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From Turkish Literature Comprising Fables, Belles-Lettres and Sacred Traditions, translated into English for the First Time, with a special Introduction by Epiphanius Wilson, A.M., Revised Edition; The Colonial Press; London: New York, 1901; pp. 361-400.



[Translated by Epiphanius Wilson]


IT is related that the wife of a great king unjustly accused his son, by another mother, of an act of treachery against his father; and that that king was wroth, and for forty mornings caused his son to be led forth to be slain; and that that king had many vezirs, all of whom were peerless in the sea of understanding, and in thoughtfulness and sagacity, and full of plans and devices; and that when the king each morning cause his son to be led forth for execution, these vezirs gave the king counsel, and each morning a vezir, telling a story, calmed the king’s heart and turned away his wrath, and saved the prince from his hand; and again, that each night that crafty lady, letting not the king rest, ever incited him to the slaughter of the prince, and with enticing and beguiling words, repeated each night a story to the king, and made his understanding forsake him; and that through the words of that crafty lady, every morning for forty days he caused his son to be led into his presence to be slain; and that the vezirs by telling a story delivered him. After forty days the innocence of the prince was manifested and the falsehood and calumny of the crafty lady disclosed; and she received her due, and the prince was greatly loved and esteemed before his father when the truth of his affair was known. The adventures of the king, and the lady and the prince, and his governor and the vezirs, had what befell between them, will be related; and sixteen of the stories told by the vezirs in the forty days, and by the lady in the forty nights will be set forth and narrated, “With God is grace: how excellent a friend he is!”


They tell in history books, that there was in Persia a great king, whose name was Khānqīn, and in the grasp of whose possession were the Seven Climes. As he was gracious and able and sagacious, kingliness and the bases of empire were present in him. God most high had given him a fair son, by whose beauty the people of the world were bewildered. Whosoever looked upon his loveliness would say, “Is it magic, this?”1 and the who beheld his tall figure would exclaim, “This I no mortal!”2 Fiar was his beauty and charming was his self, and desired of lovers. Moreover, his were accomplishments and perfections; he had no rival in the reading of science, or in penmanship, or in archery, or in horsemanship; and his fair character was talked of and celebrated among high and low. The king, too, whenever he saw him, experienced a hundred thousand pleasures, and looked upon him as the source of his life. The mother of this youth was of the lovely ones of China.3 One day she felt ill, and at length, no remedy availing, she was received into Mercy. Thereupon, after some time had passed, his father married the daughter of a great king and brought her to his palace.

After a while this lady fell in love with the prince. For a long time she hid her love in her heart, and, saying in herself, “He is my step-son, what help for it!” she disclosed it not. But when, day after day, she looked upon his beauty, she was no longer able to bear with patience the fire of love, and, bringing into the field the wallet of craft, she was busy night and day with stratagems. Now the king had given the prince to a governor to be taught the sciences of astronomy and astrology, and the boy was night and day occupied acquiring them. One day the governor looked at the youth’s horoscope, and perceived there was a space of forty days in most sinister aspect. Did he say a word about this, he would be pointing out a great calamity; so he was exceeding grieved, and his heart was contracted. But he said to the prince, “I have this day looked at thy horoscope and seen a most sinister aspect; such is it, my life,4 that thou must obey the command and 363 decree of God most high, and observe my injunctions, else thou shalt die.”

The prince heard these words of his governor and his color changed, and he said to his teacher, “Order what thou wilt: command is thine.” Quoth the teacher, “O son, the way of averting this calamity is thus stated in the book: for the space of forty days thou shalt not speak one word though a naked sword be above thy head.” Then he bade the prince bear in mind certain of the holy names and blessed litanies, and sent him to his father. The governor thereupon hid in a vault and concealed himself.5 When the prince came to his father, the latter said to him, “My son, what hast thou read and written this day?” but the prince gave no answer to his father. Again quoth the king, “O my life, what does thy master?” again he gave no answer. Again his father said, “O life of my life, what has befallen thee? Why dost thou not speak?” Again he gave no answer. Then said the king to his son’s guardian, “The boy is sad to-day, take him to his mother, maybe that his heart will expand.” Then the guardian took the youth to the lady and said, “Lady, this youth is sad, he has not uttered one syllable to his father this day, therefore has he sent him to thee, that peradventure he may speak beside his mother.” The lady was glad and said, “Clear the house, go, be off; that I may learn somewhat of the prince, and banish his sadness and grief.”

When she was alone with the youth the lady threw her arm found his neck, and said, “O my life, ah, my lord, what has befallen thee that thy heart is thus sad, and that thou art disconsolate and mournful? Whatever thy father possesses is in my hand; if thou wilt make thy heart one with mine, and act according to my words, I will turn away thy sadness.” To her too the prince gave no answer. Again said the lady, “Thou art a grown-up youth, I too am a young lady; thy father is a decrepit old man, with neither thought nor discernment; if thou wilt assure me, and swear to me, and accept me as thy legal wife, I will make shift to kill thy father, and make thee king in his stead. First, I swear by god, and for God, and in God, that I speak these words from the bottom of my heart 364 and from my very soul, and that I will not falsify these words; do thou likewise assure me, and swear to me that I may act accordingly.” The prince answered not a word.

Quoth the lady, ‘O dearer than my life, should thou ask how I will kill thy father; lo, in the treasury are many kinds of poisons, of one of which if a person eat, he turns ill and after three months dies. The people will no know the cause of his death, and will not suspect that he has eaten poison. They will say he but took ill, and will doubtless made thee king. Should thou say I am thy step-mother and wonder how thou art to marry me, the way is this: send me off to my own country, and while yet on the road, send someone after me by night and seize me; so it will be said that robbers have seized me. Then buy me as a slave girl from that man, and make me thy wife; so none will know.” But the prince answered her not at all, and spake not. Then the lady grew desperate at his not speaking, and her patience was exhausted, and she said, “O my soul, O my gliding angel, why wilt thou not speak to me?” And she put her arm round his neck and drew him to her and made to kiss him. And the prince was wroth, and he smote the lady’s mouth with the back of his hand, so that her mouth filled with blood.

When she saw this conduct the fire of anger blazed up in the hearth of her breast, and the sparks from the fumes of her pride gained her heart, and she cried, “Out on thee! fool! boy! I sought to raise thee to the throne and make thee king, and thou didst strike me thus; now will I speak to thy father that he shall hew thee in pieces, small even as thine ear.” And she dishevelled her hair and smeared the four sides of her robe with the blood of her mouth and sat down, sad and tearful, feeble and wailing. Then the youth went to his private apartments. After a time the king came to the harem, thinking to inquire of the lady concerning the affaire of the prince, and he saw her seated besmeared with red blood. And the king marvelled at this sight, and said to the lady, “What is this matter? explain to me.” She said, “O king, that degenerate son of thine! God forbid that he be son of thine!” “What is the matter?” said the king.

The lady replied, “I saw that degenerate youth that he was 365 sad, and I cleared the palace that I might banish his sadness, and I said to him, ‘My son, why art thou sad?’ Then he stretched forth his had and made to do me wrong, but I prevented him. Then he said to me, ‘Why dost thou flee me? if thou wilt be my mistress and make thy heart one with mine, and assure me thereof, it is my intention to kill my father and make thee my wife; and the riches, and the country, and the throne, and the kingdom will be ours.’ But I consented not, and he desired to kill me that I might not make known this matter to the king. And I cried out for the saving of my life, and he left me in this plight and went away. Now, O king, know of a surety that he purposes evil against thee, and see to the saving of thine own life, else crown and throne will go from thy hands; so ere he kill thee do thou kill him that thou be secure from his wickedness.” When the king heard these words from the lady he was wroth, and that night sleep came not to his eyes.

In the early morning he went forth and sat upon his throne, and caused the prince to be brought before him, that he might order the executioner to smite off his head. The courtiers who were beside him got the executioner to delay, and at once sent word to the vezirs. As soon s they knew what was happening, the vezirs came with all speed to the presence of the king, and said, “O king, how has the prince this day thus merited the anger of the king?”

The king related to the vezirs the events that had taken place, whereupon the grand vezir said, “Slay not thy son, trusting on the woman’s word; do not a deed beyond the ordinance of God and the law of the Messenger:6 and there is no permission in the law to act on a woman’s word. If there were witnesses that the prince had done this thing to the lady, then were command the king’s; but spill not blood unjustly, that afterward thou suffer not regret and remorse. They have said that whatsoever oppression there be in a county it is incumbent on him who is king to banish it; where then were room for kings to do deeds beyond the law and spill blood unjustly? If they be negligent in the matter of banishing oppression, God most high will visit and afflict them with four sorts of trouble: firstly, he will make their life short; 366 secondly, he will let the enemy prevail against them; thirdly, he will give the enemy aid and victory; and fourthly, on the resurrection day he will be wroth with them and consign them to the torment of hell.

