The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Story of the Sultan of Al-Yaman and his three Sons.1

There was erewhile in the land of Al-Yaman a man which was a Sultan and under him were three Kinglets whom he overruled. He had four children; to wit, three sons and a daughter: he also owned wealth and treasures greater than reed can pen or page may contain; as well as animals such as horses and camels, sheep and black cattle; and he was held in awe by all the sovrans. But when his reign had lasted for a length of time, Age2 brought with it ailments and infirmities and he became incapable of faring forth his Palace to the Divan, the hall of audience; whereupon he summoned his three sons to the presence and said to them, “As for me, ’tis my wish to divide among you all my substance ere I die, that ye may be equal in circumstance and live in accordance with whatso I shall command.” And they said, “Hearkening and obedience.” Then quoth the Sultan, “Let the eldest of you become sovereign after me: let the cadet succeed to my moneys and treasures3 and as for the youngest let him inherit my animals of every kind. Suffer none to transgress against other; but each aid each and assist his co-partner.” He then caused them to sign a bond and agreement to abide by his bequeathal; and, after delaying a while, he departed to the mercy of Allah. Thereupon his three sons got ready the funeral gear and whatever was suited to his estate for the mortuary obsequies such as cerements and other matters: they washed the corpse and enshrouded it and prayed over it: then, having committed it to the earth they returned to their palaces where the Wazirs and the Lords of the Land and the city-folk in their multitudes, high and low, rich and poor, flocked to condole with them on the loss of their father. And the news of his decease was soon bruited abroad in all the provinces; and deputations from each and every city came to offer condolence to the King’s sons. These ceremonies duly ended, the eldest Prince demanded that he should be seated as Sultan on the stead of his sire in accordance with the paternal will and testament; but he could not obtain it from his two brothers as both and each said, “I will become ruler in room of my father.” So enmity and disputes for the government now arose amongst them and it was not to be won by any; but at last quoth the eldest Prince, “Wend we and submit ourselves to the arbitration of a Sultan of the tributary sultans; and let him to whom he shall adjudge the realm take it and reign over it.” Quoth they “’Tis well!” and thereto agreed, as did also the Wazirs; and the three set out without suite seeking the capital of one of the subject Sovrans. — And Shahrázád4 was surprised by the dawn of day5 and fell silent and ceased to say her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyázád, “How sweet is thy story, O sister mine, and how enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night, an the King suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

The Three Hundred and Thirtieth Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deed fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that the three Princes fared seeking a Sultan of the sultans who had been under the hands of their sire, in order that they might take him to arbitrator. And they stinted not faring till the middle way, when behold, they came upon a mead abounding in herbage and in rainwater lying sheeted.6 So they sat them down to rest and to eat of their victual, when one of the brothers, casting his eye upon the herbage, cried, “Verily a camel hath lately passed this way laden half with Halwá-sweetmeats and half with Hámiz-pickles.”7 “True,” cried the second, “and he was blind of an eye.” Exclaimed the third, “’Tis sooth; and indeed he hath lost his tail.” Hardly, however, had they ended their words when lo! the owner of the camel came upon them (for he had overheard their speech and had said to himself, “By Allah, these three fellows have driven off my property, inasmuch as they have described the burthen and eke the beast as tail-less and one-eyed”), and cried out, “Ye three have carried away my camel!”8 “By Allah we have not seen him,” quoth the Princes, “much less have we touched him;” but quoth the man, “By the Almighty, who can have taken him except you? and if you will not deliver him to me, off with us, I and you three, to the Sultan.” They replied, “By all manner of means; let us wend to the Sovran.” So the four hied forth, the three Princes and the Cameleer, and ceased not faring till they reached the capital of the King. There they took seat without the wall to rest for an hour’s time and presently they arose and pushed into the city and came to the royal Palace. Then they craved leave of the Chamberlains, and one of the Eunuchs caused them enter and signified to the sovereign that the three sons of Such-and-such a Sultan had made act of presence. So he bade them be set before him and the four went in and saluted him, and prayed for him and he returned their salams. He then asked them, “What is it hath brought you hither and what may ye want in the way of enquiry?” Now the first to speak was the Cameleer and he said, “O my lord the Sultan; verily these three men have carried off my camel by proof of their own speech."— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased saying her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet and tasteful is thy tale, O sister mine, and enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night an the Sovran suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

