THE STORY OF THE KING’S SON – Tales from the Arabian Nights

I was scarcely past my infancy when the king my father perceived that I was endowed with a great deal of sense, and spared nothing in improving it; he employed all the men in his dominions that excelled in science and art to be constantly about me.

No sooner was I able to read and write than I learned the Koran from the beginning to the end by heart; that admirable book which contains the foundation, the precepts, and the rules of our religion; and that I might be thoroughly instructed in it, I read the works of the most approved authors, by whose commentaries it had been explained. I added to this study that of all the traditions collected from the mouth of our Prophet by the great men that were contemporary with him. I was not satisfied with the knowledge of all that had any relation to our religion, but made also a particular search into our histories. I made myself perfect in polite learning, in the works of poets, and in versification. I applied myself to geography, chronology, and to speak our Arabic tongue in its purity. But one thing which I was fond of and succeeded in to a special degree was to form the characters of our written language, wherein I surpassed all the writing masters of our kingdom that had acquired the greatest reputation.

Fame did me more honour than I deserved, for she not only spread the renown of my talents through all the dominions of the king my father, but carried it as far as the Indian court, whose potent monarch, desirous to see me, sent an ambassador with rich presents to demand me of my father, who was extremely glad of this embassy for several reasons; he was persuaded that nothing could be more commendable in a prince of my age than to travel and visit foreign courts, and he was very glad to gain the friendship of the Indian sultan. I departed with the ambassador, but with no great retinue, because of the length and difficulty of the journey.

When we had travelled about a month, we discovered at a distance a great cloud of dust, and under that we very soon saw fifty horsemen, well armed, that were robbers, coming towards us at full gallop.

As we had ten horses laden with baggage and presents that I was to carry to the Indian sultan from the king my father, and my retinue was but small, these robbers came boldly up to us. Not being in a position to make any resistance, we told them that we were ambassadors belonging to the Sultan of the Indies, and hoped they would attempt nothing contrary to that respect which is due to him, thinking by this means to save our equipage and our lives.

But the robbers most insolently replied, ‘For what reason would you have us show any respect to the sultan your master? We are none of his subjects, nor are we upon his territories.’

Having spoken thus, they surrounded and fell upon us. I defended myself as long as I could, but finding myself wounded, and seeing the ambassador with his servants and mine lying on the ground, I made use of what strength was yet remaining in my horse, who was also very much wounded, separated myself from the crowd, and rode away as fast as he could carry me; but he happened all of a sudden to give way under me, through weariness and loss of blood, and fell down dead. I got rid of him in a trice, and finding that I was not pursued, it made me judge that the robbers were not willing to quit the booty they had got.

Here you see me alone, wounded, destitute of help, and in a strange country: I durst not betake myself to the high road, lest I might fall again into the hands of these robbers. When I had bound up my wound, which was not dangerous, I walked on for the rest of the day, and arrived at the foot of a mountain, where I perceived a passage into a cave: I went in, and stayed there that night with little satisfaction, after I had eaten some fruits that I gathered by the way.

I continued my journey for several days without finding any place of abode; but after a month’s time, I came to a large town, well inhabited, and situated so advantageously, as it was surrounded with several rivers, that it enjoyed perpetual spring.

The pleasant objects which then presented themselves to my eyes afforded me joy, and suspended for a time the sorrow with which I was overwhelmed to find myself in such a condition. My face, hands and feet were black and sunburnt; and, owing to my long journey, my shoes and stockings were quite worn out, so that I was forced to walk bare-footed, and, besides, my clothes were all in rags. I entered into the town to learn where I was, and addressed myself to a tailor that was at work in his shop; who, perceiving by my air that I was a person of more note than my outward appearance bespoke me to be, made me sit down by him, and asked me who I was, from whence I came, and what had brought me thither? I did not conceal anything that had befallen me.

The tailor listened with attention to my words; but after I had done speaking, instead of giving me any consolation, he augmented my sorrow.

‘Take heed,’ said he, ‘how you discover to any person what you have now declared to me; for the prince of this country is the greatest enemy that the king your father has, and he will certainly do you some mischief when he comes to hear of your being in this city.’