“He then is wise who will not for a five-days’ life lose the hereafter, and is not needless. And, moreover, the holy Messenger (peace on him!) when going to perform the ablution would first of all perform it with sand; the companions asked, ‘O Apostle of God, is it lawful to perform the sand ablution when there is water?’ The most noble beloved of God replied, ‘I fear lest death let me not reach the water.’ Now, O king, be not presumptuous through worldly fortune and kingship, and consent not to a deed contrary to the law, and ruin not they hereafter, trusting in the woman’s word. For by reason of the craft of woman has many a head been cut off; and the blessed Messenger hath said, ‘Whatsoever misfortunes befall my people will befall them through women.’ And wise is he who looks at the beginning and end of an affair, like that king who took counsel with his sons and his vezirs and the elders of the country, and was prospered alike in the world and the hereafter. And that story is a fair story; if the king grant leave I will relate it.” The king said, “Tell on.” Quoth the vezir:


“There was of old time in the palace of the world a great king, such that the world was under his rule. He had lived enjoying sovereignty for a hundred and twenty years in the palace of the world, and was grown old and knew that in the near future he would be given to drink of the potion of death. And the king had three moon-faced7 sons and likewise three able and skilful vezirs. One day quoth the king to his vezirs, ‘The end of this my life draws nigh; the natural life of man is a hundred and twenty years, after that not an old man remains. Now I have reached that state and the affair is thus, I wish to appoint one of my sons to my place, and, leaning back against the wall of abdication, take rest. Which of my sons do ye deem worthy of the throne?’ The vezirs said, 367 ‘O king, long be thy life; a person’s good and bad are not known till he have been proved; for two things are the touchstone of a man; the first is wine, the second, office; in these two things is a person’s manfulness apparent and manifest. This were best, for nine days let these thy three sons enjoy the throne and sovereignty, and with this touchstone let the king prove them; whatever be the character of each of them, it will appear; for the rest, let the king order accordingly.’

“When the king heard these words from the vezirs they seemed right good to his heart, and he commanded that each son should sit for three days on the throne and exercise sovereignty, and declared that he would allow whatever they should annul or appoint, and whatever they should grant from the treasury, and whatever justice or oppression they might show, and that no one should say aught. Then the eldest son of the king sat upon the throne and directed the government, and he practised justice and equity on such wise as cannot be described. He loved the doctors and turned from the foolish, and gave the high offices to the learned, and withdrew from listening to things forbidden and what was vain, and strove much in well-doing.

“Then the king, to prove the judgment of his son, sent him three persons from prison, one was a murderer, and one a thief, and one an adulterer; and with them he sent the complainants. When they came before the prince the complainants stated their case and the witnesses bore witness that these three persons were indeed guilty, and that these words were no calumny against them, but true. When the prince knew how the case was, he said, ‘On a mans’ coming into the world he is the blood of his father’s and mother’s hearts; and, after bearing these many troubles and afflictions, a man in forty years becomes mature; so it is not well to slay him in a minute, as God most high will in the hereafter surely punish him in hell.’ And he made them vow that henceforward they would do no such deeds and set all three at liberty. And for the whole three days he ruled with justice.

“On the fourth day the turn came to the middle son, and he likewise sat upon the throne and directed the government. He abased the learned and promoted the foolish; and adopted as habit wine and music, and as profession avarice and meanness. 368 Brief, he was the opposite of his elder brother. According to the custom, they sent to him too three criminals. When the prince heard how the case was he said, ‘Men like these are the thorns of the country;’ and he ordered that the three of them perished. When he too had ruled for three days, the turn came to the youngest prince, and he likewise sat upon the throne and directed the government. He gave to the doctors the post suitable to the doctors, and to the learned the high offices, and to the strong and impetuous young heroes, military fiefs, and to the champions, feudal domains; and he registered their pay. He honored each of them according to his position, and abased the unmannerly. Brief, he put each one in his proper place, like a string of pears; and he left not his gate unlocked lest the foe should triumph over him.

“The king again sent three culprits from the prison that he might try his judgment. When they were present the servants informed him, and he said, ‘Murder is of two kinds, the one intentional, the other accidental; and the intentional is also of two kinds, the first when a person strikes another with an iron instrument and kills him, him it is needful to put to death in retaliation; and they have written in the Book of Dues that if one person strike another with a stick and kill him, or if he throw him into a fire, then the fine for blood and the expiation alike become necessary. And the other too is accidental, when the expiation is incumbent, and he is culpable, but the fine for blood does not become necessary. And that is accidental when a person shoots an arrow at a deer, and it glances and hits a man and kills him; as God most high hath said, “Then whoso killeth a believer by mischance, then (the expiation is) the freeing of a believer from bondage . . . but if he find not (the means of doing so), then a fast for two consecutive months.”

“Then the prince asked and learned that he had murdered intentionally; so they executed him. After that they brought the thief; and the prince said, ‘If anyone, sane and of age, steal ten minted dirhems of silver, his hand must be cut off, as also if he steal one dīnār of gold, even as saith the Apostle 369 (peace on him!), “No cutting save for a dīnār or ten dirhems.” When one thus commits theft his right hand must be cut off at the wrist; if he commit theft again, his left hand must be cut off; if he commit it a third time, his right foot must be cut off; and if he commit it yet again, he must be put in prison till he repent.’ Then the prince caused the man to receive the due of his crime. After that they brought him who had committed adultery, his case also they exposed, and they gave him the due of his sin conformably to the law.

“The nine days were completed, and the king assembled his vezirs and said, ‘Lo, ye have seen the rule of my three sons, which of them is worthy the throne?’ Quoth the first vezir, ‘O king, thy eldest son is worthy.’ Quoth the second vezir, ‘Thy middle son is worthy.’ Quoth the third vezir, ‘Thy youngest son is worthy.’ When the king heard these words of the vezirs his doubts were not removed; and he said, ‘O vezirs, the words of the three of ye are contrary each to other.’ And forthwith he commanded the people of the country that on the morrow they should all come out to the plain. The next day the whole of the folk were assembled on the plain; then the king rose on his feet and said, ‘O people, do not to-morrow on the resurrection day seize hold of my collar and say, “Thou hast oppressed us,” and so wrest from me my meritorious acts and render me confounded and ashamed. Now be ye kind and look not at my kingship and know that before God most high there is none meaner or more abject than myself.’ And he wept full bitterly. And the rich and poor assembled there wept all of them together.

“Then turning again, the king said, ‘O friends, lo, my time is at hand; do ye absolve me for the hereafter. I have three sons, whichever of them ye wish, him will I seat upon the throne. If he be just, ye will enjoy rest and bless me, and I shall be at rest in the place where I lie; but if he be cruel, ye will not have rest neither shall I have rest.’ The people said, ‘May the king’s life endure full many a year! may God most high be well pleased with our king! We are well pleased with our king; whatever we may have against our king, let him be absolved. We are pleased with whichever son he see worthy the throne; but since the king has given the choice into our hands, let him seat his youngest son upon the throne. He 370 is wise as well as learned and skilled in the affairs of the world; if the king see fit, the wise is worthy the seat of honor, as this has come down in the traditions,” “A wise youth taketh precedence of a foolish elder.” For the rest, the king knows.’

“Then the king went to the palace and ordered that they adorned the throne, and the grandees of the state came, and all were present. Then he took his youngest son by the hand and made to seat him on the throne, when his brothers came forward and said, ‘O father, all the folk say that he is accomplished and wise and that he knows well the law and the government; now we have some questions to ask of him, which if he answer, we also will contentedly resign to him the throne and stand in his presence with folded hands;8 but if not, the crown and throne indeed become him not.’

“The king said to his youngest son, ‘What sayest thou?’ He replied, ‘Whatsoever their questions be, let them ask them.’ They said, ‘What is meant by Sultan?’ He answered, ‘By Sultan is meant one who has certificate and warrant, that we obey the command and ordinance of God most high: the Sultan is the shadow of God on the earth.’ And they asked, ‘To whom is it worthy to be king by birth?’ He answered, ‘First the king’s lineage must be manifest, then his descent must be perfect, then he must observe the habits of just monarchs.’ They said, ‘Who is just?’ He answered, ‘The just is he who transgresses not the law.’ They said, ‘Who is unjust?’ He replied, ‘He who rather than obey the law, brings in innovations of his own, so that it may be easy to amass wealth with oppression.’ They said, ‘What manner of persons should kings appoint vezirs?’

“He answered, ‘They should appoint those persons in whom are two characteristics, the first of which is that they be endowed with prudence and resource, and the second that they be wise and accomplished; for learning in a man is second understanding.’ They said, ‘How many sorts of people are needful to kings?’ He answered, ‘Four kinds of people, the first, skilful vezirs; the second, valiant warriors; the third, an accomplished scribe who is perfect in Arabic and Persian and the science of writing; and the fourth, a clever physician who 371 is most able in the science of philosophy.’ They said, ‘How many different things ought always to be in the thoughts of a king?’ He answered, ‘Four different things; the first, to do justice to the people; the second, to use aright the money that is in the treasury; the third, to distribute offices properly; and the fourth, to be not negligent concerning enemies.’ They said, ‘How many different traits should the king adopt as his wont?’ He answered, ‘Four; the first is a smiling face; the second, a sweet speech; the third, generosity; and the fourth, mercy to the poor.’ They said, ‘How many kinds of courtiers are needful to the king?’ He answered, ‘Four classes are requisite; first, the wise; second, the learned; third, the valiant champion; and fourth, musicians; from the wise he will learn the law, from the learned he will acquire the sciences, from the valiant champions he will acquire chivalry, and by the musicians will his heart be expanded.’

