The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Women’s Wiles258

On the following night Dunyazad said to her sister Shahrazad, “O sister mine, an thou incline not unto sleep, prithee tell us a tale which shall beguile our watching through the dark hours.” She replied:— With love and gladness.259 It hath reached me, O magnificent King, that whilome there was in the city of Baghdad, a comely youth and a well bred, fair of favour, tall of stature, and slender of shape. His name was Alá al-Dín and he was of the chiefs of the sons of the merchants and had a shop wherein he sold and bought. One day, as he sat in his shop, there passed by him a merry girl260 who raised her head and casting a glance at the young merchant, saw written in a flowing hand on the forehead261 of his shop door these words, “THERE BE NO CRAFT SAVE MEN’S CRAFT, FORASMUCH AS IT OVERCOMETH WOMEN’S CRAFT.” When she beheld this, she was wroth and took counsel with herself, saying, As my head liveth, there is no help but I show him a marvel trick of the wiles of women and put to naught this his inscription!” Thereupon she hied her home; and on the morrow she made her ready and donning the finest of dress, adorned herself with the costliest of ornaments and the highest of price and stained her hands with henna. Then she let down her tresses upon her shoulders and went forth, walking with coquettish gait and amorous grace, followed by her slave-girl carrying a parcel, till she came to the young merchant’s shop and sitting down under pretext of seeking stuffs, saluted him with the salam and demanded of him somewhat of cloths. So he brought out to her various kinds and she took them and turned them over, talking with him the while. Then said she to him, “Look at the shapeliness of my shape and my semblance! Seest thou in me aught of default?” He replied, “No, O my lady;” and she continued, “Is it lawful in any one that he should slander me and say that I am humpbacked?” Then she discovered to him a part of her bosom, and when he saw her breasts his reason took flight from his head and his heart crave to her and he cried, “Cover it up,262 so may Allah veil thee!” Quoth she, “Is it fair of any one to decry my charms?” and quoth he, “How shall any decry thy charms, and thou the sun of loveliness?” Then said she, “Hath any the right to say of me that I am lophanded?” and tucking up her sleeves, she showed him forearms as they were crystal; after which she unveiled to him a face, as it were a full moon breaking forth on its fourteenth night, and said to him, “Is it lawful for any to decry me and declare that my face is pitted with smallpox or that I am one eyed or crop eared?” and said he, “O my lady, what is it moveth thee to discover unto me that lovely face and those fair limbs, wont to be so jealously veiled and guarded? Tell me the truth of the matter, may I be thy ransom!” And he began to improvise,263

“White Fair now drawn from sheath of parted hair,

Then in the blackest tresses hid from sight,

Flasheth like day irradiating Earth

While round her glooms the murk of nightliest night.”

— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say. Whereupon cried Dunyazad her sister, “O sister mine, how delectable is this tale and how desirable!” She replied, saying, “And where is this compared with that which I will recount to thee next night, Inshallah?”

The Hundred and Ninety-seventh Night.