I made no doubt of the tailor’s sincerity, when he named the prince, and returned him thanks for his good advice: and as he believed I could not but be hungry, he ordered something to be brought for me to eat, and offered me at the same time a lodging in his house, which I accepted. Some days after, finding me pretty well recovered from the fatigue I had endured by a long and tedious journey, and reflecting that most princes of our religion applied themselves to some art or calling that might be serviceable to them upon occasion, he asked me if I had learnt anything whereby I might get a livelihood, and not be burdensome to any one? I told him that I understood the laws, both divine and human; that I was a grammarian and poet; and, above all, that I understood writing perfectly.

‘By all this,’ said he, ‘you will not be able, in this country, to purchase yourself one morsel of bread; nothing is of less use here than those sciences: but if you will be advised by me,’ said he, ‘dress yourself in a labourer’s frock; and since you appear to be strong and of a good constitution, you shall go into the next forest and cut fire-wood, which you may bring to the market to be sold; and I can assure you it will turn to such good account that you may live by it, without dependence upon any man: and by this means you will be in a condition to wait for the favourable moment when Heaven shall think fit to dispel those clouds of misfortune that thwart your happiness, and oblige you to conceal your birth. I will take care to supply you with a rope and a hatchet.’

The fear of being known, and the necessity I was under of getting a livelihood, made me agree to this proposal, notwithstanding all the hardships that attended it. The day following the tailor bought me a rope, a hatchet, and a short coat, and recommended me to some poor people who gained their bread after the same manner, that they might take me into their company. They conducted me to the wood, and the first day I brought in as much upon my head as earned me half a piece of gold, which is the money of that country; for though the wood is not far distant from the town, yet it was very scarce there, for few or none would be at the trouble to go and cut it. I gained a good sum of money in a short time, and repaid my tailor what he had advanced for me.

I continued this way of living for a whole year; and one day, when by chance I had gone farther into the wood than usual, I happened to light on a very pleasant place, where I began to cut down wood; and in pulling up the root of a tree, I espied an iron ring, fastened to a trap-door of the same metal. I took away the earth that covered it, and having lifted it up, saw stairs, down which I went, with my axe in my hand.

When I came to the bottom of the stairs, I found myself in a large palace, which put me into great consternation, because of a great light which appeared as clear in it as if it had been above ground in the open air. I went forward along a gallery supported by pillars of jasper, the base and capitals of massy gold; but seeing a lady of a noble and free air and extremely beautiful coming towards me, my eyes were taken off from beholding any other object but her alone.

Being desirous to spare the lady the trouble of coming to me, I made haste to meet her; and as I was saluting her with a low bow, she asked me, ‘What are you, a man or a genie?’

‘A man, madam,’ said I: ‘I have no correspondence with genies.’

‘By what adventure,’ said she, fetching a deep sigh, ‘are you come hither? I have lived here these twenty-five years, and never saw any man but yourself during that time.’

Her great beauty, and the sweetness and civility wherewith she received me, emboldened me to say to her, ‘Madam, before I have the honour to satisfy your curiosity, give me leave to tell you that I am infinitely pleased with this unexpected meeting, which offers me an occasion of consolation in the midst of my affliction; and perhaps it may give me an opportunity to make you also more happy than you are.’ I gave her a true account by what strange accident she saw me, the son of a king, in such a condition as I then presented to her eyes; and how fortune directed that I should discover the entrance into that magnificent prison where I had found her according to appearances in an unpleasant situation.

‘Alas! prince,’ said she, sighing once more, ‘you have just cause to believe this rich and pompous prison cannot be otherwise than a most wearisome abode; the most charming place in the world being no way delightful when we are detained there contrary to our will. You have heard of the great Epitimarus, King of the Isle of Ebony, so called from that precious wood, which it produces in abundance: I am the princess his daughter.

‘The king, my father, had chosen for me a husband, a prince that was my cousin; but in the midst of the rejoicing at the court, before I was given to my husband, a genie took me away. I fainted at the same moment, and lost my senses; and when I came to myself again, I found myself in this place. I was for a long time inconsolable, but time and necessity have accustomed me to the genie. Twenty-five years, as I told you before, I have continued in this place; where, I must confess, I have everything that I can wish for necessary to life, and also everything that can satisfy a princess fond of dress and fashions.

‘Every ten days,’ continued the princess, ‘the genie comes hither to see me. Meanwhile, if I have occasion for him by day or night, as soon as I touch a talisman which is at the entrance into my chamber, the genie appears. It is now the fourth day since he was here, and I do not expect him before the end of six more; so, if you please, you may stay five days and keep me company, and I will endeavour to entertain you according to your rank and merit.’

