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.