Now when came the night, quoth Dunyazad to her sister Shahrazad, “O sister mine, an thou incline not unto sleep, prithee finish thy tale which shall beguile our watching through the dark hours.” She replied:— With love and gladness! It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the girl said to the young merchant, “Know, O my lord, that I am a maid oppressed of my sire, who speaketh at me and saith to me, Thou art loathly of looks and semblance and it besitteth not that thou wear rich raiment; for thou and the slave-girls are like in rank, there is no distinguishing thee from them. Now he is a richard, having a mighty great store of money and saith not thus save because he is a pinchpenny, and grudgeth the spending of a farthing; wherefore he is loath to marry me, lest he be put to somewhat of expense in my marriage, albeit Almighty Allah hath been bounteous to him and he is a man puissant in his time and lacking naught of worldly weal.” The youth asked, “Who is thy father and what is his condition?” and she answered, “He is the Chief Kazi of the well-known Supreme Court, under whose hands are all the Kazis who administer justice in this city.” The merchant believed her and she farewelled him and fared away, leaving in his heart a thousand regrets, for that the love of her had prevailed over him and he knew not how he should win to her; wherefore he woned enamoured, love-distracted, unknowing if he were alive or dead. As soon as she was gone, he shut up shop and walked straightway to the Court, where he went in to the Chief Kazi and saluted him. The magistrate returned his salam and treated him with distinction and seated him by his side. Then said Ala al-Din to him, “I come to thee seeking thine alliance and desiring the hand of thy noble daughter.” Quoth the Kazi, “O my lord merchant, welcome to thee and fair welcome; but indeed my daughter befitteth not the like of thee, neither beseemeth she the goodliness of thy youth and the pleasantness of thy compostition and the sweetness of thy speech;” but Ala al-Din replied, “This talk becometh thee not, neither is it seemly in thee; if I be content with her, how should this vex thee?” So the Kazi was satisfied and they came to an accord and concluded the marriage contract at a dower precedent of five purses264 ready money and a dower contingent of fifteen purses, so it might be hard for him to put her away, her father having given him fair warning, but he would not be warned. Then they wrote out the contract document and the merchant said, “I desire to go in to her this night.” Accordingly they carried her to him in procession that very evening, and he prayed the night prayer and entered the private chamber prepared for him; but, when he lifted the head gear from the bride’s head and the veil from her face and looked, he saw a foul face and a favour right fulsome; indeed he beheld somewhat whereof may Allah never show thee the like! loathly, dispensing from description, inasmuch as there were reckoned in her all legal defects.265 So he repented, when repentance availed him naught, and knew that the girl had cheated him. — And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say. Whereupon cried Dunyazad, her sister, “O sister mine, how delectable is thy story and how sweet!” She replied, saying, “And where is this compared with that which I will recount to thee next night an I be spared and suffered to live by the King, whom Almighty Allah preserve?”

The Hundred and Ninety-eight Night.

Now whenas came the night, quoth Dunyazad to her sister Shahrazad, “O sister mine, an thou incline not unto sleep, prithee finish thy story which shall beguile our watching through the dark hours, for indeed ‘tis a fine tale and a wondrous.” She replied:— With love and gladness! It hath reached me, O generous King, that the unhappy merchant carnally knew the loathly bride, sore against the grain, and abode that night troubled in mind, as he were in the prison of Al-Daylam.266 Hardly had the day dawned when he arose from her side and betaking himself to one of the Hammams, dozed there awhile, after which he made the Ghusl-ablution of ceremonial impurity267 and donned his every day dress. Then he went out to the coffee house and drank a cup of coffee; after which he returned to his shop and opening the door, sat down, with concern and chagrin manifest on his countenance. After an hour or so, his friends and intimates among the merchants and people of the market began to come up to him, by ones and twos; to give him joy, and said to him, laughing, “A blessing! a blessing! Where be the sweetmeats? Where be the coffee?268 ’Twould seem thou hast forgotten us; and nothing made thee oblivious save that the charms of the bride have disordered thy wit and taken thy reason, Allah help thee! We give thee joy, we give thee joy.” And they mocked at him whilst he kept silence before them, being like to rend his raiment and shed tears for rage. Then they went away from him, and when it was the hour of noon, up came his mistress, the crafty girl, trailing her skirts and swaying to and fro in her gait, as she were a branch of Ban in a garden of bloom. She was yet more richly dressed and adorned and more striking and cutting269 in her symmetry and grace than on the previous day, so that she made the passers stop and stand in espalier to gaze upon her. When she came to Ala al-Din’s shop, she sat down thereon and said to him, “Blessed be the day to thee, O my lord Ala al-Din! Allah prosper thee and be good to thee and perfect thy gladness and make it a wedding of weal and welfare!” He knitted his brows and frowned in answer to her; then asked her, “Wherein have I failed of thy due, or what have I done to harm thee, that thou shouldst requite me after this fashion?” She answered, “Thou hast been no wise in default; but ‘tis yonder inscription written on the door of thy shop that irketh me and vexeth my heart. An thou have the courage to change it and write up the contrary thereof, I will deliver thee from thine evil plight.” And he answered, “Thy requirement is right easy: on my head and eyes!” So saying, he brought out a sequin270 and summoning one of his Mamelukes said to him, “Get thee to Such-an-one the Scribe and bid him write us an epigraph, adorned with gold and lapis lazuli, in these words, “THERE BE NO CRAFT SAVE WOMEN’S CRAFT, FOR INDEED THEIR CRAFT IS A MIGHTY CRAFT271 AND OVERCOMETH AND HUMBLETH THE FALSES OF MEN.” And she said to the white slave “Fare thee forthright.” So he repaired to the Scribe, who wrote him the scroll, and he brought it to his master, who set it on the door and asked the damsel, “Is thy heart satisfied?” She answered, “Yes! Arise forthwith and get thee to the place before the citadel, where do thou foregather with all the mountebanks and ape-dancers and bear-leaders and drummers and pipers and bid them come to thee to-morrow early, with their kettle drums and flageolets, whilst thou art drinking coffee with thy father in law the Kazi, and congratulate thee and wish thee joy, saying, ‘A blessing, O son of our uncle! Indeed, thou art the vein272 of our eye! We rejoice for thee, and if thou be ashamed of us, verily we pride ourselves upon thee; so, although thou banish us from thee, know that we will not forsake thee, albeit thou forsake us.’ And do thou fall to throwing diners and dirhams amongst them; whereupon the Kazi will question thee, and do thou answer him, saying, My father was an ape-dancer and this is our original condition; but our Lord opened on us the gate of fortune and we have gotten us a name amongst the merchants and with their provost.’ Upon this he will say to thee, ‘Then thou art an ape-leader of the tribe of the mountebanks?’ and do thou rejoin, ‘I may in nowise deny my origin, for the sake of thy daughter and in her honour.’ The Kazi will say, ‘It may not be that thou shalt be given the daughter of a Shaykh who sitteth upon the carpet of the Law and whose descent is traceable by genealogy to the loins of the Apostle of Allah,273 nor is it meet that his daughter be in the power of a man who is an ape-dancer, a minstrel.’ Then do thou reply, ‘Nay, O Efendi, she is my lawful wife, and every hair of her is worth a thousand lives, and I will not put her away though I be given the kingship of the world.’ At last be thou persuaded to speak the word of divorce and so shall the marriage be voided and ye be saved each from other.” Quoth Ala al-Din, “Right is thy rede,” and locking up his shop, betook himself to the place — And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say. Whereupon cried Dunyazad, her sister, “O sister mine, how goodly is thy story and how sweet!” She replied, saying, “And where is this compared with that which I will recount to thee next night, Inshallah!”