I thought myself too fortunate in having obtained so great a favour without asking it to refuse so obliging an offer. The princess made me go into a bath, which was the most sumptuous that could be imagined; and when I came forth, instead of my own clothes, I found another very costly suit, which I did not esteem so much for its richness as because it made me look worthy to be in her company. We sat down on a sofa covered with rich tapestry, with cushions to lean upon of the rarest Indian brocade; and soon after she covered a table with several dishes of delicate meats. We ate together, and passed the remaining part of the day with much satisfaction.

The next day, as she contrived every means to please me, she brought in, at dinner, a bottle of old wine, the most excellent that ever was tasted; and out of complaisance she drank some part of it with me. When my head grew hot with the agreeable liquor, ‘Fair princess,’ said I, ‘you have been too long thus buried alive: follow me, and enjoy the real day, from which you have been deprived so many years, and abandon this false light that you have here.’

‘Prince,’ replied she, with a smile, ‘stop this discourse; if out of ten days you will grant me nine, and resign the last to the genie, the fairest day that ever was would be nothing in my esteem.’

‘Princess,’ said I, ‘it is the fear of the genie that makes you speak thus; for my part, I value him so little that I will break his talisman in pieces. Let him come, I will expect him; and how brave or redoubtable soever he be, I will make him feel the weight of my arm: I swear, solemnly that I will extirpate all the genies in the world, and him first.’ The princess, who knew the consequences, conjured me not to touch the talisman; ‘for that would be a means,’ said she, ‘to ruin both you and me: I know what belongs to genies better than you.’ The fumes of the wine did not suffer me to hearken to her reasons; but I gave the talisman a kick with my foot, and broke it in several pieces.

The talisman was no sooner broken, than the palace began to shake, and was ready to fall with a hideous noise like thunder, accompanied with flashes of lightning and a great darkness. This terrible noise in a moment dispelled the fumes of my wine, and made me sensible, but too late, of the folly I had committed. ‘Princess,’ cried I, ‘what means all this?’

She answered in a fright, and without any concern for her own misfortune, ‘Alas! you are undone, if you do not escape immediately.’

I followed her advice, and my fears were so great that I forgot my hatchet and cords. I had scarcely got to the stairs by which I came down, when the enchanted palace opened, and made a passage for the genie: he asked the princess, in great anger, ‘What has happened to you, and why did you call me?’

‘A qualm,’ said the princess, ‘made me fetch this bottle which you see here, out of which I drank twice or thrice, and by mischance made a false step, and fell upon the talisman, which is broken, and that is all.’

At this answer the furious genie told her, ‘You are a false woman, and a liar: how came that axe and those cords there?’

‘I never saw them till this moment,’ said the princess. ‘Your coming in such an impetuous manner has, it may be, forced them up in some place as you came along, and so brought them hither without your knowing it.’

The genie made no other answer but reproaches and blows of which I heard the noise. I could not endure to hear the pitiful cries and shouts of the princess, so cruelly abused; I had already laid off the suit she made me put on, and taken my own, which I had laid on the stairs the day before, when I came out of the bath; I made haste upstairs, distracted with sorrow and compassion, as I had been the cause of so great a misfortune. For by sacrificing the fairest princess on earth to the barbarity of a merciless genie, I was become the most criminal and ungrateful of mankind. ‘It is true,’ said I, ‘she has been a prisoner these twenty-five years; but, liberty excepted, she wanted nothing that could make her happy. My folly has put an end to her happiness, and brought upon her the cruelty of an unmerciful monster.’ I let down the trap- door, covered it again with earth, and returned to the city with a burden of wood, which I bound up without knowing what I did, so great was my trouble and sorrow.

My landlord, the tailor, was very much rejoiced to see me. ‘Your absence,’ said he, ‘has disquieted me very much, because you had entrusted me with the secret of your birth, and I knew not what to think; I was afraid somebody had discovered you: God be thanked for your return.’ I thanked him for his zeal and affection, but not a word durst I say of what had passed, nor the reason why I came back without my hatchet and cords.

I retired to my chamber, where I reproached myself a thousand times for my excessive imprudence. ‘Nothing,’ said I, ‘could have paralleled the princess’s good fortune and mine had I forborne to break the talisman.’

While I was thus giving myself over to melancholy thoughts, the tailor came in. ‘An old man,’ said he, ‘whom I do not know, brings me here your hatchet and cords, which he found in his way, as he tells me, and understood from your comrades that you lodge here; come out and speak to him, for he will deliver them to none but yourself.’

