The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

The Syrian and the Three Women of Cairo.376

There was a man, a Shámí, who came to the God-guarded city of Misr al-Káhirah — Misr of Mars — and with him was a store of money and merchandize and sumptuous clothing. He hired for himself a room in a caravanserai, and having no slave, he was wont to go forth every day and roam about the city-thoroughfares and cater for himself. Now this continued for a while of time till one day of the days, as he was wandering and diverting his mind by looking to the right and to the left, he was met on the way by three women who were leaning and swaying one towards other as they walked on laughing aloud; and each and every of the three surpassed her fellow in beauty and loveliness. When he looked at them his mustachios curled377 at the sight and he accosted them and addressed the trio, saying, “May it be that ye will drink coffee in my lodging?” “Indeed we will,” said they, “and we will make mirth with thee and exceeding merriment, passing even the will of thee.” Quoth he, “When shall it be?” and quoth they, “To-night we will come to thy place.” He continued, “I am living in a room of Such-and-such a Wakálah.”378 and they rejoined, “Do thou make ready for us supper and we will visit thee after the hour of night-prayers.” He cried, “These words are well; “ so they left him and went their ways; and he, on the return way home, bought flesh and greens and wine and perfumes; then, having reached his room, he cooked five kinds of meats without including rice and conserves, and made ready whatso for the table was suitable. Now when it was supper-time behold, the women came in to him, all three wearing capotes379 over their dresses, and when they had entered they threw these cloaks off their shoulders and took their seats as they were moons. Hereupon the Syrian arose and set before them the food-trays and they ate their sufficiency, after which he served to them the table of wine, whereat they filled and passed to him and he accepted and swilled until his head whirled round, and as often as he looked at any one of them and considered her in her mould of beauty and loveliness he was perplext and his wits were wildered. They ceased not to be after such fashion until the noon o’ night. — 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

376 Scott (Appendix vol. vi. 460) simply called this tale “The Syrian.” In M. Clouston’s “Book of Noodles” (pp. 193–194) we find a man who is searching for three greater simpletons than his wife, calling himself “Saw ye ever my like?” It is quoted from Campbell’s “Popular Tales of the West Highlands” (ii. 385–387), but it lacks the canopic wit of the Arabo-Egyptian. I may note anent the anecdote of the Gabies (p. 201), who proposed, in order to make the tall bride on horseback enter the low village-gate, either to cut off her head or the legs of her steed, that precisely the same tale is told by the biting wits of Damascus concerning the boobies of Halbún. “Halbáún,” as these villagers call their ancient hamlet, is justly supposed to be the Helbon whose wine is mentioned by Ezekiel in the traffic of Damascus, although others less reasonably identify it with Halab=Aleppo.

377 In text “La’bat Shawáribu-hu”=lit. his mustachios played.

378 For the “Wakálah,” or caravanserai, see vol. i. 266.

379 In text “Kabút,” plur. Kabábít:

Oh! who is more brave than a dark Suliote,

In his snowy camise and his shaggy capote?

Childe Harold,” Canto II.

And here I cannot but notice the pitiful contrast (on the centenary of the poet’s nativity, Jan. 22nd, ’88) between the land of his birth and that of his death. The gallant Greeks honoured his memory with wreaths and panegyrics and laudatory articles, declaring that they will never forget the anniversaries of his nativity and his decease. The British Pharisee and Philistine, true to his miserable creed, ignored all the “real Lord Byron”— his generosity, his devotion to his friends, his boundless charity, and his enthusiasm for humanity. They exhaled their venom by carping at Byron’s poetry (which was and is to Europe a greater boon than Shakespeare’s), by condemning his morality (in its dirty sexual sense) and in prophesying for him speedy oblivion. Have these men no shame in presence of the noble panegyric dedicated by the Prince of German poets, Goethe, to his brother bard whom he welcomed as a prophet? Can they not blush before Heine (the great German of the future), before Flaubert, Alfred de Musset, Lamartine, Leopardi and a host of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese notables? Whilst England will not forgive Byron for having separated from his unsympathetic wife, the Literary society of Moscow celebrated his centenary with all honour; and Prof. Nicholas Storojenko delivered a speech which has found an echo

further west

Than his sires’ “Islands of the Blest.”

He rightly remarked that Byron’s deadly sin in the eyes of the Georgian-English people was his Cosmopolitanism. He was the poetical representative of the Sturm und Drang period of the xixth century. He reflected, in his life and works, the wrath of noble minds at the collapse of the cause of freedom and the reactionary tendency of the century. Even in the distant regions of Monte Video Byron’s hundredth birthday was not forgotten, and Don Luis Desteffanio’s lecture was welcomed by literary society.

