came forth from it twenty females and twenty male black slaves; and the King's wife, who was distinguished by extraordinary beauty and elegance, accompanied them to a fountain, where they all disrobed themselves, and sat down together. The King's wife then called out, O Mes'ood! and immediately a black slave came to her, and embraced her; she doing the like. So also did the other slaves and the women; and all of them continued revelling together until the close of the day. When Shah-Zeman beheld this spectacle, he said within himself, By Allah! my affliction is lighter than this! His vexation and grief were alleviated, and he no longer abstained from sufficient food and drink.

When his brother returned from his excursion, and they had saluted each other, and King Shahriyar observed his brother Shah-Zeman, that his colour had returned, that his face had recovered the flush of health, and that he ate with appetite, after his late abstinence, he was surprised, and said, O my brother, when I saw thee last, thy countenance was sallow, and now thy colour hath returned to thee: acquaint me with thy state.--As to the change of my natural complexion, answered Shah-Zeman, I will inform thee of its cause; but excuse my explaining to thee the return of my colour.--First, said Shahriyar, relate to me the cause of the change of thy proper complexion, and of thy weakness: let me hear it.--Know then, O my brother, he answered, that when thou sentest thy Wezeer to me to invite me to thy presence, I prepared myself for the journey, and when I had gone forth from the city, I remembered that I had left behind me the jewel that I have given thee; I therefore returned to my palace for it, and there I found my wife sleeping in my bed, and attended by a black male slave; and I killed them both, and came to thee: but my mind was occupied by reflections upon this affair, and this was the cause of the change of my complexion, and of my weakness: now, as to the return of my colour, excuse my informing thee of its cause.--But when his brother heard these words, he said, I conjure thee by Allah that thou acquaint me with the cause of the return of thy colour:--so he repeated to him all that he had seen. I would see this, said Shahriyar, with my own eye.--Then, said Shah-Zeman, give out that thou art going again to the chase, and conceal thyself here with me, and thou shalt witness this conduct, and obtain ocular proof of it.

Shahriyar, upon this, immediately announced that it was his intention to make another excursion. The troops went out of the city with the tents, and the King followed them; and after he had reposed awhile in the camp, he said to his servants, Let no one come in to me:--and he disguised himself, and returned to his brother in the palace, and sat in one of the windows overlooking the garden; and when he had been there a short time, the women and their mistress entered the garden with the black slaves, and did as his brother had described, continuing so until the hour of the afternoon-prayer.

When King Shahriyar beheld this occurrence, reason fled from his head, and he said to his brother Shah-Zeman, Arise, and let us travel whither we please, and renounce the regal state, until we see whether such a calamity as this have befallen any other person like unto us; and if not, our death will be preferable to our life. His brother agreed to his proposal, and they went out from a private door of the palace, and journeyed continually, days and nights, until they arrived at a tree in the midst of a meadow, by a spring of water, on the shore of the sea. They drank of this spring, and sat down to rest; and when the day had a little advanced, the sea became troubled before them, and there arose from it a black pillar, ascending towards the sky, and approaching the meadow. Struck with fear at the sight, they climbed up into the tree, which was lofty; and thence they gazed to see what this might be: and behold, it was a Jinnee, of gigantic stature, broad-fronted and bulky, bearing on his head a chest. He landed, and came to the tree into which the two Kings had climbed, and, having seated himself beneath it, opened the chest, and took out of it another box, which he also opened; and there came forth from it a young woman, fair and beautiful, like the shining sun. When the Jinnee cast his eyes upon her, he said, O lady of noble race, whom I carried off on thy wedding-night, I have a desire to sleep a little:--and he placed his head upon her knee, and slept. The damsel then raised her head towards the tree, and saw there the two Kings; upon which she removed the head of the Jinnee from her knee, and, having placed it on the ground, stood under the tree, and made signs to the two Kings, as though she would say, Come down, and fear not this 'Efreet. They answered her, We conjure thee by Allah that thou excuse us in this matter. But she said, I conjure you by the same that ye come down; and if ye do not, I will rouse this 'Efreet, and he shall put you to a cruel death. So, being afraid, they came down to her; and, after they had remained with her as long as she required, she took from her pocket a purse, and drew out from this a string, upon which were ninety-eight seal-rings; and she said to them, Know ye what are these? They answered, We know not.--The owners of these rings, said she, have, all of them, been admitted to converse with me, like as ye have, unknown to this foolish 'Efreet; therefore, give me your two rings, ye brothers. So they gave her their two rings from their fingers; and she then said to them, This 'Efreet carried me off on my wedding-night, and put me in the box, and placed the box in the chest, and affixed to the chest seven locks, and deposited me, thus imprisoned, in the bottom of the roaring sea, beneath the dashing waves; not knowing that, when one of our sex desires to accomplish any object, nothing can prevent her. In accordance with this, says one of the poets:--

Never trust in women; nor rely upon their vows; For their pleasure and displeasure depend upon their passions. They offer a false affection; for perfidy lurks within their clothing. By the tale of Yoosuf be admonished, and guard against their stratagems. Dost thou not consider that Iblees ejected Adam by means of woman?

And another poet says:--

Abstain from censure; for it will strengthen the censured, and increase desire into violent passion. If I suffer such passion, my case is but the same as that of many a man before me: For greatly indeed to be wondered at is he who hath kept himself safe from women's artifice.

When the two Kings heard these words from her lips, they were struck with the utmost astonishment, and said, one to the other, If this is an 'Efreet, and a greater calamity hath happened unto him than that which hath befallen us, this is a circumstance that should console us:--and immediately they departed, and returned to the city.

As soon as they had entered the palace, Shahriyar caused his wife to be beheaded, and in like manner the women and black slaves; and thenceforth he made it his regular custom, every time that he took a virgin to his bed, to kill her at the expiration of the night. Thus he continued to do during a period of three years; and the people raised an outcry against him, and fled with their daughters, and there remained not a virgin in the city of a sufficient age for marriage. Such was the case when the King ordered the Wezeer to bring him a virgin according to his custom; and the Wezeer went forth and searched, and found none; and he went back to his house enraged and vexed, fearing what the King might do to him.

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