At this discourse I changed colour, and began to tremble. While the tailor was asking me the reason, my chamber door opened, and the old man appeared to us with my hatchet and cords. This was the genie, the ravisher of the fair princess of the Isle of Ebony, who had thus disguised himself, after he had treated her with the utmost barbarity. ‘I am a genie,’ said he, ‘son of the daughter of Eblis, prince of genies. Is not this your hatchet, and are not these your cords?’

After the genie had put the question to me, he gave me no time to answer, nor was it in my power, so much had his terrible aspect disordered me. He grasped me by the middle, dragged me out of the chamber, and mounting into the air, carried me up to the skies with such swiftness that I was unable to take notice of the way he carried me. He descended again in like manner to the earth, which on a sudden he caused to open with a stroke of his foot, and so sank down at once, where I found myself in the enchanted palace, before the fair princess of the Isle of Ebony. But alas, what a spectacle was there! I saw what pierced me to the heart; this poor princess was weltering in her blood upon the ground, more dead than alive, with her cheeks bathed in tears.

‘Perfidious wretch,’ said the genie to her; pointing at me, ‘who is this?’

She cast her languishing eyes upon me, and answered mournfully, ‘I do not know him; I never saw him till this moment.’

‘What!’ said the genie, ‘he is the cause of thy being in the condition thou art justly in, and yet darest thou say thou dost not know him?’

‘If I do not know him,’ said the princess, ‘would you have me tell a lie on purpose to ruin him?’

‘Oh then,’ continued the genie, pulling out a scimitar, and presenting it to the princess, ‘if you never saw him before, take the scimitar and cut off his head.’

‘Alas!’ replied the princess, ‘my strength is so far spent that I cannot lift up my arm, and if I could, how should I have the heart to take away the life of an innocent man?’

‘This refusal,’ said the genie to the princess, ‘sufficiently informs me of your crime.’ Upon which, turning to me, ‘And thou,’ said he, ‘dost thou not know her?’

I should have been the most ungrateful wretch, and the most perfidious of all mankind, if I had not shown myself as faithful to the princess as she was to me who had been the cause of her misfortunes; therefore I answered the genie, ‘How should I know her?’

‘If it be so,’ said he, ‘take the scimitar and cut off her head: on this condition I will set thee at liberty, for then I shall be convinced that thou didst never see her till this very moment, as thou sayest.’

‘With all my heart,’ replied I, and took the scimitar in my hand.

But I did it only to demonstrate by my behaviour, as much as possible, that as she had shown her resolution to sacrifice her life for my sake, I would not refuse to sacrifice mine for hers. The princess, notwithstanding her pain and suffering, understood my meaning, which she signified by an obliging look. Upon this I stepped back, and threw the scimitar on the ground. ‘I should for ever,’ said I to the genie, ‘be hateful to all mankind were I to be so base as to murder a lady like this, who is ready to give up the ghost: do with me what you please, since I am in your power; I cannot obey your barbarous commands.’

‘I see,’ said the genie, ‘that you both outbrave me, but both of you shall know, by the treatment I give you, what I am capable of doing.’ At these words the monster took up the scimitar and cut off one of her hands, which left her only so much life as to give me a token with the other that she bid me adieu for ever, the sight of which threw me into a fit. When I was come to myself again, I expostulated with the genie as to why he made me languish in expectation of death. ‘Strike,’ cried I, ‘for I am ready to receive the mortal blow, and expect it as the greatest favour you can show me.’ But instead of agreeing to that, ‘Look you,’ said he, ‘how genies treat their wives whom they suspect: she has received you here, and were I certain that she had put any further affront upon me, I would put you to death this minute: but I will be content to transform you into a dog, ape, lion, or bird. Take your choice of any of these; I will leave it to yourself.’

These words gave me some hope to mollify him. ‘Oh genie,’ said I, ‘moderate your passion, and since you will not take away my life, give it me generously; I shall always remember you, if you pardon me, as one of the best men in the world.’

‘All that I can do for you,’ said he, ‘is, not to take your life: do not flatter yourself that I will send you back safe and sound; I must let you feel what I am able to do by my enchantments.’ So saying, he laid violent hands on me, and carried me across the vault of the subterranean palace, which opened to give him passage. Then he flew up with me so high that the earth seemed to be only a little white cloud; from thence he came down like lightning, and alighted upon the ridge of a mountain.