“They said, ‘Of which class should the king consider himself one.’ He answered, ‘Let him consider himself of the great sheykhs who have reached God, for it will cause him to be just.’ Then he turned to his brothers and said, ‘O my brothers, ye have put these many questions to me and I have answered the whole of them to the best of my power: I too have a question.’ So they said to him, ‘Ask on.’ Quoth he, ‘What do the kings of the world resemble, and what do their agents resemble, and what do the people resemble, and what do the king’s enemies resemble, and what do the sheykhs resemble?’ Then they both bent their heads and pondered. After a time the prince again said, ‘This is no time for pondering; lo, there is the question.’ Then the king took his youngest son by the hand and seated him on the throne and said, ‘O son, may God ever aid thee, and may thy foes be overthrown!’ Then all the nobles of the state and the people came and said, ‘May the throne be blessed!’ And they made him king over them.

“Then the king said, ‘O son, do thou answer the question thou puttest to thy brethren, that we may hear?’ Quoth the prince, ‘O my father, this world resembles a pasture, and these people resemble the sheep that wander in that pasture, and the king resembles their shepherd, and the owner of the sheep 372 is God most high, and the nobles resemble that shepherd’s dogs, and the enemy resembles the wolf, and the sheykhs and the wise resemble the guardians appointed by God most high over the shepherd, who forbid the shepherd by the order of God most high whenever he would do evil to the sheep. O father, in very truth I am a feeble shepherd, I see the sheep, and I perceive that even while we say, “Let not them come and hurt the sheep,” we become ourselves partners with the wolf. Should the Owner of the sheep ask us about his lambs, woe, woe to us!’ And he wept full bitterly. The princes acknowledged the sovereignty of their younger brother.

“The the King took up a handful of dust and pit it on his eye and said, ‘O eye, how long a time is it I have been king, and how great wealth have I amassed band brought before thee by this much oppression and justice, and thou was not never satisfied! And with how many beauties have I made merry and enjoyed the best of what they had till thou hast lost all pleasure in taking it! And how many delicacies have I eaten and how many sherbets have I drunk, and thou art not content! Why then didst thou not look to these affairs and see not? True is it what they say, “Naught fills the eye save a handful of dust.” Woe, woe, to us!’ And he wept. And all the nobles assembled there were moved to pity and they wept together. Then the king arose and sent to his oratory and gave himself up to devotion

“After some time the king laid his head upon the pillow of death and felt that his life had touched its end, and he said, ‘Do now before my eyes that which ye should do when I am dead, that I may see it.’ Then they laid the king upon his throne in the palace. And they scattered sifted dust below the castle and cut up strips of damask and strewed them with dust. And all the slave girls put on black and dishevelled their hair and scattered dust upon their heads and began to weep together, crying, ‘Alas! woe! alas! so that hearts were rent. Then came the vezirs, who likewise fell to weeping together and exclaiming, ‘Shall a king so just as this be found?’ After that they ordered that they brought a coffin with great reverence; then the three princes, when they saw the coffin, wept blood in place of tears and cried, ‘This is the horse our father rideth now!’ And they adorned it with jewels 373 and placed upon it a jewel-set crown and held over it the royal parasol.

“Then four great lords came and took hold of the frame of the coffin and bare it away. And before the coffin went the sheykhs singing chants and hymns. and the devotees held copies of the sacred volume before them; and great nobles and nobles’ sons marched in front. Before hem were a hundred sweet-voiced dirge singers who wept and cried, ‘Ah! woe! alas!’ And from one side they scattered gold and silver and jewels on the coffin; and there were some 10,000 horsemen with golden saddles and broken stirrups and snapped bows. And behind these was an array of slave girls, all clad in black, whose wails and cries rose to the heavens.

“When the king aw those things he sighed and ordered that they took him down from the throne; and he turned and said, ‘While yet alive I have seen my death.’ And he took a handful of earth and threw it on his head and said, ‘Earth, though this long sovereignty has been mine, I have done no righteous deed which will endure.’ And again, ‘O vezirs, I would that ye endow for me.’ Thereupon the vezirs wrote what amounted to 10,000 aspres a day; and they founded free kitchens and colleges, and they settled the revenues of certain towns and villages on the free kitchens. When the business of the endowments was finished, they brought the sections of the Koran, and to each section reader they gave five sequins; and to each of the devotees and dervishes they gave 500 sequins.9 Then they brought the food, and all the plates were gold or silver; and to all before whom they placed a dish they said, ‘Thine be food and plate.’ When the banquet too was finished they freed all the male and female slaves; and three days later the king departed for the Abiding Home.

“Now, O king, I have told the story for that the king may, like that sovereign, inquire, and act conformably to the words of the vezirs and the people, and in compliance with the command of the law, that he be not a prey in the world to remorse and in the hereafter to torment.” And he kissed the ground and made intercession for the prince. When the king 374 heard of these wondrous events from the vezir, he perceived how the world had no stability and he sighted and sent the youth to the prison and went himself to the chase.

When it was evening he returned and came to the palace, and went in to the lady who rose to greet him, and they sat down. After the repast the lady began to speak about the youth and asked concerning him. Quoth the king, “I have again sent him to the prison.” The lady said, “This matter which has happened is no light matter, but thou art negligent and wouldst act upon everyone’s word; and they have said that the negligent person is not exempt from one of three conditions; either he is a fool, or he is ignorant, or fortune has turned its face from him. O king, the negligent does no perfect deed; be not negligent, or to be negligent in this affair is madness. O king, this thy story resembles that of another king, upon whom five times fell the enemy by reason of his negligence; but mayhap my king has not heard that story.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the lady:


1   Koran, lii. 15.

2  Ib. xii. 31.

3   Not necessarily a Chinese woman, simply a beauty; China and Chinese Tartary being regarded as pre-eminent for the beauty of their women.

4  A term of endearment.

5  Probably he was afraid lest the king should put him to death for giving such bad news.

6  The Prophet Mahomet.

7  I.e., beautiful.

8  Koran, iv. 94.

9  As servants do.



“There was of old time a king, and he had an enemy greater than himself. One day that hostile king assembled a mighty host and came against that weak king. The latter, having no other resource, assembled all his army and went forth meet him. Although he much besought that strong king and said, ‘War is not a good thing, come, consent not to this calamity, make not thyself guilty of the blood of so many Moslems;’ and mentioned how the holy Apostle hath said, ‘If two Moslems fight against each other with swords or other implements of war, and one kill the other, both the killer and the killed shall enter hell;’ and made many and many an excuse, it was in vain.

“When the king saw that all his entreaty was of no avail with the enemy, he perceived that it was necessary to find some plan to avert this evil. Now the king had three skilful vezirs, these he summoned to give counsel. He said, ‘O my vezirs, what is your advice in this matter?’ The chief vezir came forward and said, ‘My king, in the present circumstances the military might of our enemy is great; most assuredly are we 375 unable to oppose him. Now the best way were this, that we put off the battle and return to our country; he will certainly come after us, but we will enter into a strong castle and rest there till that time when fortune will surely turn towards us likewise; thus are the affairs of the world, now gladness, now woe.’ He likewise asked the second vezir, ‘What is thy advice, let us see?’ So he said, ‘O my king, all that the first vezir has said is wise; but it is never allowable to show weakness before the enemy, for inasmuch as thou displayest weakness will he become strong; so if now thou shun battle and flee, thou wilt be giving him opportunity. Wise is he who, although the enemy appear overwhelming, fears not death and gives the foe no answer but the sword.’

“Then, said the king to the third vezir, ‘What is thine advice in this matter?’ The vezir answered, ‘O king, manliness is of ten parts, nine of which are stratagem and one of which is strength; and by stratagem is the affair of enemies ever finished, for they have said that the affair which one stratagem finishes 100,000 soldiers cannot finish. If the king will be guided by this humble one, to-night of a sudden we will attack the enemy and fall upon his camp, and, if it please God most high, we will cut off the heads of many of them.’ The king approved this stratagem of the vezir, so when it was midnight and the enemy was negligent they fell upon his camp from every side, and slaughtered the foes till morning, and their king fled to his own country.

“So was this weak king victorious, and he returned to his own land. But that fugitive king went to his country and assembled an army, and again marched against this king. Then the weak king, having no other resource, went forth to meet him, and they pitched opposite each other.

“The weak king said to his vezirs, ‘What is your advice this time, let us see?’ Then quoth the third vezir, ‘O king, we shall again finish our affair by stratagem.’ Said the king, ‘What stratagem shall we use? they will be very watchful this night.’ The vezir replied, ‘Stratagem is not one; let them keep watch till morning, we shall this time employ another stratagem.’ Quoth the king, ‘Speak on, let us see.’ The vezir said, ‘We will hide in ambush 2,000 strong impetuous youths; and as soon as it is morning we will go out against the enemy 376 and fight a little, then we will appear to flee, and they shall follow after, thinking to fall upon us; and when the foremost of the host reaches us we will turn and fight with them and cut them down. Thereupon our soldiers who are in ambush will rush into the field and take the hostile army in the centre; and, if it please God most high, we will strike hard with our swords and seize their leaders, and take their flags, and tear in pieces their ensigns; and in this way will we overcome the foe.’ The king liked this plan of the vezir, and by this stratagem they sabred the foe and were again victorious. And the king returned smiling to his country.

