Translation Of An Excerpt From "Arabian Nights"

By Adam Candall,

It is related –but Allah alone knows if this is true– that, in ancient times, there was a King of Banu Sasan in the islands of India and China, an owner of armies, guards, and servants. He had two sons, both of whom were brave. The older son, who was more valiant a horseman than his younger brother, succeeded his father to rule the empire. He so governed with justice that he was beloved by all his people. His name was Shahrayar, and the younger son was called Shah Zaman. The latter was King of Samarkand in Barbarian land. 

For twenty years, their dominions enjoyed a peaceful atmosphere and solace as both kings ruled with thorough equity vis-à-vis their subjects. By the end of this period, however, the older King yearned for seeing his younger brother, so he ordered his minister (vizier) to set off and bring him. The minister replied with: “Harkening and Obedience!” and set forward. When he reached his destination, he entered into the younger King’s palace and told him that his brother was yearning to see him and asking him for a visit. Shah Zaman obeyed his brother’s call and made his tents, mules, servants and attendants ready. He then set out for his brother’s kingdom. But as the night set in, he realized he had forgotten something in his palace and went back. To his surprise, when he entered his apartment, he found his wife sleeping with a black slave. 

Arabian Nights

Tell him who has sorrow ** No grief shall last
Just as joy perishes ** So does sadness pass.

– Unknown Arab Poet

When he saw this scene, the world darkened before his sight. He wondered: “If such case happens while I am still in the city, what would this whore do during my long absence?” He thus drew his sword and killed both of them on the bed. Thence, he immediately returned back to rejoin his troops and carried on his journey till he arrived at his brother’s city. On his arrival, Shahrayar came forth to meet him. He saluted him with exceeding delight and caused the city to be ornamented in his honour. However, when the brothers sat and started talking, Shah Zaman remembered his wife’s issue. He felt increasingly sad; he grew pale and his body grew thinner all the more. Shahrayar noticed his brother’s deteriorating state, but he conjectured it was due to his separation from his kingdom. Accordingly, he let him wend his own ways and asked him no questions.

One day, Shah Zaman told his elder brother, “O my brother, I am sick at heart!” Shahrayar replied, “I am going forth to hunt, and I want you to come with me; maybe this would lighten your heart.” But the younger King refused, and the elder went alone. Afterwards, looking through the windows overlooking the palace gardens, Shah Zaman noticed a gate swinging open, and out of it came his brother’s wife, surrounded by twenty slaves and twenty concubines. She was of extreme fairness and beauty. They walked unto a fountain where they stripped off their clothes and sat together. The Queen then cried out: “O Mas’oud!” and a black slave came to her. They embraced, and launched into intercourse. Likewise did the other slaves with the slave-girls. They all did not cease from kissing and clipping till daylight waned.

Now, when Shah Zaman witnessed this, he said to himself: “By God, my ordeal is lighter than this; this infamy is greater than what happened to me.” His grief consequently lessened, and he recovered his appetite for food. Thence, when his brother came back from his trip, they saluted each other and Shahrayar remarked that his younger brother regained his healthy hue and appetite. Shahrayar wondered and said: “My brother, your face was pallid before, and now I see you recovered your natural hue. I therefore beseech you to tell me what all this is about.” Shah Zaman replied: “I will tell you what caused my poor condition and loss of colour, but excuse me for being unable to unfold the reason of my recovery.” Shahrayar said: “Tell me first about your change of colour and poor condition.” 

“My brother,” started Shah Zaman, “when you sent your minister inviting me, I made ready and marched out of the city. Then I realized I left my gift to you at my palace. When I went back, I found my wife sleeping with a black slave on my own bed. I killed them both and came to you recollecting this incident. This is the reason of my loss of colour, and I hope you excuse me for not revealing the cause of my regaining my natural complexion. After hearing this, Shahrayar said: “I conjure you by God to disclose the reason behind your recovery of health.” Accordingly, Shah Zaman told his brother all he had seen, and, to remove any trace of doubt from his brother’s heart, Shah Zaman proposed: “Pretend you are taking off again for hunting and coursing and hide with me, so that your own eyes verify what I have related.”

King Shahrayar instantly proclaimed his intent to travel. His troops and tents fared out of the city and camped within sight. When Shahrayar joined them, he ordered his slaves: “Let no one enter into my place!” He then sneaked out stealthily and joined his younger brother in the palace, where they sat together by the lattice overlooking the gardens. After one hour, the Queen and her handmaids came out with the slaves and did precisely what Shah Zaman related. The scene continued until late in the afternoon. 