There he took up a handful of earth, and pronounced, or rather muttered, some words which I did not understand, and threw it upon me. ‘Quit the shape of a man,’ said he to me, ‘and take on you that of an ape.’ He vanished immediately, and left me alone, transformed into an ape, overwhelmed with sorrow in a strange country, and not knowing whether I was near or far from my father’s dominions.

I went down from the top of the mountain and came into a plain, which took me a month’s time to travel through, and then I came to the seaside. It happened to be then a great calm, and I espied a vessel about half a league from the shore. Unwilling to lose this good opportunity, I broke off a large branch from a tree, which I carried with me to the seaside, and set myself astride upon it, with a stick in each hand to serve me for oars.

I launched out in this posture, and advanced near the ship. When I was near enough to be known, the seamen and passengers that were upon the deck thought it an extraordinary sight, and all of them looked upon me with great astonishment. In the meantime I got aboard, and laying hold of a rope, I jumped upon the deck, but having lost my speech, I found myself in great perplexity; and indeed the risk I ran then was nothing less than when I was at the mercy of the genie.

The merchants, being both superstitious and scrupulous, believed I should occasion some mischief to their voyage if they received me; ‘therefore,’ said one, ‘I will knock him down with a handspike’; said another, ‘I will shoot an arrow through him’; said a third, ‘Let us throw him into the sea.’ Some of them would not have failed to do so, if I had not got to that side where the captain was. I threw myself at his feet, and took him by the coat in a begging posture. This action, together with the tears which he saw gush from my eyes, moved his compassion; so that he took me under his protection, threatening to be revenged on him that would do me the least hurt; and he himself made very much of me, while I on my part, though I had no power to speak, showed all possible signs of gratitude by my gestures.

The wind that succeeded the calm was gentle and favourable, and did not change for fifty days, but brought us safe to the port of a fine city, well peopled, and of great trade, the capital of a powerful State, where we came to anchor.

Our vessel was speedily surrounded with an infinite number of boats full of people, who came to congratulate their friends upon their safe arrival, or to inquire for those they had left behind them in the country from whence they came, or out of curiosity to see a ship that came from a far country.

Amongst the rest, some officers came on board, desiring to speak with the merchants in the name of the sultan. The merchants appearing, one of the officers told them, ‘The sultan, our master, hath commanded us to acquaint you that he is glad of your safe arrival, and prays you to take the trouble, every one of you, to write some lines upon this roll of paper. You must know that we had a prime vizier who, besides having a great capacity to manage affairs, understood writing to the highest perfection. This minister is lately dead, at which the sultan is very much troubled; and since he can never behold his writing without admiration, he has made a solemn vow not to give the place to any man but to him who can write as well as he did. Many people have presented their writings, but, so far, nobody in all this empire has been judged worthy to supply the vizier’s place.’

Those merchants that believed they could write well enough to aspire to this high dignity wrote one after another what they thought fit. After they had done, I advanced, and took the roll out of the gentleman’s hand; but all the people, especially the merchants, cried out, ‘He will tear it, or throw it into the sea,’ till they saw how properly I held the roll, and made a sign that I would write in my turn; then they were of another opinion, and their fear turned into admiration. However, since they had never seen an ape that could write, nor could be persuaded that I was more ingenious than other apes, they tried to snatch the roll out of my hand; but the captain took my part once more. ‘Let him alone,’ said he; ‘suffer him to write. If he only scribbles the paper, I promise you that I will punish him on the spot. If, on the contrary, he writes well, as I hope he will, because I never saw an ape so clever and ingenious and so quick of apprehension, I do declare that I will own him as my son; I had one that had not half the wit that he has.’ Perceiving that nobody opposed my design, I took the pen and wrote six sorts of hands used among the Arabians, and each specimen contained an extemporary verse or poem in praise of the sultan. My writing did not only excel that of the merchants, but, I venture to say, they had not before seen any such fair writing in that country. When I had done, the officers took the roll, and carried it to the sultan.

The sultan took little notice of any of the other writings, but he carefully considered mine, which was so much to his liking that he said to the officers, ‘Take the finest horse in my stable, with the richest harness, and a robe of the most sumptuous brocade to put upon that person who wrote the six hands, and bring him hither to me.’ At this command the officers could not forbear laughing. The sultan grew angry at their boldness, and was ready to punish them, till they told him, ‘Sir, we humbly beg your majesty’s pardon; these hands were not written by a man, but by an ape.’

