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Burton: The Serpent-Charmer and His Wife

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There was once a man, a Serpent-charmer, who used to train serpents, and this was his trade; and he had a great basket, wherein were three snakes, but the people of his house knew this not. Every day he used to go round with this pannier about the town gaining his living and that of his family by showing the snakes, and at eventide he returned to his house and clapped them back into the basket privily. This lasted a long while, but it chanced one day, when he came home, as was his wont, his wife asked him, saying, "What is in this pannier?" And he replied, "What wouldest thou with it? Is not provision plentiful with you? Be thou content with that which Allah hath allotted to thee and ask not of aught else." With this the woman held her peace; but she said in herself, "There is no help but that I search this basket and know what is there." So she egged on her children and enjoined them to ask him of the pannier and importune him with their questions, till he should tell them what was therein. They presently concluded that it contained something to eat and sought every day of their father that he should show them what was therein; and he still put them off with pleasant presences and forbade them from asking this. On such wise they abode awhile, the wife and mother still persisting in her quest till they agreed with her that they would neither eat meat nor drain drink with their father, till he granted them their prayer and opened the basket to them. One night, behold, the Serpent- charmer came home with great plenty of meat and drink and took his seat calling them to eat with him, but they refused his company and showed him anger. Whereupon he began to coax them with fair words, saying, "Lookye, tell me what you would have, that I may bring it you, be it meat or drink or raiment." Answered they, "O our father, we want nothing of thee but that thou open this pannier that we may see what is therein, else we will slay ourselves." He rejoined, "O my children, there is nothing good for you therein and indeed the opening of it will be harmful to you." Hereat they redoubled in rage for all he could say, which when he saw, he began to scold them and threaten them with beating, except they returned from such condition; but they only increased in anger and persistence in asking, till at last he waxed wroth and took a staff to beat them, and they fled from before him within the house. Now the basket was present and the Serpent-charmer had not hidden it anywhere, so his wife left him occupied with the children and opened the pannier in haste, that she might see what was therein. Thereupon behold, the serpents came out and first struck their fangs into her and killed her; then they tried round about the house and slew all, great and small, who were therein, except the Serpent-charmer, who left the place and went his way. "If then, O auspicious King," continued the Wazir, "thou consider this, thou wilt be convinced that it is not for a man to desire aught save that which God the Great refuseth not to him; nay, he should be content with what He willeth. And thou, O King, for the overflowing of thy wisdom and the excellence of thine understanding, Allah hath cooled thine eyes with the advent of this thy son, after despair, and hath comforted thy heart; wherefore we pray the Almighty to make him of the just successors acceptable to Himself and to his subjects." Then rose the seventh Wazir and said, "O King, I know and certify all that my brethren, these Ministers wise and learned, have said in the presence, praising thy justice and the goodness of thy policy and proving how thou art distinguished in this from all Kings other than thyself; wherefore they gave thee the preference over them. Indeed, this be of that which is incumbent on us, O King, and I say, 'Praised be Allah!' in that He hath guerdoned thee with His gifts and vouchsafed thee of His mercy, the welfare of the realm; and hath succoured thee and ourselves, on condition that we increase in gratitude to Him; and all this no otherwise than by thine existence! What while thou remainest amongst us, we fear not oppression neither dread upright, nor can any take long-handed advantage of our weakness! and indeed it is said, 'The greatest good of a people is a just King and their greatest ill an unjust King'; and again, 'Better dwell with rending lions than with a tyrannous Sultan.' So praised be Almighty Allah with eternal praise for that He hath blessed us with thy life and vouchsafed thee this blessed child, whenas thou wast stricken in years and hadst despaired of issue! For the goodliest of the gifts in this world is a virtuous sire, and it is said, 'Whoso hath no progeny his life is without result and he leaveth no memory.' As for thee, because of the righteousness of thy justice and thy pious reliance on Allah the Most High, thou hast been vouchsafed this happy son; yea, this blessed child cometh as a gift from the Most High Lord to us and to thee, for the excellence of thy governance and the goodliness of thy long-sufferance; and in this thou hast fared even as fared the Spider and the Wind." Asked the King, "And what is the story of the Spider and the Wind?"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Nine Hundred and Eighth Night,

She continued: It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the King asked, "And what is the story of the twain?", the Wazir answered, "Give ear, O King, to the tale of...

[Go to The Spider and the Wind]

Burton, Richard (1821-1890). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. London. 1885-1888. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. VII. Gutenberg Vol. VIII. Gutenberg Vol. IX. Gutenberg Vol. X. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.

1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM

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