“The other strong king in the greatness of his wrath cried out, ‘What means this that thus weak a king routs my army and puts me to flight on this wise! God most high gives victory to whom he will!’ Then he assembled an army of which he, himself, knew no the number, and went against that poor weak king. They gave the king word, and he, having no other resource, went forth again, and they pitched opposite each other. Again the weak king questioned his vezirs. Then the third vezir said, ‘O my king, our affair is finished by stratagem.’ Quoth the king, ‘What stratagem shall we employ?’ The vezir said, ‘O king, let us send an adroit headsman, who will go and by some stratagem kill him; and when the head goes the foot is not steady.’

“The king approved the vezir’s words, and sent a headsman with a dagger, who went and somehow made shift to smite that strong king that he well-nigh slew him, and then took to flight. But while he was fleeing they caught him and hewed him in pieces. When they saw their king that he had reached the bounds of death, they said, ‘There is no fighting in such plight;’ and they fled, bearing their king. They came to their country and appointed a physician, and after some days the wound got better. And that king again assembled a host and came against the poor weak king. The latter, having no other resource, went forth to meet him and again sought counsel of his vezirs. The third vezir said, ’O my king, our affair is finished by stratagem.’ The king asked, ’What stratagem wilt thou employ this time?’ The vezir said, ’This time let us send an ambassador and offer some money and some slave girls and say, “We submit to thee.” And we will give poison 377 to one of the slave girls we send, and tell her to give it to the king to eat when she finds an opportunity; an in this way will we gain the victory over him.’

“The king deemed the vezir’s words good, and by that stratagem they poisoned that king. And this king mounted and attacked his army, and, as when the head goes the foot is not steady, it was beaten. They took their king, and, after a thousand stratagems, conveyed him to a castle and tended him, and at length he recovered. Again he assembled an army, and again they went against that weak king. Again the third vezir said, ‘O king, our affair is finished by stratagem.’ Quoth the king, ‘Give advice.’ The vezir said, ‘O king, this time he comes with great caution, and has posted men on the roads and at the stations who seize on everyone who passes. If the king deem good, we will write a letter and address it to his vezirs and great nobles, and it shall be on this wise:

“‘After greeting: Be it not concealed that your letter has come and all that you say is understood. Long life and health to you! We indeed hoped it from you. Now let me see you. Display manliness and valor. Seize him on the road and bring him to me, and that country shall be yours; such and such a place to so and so, and such and such a district to so and so.” Then we will seal it, and split a staff and put it therein, and give it to a man and send him to them. They will find the staff and take it to the king, who will undoubtedly read it, and look upon those vezirs and nobles as traitors, and murmurings will arise among them and they will split into parties. And by this stratagem we will again find relief.’

“The king did so. And in that way they brought the letter to that king, and as soon as he had read it, fear for his life fell upon him. Then he turned back and went to his country and seized those vezirs and nobles and slew them. At length all the nobles turned from him and wrote a letter and sent it to this king, and it was thus: ‘For the love of God come against this tyrant, and we will aid thee.’ When the king had read the letter he assembled an army and went to that 378 country, and on the battle day all the nobles came and submitted to him, and they seized the other king and surrendered him. So he took that country through stratagem; and because that strong king was negligent he lost his country and his head, for they slew him.

“Now, O king, I have told this story for that my king may know and not be negligent, and lose not life and kingdom through the stratagem of that unworthy youth.” When the king heard this story from the lady he was wroth, and said, “To-morrow will I slay him.”

When it was morning and the sun showed his face from behind the castle of Qā10 and illumined the world with light, the king came and sat upon his throne, and commanded the executioner that he bring the youth and he gave the word, “Smite off his head.” Then the fourth vezir came forward and said, ‘O my king, it is not seemly in kings to hasten in all things with precipitancy; above all the spilling of blood unjustly is deemed by the wise most blameworthy and hateful. They have declared that the trials of a king are four: one is haste; another, trusting to wrong; another, considering not the end of matters; and another, negligence. Haste is that which disappoints those who seek good and profit for themselves; wrong is that which brings about wars and uses armies unjustly and does evil things; considering not the end of matters is that which employs hurry instead of deliberation; and negligence is that which inclines to music, and lust, and taking counsel of women. And they have said, ‘Let one take counsel of a woman and do the opposite of what she says;’ even as spake the holy Apostle (peace on him!) ‘Consult them and do clear contrary.’11

“In compliance with this tradition the king must not obey the woman’s word; and through the words of women have many men suffered remorse and fallen under the wrath of God. And the story of Balaam, the son of Beor,12 is a strange story; if the king grant leave, I will relate it.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the vezir:


10  Qā is the name of a fabled mountain chain, formerly supposed to encircle the world; “the castle” is simply a metaphor for the mountain peaks.

11  This famous speech is usually attributed to ‘Omar, the second caliph.

12   Bal‘am-bin-Bā-ūr.



“One day Moses (peace on him!) went against a tribe, and they were of the people of ‘Ad, and they called their chief Og, the son of Anak.13 One day Moses (peace on him!) by command of God summoned these to the faith, and resolved to fight and war with them if they were not obedient. So Moses (peace on him!) assembled four hundred and four-score thousand men and proceeded against the ‘AdĪs. When they were come near the ‘AdĪs, he sent twelve men as ambassadors to that tribe. Now Og had gone out to look about, and he saw the twelve men coming, so he put the whole of them into his sack and slung it over his shoulder and turned back and went away. He brought them to his tribe the ‘AdĪs and said, ‘See the host of the Messenger Moses which is come seeking to make war with us;’ and he held the mouth of the sack downward and the twelve men rolled out.

“And that tribe saw them that they were small of stature, for their own stature was twice that of these. And they all made mock of them and laughed at them; but they killed them not, but sent them back. They returned and told these things to Saint Moses, and fear fell upon the host. Then Saint Moses (peace on him!) took his rod in his hand and went against that tribe of ‘Ad. Og the son of Anak saw that Moses (peace on him!) was himself coming, and straightway he went and pulled up a rock like a mountain and put it on his head, and went that he might cast it upon the host of Moses (peace on him!). But God most high commanded an angel that he went in the likeness of a bird and smote that rock with his beak and clave it, and thereupon it passed like of circle of cursers down before the face of Og. And straightway Saint Moses came up, and his stature grew to forty cubits, and his rod to forty cubits, and he leaped up forty cubits, and smote Og on the heel with his rod; and God most high slew Og.

“Then Saint Moses (peace on him!) returned to his people and gave them tidings of Og being slain; and they were all glad. Then Saint Moses passed thence and made for the country of Sheykh Balaam, the son of Beor. When he was 38 come nigh, they brought word to the sheykh that Saint Moses was coming against him with many warriors. Whereupon the sheykh’s disciples said, ‘O Sheykh, if that host come into our land, it will lay waste all our land; thou must find some help for this.’ Then were they silent. The sheykh said, ‘What should we do?’ They answered, ‘Curse him.’ The sheykh said, ‘He is a Messenger; I cannot curse him.’ And howsoever much they urged the sheykh, it was in vain. Now the sheykh had a cunning brawling wife; her they besought, saying, ‘Speak to the sheykh, and we will give thee much money.’ The woman answered, ‘I will manage it.’ When the sheykh came to his house he desired to take counsel of shi wife; she said, ‘Curse him.’ The sheykh replied, ‘He is a Messenger; how can I curse him?’

“The woman persisted so that the sheykh was constrained to lift up his hands and curse him. His curse was heard; and Saint Moses, who was fourteen leagues distant, remained for forty years in the wilderness; even as God most high saith in his Word, ‘For forty years shall they wander about in the earth.’14 Then Saint Moses knew that there was some reason for this, and he prayed and humbled himself before God most high, and said, ‘My God, send him who is the cause of our thus wandering from the world to the hereafter without the faith.’ His prayer was accepted at the court of God, and that sheykh went from the world to the hereafter without the faith by reason of a woman; even as God most high hath said, ‘And his likeness was as the likeness of a dog.’15

“Now, O King, I have told this story for that these many men have been cast forth from the court of God for following the words of women. Then is it incumbent on the king that he judge accordingly, so that he become not a prey to remorse; for too late repentance profits not. Beware and beware, slay not the prince on the woman’s word.” And he kissed the ground and made intercession for the prince for that day. When the king heard this story from the vezir, he sent the prince to the prison and went himself to the chase.

When it was evening the king came to the palace, and the lady rose to greet him, and they sat down. After the repast 381 the lady again began to speak about the youth, and the king said, “This day too my vezirs would not let me be, so I have sent him to the prison.” Quoth the lady, “I know all the plot of those vezirs, day by day each of them plans some trick or wile; they purpose to discredit me with thee, so they say that women are lacking in understanding, and that by reason thereof they are plotters and liars. These words of theirs are false, do not assail the truth; for these see me, that my trust in my king is strong. Yet I am aware of their case and their hurtful deeds; and for that I would defend my king from their craft and malice, are they enemies to me. An thou desire, my king, I shall say no more; and they may do whatever they will. But all these are of single tongue and single aim, and I fear they will bring some calamity upon thee and some evil upon me; and afterward thou shalt repent, but it will avail not.