‘What do you say?’ said the sultan. ‘Those admirable characters, are they not written by the hands of a man?’

‘No, sir,’ replied the officers; ‘we do assure your majesty that it was an ape, who wrote them in our presence.’

The sultan was too much surprised at this not to desire a sight of me, and therefore said, ‘Bring me speedily that wonderful ape.’

The officers returned to the vessel and showed the captain their order, who answered that the sultan’s commands must be obeyed. Whereupon they clothed me with that rich brocade robe and carried me ashore, where they set me on horseback, whilst the sultan waited for me at his palace with a great number of courtiers, whom he gathered together to do me the more honour.

The cavalcade having begun, the harbour, the streets, the public places, windows, terraces, palaces, and houses were filled with an infinite number of people of all sorts, who flocked from all parts of the city to see me; for the rumour was spread in a moment that the sultan had chosen an ape to be his grand vizier; and after having served for a spectacle to the people, who could not forbear to express their surprise by redoubling their shouts and cries, I arrived at the palace of the sultan.

I found the prince on his throne in the midst of the grandees; I made my bow three times very low, and at last kneeled and kissed the ground before him, and afterwards sat down in the posture of an ape. The whole assembly admired me, and could not comprehend how it was possible that an ape should understand so well how to pay the sultan his due respect; and he himself was more astonished than any one. In short, the usual ceremony of the audience would have been complete could I have added speech to my behaviour: but apes never speak, and the advantage I had of having been a man did not allow me that privilege.

The sultan dismissed his courtiers, and none remained by him but the chief of the chamberlains, a young slave, and myself. He went from his chamber of audience into his own apartment, where he ordered dinner to be brought. As he sat at table he gave me a sign to come near and eat with them: to show my obedience I kissed the ground, stood up, sat down at table, and ate with discretion and moderation.

Before the table was uncovered, I espied a writing-desk, which I made a sign should be brought me: having got it, I wrote upon a large peach some verses after my way, which testified my acknowledgment to the sultan, which increased his astonishment. When the table was uncovered, they brought him a particular liquor, of which he caused them to give me a glass. I drank, and wrote upon it some new verses, which explained the state I was reduced to after many sufferings. The sultan read them likewise, and said, ‘A man that was capable of doing so much would be above the greatest of men.’

The sultan caused them to bring in a chess-board, and asked me, by a sign, if I understood the game, and would play with him. I kissed the ground, and laying my hand upon my head, signified that I was ready to receive that honour. He won the first game, but I won the second and third; and perceiving he was somewhat displeased at it, I made a poem to pacify him; in which I told him that two potent armies had been fighting furiously all day, but that they made up a peace towards the evening, and passed the remaining part of the night very peaceably together upon the field of battle.

So many circumstances appearing to the sultan far beyond whatever any one had either seen or known of the cleverness or sense of apes, he determined not to be the only witness of those prodigies himself; but having a daughter, called the Lady of Beauty, on whom the chief of the chamberlains, then present, waited, ‘Go,’ said the sultan to him, ‘and bid your lady come hither: I am desirous she should share my pleasure.’

The chamberlain went, and immediately brought the princess, who had her face uncovered; but she had no sooner come into the room than she put on her veil, and said to the sultan, ‘Sir, your majesty must needs have forgotten yourself: I am very much surprised that your majesty has sent for me to appear among men.’

‘Nay, daughter,’ said the sultan, ‘you do not know what you say: here is nobody but the little slave, the chamberlain your attendant and myself, who have the liberty to see your face; and yet you lower your veil, and blame me for having sent for you hither.’

‘Sir,’ said the princess, ‘your majesty shall soon understand that I am not in the wrong. That ape you see before you, though he has the shape of an ape, is a young prince, son of a great king; he has been metamorphosed into an ape by enchantment. A genie, the son of the daughter of Eblis, has maliciously done him this wrong, after having cruelly taken away the life of the Princess of the Isle of Ebony, daughter to the King Epitimarus.’

The sultan, astonished at this discourse, turned towards me and asked no more by signs, but in plain words if it was true what his daughter said? Seeing I could not speak, I put my hand to my head to signify that what the princess spoke was true. Upon this the sultan said again to his daughter, ‘How do you know that this prince has been transformed by enchantments into an ape?’

