After being shipwrecked five times, and escaping so many dangers, could I resolve again to try my fortune, and expose myself to new hardships?
I am astonished at it myself when I think of it, and must certainly have been induced to it by my stars. But be that as it will, after a year’s rest I prepared for a sixth voyage, notwithstanding the entreaties of my kindred and friends, who did all that was possible to prevent me. Instead of taking my way by the Persian Gulf, I travelled once more through several provinces of Persia and the Indies, and arrived at a sea-port, where I embarked on board a ship, the captain of which was resolved on a long voyage.
It was very long indeed, but at the same time so unfortunate that the captain and pilot lost their course, and knew not where they were. They found it at last, but we had no reason to rejoice at it. We were all seized with extraordinary fear when we saw the captain quit his post, and cry out. He threw off his turban, pulled his beard, and beat his head like a madman. We asked him the reason, and he answered that he was in the most dangerous place in all the sea. ‘A rapid current carries the ship along with it,’ he said, ‘and we shall all of us perish in less than a quarter of an hour. Pray to God to deliver us from this danger; we cannot escape it if He does not take pity on us.’ At these words he ordered the sails to be changed; but all the ropes broke and the ship, without its being possible to help it, was carried by the current to the foot of an inaccessible mountain, where she ran ashore, and was broken to pieces, yet so that we saved our lives, our provisions, and the best of our goods.
This being over, the captain said to us, ‘God has done what pleased Him; we may every man dig our grave here, and bid the world adieu, for we are all in so fatal a place that none shipwrecked here have ever returned to their homes again.’ His discourse afflicted us sorely, and we embraced each other with tears in our eyes, bewailing our deplorable lot.
The mountain at the foot of which we were cast was the coast of a very long and large island. This coast was covered all over with wrecks, and from the vast number of men’s bones we saw everywhere, and which filled us with horror, we concluded that abundance of people had died there. It is also impossible to tell what a quantity of goods and riches we found cast ashore there. All these objects served only to augment our grief. Whereas in all other places rivers run from their channels into the sea, here a great river of fresh water runs out of the sea into a dark cave, whose entrance is very high and large. What is most remarkable in this place is that the stones of the mountain are of crystal, rubies, or other precious stones. Here is also a sort of fountain of pitch or bitumen, that runs into the sea, which the fishes swallow, and then vomit up again, turned into ambergris; and this the waves throw up on the beach in great quantities. Here also grow trees, most of which are wood of aloes, equal in goodness to those of Comari.
To finish the description of this place, which may well be called a gulf, since nothing ever returns from it—it is not possible for ships to get away again when once they come near it. If they are driven thither by a wind from the sea, the wind and the current ruin them; and if they come into it when a land-wind blows, which might seem to favour their getting out again, the height of the mountain stops the wind, and occasions a calm, so that the force of the current runs them ashore, where they are broken to pieces, as ours was; and that which completes the misfortune is that there is no possibility to get to the top of the mountain, or to get out any manner of way.
We continued upon the shore, like men out of their senses, and expected death every day. At first we divided our provisions as equally as we could, and thus everyone lived a longer or shorter time, according to their temperance, and the use they made of their provisions.
Those who died first were interred by the rest; and, for my part, I paid the last duty to all my companions. Nor are you to wonder at this; for besides that I husbanded the provision that fell to my share better than they, I had provision of my own, which I did not share with my comrades; yet when I buried the last, I had so little remaining that I thought I could not hold out long: so I dug a grave, resolving to lie down in it, because there was none left to inter me. I must confess to you at the same time that while I was thus employed I could not but reflect upon myself as the cause of my own ruin, and repented that I had ever undertaken this last voyage; nor did I stop at reflections only, but had well nigh hastened my own death, and began to tear my hands with my teeth.
But it pleased God once more to take compassion on me, and put it in my mind to go to the bank of the river which ran into the great cave; where, considering the river with great attention, I said to myself, ‘This river, which runs thus under ground, must come out somewhere or other. If I make a raft, and leave myself to the current, it will bring me to some inhabited country, or drown me. If I be drowned I lose nothing, but only change one kind of death for another; and if I get out of this fatal place, I shall not only avoid the sad fate of my comrades, but perhaps find some new occasion of enriching myself. Who knows but fortune waits, upon my getting off this dangerous shelf, to compensate my shipwreck with interest?’