“My king, thou hast assembled some men of low birth and made them vezirs and confided all thy affairs to them, and thou thinkest them honest; Heaven forefend they should be honest when some of them are the sons of cooks, and some of bakers, and some of butchers; it is even was Khizr16 (peace on him!) showed another king the origin of his vezirs, but mayhap my king has not heard that story.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the lady:


13   ‘Uj-bin-‘Unuq. He is said, in the Talmud, to have been a monstrous giant. The ‘AdĪs, we are told, were from sixty to one hundred cubits high. Compare Numbers xiii. 33.

14  Koran, v. 29.

15  Koran, vii. 175.

16  A mysterious being, of the number of the prophets, who appears to and aids Moslems in distress; he is frequently mentioned in Mahometan fiction, where he plays a part similar to that of Elijah in the Talmud.


“There was in the palace of the world a king who was very desirous of seeing Khizr (peace on him!); and he would give him whatsoever he may wish.’ Now there was at that time a man poor of estate; and from the greatness of his poverty he said in himself, ‘Let me go and bespeak the king that if he provide for me during three years I will show him Khizr; by three years either I shall be dead or the king will be dead, or he will forgive me my fault, or I shall on somewise win to escape: and in this way shall I make merry for a time.’ So he went to the king and spake those words to 382 him. The king said, ‘An thou show him not the, I will kill thee;’ and that poor man consented.

“The the king let give him much wealth and money, and the poor man took that wealth and money and went to his house. Three years he spent in merriment and delight, and he rested at ease till the term was accomplished. At the end of the time he fled and hid himself in a trackless place, and he began to quake for fear. Of a sudden he saw a personage with white raiment and shining face who saluted him. The poor man returned the salutation, and the radiant being asked, ‘Why art thou thus sad?’ but he gave no answer. Again the radiant being asked him and sware to him, saying, ‘Do Indeed tell to me thy plight that I may find thee some remedy.’ So that hapless one narrated his story from its beginning to its end; and the radiant being said, ‘Come, I will go with thee to the king and I will answer for thee;’ so they arose.

“Now the king wanted that hapless one; and, while they were going, some of the king’s officers who were seeking met them, and they straightway seized the poor man and brought him to the king. Quoth the king, ‘Lo, the three years are accomplished; come now show me Khizr.’ That poor man said, ‘My king, grace and bounty are the work of kings; forgive my sin.’ Quoth the king, ‘I made a pact; till I have killed thee I shall not have fulfilled it!’ And he looked to his chief vezir and said, ‘How should this be done?’ Quoth the vezir, ‘This man should be hewn in many pieces and these hung up on butcher’s hooks, that others may see and lie not before the king.’ Said that radiant being, ‘True spake the vezir; all things return to their origin.’ Then the king looked to the second vezir and said, ‘What sayest thou?’ He replied, ‘This man should be boiled in a caldron.’ Said that radiant being, ‘True spake the vezir; all things return to their origin.’ The king looked to the third vezir and said, ‘What sayest thou?’ The vezir replied, ‘this man should be hewn in small pieces and baked in an oven.’ Again said that elder, ‘True spake the vezir; all things return to their origin.’

“Then quoth the king to the fourth vezir, ‘Let us see, what sayest thou?’ The vezir replied, ‘O king, the wealth thou gavest this poor creature was for the love of Khizr (peace on him!). He, thinking to find him, accepted it; not that 383 he has not found him he seeks pardon; this were befitting that thou set free this poor creature for the love of Khizr.’ Said that elder, ‘True spake the vezir; all things return to their origin.’ Then the king said to the elder, ‘O elder, all my vezirs have said different things, contrary the one to the other, and thou hast said concerning each of them, “True spake the vezir; all things return to their origin.” What is the reason thereof?’ That elder replied, ‘O king, thy first vezir is a butcher’s son, therefore did he draw to his origin; thy second vezir is a cook’s son, he likewise proposed a punishment as became his origin; thy third vezir is a baker’s son, he likewise proposed a punishment as became his origin; but thy fourth vezir is of gentle birth, compassion therefore becomes his origin; so he had compassion on that hapless one and sought to do good and counselled liberation. O king, all things draw to their origin.’17

“And he gave the king much counsel and at last said, ’Lo, I am Khizr!’ and vanished. Then the king went forth from his palace, but could see no sign or trace of that radiant elder; and he said, ’I much longed to see Khizr (peace on him!); praise be to God, I have attained thereto, and he has told me the origin of my vezirs.’ And he commanded that they gave that poor man much wealth.

“Now, O king, I have told this story for that thou mayst know that thy vezirs are of low origin, and that fidelity will not proceed from them. In this matter too their words tally with their origin; lose not the opportunity, for to spare an enemy is great folly.” The king hears this story from the lady, and said, “To-morrow will I roll up the scroll of his life.”

“When it was morning and the world, like to him who had won to Khizr, was illumined with light, the king sat upon his throne and commanded the executioner that he bring the youth, and he gave the word, “Smite off his head.” Thereupon the fifth vezir came forward and said, “O king of the world, slay not the prince thus hastily, and cast not to the winds the counsels of these many vezirs; for as they take pearls from the sea and string them, so do these string their 384 words; they are speakers such that Mercury in the sky could not match their suggestions. O king, the reason of that which thy vezirs have said to thee is this, that the Apostle (peace on him!) hath said that whoso seeth his king do an act contrary to the law, and hindereth him not therefrom, hath departed from the Canon. Now, O king, deem not the words of thy vezirs mistaken; it is even as they have said, ‘Let him who would see Khizr in the flesh, look upon a wise, accomplished and learned vezir.’ And again, ‘If one seek to do a righteous deed, let him arrange the affair of some poor creature with a king.’ Mayhap the king has not heard the story of Khizr and a vezir.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the vezir:


17  Compare Boethius thus translated by Chaucer: All thynges seken ayen to hir propre course, and all thynges rejoysen on hir retournings agayne to hir nature.


“There was, of old time, a king who had an experienced vezir; and Khizr (peace on him!) would ever come to that vezir. One day the vezir looked upon the affairs of the world, how they abode not with anyone; and he withdrew from the vezirship, and chose the corner of retirement, and gave himself up to worship. A long time passed, and Khizr (peace on him!) never once came to him. The vezir marvelled and said, ‘Why does not Khizr (peace on him!) come to me? Now ought he to come every day.’ Then he said, ‘There must indeed be some reason for this.’ Thereupon he saw that Khizr had appeared, and he said, ‘O Khizr, while I was vezir thou didst ever come to me, is it for that I have withdrawn from the world that thou comest not now?’ Khizr (peace on him!) replied, ‘O vezir, outwardly thou didst perform the duties of vezir, inwardly I did; therefore was there a bond between us; now thou hast withdrawn therefrom, and that bond is gone from between us, so I come not to thee.’ When the vezir heard these words from Khizr, he went and asked back the vezirship, and he received it, and Khizr (peace on him!) came to him as before and ceased not.

“O king, I have told this story for that the king may hearken to the vezir’s words and follow them, and pass his life in happiness. Beware, O king, be not overhasty in this affair, that afterward thou suffer no remorse.” When the king heard this story from the vezir, he sent the prince to the prison 385 and went himself to the chase, and that day he took much game.

“In the evening he came to the palace, and the lady rose to greet him, and they sat down. After the repast the lady asked about the youth; the king said, “This day again such an one of my vezirs made intercession for him, and I sent him to the prison.” Quoth the lady, “O my king, how good were it, could he be reformed by such conduct; but this youth is incapable of reform; for he resembles that snake which first stings his mother as she bears him and kills her, and then stings his father and kills him. God most high will take vengeance on him; and his eyes will be blinded as though he had looked upon an emerald.18 If a drop of an April shower fall upon a snake it becomes poison, but if it fall into an oyster it becomes a pearl;19 and if the Koran, great of glory, fall upon a believer’s heart, it is faith and knowledge. And it is notorious that whoever nurses a snake falls at last a prey to its poison. A certain man formed a friendship with a snake and used every day to bring it a portion of food. He went to the snake’s hole and laid it there, and the snake would put its head out of its hole and eat that food, and when it was satisfied it would frolic about, and that man would play with it. One day he came and saw that the snake was out of its place and quite stiff from cold; ‘O poor thing,’ he said, and took and put it in his bosom. When the snake got warm it at once raised its head and stung that unhappy man, and killed him, and fled and entered its hole. And thus have they said, that if one foster a swine, that brute will not leave off till in the end it hurt him. It is even as the story of that sherbet-seller and the Moor.” Said the king, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the lady:


18  The emerald was supposed to have the effect of blinding snakes when they looked upon it.

19  There is an Eastern myth to that effect.


“There was of old time in a great city a sherbet-seller, and he had a son, a loveling of the age, who was so fair that he seemed a second Joseph;20 and he used to sell sherbet in the shop. The folk would come to gaze upon the youth’s beauty, 386 and they would give a sequin for each cup of sherbet, and drain it; and whenever they drank a cup they would say it was the water of life. Now one day a swarthy Moor came to that country; and as soon as he saw the youth, the hapless Moor’s power of speech left him, and he could not stir one step from where he stood, but leaned against the opposite wall bewildered. After a time he recovered his understanding, and, rising and falling like one drunk, he came up as best he could to the youth, and gave a sequin and drank a cup of sherbet, and went away. For a time he came every day and drank cups of sherbet at a sequin each, and looked on the beauty of the youth.