‘Sir,’ replied the Lady of Beauty, ‘your majesty may remember that when I was past my infancy, I had an old lady to wait upon me; she was a most expert magician, and taught me seventy rules of magic, by virtue of which I can transport your capital city into the midst of the sea in the twinkling of an eye, or beyond Mount Caucasus. By this science I know all enchanted persons at first sight. I know who they are, and by whom they have been enchanted. Therefore do not be surprised if I should forthwith relieve this prince, in spite of the enchantments, from that which hinders him from appearing in your sight what he naturally is.’

‘Daughter,’ said the sultan, ‘I did not believe you to have understood so much.’

‘Sir,’ replied the princess, ‘these things are curious and worth knowing, but I think I ought not to boast of them.’

‘Since it is so,’ said the sultan, ‘you can dispel the prince’s enchantment.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the princess, ‘I can restore him to his first shape again.’

‘Do it then,’ said the sultan; ‘you cannot do me a greater pleasure, for I will have him to be my vizier, and he shall marry you.’

‘Sir,’ said the princess, ‘I am ready to obey you in all that you may be pleased to command me.’

The princess, the Lady of Beauty, went into her apartment, from whence she brought in a knife, which had some Hebrew words engraven on the blade; she made the sultan, the master of the chamberlains, the little slave, and myself, go down into a private court of the palace, and there left us under a gallery that went round it. She placed herself in the middle of the court, where she made a great circle, and within it she wrote several words in Arabic characters, some of them ancient, and others of those which they call the characters of Cleopatra.

When she had finished and prepared the circle as she thought fit, she placed herself in the centre of it, where she began spells, and repeated verses out of the Koran. The air grew insensibly dark, as if it had been night and the whole world about to be dissolved; we found ourselves struck with a panic, and this fear increased the more when we saw the genie, the son of the daughter of Eblis, appear on a sudden in the shape of a lion of a frightful size.

As soon as the princess perceived this monster, ‘You dog,’ said she, ‘instead of creeping before me, dare you present yourself in this shape, thinking to frighten me?’

‘And thou,’ replied the lion, ‘art thou not afraid to break the treaty which was solemnly made and confirmed between us by oath, not to wrong or to do one another any hurt?’

‘Oh! thou cursed creature!’ replied the princess, ‘I can justly reproach thee with doing so.’

The lion answered fiercely, ‘Thou shalt quickly have thy reward for the trouble thou hast given me to return.’ With that he opened his terrible throat, and ran at her to devour her, but she, being on her guard, leaped backward, got time to pull out one of her hairs and, by pronouncing three or four words, changed it into a sharp sword, wherewith she cut the lion through the middle in two pieces.

The two parts of the lion vanished, and the head only was left, which changed itself into a large scorpion. Immediately the princess turned herself into a serpent, and fought the scorpion, who finding himself worsted, took the shape of an eagle, and flew away; but the serpent at the same time took also the shape of an eagle that was black and much stronger, and pursued him, so that we lost sight of them both.

Some time after they had disappeared, the ground opened before us, and out of it came forth a cat, black and white, with her hair standing upright, and mewing in a frightful manner; a black wolf followed her close, and gave her no time to rest. The cat, being thus hard beset, changed herself into a worm, and being nigh to a pomegranate that had accidentally fallen from a tree that grew on the side of a canal which was deep but not broad, the worm pierced the pomegranate in an instant, and hid itself. The pomegranate swelled immediately, and became as big as a gourd, which, mounting up to the roof of the gallery, rolled there for some space backwards and forwards, fell down again into the court, and broke into several pieces.

The wolf, which had in the meanwhile transformed itself into a cock, fell to picking up the seeds of the pomegranate one after another, but finding no more, he came towards us with his wings spread, making a great noise, as if he would ask us whether there were any more seeds. There was one lying on the brink of the canal, which the cock perceived as he went back, and ran speedily thither, but just as he was going to pick it up, the seed rolled into the river, and turned into a little fish.

The cock jumped into the river and was turned into a pike that pursued the small fish; they continued both under water for over two hours, and we knew not what had become of them. All of a sudden we heard terrible cries, which made us tremble, and a little while after we saw the genie and princess all in flames. They threw flashes of fire out of their mouths at each other, till they came to close quarters; then the two fires increased, with a thick burning smoke, which mounted so high that we had reason to fear it would set the palace on fire. But we very soon had a more urgent reason for fear, for the genie, having got loose from the princess, came to the gallery where we stood, and blew flames of fire upon us. We should all have perished if the princess, running to our assistance, had not by her cries forced him to retire, and defend himself against her; yet, notwithstanding all her exertions, she could not hinder the sultan’s beard from being burnt, and his face spoiled, nor the chief of the chamberlains from being stifled and burnt on the spot. The sultan and I expected nothing but death, when we heard a cry of ‘Victory, victory!’ and on a sudden the princess appeared in her natural shape, but the genie was reduced to a heap of ashes.