The Seven Hundred and Forty-seventh 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 Syrian and the three ladies ceased not to persevere in the drinking of wine until the noon o’ night, at which time he would not distinguish between masculine and feminine from the excess of his wine-bibbing, so he said to one of the three, “Allah upon thee, O my lady, what may be the name of thee?” She replied, “I am hight ‘Hast-thou-seen-aught-like-me?’” Whereat he exclaimed, “No, Walláhi!” Then he up-propped himself on his elbow and rising from the ground said to the second, “Thou, O my lady, and life-blood of my heart, what is thy name?” She answered, “I am hight ‘Never-sawest-thou-my-like,’” and he replied, “Inshallah — what Allah willeth — O my lady Never-sawest-thou-my-like.” Then said he to the third, “And thou, O dearling of my heart, what may be the name of thee?” And said she, “I am hight ‘Look-at-me-and-thou-shalt-know-me.’” When he heard these words he cried out with a loud outcry and fell to the ground saying, “No, by Allah, O my lady Look-at-me-and-thou-shalt-know-me.”380 But when the three women regarded him his reason was upset and they forced upon him more wine-bibbing whilst he cried to them, “Fill for me, ho my lady Never-sawest-thou-my-like, and thou too, my lady Hast-thou-seen-aught-like-me, and eke thou, O my lady Look-at-me-and-thou-shalt-know-me.” And they drove him to drink still more until he fell to the ground without a vein swelling381 for he had become drunken and dead drunk. When they saw him in this condition they doffed his turband and crowned him with a cap, and fringes projecting from the peak,382 which they had brought with them; then they arose and finding in his room a box full of raiment and ready money, they rifled all that was therein. Presently they donned their dresses and, waiting until the door of the Wakalah was opened after the call to the morning-prayer, they went their ways and the Veiler vouchsafed them protection383 and they left the Syrian man in his room strown as a tried toper and unknowing what the women had done with him of their wile and guile. Now when it was the undurn-hour he awoke from his crapula and opening his eyes, cried, “Ho my lady Never-sawest-thou-my-like! and ho my lady Hast-thou-seen-aught-like-me! and ho my lady Look-at-me-and-thou-shalt-know-me!” But none returned to him any reply. Then he pulled himself together and glanced carefully around but his sight fell not upon anyone beside him, so he arose and went to the box wherein he found never a single thing. This restored him to his right senses and he recovered from his drink and cried, “There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great: this be a judgment they have wrought forme.” Then he went forth still wearing the tall fringed cap and knowing nothing of himself and, when he had issued from his caravanserai, he cried to everyone he met in the streets, “I am seeking Hast-thou-seen-aught-like-me?” and the men would reply, “No, I never sighted the like of thee;” and to a second he would say, “I am looking for one Never-sawest-thou-aught-like-me;” and the other would answer, “Indeed, I never beheld thy fellow;” then he would ask a third, “Hast thou seen one Look-at-me-and-thou-shalt-know-me?” and the questioned would answer, “Indeed, I have looked at thee but I know thee not at all.” And he ceased not wandering about, bonnet on head, and everyone who met him by the way returned to him the like replies until he came upon a party of folk who were in front of a barber’s booth.384 There he cried upon them also, “Ah! Hast-thou-seen-aught-like-me! and Ah! Never-sawest-thou-my-like! and Ah! Look-upon-me-and-thou-shalt-know-me!” Hereat, understanding that he was touched in brain and this was a judgment that had been wrought upon him, they seized him and forced him into the barber’s shop and bringing a mirror set it in his hands. When he looked therein he found a fool’s cap upon his head, so forthwith he tore it off and took thought and said to those present, “Who of you can guide me to those three women?” They said to him, “O Syrian, march off with thyself to thy own land for that the folk of Egypt can play with the egg and the stone.”385 So he arose without stay and delay; then, taking what provaunt was sufficient for the way and what little of fine raiment had been left to him, he quitted Cairo intending for his own country. Now the Emir hearing this tale of the Shahbandar wondered thereof with extreme wonderment and said to the Gentleman, “An thou have finished do thou fare forth and go about thy business.” Accordingly he went from him still garbed in gaberdine and bonnet on head when the house-master asked his wife, “Who of them here remaineth with thee?” And she answered, “Have patience and I will bring thee the third.” So she arose and opening another closet summoned the Flesher and taking him by the hand, whilst he was ashamed and abashed, led him till he stood before her spouse and the poor fellow availed not to raise his eyes from the ground. Presently the husband considered him and knew him and was certified that he was Such-and-such the Chief Butcher and head of the craft, so he said to him, “Ho thou the clever one, do thou dance for us a wee and after that tell us a tale.” Accordingly he stood up and clapped hands and fell to dancing and prancing till such time as he dropped down for fatigue; after which he said, “O my lord, I have by me a tale anent the craft and cunning of women.” Asked the other, “And what may it be?” and the Butcher began to relate the tale of

380 He cried out thinking of the mystical meaning of such name. So {Greek letters}, would mean in Sufí language — Learn from thyself what is thy Lord; — corresponding after a manner with the Christian “looking up through Nature to Nature’s God.”

381 The phrase prob. means so drunk that his circulation had apparently stopped.

382 This is the article usually worn by the professional buffoon. The cap of the “Sutarí” or jester of the Arnaut (Albanian) regiments — who is one of their professional braves — is usually a felt cone garnished with foxes’ brushes.

383 In Arab. “Sabbal alayhim (for Alayhinna, the usual masc. pro fem.) Al-Sattár”=lit. the Veiler let down a curtain upon them.

384 The barber being a surgeon and ever ready to bleed a madman.

385 i.e. Can play off equally well the soft-brained and the hard-headed.

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