The Hundred and Ninety-ninth Night.

And whenas came the night, quoth Dunyazad to her sister, “O sister mine, an thou incline not unto sleep, pray finish thy tale which shall beguile our watching through the dark hours.” She replied:— With love and gladness! It hath reached me, O generous King, that the young merchant betook himself to the place before the citadel, where he foregathered with the dancers, the drummers and pipers and instructed them how they should do, promising them a mighty fine reward. They received his word with “Hearing and obeying;” and he betook himself on the morrow, after the morning prayer, to the presence of the Judge, who received him with humble courtesy and seated him by his side. Then he addressed him and began questioning him of matters of selling and buying and of the price current of the various commodities which were carried to Baghdad from all quarters, whilst his son-in-law replied to all whereof he was questioned. As they were thus conversing, behold, up came the dancers and drummers with their drums and pipers with their pipes, whilst one of their number preceded them, with a long pennon-like banner in his hand, and played all manner antics with voice and limbs. When they came to the Court house, the Kazi cried, “I seek refuge with Allah from yonder Satans!” and the young merchant laughed but said naught. Then they entered and saluting his worship the Kazi, kissed Ala al-Din’s hands and said, “A blessing on thee, O son of our uncle! Indeed, thou coolest our eyes in whatso thou doest, and we beseech Allah for the enduring greatness of our lord the Kazi, who hath honoured us by admitting thee to his connection and hath allotted to us a portion in his high rank and degree.” When the Judge heard this talk, it bewildered his wit and he was dazed and his face flushed with rage, and quoth he to his son-in-law, “What words are these?” Quoth the merchant, “Knowest thou not, O my lord, that I am of this tribe? Indeed this man is the son of my maternal uncle and that other the son of my paternal uncle, and if I be reckoned of the merchants, ‘tis but by courtesy!” When the Kazi heard these words his colour changed — And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day, whereupon cried Dunyazad her sister, “O sister mine, how delectable is thy story and how desirable!” She replied, saying, “And where is its first compared with its last? But I will forthwith relate it to you an I be spared and suffered to live by the King, whom may Allah the Most High keep!” Quoth the King within himself, “By the Almighty, I will not slay her until I hear the end of her tale!”

The Two Hundredth Night.