The princess came near to us that she might not lose time, called for a cupful of water, which the young slave, who had received no damage, brought her. She took it, and after pronouncing some words over it, threw it upon me, saying, ‘If thou art become an ape by enchantment, change thy shape, and take that of a man, which thou hadst before.’ These words were hardly uttered when I became a man as I was before.

I was preparing to give thanks to the princess, but she prevented me by addressing herself to her father, thus: ‘Sir, I have gained the victory over the genie, as your majesty may see; but it is a victory that costs me dear. I have but a few minutes to live, and you will not have the satisfaction of making the match you intended; the fire has pierced me during the terrible combat, and I find it is consuming me by degrees. This would not have happened had I perceived the last of the pomegranate seeds, and swallowed it as I did the others, when I was changed into a cock; the genie had fled thither as to his last entrenchment, and upon that the success of the combat depended, without danger to me. This slip obliged me to have recourse to fire, and to fight with those mighty arms as I did between heaven and earth, in your presence; for, in spite of all his redoubtable art and experience, I made the genie know that I understood more than he. I have conquered and reduced him to ashes, but I cannot escape death, which is approaching.’

The sultan suffered the princess, the Lady Or Beauty, to go on with the recital of her combat, and when she had done he spoke to her in a tone that sufficiently testified his grief: ‘My daughter,’ said he, ‘you see in what condition your father is; alas! I wonder that I am yet alive!’ He could speak no more, for his tears, sighs and sobs made him speechless; his daughter and I wept with him.

In the meantime, while we were vieing with each other in grief the princess cried, ‘I burn! I burn!’ She found that the fire which consumed her had at last seized upon her whole body, which made her still cry ‘I burn,’ until death had made an end of her intolerable pains. The effect of that fire was so extraordinary that in a few moments she was wholly reduced to ashes, like the genie.

How grieved I was at so dismal a spectacle! I had rather all my life have continued an ape or a dog than to have seen my benefactress thus miserably perish. The sultan, being afflicted beyond all that can be imagined, cried out piteously, and beat himself on his head, until being quite overcome with grief, he fainted away, which made me fear for his life. In the meantime the officers came running at the sultan’s cries, and with very much ado brought him to himself again. There was no need for him and me to give them a long narrative of this adventure, in order to convince them of their great loss. The two heaps of ashes, into which the princess and the genie had been reduced, were sufficient demonstration. The sultan was hardly able to stand, but had to be supported till he could get to his apartment.

When the news of the tragical event had spread through the palace and the city, all the people bewailed the misfortune of the princess, the Lady of Beauty, and were much affected by the sultan’s affliction. Every one was in deep mourning for seven days, and many ceremonies were performed. The ashes of the genie were thrown into the air, but those of the princess were gathered into a precious urn to be kept, and the urn was set in a stately tomb which was built for that purpose on the same place where the ashes had lain.

The grief which the sultan felt for the loss of his daughter threw him into a fit of illness, which confined him to his chamber for a whole month. He had not fully recovered strength when he sent for me: ‘Prince,’ said he, ‘hearken to the orders that I now give you; it will cost you your life if you do not put them into execution.’ I assured him of exact obedience, upon which he went on thus: ‘I have constantly lived in perfect felicity, and was never crossed by any accident: but by your arrival all the happiness I possessed is vanished; my daughter is dead, her attendant is no more, and it is through a miracle that I am yet alive. You are the cause of all those misfortunes, for which it is impossible that I should be comforted; therefore depart from hence in peace, without farther delay, for I myself must perish if you stay any longer: I am persuaded that your presence brings mischief along, with it. This is all I have to say to you. Depart, and beware of ever appearing again in my dominions; no consideration whatsoever shall hinder me from making you repent of it.’ I was going to speak, but he stopped my mouth with words full of anger; and so I was obliged to leave his palace, rejected, banished, an outcast from the world, and not knowing what would become of me. And so I became a hermit.

Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights.
First Series.
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.
Xmas, 1893.