“One day the youth told this thing to his father, and his father perceived that the Moor was ravished with the boy, and said, ‘O my son, bring that Moor to the house to-morrow, and let us see what manner of man he is.’ The next day when the Moor came to the youth, he invited him to his house, and took him and went to his father. After they had eaten, the father of the boy asked of the Moor’s case and dwelling. The Moor saw what his intention was, and answered, ‘I have no dwelling, I am a stranger.’ The boy’s father said, ‘Thou art a stranger; we will give thee a swelling, stay with us.’ The Moor was glad and counted it a boon to his soul; even as they have said, ‘The loved one’s ward is paradise.’ So they showed the Moor a dwelling. He abode for some days, and gradually his love for the boy increased; and one day he showed him a precious stone, and said, ‘An thou let me take one kiss of thee, I will give thee this stone.’ With a thousand graces the boy consented, and said, ‘My live, my master, I love thee from heart and soul, flee me not; I know a talisman which will open before thee; if thou wilt come with me I will open it, and give thee so much gold that thou shalt never again know poverty.’

“The youth told this thing to his father, and his father gave him leave; so the Moor took him, and they went without the city; and he brought him to a ruin. Now there was a well there, full to the mouth with water; and the Moor wrote on a piece of paper and laid it on the well, and thereupon all the water vanished from the well. The Moor and the boy descended 387 to the bottom of the well, and saw a locked door. The Moor wrote a charm and fastened it on the rock, and it opened forthwith. They went in and saw a negro holding in one hand a great stone to throw upon anyone who entered. The Moor repeated a charm and blew upon the negro, and the negro laid the stone that was in his hand upon the ground, and let them pass. They went on and saw a dome of crystal, and at the door of the domed building were two dragons, who stood facing one the other with open mouths like caverns. When they came near, these flew at them, but the Moor repeated a charm and blew on them, and they vanished.

“Then the door of the domed building opened and they went in, and they saw that in one corner thereof was gold, in another corner silver, in anther corner all manner of jewels, and in another corner was raised a throne upon black earth, and on that throne was a coffin, and in that coffin lay a renowned man dead. Upon his breast was a gold tablet, and on that tablet was written: ‘I was a king, and I ruled the whole earth, and whithersoever I was in this world I conquered. I had many many champions and great wealth and treasure. Some little of the wealth I owned I gathered here. Me too death spared not; but made me even as though I had not come into the world. Now, O thou who seest me in this plight, take warning by me, and remember my soul in prayer, and be not presumptuous through the wealth of this world for a few days’ life.’ And that was all. Then the Moor and the youth took as much as they desired of the gold and silver and stone, and went out. The Moor repeated a charm and blew upon the well, and it was again all full of water; and he went back with the boy to their house, and they gave themselves up to mirth and merriment. Day and night they ceased not therefrom an instant.

“One day the Moor asked the Moor to teach him the charms that he had repeated in the talisman. The Moor consented, and instructed him for many days and taught him. One day, of a sudden, the boy said to his father, ‘O father, I have learned the whole of the charms for the talisman, so we have no longer any need of the Moor; let us poison him.’ But his father consented not, and said, ‘Let us turn him away; let him go elsewhither.’ 388 Quoth the youth, ‘The turning away of him would not do; he is a great master, he might do us an injury, so let us poison him ere he play us some trick; and I will take as much gold and silver as is needful from that buried treasure.’ The Moor heard him and knew that fairness purposed foulness, and he straightway disappeared from there.

“Now, O king, I have told this story for that the king may know that no good has ever happened to anyone from youths. Yea, O king, be not negligent, kill the youth, else the affair will end in evil.” When the king heard this story from the lady he was wroth and said, “On the morrow will I slay him.”

When it was morning the king sat upon his throne and caused the youth to be brought, and commanded the executioner, “Smite off his head.” The sixth vezir came forward and said, “O king of the world, beware, act not on anyone’s word till the crime be proved against the prince; for the resurrection is at hand, and lying and cunning and craft abound. The wise man is he who turns off sin and evil that he may not afterward begin to bite upon the finger with regret and remorse and be repentant, and who takes the woful by the hand and gives happiness to the unhappy, and who repulses not him who comes to his door, but sees his needs and provides for him, and who never lets himself by deceived by a woman’s word; for these laugh in one’s face. Mayhap my king has not heard the story of the tailor youth and the woman.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the vezir:


20  Joseph is the type of youthful beauty.


“Thus relate they: In the time of Saint Jesus (peace on him!) there was a tailor youth who had a fair wife, and they greatly loved one another. One day they made a pact that if the woman died first, her husband should take no other wife, but throw his arms round her tombstone and weep till morning; and if the youth died first, the woman should do likewise. By the decree of God the woman died. After the tailor had wept and lamented he buried her, and fulfilled his pact, and threw his arms round his wife’s tombstone and wept. And he constantly kept watch over the grave. One day Jesus (peace on him!) when passing by that place, saw a youth 389 weeping and embracing a tombstone, and he went up to him and asked why he wept. The youth related all.

“The Jesus (peace on him!) prayed, and the woman became alive, and came forth from the grave in her shroud. And Jesus (peace on him!) proceeded on his way. The youth said, ‘One cannot go thus in a shroud; wait thou here a moment till I go and fetch clothes from the house; then thou shalt put on these clothes, and we will go together.’ And he went quickly to the house, leaving the woman there. Suddenly the son of the king of that country passed that spot, and saw a fair woman sitting wrapped in a shroud. As soon as the prince saw that woman he fell in love with her from heart and soul, and he said to her, ‘Who art thou?’ She answered, ‘I am a stranger; a robber has stripped me.’ Thereupon the prince ordered his servants to take the woman to the palace and clothe her in clean garments.

“When the youth returned with the clothes he found not the woman there, and he cried and asked of the passers-by. No one had seen her. The poor man, asking and asking, met the prince’s servants. These asked the tailor why he wept. He replied, ‘For a time my wife was dead; but now, praise be to God, she is become alive through the prayer of the messenger Jesus; I went to fetch her clothes, but she has disappeared: therefore do I weep.’ They answered, ‘The prince sent that lady to the palace this day.’ Thereupon the tailor went before the prince and complained, saying, ‘The woman thou hast taken is my wife.’ The prince asked the lady, she denied and said, ‘This is the robber who stripped me of my clothes and made off; praise be to God, if thou kill him now, thou shalt gain great reward.’ The prince commanded that they bound both the tailor’s hands behind his back. Although the tailor cried aloud, it was no avail; they put a rope round his neck and led him to the gallows.

“Then they perceived Saint Jesus on the road, and they waited. When he came near he asked of their case, and they told him. Then he bade them stop and went himself to the prince; they called the woman, and he said, ‘This woman is the wife of yonder youth; I prayed and she became alive.’ When the woman saw the messenger she was unable to deny, but spake the truth. Jesus (peace on him!) prayed again, 39 and that woman died; and the youth was rescued from the abyss whereinto he had fallen, and he repented of his having wept so long a time.

“Now, O king, I have told this story for that thou mayst know that the inclinations of women are ever to works of evil, craft, and wickedness.” And he kissed the ground and made intercession for the prince’s life. When the king heard this story from the vezir he sent the prince to the prison, and went himself to the chase.

“In the evening he returned from the chase and came to the palace, and the lady rose to greet him, and they sat down. After the repast the lady fell to speaking about the youth. The king said, “To-day such an one of my vezirs made intercession for him, so I have again sent him to the prison.” Quoth the lady, “O king, thou dost not believe my words; but at length, in the near future, some hurt will befall thee from the youth; for his night I saw a vision, which it is, as it were, a duty on me to tell my king, and incumbent on thee to hear.” Said the king, “Tell on, let us hear.” The lady said, “This night thou wast holding in thy hand a golden ball, and that ball was adorned and set around with rubies and jewels, and its brilliancy lit up the world; an thou wast playing, throwing up the ball and catching it in thy hand. And this youth was sitting by thy side watching, and ever and anon he asked for the ball, but thou gavest him it not.

