The Arabian Nights
: The Arabian Nights Entertainments
In the chronicles of the ancient dynasty of the Sassanidae, who reigned
for about four hundred years, from Persia to the borders of China,
beyond the great river Ganges itself, we read the praises of one of the
kings of this race, who was said to be the best monarch of his time.
His subjects loved him, and his neighbors feared him, and when he died
he left his kingdom in a more prosperous and powerful condition than
king had done before him.
The two sons who survived him loved each other tenderly, and it was a
real grief to the elder, Schahriar, that the laws of the empire forbade
him to share his dominions with his brother Schahzeman. Indeed, after
ten years, during which this state of things had not ceased to trouble
him, Schahriar cut off the country of Great Tartary from the Persian
Empire and made his brother king.
Now the Sultan Schahriar had a wife whom he loved more than all the
world, and his greatest happiness was to surround her with splendour,
and to give her the finest dresses and the most beautiful jewels. It
was therefore with the deepest shame and sorrow that he accidentally
discovered, after several years, that she had deceived him completely,
and her whole conduct turned out to have been so bad, that he felt
himself obliged to carry out the law of the land, and order the
grand-vizir to put her to death. The blow was so heavy that his mind
almost gave way, and he declared that he was quite sure that at bottom
all women were as wicked as the sultana, if you could only find them
out, and that the fewer the world contained the better. So every
evening he married a fresh wife and had her strangled the following
morning before the grand-vizir, whose duty it was to provide these
unhappy brides for the Sultan. The poor man fulfilled his task with
reluctance, but there was no escape, and every day saw a girl married
and a wife dead.
This behaviour caused the greatest horror in the town, where nothing
was heard but cries and lamentations. In one house was a father
weeping for the loss of his daughter, in another perhaps a mother
trembling for the fate of her child; and instead of the blessings that
had formerly been heaped on the Sultan's head, the air was now full of
The grand-vizir himself was the father of two daughters, of whom the
elder was called Scheherazade, and the younger Dinarzade. Dinarzade
had no particular gifts to distinguish her from other girls, but her
sister was clever and courageous in the highest degree. Her father had
given her the best masters in philosophy, medicine, history and the
fine arts, and besides all this, her beauty excelled that of any girl
in the kingdom of Persia.
One day, when the grand-vizir was talking to his eldest daughter, who
was his delight and pride, Scheherazade said to him, "Father, I have a
favour to ask of you. Will you grant it to me?"
"I can refuse you nothing," replied he, "that is just and reasonable."
"Then listen," said Scheherazade. "I am determined to stop this
barbarous practice of the Sultan's, and to deliver the girls and
mothers from the awful fate that hangs over them."
"It would be an excellent thing to do," returned the grand-vizir, "but
how do you propose to accomplish it?"
"My father," answered Scheherazade, "it is you who have to provide the
Sultan daily with a fresh wife, and I implore you, by all the affection
you bear me, to allow the honour to fall upon me."
"Have you lost your senses?" cried the grand-vizir, starting back in
horror. "What has put such a thing into your head? You ought to know
by this time what it means to be the sultan's bride!"
"Yes, my father, I know it well," replied she, "and I am not afraid to
think of it. If I fail, my death will be a glorious one, and if I
succeed I shall have done a great service to my country."
"It is of no use," said the grand-vizir, "I shall never consent. If
the Sultan was to order me to plunge a dagger in your heart, I should
have to obey. What a task for a father! Ah, if you do not fear death,
fear at any rate the anguish you would cause me."
"Once again, my father," said Scheherazade, "will you grant me what I
"What, are you still so obstinate?" exclaimed the grand-vizir. "Why are
you so resolved upon your own ruin?"
But the maiden absolutely refused to attend to her father's words, and
at length, in despair, the grand-vizir was obliged to give way, and
went sadly to the palace to tell the Sultan that the following evening
he would bring him Scheherazade.
The Sultan received this news with the greatest astonishment.
"How have you made up your mind," he asked, "to sacrifice your own
daughter to me?"
"Sire," answered the grand-vizir, "it is her own wish. Even the sad
fate that awaits her could not hold her back."
"Let there be no mistake, vizir," said the Sultan. "Remember you will
have to take her life yourself. If you refuse, I swear that your head
shall pay forfeit."
"Sire," returned the vizir. "Whatever the cost, I will obey you.
Though a father, I am also your subject." So the Sultan told the
grand-vizir he might bring his daughter as soon as he liked.
The vizir took back this news to Scheherazade, who received it as if it
had been the most pleasant thing in the world. She thanked her father
warmly for yielding to her wishes, and, seeing him still bowed down
with grief, told him that she hoped he would never repent having
allowed her to marry the Sultan. Then she went to prepare herself for
the marriage, and begged that her sister Dinarzade should be sent for
to speak to her.
When they were alone, Scheherazade addressed her thus:
"My dear sister; I want your help in a very important affair. My
father is going to take me to the palace to celebrate my marriage with
the Sultan. When his Highness receives me, I shall beg him, as a last
favour, to let you sleep in our chamber, so that I may have your
company during the last night I am alive. If, as I hope, he grants me
my wish, be sure that you wake me an hour before the dawn, and speak to
me in these words: 'My sister, if you are not asleep, I beg you,
before the sun rises, to tell me one of your charming stories.' Then I
shall begin, and I hope by this means to deliver the people from the
terror that reigns over them." Dinarzade replied that she would do with
pleasure what her sister wished.
When the usual hour arrived the grand-vizir conducted Scheherazade to
the palace, and left her alone with the Sultan, who bade her raise her
veil and was amazed at her beauty. But seeing her eyes full of tears,
he asked what was the matter. "Sire," replied Scheherazade, "I have a
sister who loves me as tenderly as I love her. Grant me the favour of
allowing her to sleep this night in the same room, as it is the last we
shall be together." Schahriar consented to Scheherazade's petition and
Dinarzade was sent for.
An hour before daybreak Dinarzade awoke, and exclaimed, as she had
promised, "My dear sister, if you are not asleep, tell me I pray you,
before the sun rises, one of your charming stories. It is the last
time that I shall have the pleasure of hearing you."
Scheherazade did not answer her sister, but turned to the Sultan.
"Will your highness permit me to do as my sister asks?" said she.
"Willingly," he answered. So Scheherazade began.