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Payne: The Serpent-Charmer and His Wife

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There was once a man, a serpent-charmer, who used to [catch and] train serpents, and this was his trade; and he had a great basket, in which were three snakes; but the people of his house knew this not. Every day he used to take the basket and go round about the town with it, gaining his living and that of his family [by exhibiting the snakes], and at eventide he returned to his house and clapped them back into the basket privily. One day, when he came home, as of wont, his wife asked him what was in the basket and he said, "What wouldst thou with it? Is not victual plentiful with you? Be content with that which God hath allotted to thee and enquire not of aught else." With this she held her peace; but she said in herself, "Needs must I search the basket and know what is therein." So she egged on her children to ask him of the basket and importune him, till he should tell them what was therein. They concluded that it contained something to eat and sought every day of their father that he should show them what was in it; and he still put them off and forbade them from asking this.

On this wise they abode awhile, till they agreed with their mother that they would neither eat nor drink with their father, till he granted them their prayer and opened the basket to them. One night, the serpent-charmer came home with great plenty of meat and drink and called them to eat with him; but they refused and showed him anger; whereupon he began to coax them with fair words, saying, "Tell me what you would have, that I may bring it you, be it meat or drink or clothes." "O our father," answered they, "we want nothing of thee but that thou open this basket and show us what is therein: else we will kill ourselves." "O my children," rejoined he, "there is nothing good for you therein and indeed the opening of it will be hurtful to you." They only redoubled in despite for all he could say, which when he saw, he began to berate them and threaten them with beating, except they left this; but they redoubled in anger and persistence in asking, till at last he waxed wroth and took a stick to beat them, and they fled from him within the house.

Now the basket was present and he had not hidden it anywhere; so his wife left him occupied with the children and opened the basket in haste, that she might see what was therein; whereupon the serpents came out and bit her and killed her. Then they went round about the house and killed all, great and small, who were therein, except the serpent-charmer, who left the place and went away. If then, O august king,' continued the vizier, 'thou consider this, thou wilt know that it is not for a man to desire aught but that which God the Most High refuseth not to him; nay, he should be content with what He willeth. And thou, O king, for the abundance of thy wisdom and the excellence of thine understanding, God hath solaced thine eyes with the advent of this thy son, after despair, and hath comforted thine heart; wherefore we pray God to make him of the just kings, acceptable to Himself and to his subjects.'

Then rose the seventh vizier and said, 'O king, I know and endorse all that my brethren, these wise and learned viziers, have said of thy justice and the goodness of thy policy and how thou art distinguished in this from all other kings; wherefore they gave thee the preference over them. Indeed, this is of that which is incumbent on us, O king, and I say, "Praised be God for that He hath guerdoned thee with His bounty and vouchsafed thee, of His mercy, the welfare of the realm and succoured us and thee, on condition that we abound in gratitude to Him; and all this no otherwise than by thine existence!" What while thou remainest to us, we fear not oppression neither dread unright, nor can any take advantage of our weakness; and indeed it is said, "The greatest good of a a people is a just king and their greatest evil an unjust one;" and again, "Better dwell with devouring lions than with an unjust Sultan." So praised be God the Most High 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 of the world is a virtuous child, and it is said, "He who hath no child, [his life] is without result and he hath no remembrance."

As for thee, because of the righteousness of thy justice and thy pious confidence in God the Most High, thou hast been vouchsafed this happy son; yea, this blessed child cometh as a gift from the Most High God to us and to thee, for the excellence of thy governance and the goodliness of thy patience; and in this thou hast fared even as fared the spider with the wind.' 'And what is the story of the spider and the wind?' asked the king. 'Know, O king,' answered the vizier, 'that...

[Go to The Spider and the Wind]


Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram 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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