[Go back to The History of the First Calendar]
Madam, to obey your commands, and to shew you by what strange accident I became blind of the right eye, I must of necessity give you the account of my life.
I was scarcely past my infancy, when the sultan my father (for you must know I am a prince by birth) perceived that I was endowed with good natural ability, and spared nothing proper for improving it.
No sooner was I able to read and write, but I learned the Koraun from beginning to end by heart, that admirable book, which contains the foundation, the precepts, and the rules of our religion; and that I might be thoroughly instructed in it, I read the works of the most approved divines, by whose commentaries it had been explained. I added to this study, that of all the traditions collected from the mouth of our prophet, by the great men that were contemporary with him. I was not satisfied with the knowledge of all that had any relation to our religion, but made also a particular search into our histories. I made myself perfect in polite learning, in the works of poets, and versification. I applied myself to geography, chronology, and to speak the Arabian language in its purity; not forgetting in the meantime all such exercises as were proper for a prince to understand. But one thing which I was fond of, and succeeded in, was penmanship; wherein I surpassed all the celebrated scribes of our kingdom.
Fame did me more honour than I deserved, for she not only spread the renown of my talents through all the dominions of the sultan my father, but carried it as far as the empire of Hindoostan, whose potent monarch, desirous to see me, sent an ambassador with rich presents: my father, who rejoiced at this embassy for several reasons, was persuaded, that nothing could be more improving to a prince of my age than to travel and visit foreign courts; and he wished to gain the friendship of the Indian monarch. I departed with the ambassador, but with no great retinue.
When we had travelled about a month, we discovered at a distance a cloud of dust, and under that we saw very soon fifty horsemen well armed, who were robbers, advancing towards us at full speed.
As we had ten horses laden with baggage, and presents to the sultan of Hindoostan, from my father, and my retinue was but small, you may easily judge that these robbers came boldly up to us; and not being in a posture to make any opposition, we told them, that we were ambassadors, and hoped they would attempt nothing contrary to the respect due to such sacred characters, thinking by this means to save our equipage and our lives: but the robbers most insolently replied, "For what reason would you have us shew any respect to the sultan your master? We are none of his subjects, nor are we upon his territories:" having spoken thus, they surrounded and fell upon us: I defended myself as long as I could; but finding myself wounded, and seeing the ambassador with his attendants and mine lying on the ground, I made use of what strength was yet remaining in my horse, who was also very much wounded, and rode away as fast as he could carry me; but he shortly after, from weariness and the loss of blood, fell down dead. I cleared myself from him unhurt, and finding that I was not pursued, judged the robbers were not willing to quit the booty they had obtained.
Here you see me, alone, wounded, destitute of help, and in a strange country. I durst not take the high road, fearing I might fall again into the hands of these robbers. When I had bound up my wound, which was not dangerous, I walked on the rest of the day, and arrived at the foot of
mountain, where I perceived a passage into a cave; I went in, and staid there that night with little satisfaction, after I had eaten some fruits that I had gathered by the way.
I continued my journey for several days following, without finding any place of abode: but after a month's time, I came to a large town well inhabited, and situated so much the more advantageously, as it was surrounded by several streams, so that it enjoyed perpetual spring.
The pleasant objects which then presented themselves to my view afforded me some joy, and suspended for a time the sorrow with which I was overwhelmed. My face, hands, and feet were black and sun-burnt; and, by my long journey, my boots were quite worn out, so that I was forced to walk bare-footed; and besides, my clothes were all in rags I entered the town to inform myself where I was, and addressed myself to a tailor that was at work in his shop; who, perceiving by my air that I was a person of more note than my outward appearance bespoke, made me sit down by him, and asked me who I was, from whence I came, and what had brought me thither? I did not conceal anything that had befallen me, nor made I any scruple to discover my quality.
The tailor listened to me with attention; but after had done speaking, instead of giving me any consolation, he augmented my sorrow: "Take heed," said he, "how you discover to any person what you have related to me; for the prince of this country is the greatest enemy your father has, and he will certainly do you some mischief, should he hear of your being in this city." I made no doubt of the tailor's sincerity, when he named the prince: but since that enmity which is between my father and him has no relation to my adventures, I pass it over in silence.
