[Go back to The Sisters Who Envied Their Younger Sister]
There was in the land of Yemen (Arabia Felix) a sultan, under whom were three tributary princes. He had four children, three sons and a daughter. He possessed greater treasures than could be estimated, as well as innumerable camels, horses, and flocks of sheep; and was held in awe by all contemporary sovereigns.
After a long and prosperous reign, age brought with it infirmity, and he at length became incapable of appearing in his hall of audience; upon which he commanded his sons to his presence, and said to them, "My wish is to divide among you, before my death, all my possessions, that you may be satisfied, and live in unanimity and brotherly affection with each other, and in obedience to my dying commands." They exclaimed, "To hear is to obey."
The sultan then said, "My will is, that the eldest be sovereign in my room; that the second possess my treasures; and the third every description of animals. Let no, one encroach upon another, but all assist each other." He then caused them to sign an agreement to abide by his bequests, and shortly afterwards was received into the mercy of the Almighty; upon which his sons prepared what was suitable to his dignity for his funeral. They washed the corpse, enshrouded it, prayed over it, and having committed it to the earth, returned to their palaces; where the viziers, officers of state, and inhabitants of the metropolis, high and low, rich and poor, attended to console with them on the loss of their father. The news of the death of the sultan was soon spread abroad into all the provinces, and deputations from every city came to condole with the princes.
After these ceremonies, the eldest prince demanded that he should be inaugurated sultan in the room of the deceased monarch, agreeably to his will; but this was not possible, as each of the other brothers was ambitious of being sovereign. Contention and disputes now arose between them for the government, till at length the elder brother, wishing to avoid civil war, said, "Let us go and submit to the arbitration of one of the tributary sultans, and to let him whom he adjudges the kingdom peaceably enjoy it." To this they assented, as did also the viziers; and they departed, unattended, towards the capital of one of the tributary sultans.
When the princes had proceeded about half way on their journey, they reached a verdant spot, abounding in herbage and flowers, with a clear rivulet running through it, the convenience of which made them halt to refresh themselves. They sat down and were eating, when one of the brothers casting his eyes on the grass, said, "A camel has lately passed this way loaded, half with sweetmeats and half with grain." "True," cried another, "and he was blind of one eye." "Yes," exclaimed the third, "and he had lost his tail." They had scarcely concluded their remarks, when the owner of the camel came up to them (for he had heard what they had said, and was convinced, as they had described the beast and his load, that they must have stopped him), crying out, that they had stolen his camel. "We have not seen him," answered the princes, "nor touched him." "By Allah!" replied he, "none but you can have taken him; and if you will not deliver him up, I will complain of you to the sultan." They rejoined, "It is well; let us go to the sultan."
When all four had reached the palace, information was given of the arrival of the princes, and they were admitted to an audience, the owner of the camel following, who bawled out, "These men, my lord, by their own confession, have stolen my property, for they described him and the load he carried."
The man then related what each of the princes, had said; upon which the sultan demanded if it was true. They answered, "My lord, we have not seen the camel; but we chanced, as we were sitting on the grass taking some refreshment, to observe that part of the pasture had been grazed; upon which we supposed that the camel must have been blind of an eye, as the grass was only eaten on one side. We then observed the dung of a camel in one heap on the ground, which made us agree that its tail must have been cut off, as it is the custom for camels to shake their tails, and scatter it abroad. On the grass where the camel had lain down, we saw on one side flies collected in great numbers, but none on the other: this made us conclude that one of the panniers must have contained sweets, and the other only grain." Upon hearing the above, the sultan said to the complainant, "Friend, go and look for thy camel, for these observations do not prove the theft on the accused, but only the strength of their understandings and penetration."
The sultan now ordered apartments for the princes, and directed that they should be entertained in a manner befitting their rank; after which he left them to their repose. In the evening, when the usual meal was brought in, the elder prince having taken up a cake of bread, said, "This bread, I am sure, was made by a sick woman." The second, on tasting some kid, exclaimed, "This kid was suckled by a bitch:" and the third cried out, "Certainly this sultan must be illegitimate." At this instant the sultan, who had been listening, entered hastily, and exclaimed, "Wherefore utter ye these affronting speeches?" "Inquire," replied the princes," into what you have heard, and you will find all true."
The sultan now retired to his haram, and on inquiry, found that the woman who had kneaded the bread was sick. He then sent for the shepherd, who owned that the dam of the kid having died, he had suckled it upon a bitch. Next, in a violent passion, he proceeded to the apartments of the sultana mother, and brandishing his cimeter--threatened her with death, unless she confessed whether he was son to the late sultan or not.
The sultana was alarmed, and said, "To preserve my life, I must speak truth. Know then that thou art the son of a cook. Thy father had no male offspring, at which he was uneasy: on the same day myself and the wife of the cook lay in, I of a daughter and she of a son. I was fearful of the coolness of the sultan, and imposed upon him the son of the cook for his own: that son art thou, who now enjoyest an empire."
The spurious sultan left the sultana in astonish, ment at the penetration of the brothers, whom he summoned to his presence, and inquired of them on what grounds they had founded their just suspicions respecting the bread, the kid, and himself." "My lord," replied the elder prince," when I broke the cake, the flour fell out in lumps; and hence I guessed that she who made it had not strength to knead it sufficiently, and must have been unwell." "It is as thou hast said," replied the sultan." The fat of the kid," continued the second brother," was all next the bone, and the flesh of every other animal but the dog has it next the skin. Hence my surmise that it must have been suckled by a bitch." "Thou wert right," answered the sultan; "but now for myself."
"My reason for supposing thee illegitimate," said the youngest prince, "was, because thou didst not associate with us, who are of the same rank with thyself. Every man has properties which he inherits from his father, his grandfather, or his mother. From his father, generosity, or avarice; from his grandfather, valour or cowardice; from his mother, bashfulness or impudence." "Thou hast spoken justly," replied the sultan; "but why came ye to ask judgment of me, since ye are so much better able to decide difficult questions than myself? Return home, and agree among yourselves." The princes did so; and obeyed the will of their father.
[Go to The Three Sharpers and the Sultan]
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