The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Harun Al-Rashid and the Woman of the Barmecides124

They tell125 that Harun Al-Rashid was sitting one day to abate grievances, when there came up to him a woman and said, “O Commander of the Faithful, may Allah perfect thy purpose and gladden thee in whatso He hath given thee and increase thee in elevation! Indeed, thou hast done justice and wrought equitably.” 126 Quoth the Caliph to those who were present with him, “Know ye what this one means by her saying?” and quoth they, “Of a surety, she meaneth not otherwise than well, O Prince of True Believers.” Al-Rashid rejoined: “Nay, in this she purposeth only to curse me. As for her saying, ‘Allah perfect thy purpose,’ she hath taken it from the saying of the poet,

‘When thy purpose is effected beginneth its decay;

when they say ‘Thy wish is won’ feel thou sure ’twill pass away.’

As for her saying ‘Allah gladden thee in whatso He hath given thee,’ she took it from the saying of Almighty Allah,127 ‘Till, whenas they were gladdened in that they were given, We suddenly laid hold of them and lo, they were in despair!’ As for her saying, ‘Allah increase thee in elevation!’ she took it from the saying of the poet:—

‘No flier flieth however tall

but as he flieth shall come to fall.’

And as for her saying, ‘Indeed, thou hast done justice and wrought equitably, ’tis from the saying of the Almighty, ‘If ye swerve128 or lag behind or turn aside, verily, Allah of that which ye do is well aware;’ and ‘As for the swervers129 they are fuel for Hell.’” Then he turned to the woman and asked her, “Is it not thus?” answered she, “Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,” and quoth he, “What prompted thee to this?” Quoth she, “Thou slewest my parents and my kinsfolk and despoiledst their good.” Enquired the Caliph, “Whom meanest thou?” and she replied, “I am of the House of Barmak.” Then said he to her, “As for the dead, they are of those who are past away, and it booteth not to speak of them; but, as for that which I took of wealth, it shall forthright be restored to thee, yea, and more than it.” And he was bountiful to her to the uttermost of his bounties.

124 Bresl. Edit., vol. vi. pp. 189-191, Night ccccxxxiv.

125 Arab. “Za’mú,” a word little used in the Cal., Mac. or Bul. Edit.; or in the Wortley Montague MS.; but very common in the Bresl. text.

126 More double-entendres. “Thou hast done justice” (’adalta) also means “Thou hast swerved from right;” and “Thou hast wrought equitably” (Akasta iv. of Kast) = “Thou hast transgressed.”

127 Koran vi. 44. Allah is threatening unbelievers, “And when they had forgotten their warnings We set open to them the gates of all things, until, when they were gladdened,” etc.

128 Arab. “Ta’dilú,” also meaning, “Ye do injustice”: quoted from Koran iv. 134.

129 Arab. “Al-Kásitúna,” before explained. Koran lxxii. 15.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31