I returned the tailor thanks for his advice, expressed himself disposed to follow his counsel, and assured him that his favours should never be forgotten. He ordered something to be brought for me to eat, and offered me at the same time a lodging in his house, which I accepted. Some days after, finding me tolerably well recovered of the fatigue I had endured by a long and tedious journey, and reflecting that most princes of our religion applied themselves to some art or calling that might be serviceable to them upon occasion, he asked me, if I had learned any whereby I might get a livelihood, and not be burdensome to others? I told him that I understood the laws, both divine and human; that I was a grammarian and poet; and above all, that I could write with great perfection. "By all this," said he, "you will not be able, in this country, to purchase yourself one morsel of bread; nothing is of less use here than those sciences; but if you will be advised by me, dress yourself in a labourer's habit; and since you appear to be strong, and of a good constitution, you shall go into the next forest and cut fire-wood, which you may bring to the market to be sold; and I can assure you this employment will turn to so good an account that you may live by it, without dependence upon any man; and by this means you will be in a condition to wait for the favourable minute, when heaven shall think fit to dispel those clouds of misfortune that thwart your happiness, and oblige you to conceal your birth; I will take care to supply you with a rope and a hatchet."
The fear of being known, and the necessity I was under of getting a livelihood, made me agree to this proposal, notwithstanding the meanness and hardships that attended it. The day following the tailor brought me a rope. a hatchet, and a short coat, and recommended me to some poor people who gained their bread after the same manner, that they might take me into their company. They conducted me to the wood, and the first day I brought in as much upon my head as procured me half a piece of gold, of the money of that country; for though the wood was not far distant from the town, yet it was very scarce, by reason that few would be at the trouble of fetching it for themselves. I gained a good sum of money in a short time, and repaid my tailor what he had advanced to me
I continued this way of living for a whole year. One day, having by chance penetrated farther into the wood than usual, I happened to light on a pleasant spot, where I began to cut; and in pulling up the root of a tree, I espied an iron ring, fastened to a trap door of the same metal. I took away the earth that covered it, and having lifted it up, discovered a flight of stairs, which I descended with my axe in my hand.
When I had reached the bottom, I found myself in a palace, and felt great consternation, on account of a great light which appeared as clear in it as if it had been above ground in the open air. I went forward along a gallery, supported by pillars of jasper, the base and capitals of messy gold: but seeing a lady of a noble and graceful air, extremely beautiful, coming towards me, my eyes were taken off from every other objets.
Being desirous to spare the lady the trouble of coming to me, I hastened to meet her; and as I was saluting her with a low obeisance, she asked me, "What are you, a man or a genie?" "A man, madam," said I; "I have no correspondence with genies." "By what adventure," said she, fetching a deep sigh, "are you come hither? I have lived here twenty-five years, and you are the: first man I have beheld in that time."
Her great beauty, which had already smitten me, and the sweetness and civility wherewith she received me, emboldened me to say, "Madam, before I have the honour to satisfy your curiosity, give me leave to tell you, that I am infinitely gratified with this unexpected meeting, which offers me an occasion of consolation in the midst of my affliction; and perhaps it may give me an opportunity of making you also more happy than you are." I related to her by what strange accident she beheld me, the son of a sultan, in such a condition as I appeared in her presence; and how fortune had directed that I should discover the entrance into that magnificent prison where I had found her, according to appearance, in an unpleasant situation.
"Alas! prince," said she, sighing once more, "you have just cause to believe this rich and pompous prison cannot be otherwise than a most wearisome abode: the most charming place in the world being no way delightful when we are detained there contrary to our will. It is not possible but you have heard of the sultan of the isle of Ebene, so called from that precious wood which it produces in abundance; I am the princess his daughter.
"The sultan, my father, had chosen for me a husband, a prince who was my cousin; but on my wedding-night, in the midst of the rejoicings of the court and capital, before I was conducted to my husband, a genie took me away. I fainted with alarm, and when I recovered, found myself in this place. I was long inconsolable, but time and necessity have accustomed me to see and receive the genie. Twenty-five years I have continued in this place, where, I must confess, I have all that I can wish for necessary to life, and also every thing that can satisfy a princess fond of dress and splendour.