Now whenas came the night, quoth Dunyazad to her sister, “O sister mine, an thou incline not unto sleep, prithee finish thy tale which shall beguile our watching through the dark hours.” She replied:— With love and gladness! It hath reached me, O auspicious king, that the Kazi’s colour changed and he was troubled and waxed wroth with exceeding wrath and was like to burst for stress of rage. Then said he to the young merchant, “Allah forfend that this should last! How shall it be permitted that the daughter of the Kazi of the Moslems cohabit with a man of the dancers and vile of origin? By Allah, unless thou repudiate her forthright, I will bid beat thee and cast thee into prison and there confine thee till thou die. Had I foreknown that thou wast of them, I had not suffered thee near me, but had spat in thy face, for that thou art more ill-omened than a dog or a hog.”274 Then he kicked him down from his place and commanded him to divorce; but he said, “Be ruthful to me, O Efendi, for that Allah is ruthful, and hasten not: I will not divorce my wife, though thou give me the kingdom of Al-Irak.” The judge was perplexed and knew that compulsion was not permitted of Holy Law;275 so he bespake the young merchant fair and said to him, “Veil me,276 so may Allah veil thee. An thou divorce her not, this dishonour shall cleave to me till the end of time.” Then his fury gat the better of his wit and he cried, “An thou divorce her not of thine own will, I will forthright bid strike off thy head and slay myself; Hell-flame but not shame.”277 The merchant bethought himself awhile, then divorced her with a manifest divorce and a public278 and on this wise he won free from that unwelcome worry. Then he returned to his shop and presently sought in marriage of her father her who had done with him what she did279 and who was the daughter of the Shaykh of the guild of the blacksmiths. So he took her to wife and they abode each with other and lived the pleasantest of lives and the most delightsome, till the day of death: and praise be to Allah the Lord of the Three Worlds.

258 From the Calc. Edit. (1814–18), Nights cxcvi.-cc., vol. ii., pp. 367–378. The translation has been compared and collated with that of LanglPs (Paris, 1814), appended to his Edition of the Voyages of Sindbad. The story is exceedingly clever and well deserves translation.

259 It is regretable that this formula has not been preserved throughout The Nights: it affords, I have noticed, a pleasing break to the long course of narrative.

260 Arab. “Banát-al-hawá” lit. daughters of love, usually meaning an Anonyma, a fille de joie; but here the girl is of good repute, and the offensive term must be modified to a gay, frolicsome lass.

261 Arab. “Jabhat,” the lintel opposed to the threshold.

262 Arab. “Ghattí,” still the popular term said to a child showing its nakedness, or a lady of pleasure who insults a man by displaying any part of her person.

263 She is compared with a flashing blade (her face) now drawn from its sheath (her hair) then hidden by it.

264 The “Muajjalah” or money paid down before consummation was about £25; and the “Mu’ajjalah” or coin to be paid contingent on divorce was about £75. In the Calc. Edit ii. 371, both dowers are £35.

265 All the blemishes which justify returning a slave to the slave-dealer.

266 Media: see vol. ii. 94. The “Daylamite prison” was one of many in Baghdad.

267 See vol. v. 199. I may remark that the practice of bathing after copulation was kept up by both sexes in ancient Rome. The custom may have originated in days when human senses were more acute. I have seen an Arab horse object to be mounted by the master when the latter had not washed after sleeping with a woman.

268 On the morning after a happy night the bridegroom still offers coffee and Halwá to friends.

269 i.e. More bewitching.

270 Arab. “Sharífí” more usually Ashrafi, the Port. Xerafim, a gold coin = 6s.–7s.

271 The oft-repeated Koranic quotation.

272 Arab. “’Irk”: our phrase is “the apple of the eye.”

273 Meaning that he was a Sayyid or a Sharíf.

274 i.e. than a Jew or a Christian. So the Sultan, when appealed to by these religionists, who were as usual squabbling and fighting, answered, “What matter if the dog tear the hog or the hog tear the dog”?

275 The “Sharí’at” forbidding divorce by force.

276 i.e. protect my honour.

277 For this proverb see vol. v. 138. 1 have remarked that “Shame” is not a passion in Europe as in the East; the Western equivalent to the Arab. “Hayá’ ’would be the Latin “Pudor.”

278 Arab. “Talákan báinan,” here meaning a triple divorce before witnesses, making it irrevocable.

279 i.e. who had played him that trick.

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