The Three Hundred and Thirty-first Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that the Cameleer came forward between the Sultan’s hands and said, “O my lord, verily these men have carried away the camel which belongeth to me,9 for they have indeed described him and the burthen he bore! And I require of our lord the Sultan that he take from these wights and deliver to me the camel which is mine as proved by their own words.” Presently asked the Sultan, “What say ye to the claims of this man and the camel belonging to him?” Hereto the Princes made answer, “By Allah, O King of the Age, we have not seen the camel, much less have we stolen him.” Thereupon the Cameleer exclaimed, “O my lord, I heard yonder one say that the beast was blind of an eye; and the second said that he was tail-less, and the third said that half his load was of sour stuff and the other half was of sweet stuff.” They replied, “True, we spake these words;” and the Sultan cried to them, “Ye have purloined the beast by this proof.” They rejoined, “No, by Allah, O my lord. We sat us in such a place for repose and refreshment and we remarked that some of the pasture had been grazed down, so we said, ‘This is the grazing of a camel; and he must have been blind of one eye as the grass was eaten only on one side.’ But as for our saying that he was tail-less, we noted the droppings lying heaped10 upon the ground which made us agree that the tail must have been cut off, it being the custom of camels at such times to whisk their tails and scatter the dung abroad. So ’twas evident to us that the camel had lost his tail. But as for our saying that the load was half Halwá and half Hámiz, we saw on the place where the camel had knelt the flies gathering in great numbers while on the other were none: so the case was clear to us (as flies settle on naught save the sugared) that one of the panniers must have contained sweets and the other sours.” Hearing this the Sultan said to the Cameleer, “O man, fare thee forth and look after thy camel; for these signs and tokens prove not the theft of these men, but only the power of their intellect and their penetration.”11 And when the Cameleer heard this, he went his ways. Presently the Sultan cleared a place in the Palace and allotted to it the Princes for their entertainment: he also directed they be supplied with a banquet and the eunuchs did his bidding. But when it was eventide and supper was served up, the trio sat down to it purposing to eat; the eldest, however, having hent in hand a bannock of bread exclaimed, “By Allah, verily this cake was baked by a woman in blood, to wit, one with the menses.” The cadet tasting a bit of kid exclaimed, “This kid was suckled by a bitch”; and the youngest exclaimed, “Assuredly this Sultan must be a son of shame, a bastard.” All this was said by the youths what while the Sultan had hidden himself in order to hear and to profit by the Princes’ words. So he waxed wroth entered hastily crying, “What be these speeches ye have spoken?” They replied, “Concerning all thou hast heard enquire within and thou wilt find it wholly true.” The Sultan then entered his women’s apartments and after inquisition found that the woman who had kneaded the bread was sick with her monthly courses. He then went forth and summoned the head-shepherd and asked him concerning the kid he had butchered. He replied, “By Allah, O my lord, the nanny-goat that bare the kid died and we found none other in milk to suckle him; but I had a bitch that had just pupped and her have I made nourish him.” The Sultan lastly hent his sword in hand and proceeded to the apartments of the Sultánah-mother and cried, “By Allah, unless thou avert my shame12 we will cut thee down with this scymitar! Say me whose son am I?” She replied, “By Allah, O my child, indeed falsehood is an excuse, but fact and truth are more saving and superior. Verily thou art the son of a cook!"— And Shahrazad was surprised by the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased to say her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet is thy story, O sister mine, and how enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night, an the King suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