I immediately went to work on a raft. I made it of large pieces of timber and cables, for I had choice of them, and tied them together so strongly that I had made a very solid little raft. When I had finished it I loaded it with some bales of rubies, emeralds, ambergris, rock-crystal, and rich stuffs. Having balanced all my cargo exactly and fastened it well to the raft, I went on board it with two little oars that I had made, and, leaving it to the course of the river, I resigned myself to the will of God.
As soon as I came into the cave I lost all light, and the stream carried me I knew not whither. Thus I floated for some days in perfect darkness, and once found the arch so low that it well nigh broke my head, which made me very cautious afterwards to avoid the like danger. All this while I ate nothing but what was just necessary to support nature; yet, notwithstanding this frugality, all my provisions were spent. Then a pleasing sleep fell upon me. I cannot tell how long it continued; but when I awoke, I was surprised to find myself in the middle of a vast country, at the bank of a river, where my raft was tied, amidst a great number of negroes. I got up as soon as I saw them and saluted them. They spoke to me, but I did not understand their language. I was so transported with joy that I knew not whether I was asleep or awake; but being persuaded that I was not asleep, I recited the following words in Arabic aloud: ‘Call upon the Almighty, he will help thee; thou needest not perplex thyself about anything else; shut thy eyes, and while thou art asleep, God will change thy bad fortune into good.’
One of the blacks, who understood Arabic, hearing me speak thus, came towards me and said, ‘Brother, be not surprised to see us; we are inhabitants of this country, and came hither to-day to water our fields, by digging little canals from this river, which comes out of the neighbouring mountain. We saw something floating upon the water, went speedily to find out what it was, and perceiving your raft, one of us swam into the river, and brought it hither, where we fastened it, as you see, until you should awake. Pray tell us your history, for it must be extraordinary; how did you venture into this river, and whence did you come?’
I begged of them first to give me something to eat, and then I would satisfy their curiosity. They gave me several sorts of food; and when I had satisfied my hunger, I gave them a true account of all that had befallen me, which they listened to with wonder. As soon as I had finished my discourse, they told me, by the person who spoke Arabic and interpreted to them what I said, that it was one of the most surprising stories they ever heard, and that I must go along with them, and tell it to their king myself; the story was too extraordinary to be told by any other than the person to whom it happened. I told them I was ready to do whatever they pleased.
They immediately sent for a horse, which was brought in a little time; and having made me get upon him, some of them walked before me to show me the way, and the rest took my raft and cargo, and followed me.
We marched thus altogether, till we came to the city of Serendib, for it was in that island I landed. The blacks presented me to their king; I approached his throne, and saluted him as I used to do the kings of the Indies; that is to say, I prostrated myself at his feet, and kissed the earth. The prince ordered me to rise up, received me with an obliging air, and made me come up, and sit down near him. He first asked me my name, and I answered, ‘They call me Sinbad the sailor, because of the many voyages I have undertaken, and I am a citizen of Baghdad.’
‘But,’ replied he, ‘how came you into my dominions, and from whence came you last?’
I concealed nothing from the king; I told him all that I have now told you, and his majesty was so surprised and charmed with it, that he commanded my adventure to be written in letters of gold, and laid up in the archives of his kingdom. At last my raft was brought in, and the bales opened in his presence: he admired the quantity of wood of aloes and ambergris; but, above all, the rubies and emeralds, for he had none in his treasury that came near them.
Observing that he looked on my jewels with pleasure, and viewed the most remarkable among them one after another, I fell prostrate at his feet, and took the liberty to say to him, ‘Sir, not only my person is at your majesty’s service, but the cargo of the raft, and I would beg of you to dispose of it as your own.’
He answered me with a smile, ‘Sinbad, I will take care not to covet anything of yours, nor to take anything from you that God has given you; far from lessening your wealth, I design to augment it, and will not let you go out of my dominions without marks of my liberality.’
All the answer I returned was prayers for the prosperity of this prince, and commendations of his generosity and bounty. He charged one of his officers to take care of me, and ordered people to serve me at his own charge. The officer was very faithful in the execution of his orders, and caused all the goods to be carried to the lodgings provided for me. I went every day at a set hour to pay court to the king, and spent the rest of my time in seeing the city, and what was most worthy of notice.