“Of a sudden, while thou wast heedless, he snatched the ball, and for that thou hadst not given it him when he had asked was he angry, and he struck the ball upon a stone, so that it was shattered in pieces. And I was grieved, and I went and picked up the fragments of the ball, and gave them into thy hand, and thou dist look upon those fragments and didst marvel, and with that I awoke.” Quoth the king, “What may the interpretation of this vision be?” The lady said, “I interpreted this dream: that ball is thy kingdom; and this youth’s snatching it from thy hand is this, that this youth came to me, and said, ‘I wish to kill my father and sit upon the throne, and I desire to make thee my wife; and all the men of the kingdom have turned to me, and now the kingdom is wholly mine, do thou likewise submit to me?; Had I submitted to him, ere now he had killed thee and accomplished 391 his affair. Ah! the fortune and suspiciousness of my king averted it. And his striking the ball upon the stone is this, that if he had become king after thee, he would have utterly ruined the kingdom. And my going and picking up the fragments and giving them to the king is this, that for that I obeyed not the youth, but came and told the king, he seized him, and the kingdom remained in his hand. But had not I done so, know of a surety that ere now the kingdom would have passed from they hand; yea, thy life, too, would have gone. That is the interpretation of the dream. O king, the story of this degenerate youth resembles that of a certain king’s son; mayhap my king has not heard it.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the lady:


“In the palace of the world there was a king in whose country was a robber, such that none could escape from his hands. And in that king’s country was a great khoja. That khoja and his wife were travelling with some money, when of a sudden, while they were on the road they met that robber. He forthwith stripped them and made them naked and took them captives. He put their clothes in the cave which he had chosen for his dwelling, and bound both the khoja’s hands behind his back and laid him in a corner; and then he gave himself up to mirth and merriment with the woman. After seven or eight months the robber released the khoja and his wife. So these went forth from the cave, and saying, ‘There is nor strength nor power save in God, the high, the mighty,’ they set their faces in a certain directions, and fared on till one day they entered a city. And they took a dwelling in that city and settled there.

“When the woman’s time was come she gave birth to a boy; but as they knew that the boy was the robber’s, they would not accept him, and they laid him at the door of the mosque. The king of that country happened to pass by and asked concerning him, and the people who were present answered that his parents had no means of bringing him up and so had left him there. Now the king had no son, and he took pity on this child and adopted him and made him his son, and 392 said, ‘If God gave him life and he die not, he shall sit on the throne after me and be king.’ So they took the boy and brought him to the palace, and appointed him a nurse, and made him clothes of all manner of stuff. Day by day he grew, and when he had reached his seventh years he was a moon-faced boy, such that he who looked upon his countenance desired to look thereon again.

“And the king appointed a teacher and a governor for the boy, and he learned science and good conduct. When he had reached his twelfth year he had acquired sciences and accomplishments. After that, they instructed him in horsemanship; that too he acquired in a few days. And every day he would go into the square and take a ball and play; and all the world marvelled at his beauty and dexterity, and the king felt delight as often as he looked upon him. Now the king had also a daughter peerless in beauty. In the course of a few years this girl grew up and reached the age of puberty, and the boy fell in love with her. He would brook over this, saying, ‘Alas! would she were not my sister, that I might marry her.’ Now this boy was a valiant youth, such that the king’s emirs and vezirs applauded his valor; and he overcame the king’s enemies who were round about, and made them subject to his father; and no one could stand before his sword. The king had betrothed his daughter to another king’s son, and when the time was come they wished to take the girl from the king.

“And the king commanded that they should make ready; and thereupon the youth, to make clear what was in his heart, asked a legist this question, ‘If a person have a garden and the fruit of that garden ripen, should that person eat it or another?’ The legist replied, ‘It were better that person should eat it than another.’ Now the prince had a learned companion, and that companion knew the prince’s desire; for science is of three kinds: one the science of the faith, another the science of physiognomy, and another the science of the body; but unless there be the science of physiognomy, other science avails not. Straightway that companion said, ‘O prince, if there be in that garden you ask of, a fruit forbidden by God most high, it were better that the owner eat it not; but if God most high have not forbidden it, then is it lawful for that person to eat it.’ Quoth the prince, ‘Thou knowest 393 not as much as a legist; yon man is a legist; I look to his decision.’ And he arose and went to his sister’s palace, and that hour he took his sister and went forth the city, and made for another city.

“Then the slave girls with great crying informed the king, and thereupon the king’s senses forsook him, and he commanded, ‘Let the soldiers forthwith mount their horses and pursue the youth and seize him.’ Straightway the soldiers mounted and went after the youth; and the king said, ‘From the low born fidelity comes not;’ and he repented him of his having taken him to son. The king and the soldiers appeared behind the youth, and the latter sprang into a hiding-place. And while the king and the soldiers were passing he slew the king from that hiding-place; and when the soldiers saw that the king was slain they each one fled in a different direction, and were scattered in confusion. And the youth took the girl and went to a city and took a house therein, and made her his wife; and he adopted the whole of what had been his father’s business, and turned robber.

“Now, O king, I have told this story, for that thou mayst know that the desire of this degenerate youth is to kill his father as that low-born one slew his; the rest the king knows.” When the king heard this strange thing from the lady, he said, “On the morrow will I slay him.”

“When it was morning the king went and sat upon his throne, and he caused the youth to be brought and commanded the executioner, “Smite off his head.” Whereupon the seventh vezir came forward and said, “O king of the world, first look to the end of every business thou undertakest and then act accordingly; for on the day of battle it is needful, first to think of the way of retreat and then to set to, so that when it is ‘or fate or state,’ one may save his life. They have said, ‘On the day of strife be not far from the nobles: in the chase and the palace go not near them;’ and ‘He is profitable in the councils of a king, who in the day of security looks to the matters of war and the provision of weapons, and stints not money to the troops that these on the day of battle may be lavish with their lives in the king’s cause.’ It is incumbent on the king that he kill those who flee when they see the enemy (and after the foes); for they resemble those who give 394 up a stronghold to the adversary. And they have said that a good scribe and a man who knows the science of the sword are very needful for a king; for with the pen is wealth collected, and with the sword are countries taken. Mayhap the king has not heard the story of a certain king and a vezir.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the vezir:


“There was in the palace of the world a king and he had two vezirs, one of whom was wise and learned, and one of whom was foolish and ignorant. On the king’s taking counsel of them concerning the management of the affairs of the state, the ignorant vezir said, ‘O king, expend not money, give not money to the soldiers and warriors, or if thou give, give little; and let him who will stay, stay; and let him who will not stay, go. When thou hast money on the battle day, many will be soldiers to thee: where the honey is, there surely come the flies.’ His words seemed good to the king, who one day said to the learned vezir, ‘Get me a few men who will be content with little pay.’ On the vezir’s replying, ’Men without pay are not to be had,’ the king said, ‘I shall have money when anything befalls, and shall find many men.’ Quoth the vezir, ‘So be it, I shall find men for the king who will take no pay and stir not day or night from his gate.’ The king was glad and said, ‘Get them, let us see.’

“The vezir went and found a painter and brought him, and he painted a large room in the palace so that the four walls of that room were covered with pictured figures of men, and he decked all the figures with arms and implements of war, he depicted a mounted and armed host standing rank on rank. When it was completed the vezir called the king, and the king arose and went with him to that wall of pictures and he showed the king the whole of them. The king looked and said, ‘What are these pictures?’ why hast thou ranged these here rank on rank?’ The vezir replied, ‘O king, thou desiredst of me men without pay; lo, these youths want no pay; so they will serve the king.’ The king said, ‘There is no life in these; how can they serve?’ The vezir answered, ‘O king, if lifeless pictures will not serve, no more will payless soldiers serve. Fief and 395 pay are as the life of the soldier; when thou givest not man his fief or pay, it is as though thou tookest away his life; judge if a lifeless man could serve.’

“Again, ‘O king, if a paid army be not needful for thee, these will suffice; but living men require to eat and drink. If they get no pay they will not sacrifice their lives in the cause of the king or face the enemy; but they will hate the king and turn from him and evil will befall the king; but if the king be bountiful they will obey. Thus a noble had a young steward who used to serve him. One day the noble asked the youth his name. He replied, “God on thee, my name is Wittol.” Said the noble, “Can anyone be so called?” The youth answered, “Anyhow it is my nickname, never mind.” So they used to call that youth Wittol so long as he was at that noble’s gate. One day he went from that noble’s gate to another’s. One day that noble in whose service he had been happened to meet him, when he cried out, “Ho, Wittol, how art thou?” The youth replied, “O noble, say not so again, or thou shalt see.” The noble said, “My life, thou didst tell me Wittol was thy name; why art thou now angered?” The youth answered, “Then did I serve thee, and thou bestowedst on me worlds of bounties, so though thou calledst me Wittol, it offended me not; but now I never get a favor from this man that he should call me so.”

“Quoth the noble, “He who called thee so just now was I, not he; yet thou wast angered with me.” The youth replied, “God forbid I should be angered with thee; but if to-morrow the other were to hear that word from thee, he too would wish to use it; now was I angered lest he should call me so.”’ Then that vezir laid a dish of honey before the king; as it was night no flies came to it. And the vezir said, ‘They say that where there is honey, thither will the flies surely flock; lo, here is honey, where are the flies?’ Quoth the king, ‘It is night, therefore they come not.’ The vezir said, ‘My king, it is necessary to give soldiers money at the proper time; for bringing out money on the battle day is like bringing out honey at night.’ When the king heard these words from the vezir he was ashamed; but he greatly applauded the vezir, and thenceforth did whatsoever he advised.