The Three Hundred and Thirty-second Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that the Sultan’s mother said to him, “Verily thou art a cook’s son. Thy sire could not beget boy-children and I bare him only a single daughter. But it so fortuned that the kitchener’s wife lay in of a boy (to wit, thyself); so we gave my girl-babe to the cook and took thee as the son of the Sultan, dreading for the realm after thy sire’s death.” The King went forth from his mother in astonishment at the penetration of the three youths and, when he had taken seat in his Palace, he summoned the trio and as soon as they appeared he asked them; “Which of you was it that said, ‘She who kneaded the bread was in blood’?” Quoth the eldest, “That was I;” and quoth the King, “What led thee to suspect that she was menstruous?” He replied, “O my lord, when I took the bannock and broke off a bittock, the flour fell out in lumps.13 Now had the kneader been well, her strength of hand would have remained and the bread would have been wrought by all the veins; but, when the blood came, her powers were minished for women’s force is in their hands; and as soon as the monthly period cometh upon them their strength is lost. Their bodies contain three hundred and sixty veins all lying hard by one another and the blood of the catamenia floweth from them all; hence their force becometh feebleness. And this was my proof of the woman which was menstruous.” Quoth the Sultan, “’Tis well. We accept as certain thy saying upon this evidence, for it is agreeable to man’s understanding nor can any challenge it; this being from the power of insight into the condition of womankind. And we are assured of its soothfastness, for ’tis evident to us without concealment. But which is he who said of the kid’s meat that the beast was suckled by a bitch? What proof had he of this? How did he learn it and whence did his intelligence discover it to him?” Now when the deceased Sultan’s second son heard these words, he made answer. “I, O King of the Age, am he who said that say!” The King replied, “’Tis well;” and the Prince resumed, “O my lord, that which showed me the matter of the meat which was to us brought is as follows. I found the fat of the kid all hard by the bone, and I knew that the beast had sucked bitch’s milk; for the flesh of dogs lieth outside and their fat is on their bones, whereas in sheep and goats the fat lieth upon the meat. Such, then, was my proof wherein there is nor doubt nor hesitation; and when thou shalt have made question and inquiry thou wilt find this to be fact.” Quoth the Sultan, “’Tis well; thou hast spoken truth and whatso thou sayest is soothfast. But which is he who declared that I am a bastard and what was his proof and what sign in me exposed it to him?” Quoth the youngest Prince, “I am he who said it;” and the Sultan rejoined, “There is no help but that thou provide me with a proof.” The Prince rejoined, “’Tis well!"— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased saying her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet and tasteful is thy tale, O sister mine, and enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night an the Sovran suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

The Three Hundred and Thirty-third Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that the youngest Prince said to the Sultan, “O my lord, I have evidence that thou art the son of a cook and a base-born in that thou didst not sit at meat with us and this was mine all-sufficient evidence. Every man hath three properties which he inheriteth at times from his father, at times from his maternal uncle and at times from his mother.14 From his sire cometh generosity or niggardness; from his uncle courage or cowardice; from his mother modesty or immodesty; and such is the proof of every man.” Then quoth to him the Sultan, “Sooth thou speakest; but say me, men who like you know all things thoroughly by evidence and by your powers of penetration, what cause have they to come seeking arbitration at my hand? Beyond yours there be no increase of intelligence. So fare ye forth from me and manage the matter amongst yourselves, for ’tis made palpable to me by your own words that naught remaineth to you save to speak of mysterious subjects;15 nor have I the capacity to adjudge between you after that which I have heard from you. In fine an ye possess any document drawn up by your sire before his decease, act according to it and contrary it not.” Upon this the Princes went forth from him and made for their own country and city and did as their father had bidden them do on his death-bed. The eldest enthroned himself as Sultan; the cadet assumed possession and management of the moneys and treasures and the youngest took to himself the camels and the horses and the beeves and the muttons. Then each and every was indeed equal with his co-partner in the gathering of good. But when the new year came, there befel a drought among the beasts and all belonging to the youngest brother died nor had he aught of property left: yet his spirit brooked not to take anything from his brethren or even to ask of them aught. This then is the Tale of the King of Al-Yaman in its entirety; yet is the Story of the Three Sharpers16 more wondrous and marvellous than that just recounted. — And Shahrazad was surprised by the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased to say her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet is thy story, O sister mine, and how enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night, an the King suffer me to survive.” Now when it was the next night and that was

The Three Hundred and Thirty-fourth Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will! It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating;” and she began to recount

1 From the Wortley Montague MS. vol. iii. pp. 80-96. J. Scott: vol. vi. pp. 1-7. Histoire du Sulthan d’Yemen et de ses trots fils; Gauttier vol. vi. pp. 158-165.

2 The worst disease in human life, now recognised as “Annus Domini.”

3 Arab. “Mál wa Ghawál”: in Badawi parlance “Mál” would=flocks and herds (pecunia, pecus); and amongst the burghers=ready money, coin. Another favourite jingle of similar import is “Mál wa Nawál.”

There is an older form of the Sultan of Al Yaman and his three sons, to be found in M. Zotenberg’s “Chronique de Tabari,” vol. ii. pp. 357-61.

4 In the W. M. MS. the sisters are called “Shahrzádeh” (=City born) and “Dinárzádeh” (=ducat born) and the royal brothers Shahrbáz (=City player or City falcon) and Kahramán (vol. i. p. 1) alias Samarbán (ibid.). I shall retain the old spelling.