The Isle of Serendib is situated just under the equinoctial line, so that the days and nights there are always of twelve hours each, and the island is eighty parasangs in length, and as many in breadth.
The capital city stands at the end of a fine valley formed by a mountain in the middle of the island, which is the highest in the world. I made, by way of devotion, a pilgrimage to the place where Adam was confined after his banishment from Paradise, and had the curiosity to go to the top of it.
When I came back to the city, I prayed the king to allow me to return to my country, which he granted me in the most obliging and honourable manner. He would needs force a rich present upon me, and when I went to take my leave of him, he gave me one much more valuable, and at the same time charged me with a letter for the Commander of the Faithful, our sovereign, saying to me, ‘I pray you give this present from me and this letter to Caliph Haroun Alraschid, and assure him of my friendship.’ I took the present and letter in a very respectful manner, and promised his majesty punctually to execute the commission with which he was pleased to honour me. Before I embarked, this prince sent for the captain and the merchants who were to go with me, and ordered them to treat me with all possible respect.
The letter from the King of Serendib was written on the skin of a certain animal of great value, because of its being so scarce, and of a yellowish colour. The writing was azure, and the contents as follows:—
‘The king of the Indies, before whom march a hundred elephants, who lives in a palace that shines with a hundred thousand rubies, and who has in his treasury twenty thousand crowns enriched with diamonds, to Caliph Haroun Alraschid:
‘Though the present we send you be inconsiderable, receive it as a brother and a friend, in consideration of the hearty friendship which we bear to you, and of which we are willing to give you proof. We desire the same part in your friendship, considering that we believe it to be our merit, being of the same dignity with yourself. We conjure you this in the rank of a brother. Farewell.’
The present consisted first, of one single ruby made into a cup, about half a foot high, an inch thick, and filled with round pearls. Secondly, the skin of a serpent, whose scales were as large as an ordinary piece of gold, and had the virtue to preserve from sickness those who lay upon it. Thirdly, fifty thousand drachms of the best wood of aloes, with thirty grains of camphor as big as pistachios. And fourthly, a she-slave of ravishing beauty, whose apparel was covered all over with jewels.
The ship set sail, and after a very long and successful voyage, we landed at Balsora; from thence I went to Bagdad, where the first thing I did was to acquit myself of my commission.
I took the King of Serendib’s letter, and went to present myself at the gate of the Commander of the Faithful, followed by the beautiful slave and such of my own family as carried the presents. I gave an account of the reason of my coming, and was immediately conducted to the throne of the caliph. I made my reverence, and after a short speech gave him the letter and present. When he had read what the King of Serendib wrote to him, he asked me if that prince were really so rich and potent as he had said in this letter. I prostrated myself a second time, and rising again, ‘Commander of the Faithful,’ said I, ‘I can assure your majesty he doth not exceed the truth on that head: I am witness of it. There is nothing more capable of raising a man’s admiration than the magnificence of his palace. When the prince appears in public, he has a throne fixed on the back of an elephant, and marches betwixt two ranks of his ministers, favourites, and other people of his court; before him, upon the same elephant, an officer carries a golden lance in his hand, and behind the throne there is another, who stands upright with a column of gold, on the top of which there is an emerald half a foot long and an inch thick; before him march a guard of a thousand men, clad in cloth of gold and silk, and mounted on elephants richly caparisoned.
‘While the king is on his march, the officer who is before him on the same elephant cries from time to time, with a loud voice, “Behold the great monarch, the potent and redoubtable Sultan of the Indies, whose palace is covered with a hundred thousand rubies, and who possesses twenty thousand crowns of diamonds.” After he has pronounced these words, the officer behind the throne cries in his turn, “This monarch so great and so powerful, must die, must die, must die.” And the officer in front replies, “Praise be to Him who lives for ever.”
‘Further, the King of Serendib is so just that there are no judges in his dominions. His people have no need of them. They understand and observe justice of themselves.’
The caliph was much pleased with my discourse. ‘The wisdom of this king,’ said he, ‘appears in his letter, and after what you tell me I must confess that his wisdom is worthy of his people, and his people deserve so wise a prince.’ Having spoken thus he dismissed me, and sent me home with a rich present.
Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights.
Edited by E. Dixon
The text of the present selection from the Arabian Nights is that of Galland, 1821, slightly abridged and edited. The edition is designed virginibus puerisque.