Upon the sight of such an infamy, Shahrayar lost his mind and told his brother: “Let us depart right away; we are in no need of kingship. Let us wander in God’s earth and see if this calamity has happened to someone else. If not, then our death ought to be better than our life.” Shah Zaman agreed, and they both issued from a private postern. They kept wayfaring days and nights till they reached a tree amidst a meadow. By the tree was a spring of sweet water near the salt sea. They drank of it and sat down to have some rest. After on hour, they witnessed a great uproar in the sea, from which towered a black pillar rising skywards and heading toward the meadow. Beholding that, they waxed fearful and climbed up the lofty tree, from the top of which they gazed to see what the matter is.

It was a demon of huge height, wide brow and burly chest, carrying on his head a coffer. He strode onto land and seated himself under the tree whereupon the two kings were. Out of the box, then, he drew a casket, and from it came out a young, comely lady. Like the shiny sun she was; as one poet put it:

She shone like daylight through the night ** And eve lightened with her bright sight
All creatures bow down between her hands ** When she appears and removes her veil
And it rains tears indeed ** When she flashes her glimmers of light.

The demon looked at her and said: “O dame of noblest and freest ladies, whom I kidnapped on your wedding night, I would sleep for a while.” The demon thus posed his head upon the lady’s knees and slept. She then raised her head and saw the two kings on the top of the tree. Softly enough, she lifted the demon’s head and placed it upon the ground. She stood up under the tree and waved them to come down and not to fear the demon. They said: “By God, lady, excuse us from descending!” She replied: “By God, you either come down, or I shall arouse the demon upon you; he shall kill you in the most horrid manner.” 

Dreading the demon, they both came down to her. She stood before them and said: “Either you ride me roughly or I will arouse the demon against you.” Out of fear, King Shahrayar said to his brother: “My brother, you do what she bids you to do.” Shah Zaman replied: “I will not do it until you do it before me, brother!” And as they were demurring about the matter, the lady broke in: “How is it that I see you arguing! You do what I have ordered or I set the demon upon you!” Ultimately, they both slept with her as she asked for. 

When they finished carousing, she told them to stand up, and she drew a purse out of her pocket. In the purse was a knotted string in which were strung five hundred and seventy rings. She then asked them: “Do you know what this is?” They answered: “No, we do not.” She continued: “These rings belong to the five hundred and seventy men who fornicated with me as you did, without notice from the demon. So give me yours too, you pair of brothers!” They both conceded to give her their rings. Thence, she told them: “This demon took me away on my wedding night. He put me in a casket; he put the casket in a coffer to which he affixed seven padlocks; then he posited me in the depths of the sea, clashing with waves. He knew, however, that nothing can hinder a woman from fulfilling what she wills, as someone said:

Do never trust women ** Never trust their promises,
For their joys and sorrows ** Are tied to their sexual phantasies ;
They would pretend to be affectionate ** While they conceal their deceits
Bear Joseph’s story in mind ** And beware of their wiles
Do you not see Satan ejected Adam ** From Heaven by their mediation?

They exceedingly marveled when they heard these words. And as they left, they told each other: “If this is a ‘demon’ and still has endured a greater mishap than ours, then this should bear us consolation.” Without stay or delay, they went back to King Shahrayar’s city and entered his palace. He slew his wife, the concubines and the slaves. Ever since, whenever Shahrayar betroths a virgin, he takes her maidenhead and kills her. He carried on this habit for three years, until his people got fed up with his doings and fled the city to protect their daughters. There remained eventually no more maidens for the king. Unaware of this condition, Shahrayar despatched his minister to bring him a girl as usual. The minister took off seeking for a young lady but found none. Thus he went home, irritated, wretched and fearful of the king. 

The minister had two gracious daughters: the older one was named Shahrazad and the younger Dunyazad. The elder had read books, chronicles, stories of bygone Kings, and narratives of preceding nations. It was said that she had collected a thousand books relating to antique peoples and departed rulers and poets. So, she told her father on that day: “Why am I seeing you changed and laden with gloom and melancholy? Regarding this, one of the poets said:

Tell him who has sorrow ** No grief shall last
Just as joy perishes ** So does sadness pass.

After hearing these words, the minister related to his daughter, from beginning to end, all that has happened between him and the King. Thereupon, Shahrazad told her father: “By God, my father, marry me to this King. Either I shall live, or I shall be a ransom for the daughters of Muslims and a cause of their redemption from that King’s hands.” The father then replied: “By God, do not expose you life to such a peril!” She told him: “It is a must.” He said: “I am afraid lest what befell the donkey, the bull, and the husbandman befalls you, O my daughter!” She wondered: “And what happened to them, my father?”