"Every ten days," continued the princess, "the genie comes hither, and remains with me one night, which he never exceeds; and the excuse he makes for it is, that he is married to another wife, who would grow jealous if she should know his infidelity. Meanwhile, if I have occasion for him by day or night, as soon as I touch a talisman, which is at the entrance into my chamber, the genie appears. It is now the fourth day since he was here, and I do not expect him before the end of six more; so, if you please, you may stay five days, and I will endeavour to entertain you according to your quality and merit." I thought myself too fortunate, to have obtained so great a favour without asking, to refuse so obliging an offer. The princess made me go into a bath, the most commodious, and the most sumptuous imaginable; and when I came forth, instead of my own clothes I found another very costly suit, which I did not esteem so much for its richness, as because it made me appear worthy to be in her company. We sat down on a sofa covered with rich tapestry, with cushions of the rarest Indian brocade; and some time after she covered a table with several dishes of delicate meats. We ate, and passed the remaining part of the day with much satisfaction, as also the evening, together.
The next day, as she contrived every means to please me, she brought in, at dinner, a bottle of old wine, the most excellent that ever was tasted, and out of complaisance drank some part of it with me. When my head grew warm with the agreeable liquor, "Fair princess," said I, "you have been too long thus buried alive; follow me, enjoy the real day, of which you have been deprived so many years, and abandon this artificial though brilliant glare." "Prince," replied she, with a smile, "leave this discourse; if you out of ten days will grant me nine, and resign the last to the genie, the fairest day would be nothing in my esteem." "Princess," said I, "it is the fear of the genie that makes you speak thus; for my part, I value him so little, that I will break in pieces his talisman, with the conjuration that is written about it. Let him come, I will expect him; and how brave or redoubtable soever he be, I will make him feel the weight of my arm: I swear solemnly that I will extirpate all the genies in the world, and him first." The princess, who knew the consequence, conjured me not to touch the talisman. "For that would be the means," said she, "of ruining both you and me; I know what belongs to genies better than you." The fumes of the wine did not suffer me to hearken to her reasons; but I gave the talisman a kick with my foot, and broke it in several pieces.
The talisman was no sooner broken than the palace began to shake, and seemed ready to fall, with a hideous noise like thunder, accompanied with flashes of lightning, and alternate darkness. This terrible noise in a moment dispelled the fumes of my wine, and made me sensible, but too late, of the folly I had committed. "Princess," cried I, "what means all this?" She answered, without any concern for her own misfortune, "Alas! you are undone, if you do not fly immediately."
I followed her advice, but my fears were so great, that I forgot my hatchet and cords. I had scarcely reached the stairs by which I had descended, when the enchanted palace opened at once, and made a passage for the genie: he asked the princess in great anger, "What has happened to you, and why did you call me?" "A violent spasm," said the princess, "made me fetch this bottle which you see here, out of which I drank twice or thrice, and by mischance made a false step, and fell upon the talisman, which is broken, and that is all."
At this answer, the furious genie told her, "You are a false woman, and speak not the truth; how came that axe and those cords there?" "I never saw them till this moment," said the princess. "Your coming in such an impetuous manner has, it may be, forced them up in some place as you came along, and so brought them hither without your knowing it."
The genie made no other answer but what was accompanied with reproaches and blows, of which I heard the noise. I could not endure to hear the pitiful cries of the princess so cruelly abused. I had already taken off the suit she had presented to me, and put on my own, which I had laid on the stairs the day before, when I came out of the bagnio: I made haste upstairs, the more distracted with sorrow and compassion, as I had been the cause of so great a misfortune; and by sacrificing the fairest princess on earth to the barbarity of a merciless genie, I was becoming the most criminal and ungrateful of mankind. "It is true," said I, "she has been a prisoner these twenty-five years; but, liberty excepted she wanted nothing that could make her happy. My folly has put an end to her happiness, and brought upon her the cruelty of an unmerciful devil." I let down the trap-door, covered it again with earth, and returned to the city with a burden of wood, which I bound up without knowing what I did, so great was my trouble and sorrow.
My landlord, the tailor, was very much rejoiced to see me: "Your absence," said he, "has disquieted me much, as you had entrusted me with the secret of your birth, and I knew not what to think; I was afraid somebody had discovered you; God be praised for your return." I thanked him for his zeal and affection, but not a word durst I say of what had passed, nor of the reason why I came back without my hatchet and cords.
I retired to my chamber, where I reproached myself a thousand times for my excessive imprudence: "Nothing," said I, "could have paralleled the princess's good fortune and mine, had I forborne to break the talisman."
While I was thus giving myself over to melancholy thoughts, the tailor came in and said, "An old man, whom I do not know, brings your hatchet and cords, which he found in his way as he tells me, and says he understood from your comrades that you lodge here; come out and speak to him, for he will deliver them to none but yourself."