5 I have hitherto translated “wa adraka (masc.) Shahrázáda al-Sabáh,” as=And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day; but it is more correct as well as more picturesque to render the phrase “was surprised (or overtaken) by the dawn.”

6 Arab. “‘Adrán,"=much and heavy rain.

7 For “Halwá” see vol. ii. pp. 47-212. Scott (vol. vi. 413) explains “Hámiz” as “a species of small grain,” probably confounding it with Hummus (or Himmis)=vetches. It is the pop. term for pickles, “sour meat” as opposed to “sweetmeats.” The Arabs divide the camel’s pasture into “Khullah” which means sweet food called bread and into “Hámiz” termed fruit: the latter is composed mainly of salsolaceae, and as camels feed upon it during the hot season it makes them drink. Hence in Al Hariri (Preface) “I change the pasture,” i.e., I pass from grave to gay, from light to dignified style. (Chenery, p. 274).

8 This is the modern version of the tale which the author of “Zadig” has made familiar to Europe. The hero is brought before the King and Queen of Babylon for stealing a horse and a dog; and, when held by the chief “Destour” (priest) to be a thief, justifies himself. I have given in full the older history from Tabari, the historian (vixit A.D. 839-923). For the tracker (“Paggí") and the art of tracking see Sind Revisited, i. 180-183. I must again express my wonder that the rural police of Europe still disdain the services of trained dogs when these are about to be introduced into the army.

9 Arab. “Bitá‘i”=my own. I have already noticed that this is the Egypt. form and the Nilotes often turn the ‘Ayn into an H, e.g. Bitáht for Bitá‘at, e.g. Ash Shabakah bitáht as-Sayd, thy net for fishing. (Spitta Bey, Contes Arabes Modernes, p. 43.)

10 Arab. “Mukabbab;” prop. vaulted, arched, domed in Kubbah (or cupola)-shape.

11 Arab. “Firásah.” “Sciences are of three kinds: one the science of Faith, another the science of Physiognomy (Firásah), and another the science of the Body; but unless there be the science of Physiognomy, other science availeth not.” So says “The Forty Vizirs:” Lady’s vith story and Vizir’s xxxist story. For a note on “Firásah” see vol. viii. 326.

12 Arab. “In lam tazidd Kayni”=lit. unless thou oppose my forming or composition.

13 Arab. “Faráfish,” a word which I cannot find in the dictionary, and so translate according to the context. Dr. Steingass remarks that the nearest approach to it would be “Faráfík” (plur. of Furfák)=fine, thin or soft bread.

14 See, in the “Turkish Tales” by Petis de la Croix (Weber, Tales of the East, vol. iii. 196), the History of the Sophi of Baghdad, where everything returns to (or resembles) its origin. Thus the Wazir who proposed to cut up a criminal and hang him in the shambles was the self-convicted son of a butcher; he who advised boiling him down and giving his flesh to the dogs was the issue of a cook, and the third who proposed to pardon him was nobly born. See Night cccxli.

15 Arab. “Al-Mafyaat,” lit.=a shady place; a locality whereupon the sun does not rise.

16 Arab. “Ja’idiyah,” a favourite word in this MS. “Ja’ad”=a curl, a liberal man: Ja’ad al-yad=miserly, and Abú ja’dah=father of curls,=a wolf. Scott (passim) translates the word “Sharper;” Gore Ouseley “Labourer;” and De Sacy (Chrestomathie ii. 369, who derives it from Ju’d=avoir les cheveux crépus): in Egypt, homme de la populace, canaille. He finds it in the Fabrica Linguæ Arab. of Germanus of Silesia (p. 786)=ignavis, hebes, stupidus, esp. a coward. Ibrahim Salamah of Alexandria makes the term signify in Syria, impudent, thieving, wicked. Spitta Bey translates this word musicien ambulant in his Gloss. to Contes Arabes, p. 171. According to Dr. Steingass, who, with the Muhít al-Muhít, reads “Ju’aydíyah,” Ju’ayd is said to be the P. N. of an Egyptian clown, who, with bell-hung cap and tambourine in hand, wandered about the streets singing laudatory doggrel and pestering the folk for money. Many vagabonds who adopted this calling were named after him and the word was generalised in that sense.

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