“Now, O king, I have told this story for that thou mayest 396 know that attendants and servants are needful for kings, and that master of device and resource are requisite. Kings should take counsel of their vezirs in such matters that no defect may mar their fortune in the world or the hereafter. Now the prince is thy support and asylum, and all the folk, high and low, ask why he is fettered with the bonds of woe and a prisoner of the dungeon. And slaying the prince were like slaying the vezirs and all the world. Who would sit on the throne after thee that should know our circumstances? All the grandees of the empire and lords of the state and noble seyyids would be cast down, and scattered to the winds and ruined. This woman is a woman lacking in religion and understanding; to give ear to and thus countenance those who are so lacking is not worthy of our king.” And he kissed the ground and begged for the prince. So the king sent him to the prison.

Having returned from the chase, the king went to the palace, and the lady rose to greet him, and they passed on and sat down. After the repast the lady again asked for news of the youth. The king answered, “To-day too I have sent him to the prison.” The lady said, “Thou art a wise and just king; we will talk together this night and see whether or no by principle, by the law, and by custom, thou dost sin in thus vexing my heart. O king, there are many rights between husband and wife. And they have said that it is better to give a woman a handful of words than a skirtful of money. Mayhap the king has not heard the story of the sparrow and his mate.” The king said, “Relate it, let us hear.” Quoth the lady:


“There was in the blessed service of Saint Solomon (peace on him!) a little sparrow whose many tricks and gambols were ever pleasing to Saint Solomon. One day Saint Solomon saw not the sparrow by him, and he commanded the simurgh21 bird to go fetch the sparrow wherever he might find him. For a long time the sparrow had not gone to his mate, and his mate had upbraided him, saying, ‘For this long time thou 397 hast left me and been with Solomon; dost thou love him more than me, or dost thou fear him? tell me.’ The sparrow answered, ‘By God, I would not give thee for the world, I am come but once to earth and shall not come again; I go to Solomon for diversion, I have no dread of him.’ While he was talking with many such vaunts and boasts, the simurgh arrived in haste and herd the sparrow bragging and said harshly, ‘Up, let us be off; Saint Solomon wants thee.’ Then the sparrow, being beside his mate, plucked up courage and replied, ‘Off, begone, I will not go.’ The simurgh said, ‘I will indeed take thee.’ The sparrow answered, ‘Off with thee, get thee hence, or I will seize thee and rent thee in twain.’ Quoth the simurgh, ‘Until I take thee with me I will not budge from here.’

“Yet the sparrow heeded not, and the simurgh waited a while, but the sparrow would not go. Again said the simurgh to the sparrow, ‘O my life, give me an answer.’ Quoth the sparrow, ‘I tell thee begone from here; if thou speak again, my heart will bid me do somewhat else; but no, I will not slay thee. Off, begone, or I will do thee some hurt, and then go to Solomon’s palace and smite it with my foot, and overturn it from its foundations and pull it down about his head; now then, away fool, off, begone the road thou camest. Thou chatterest here and sayest not, “This is the sparrow’s harem; he is ill.”’ And he gave the simurgh a kick such that the latter knew not where it touched him, but he flew thence and reported the sparrow’s words to Saint Solomon. Solomon said, ‘When the sparrow spake these words where was he?’ ‘His mate was there,’ answered the simurgh. Then quoth Solomon (peace on him!), ‘There is no harm in one thus boasting and bragging in his own house before his wife. Though every stone of this palace was raised by the toil of these many demons, still wonder not at his saying when beside his wife that he could shatter it with one foot.’ And this was pleasing to Solomon (peace on him!), and when the sparrow came he made him of his boon companions.

“O king, I have told this story for that thou mayst know that once should thus love his wife and vex not her little heart, so that his wife may have naught against him. And God most high has given thee understanding; weigh my words in 398 the balance of understanding, and try them on the touchstone of the heart; if they stand not the test, I shall speak more. I tell thee that this youth has stretched forth his hand to me and has been treacherous, and has moreover purposed against thy life; can there be greater crimes than these? O king, beware, be not negligent in this matter; for there is fear and danger for thy life and kingdom.” When the king heard these beguiling words of the lady he said, “On the morrow will I make an end of his affair.”

When it was morning the king sat upon his throne and commanded the executioner that he bring the youth, and he said, “Smite off his head.” Whereupon the eighth vezir came forward and said, “O king of the world, slay not the prince on the woman’s word. One should be forgiving; above all, as no man is exempt from sin; for they have said that humanity is composed of forgetfulness. A man falls sometimes through the intrigues of an enemy and sometimes through the maleficence of the cruel sphere; or else he attains prosperity and falls into adversity. Mayhap the king has not heard the story of a certain vezir.” The king said, “Tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the vezir:


“Of old time there was a king, and he had an experience and learned vezir. One day the latter went to the bath, and while he was sitting beside the basin, his ring fell from his finger into the water; and it sank not in the water, but floated on the surface. Whenever the vezir saw this he sent men to his house and treasury, saying, ‘Go quickly, and hide in a certain place whatsoever I have in the treasury of gold and silver or rubies and jewels; for now is the king about to seize me.’ Then they went and acted according to his order. And as the vezir was coming out from the bath, men from the king arrived and seized him; and they put him in prison and took possession of whatever he had in his house and treasury.

“One day, after the vezir had been imprisoned for a certain time, his heart longed for a conserve of pomegranate pips, and he ordered the jailer, saying, ‘Make me ready a conserve and bring it, for my heart doth greatly desire it.’ Now the king 399 had forbidden that dish, and the jailer was afraid and made it not. And the vezir’s desire increased and he begged it of all who came to him, but no one made it and brought it through fear of the king. Brief, the vezir lay for a year in prison and longed for that dish, but no one found means to bring him it. One day the jailer made shift to cook that dish and bring it to the vezir. As soon as the vezir saw it he was glad; and they put it before him, but ere he had stretched out his hand to it, two mice, that were struggling with each other above, fell into the dish, and the food became unclean.

“Thereupon the vezir said, ‘It is good,’ and he arose and commanded his servants, saying, ‘Go, furnish the mansion, put the wealth you hid back into its proper place; my king is about to take me from prison and make me vezir.’ Then his retainers went and did as he had commanded. Hereupon came a man from the king who took the vezir from the prison and brought him before the king. Then said the king to comfort the vezir’s heart, ‘I put thee in prison seemingly to afflict thee; but really that thou mightest know, from experiencing imprisonment, speedily to intercede for the men whom I cast into jail.’ Quoth the vezir, ‘Nearness to a sultan is a burning fire: whatsoever conduct be observed toward me by the king is pleasant teaching.’ The king was pleased and commanded that they bring a robe of honor, and he put it on him and made him again vezir.

“Then when the vezir was come to his mansion his retainers and others asked him, saying, ‘Whence knewest thou of the king’s being about to imprison thee and seize thy wealth, and whence knewest thou of his being about to take thee out and make thee vezir?’ The vezir replied, ‘While in the bath my ring fell into the water and sank not, so I knew that my fortune had reached its perfection, and that what follows every perfection is declension, therefore did I so command; and for a whole year, while I was in prison, I longed for a dish of pomegranate pips, at length I got it, and mice polluted it so that I could not eat it, so I knew that my misfortune was complete and that my former estate was returned. And I was glad.’

“Now, O king, I have told this story for that the king may likewise know that every perfection has its declension. Until 400 now the prince and the vezirs were safe and esteemed before the king. Now he knows not in what malefic sign our stars may be imprisoned. A woman has rendered us despicable before the king and has bound him about with craft and wiles, so that these many learned and sagacious vezirs are impotent against her incitements; even as it is clear that when a fool throws a stone down a well a wise man is powerless to get it up again. O king, haste not in this affair; too late repentance profits not; for the prince is like a young bird that can neither fly nor flee, grant him a few days’ requite, haply this difficulty may be solved; and there is a reason for his not speaking. He is ever as a prisoner in thy hand; afterward, if thou will, kill him; if thou will, free him.” And he kissed the ground and begged for the prince. When the king heard this story from the vezir the fire that was in his heart was increased ten-fold and the tears poured from his eyes; and he sent the prince to the prison and mounted for the chase with his own cares.

“When the king returned he entered the palace, and the lady rose to greet him, and they sat down. After the repast the lady asked for news of the youth. The king said, “To-day too such an one of my vezirs made intercession for him, and I sent him to the prison.” Quoth the lady, “O king, I have given thee thus much counsel, and it has produced no effect upon thee. It is as though a physician treated a sick man, and the treatment was without result, and that physician was powerless to speak to thee. I should say, ‘I will speak no more nor waste my breath in vain;’ still my heart pities thee, for the king’s realm and life will be destroyed. My head, too, will fall; for that I am in the same peril with the king do I speak. It is even as once when they cut off a person’s hand and he uttered no sound; afterward he saw someone whose hand had been cut off, and he wailed aloud and wept. Those who were present wondered and asked, saying, ‘O man, when thy hand was cut off thou didst not weep; why weepest thou now?’ that person answered, ‘By God, then, when they cut off my hand, I saw that there was not among you one who had met the like, and I said to myself that if I wept each of you would speak ill of me, for ye knew not the pain 401 of it; now that I have found a companion in my plight do I weep, for he knows the anguish I have suffered.’ Now, O king, thy head and my head are like to fall; if the king know not my plight, who should know it? Mayhap my king has not heard the story of the three princes and the cadi.” The king said, “tell on, let us hear.” Quoth the lady:


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