At these words I changed colour, and fell a trembling. While the tailor was asking me the reason, my chamber-door opened, and the old man, having no patience to stay, appeared to us with my hatchet and cords. This was the genie, the ravisher of the fair princess of the isle of Ebene, who had thus disguised himself, after he had treated her with the utmost barbarity. "I am a genie," said he, speaking to me, "son of the daughter of Eblis, prince of genies: is not this your hatchet, and are not these your cords?"
After the genie had put the question to me, he gave me no time to answer, nor was it in my power, so much had his terrible aspect disordered me. He grasped me by the middle, dragged me out of the chamber, and mounting into the air, carried me up to the skies with such swiftness, that I was not able to take notice of the way he conveyed me. He descended again in like manner to the earth, which on a sudden he caused to open with a stroke of his foot, and sunk down at once, when I found myself in the enchanted palace, before the fair princess of the isle of Ebene. But, alas! what a spectacle was there! I saw what pierced me to the heart; this poor princess was quite naked, weltering in her blood, and laid upon the ground, more like one dead than alive, with her cheeks bathed in tears.
"Perfidious wretch!" said the genie to her, pointing at me, "is not this your gallant?" She cast her languishing eyes upon me, and answered mournfully, "I do not know him, I never saw him till this moment." "What!" said the genie, "he is the cause of thy being in the condition thou art justly in; and yet darest thou say thou cost not know him?" "If I do not know him," said the princess, "would you have me lie on purpose to ruin him?" "Oh then," said the genie, pulling out a cimeter and presenting it to the princess, "if you never saw him before, take this, and cut off his head." "Alas," replied the princess, "how is it possible that I should execute such an act? My strength is so far spent that I cannot lift up my arm; and if I could, how should I have the heart to take away the life of an innocent man, and one whom I do not know?" "This refusal," said the genie to the princess, "sufficiently informs me of your crime." Upon which, turning to me, "And thou," said he, "dost thou not know her?"
I should have been the most ungrateful wretch, and the most perfidious of all mankind, if I had not strewn myself as faithful to the princess as she had been to me, who had been the cause of her misfortunes. I therefore answered the genie, "How should I know her, when I never saw her till now?" "If it be so," said he, "take the cimeter and cut off her head: on this condition I will set thee at liberty, for then I shall be convinced that thou hast never seen her till this moment, as thou gayest." "With all my heart," replied I, and took the cimeter in my hand.
Do not think, madam, that I drew near to the fair princess of the isle of Ebene to be the executioner of the genie's barbarity. I did it only to demonstrate by my behaviour, as much as possible, that as she had strewn her resolution to sacrifice her life for my sake, I would not refuse to sacrifice mine for hers. The princess, notwithstanding her pain and suffering, understood my meaning; which she signified by an obliging look, and made me understand her willingness to die for me; and that she was satisfied to see how ready I was also to die for her. Upon this I stepped back, and threw the cimeter on the ground. "I should for ever," said I to the genie, "be hateful to all mankind were I to be so base as to murder, not only a person whom I do not know, but a lady like this, who is already on the point of expiring: do with me what you please, since I am in your power; I cannot obey your barbarous commands."
"I see," said the genie, "that you both out-brave me, and insult my jealousy; but both of you shall know by my treatment of you of what I am capable." At these words the monster took up the cimeter and cut off one of her hands, which left her only so much life as to give me a token with the other that she bade me for ever adieu. For the blood she had lost before, and that which gushed out then, did not permit her to live above one or two moments after this barbarous cruelty; the sight of which threw me into a fit. When I was come to myself again, I expostulated with the genie, why he made me languish in expectation of death: "Strike," cried I, "for I am ready to receive the mortal blow, and expect it as the greatest favour you can show me." But instead of agreeing to that, "Behold," said he, "how genies treat their wives whom they suspect of unfaithfulness; she has received thee here, and were I certain that she had put any further affront upon me, I would put thee to death this minute: but I will content myself with transforming thee into a dog, ape, lion, or bird; take thy choice of any of these, I will leave it to thyself."
These words gave me some hopes of being able to appease him: "O genie," said I, "moderate your passion, and since you will not take away my life, give it me generously. I shall always remember your clemency, if you pardon me, as one of the best men in the world pardoned one of his neighbours that bore him a mortal hatred. The genie asked me what had passed between those two neighbours, and said, he would have patience till he heard the story, which I related to him; and I believe, madam, you will not be displeased if I now repeat it.
[Go to The Envious Man, and Him that He Envied]
Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
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