The Story Of The Fisherman
: The Arabian Nights Entertainments
Sire, there was once upon a time a fisherman so old and so poor that he
could scarcely manage to support his wife and three children. He went
every day to fish very early, and each day he made a rule not to throw
his nets more than four times. He started out one morning by moonlight
and came to the sea-shore. He undressed and threw his nets, and as he
was drawing them towards the bank he felt a great weight. He though he
had caught a large fish, and he felt very pleased. But a moment
afterwards, seeing that instead of a fish he only had in his nets the
carcase of an ass, he was much disappointed.
Vexed with having such a bad haul, when he had mended his nets, which
the carcase of the ass had broken in several places, he threw them a
second time. In drawing them in he again felt a great weight, so that
he thought they were full of fish. But he only found a large basket
full of rubbish. He was much annoyed.
"O Fortune," he cried, "do not trifle thus with me, a poor fisherman,
who can hardly support his family!"
So saying, he threw away the rubbish, and after having washed his nets
clean of the dirt, he threw them for the third time. But he only drew
in stones, shells, and mud. He was almost in despair.
Then he threw his nets for the fourth time. When he thought he had a
fish he drew them in with a great deal of trouble. There was no fish
however, but he found a yellow pot, which by its weight seemed full of
something, and he noticed that it was fastened and sealed with lead,
with the impression of a seal. He was delighted. "I will sell it to
the founder," he said; "with the money I shall get for it I shall buy a
measure of wheat."
He examined the jar on all sides; he shook it to see if it would
rattle. But he heard nothing, and so, judging from the impression of
the seal and the lid, he thought there must be something precious
inside. To find out, he took his knife, and with a little trouble he
opened it. He turned it upside down, but nothing came out, which
surprised him very much. He set it in front of him, and whilst he was
looking at it attentively, such a thick smoke came out that he had to
step back a pace or two. This smoke rose up to the clouds, and
stretching over the sea and the shore, formed a thick mist, which
caused the fisherman much astonishment. When all the smoke was out of
the jar it gathered itself together, and became a thick mass in which
appeared a genius, twice as large as the largest giant. When he saw
such a terrible-looking monster, the fisherman would like to have run
away, but he trembled so with fright that he could not move a step.
"Great king of the genii," cried the monster, "I will never again
At these words the fisherman took courage.
"What is this you are saying, great genius? Tell me your history and
how you came to be shut up in that vase."
At this, the genius looked at the fisherman haughtily. "Speak to me
more civilly," he said, "before I kill you."
"Alas! why should you kill me?" cried the fisherman. "I have just
freed you; have you already forgotten that?"
"No," answered the genius; "but that will not prevent me from killing
you; and I am only going to grant you one favour, and that is to choose
the manner of your death."
"But what have I done to you?" asked the fisherman.
"I cannot treat you in any other way," said the genius, "and if you
would know why, listen to my story.
"I rebelled against the king of the genii. To punish me, he shut me up
in this vase of copper, and he put on the leaden cover his seal, which
is enchantment enough to prevent my coming out. Then he had the vase
thrown into the sea. During the first period of my captivity I vowed
that if anyone should free me before a hundred years were passed, I
would make him rich even after his death. But that century passed, and
no one freed me. In the second century I vowed that I would give all
the treasures in the world to my deliverer; but he never came.
"In the third, I promised to make him a king, to be always near him,
and to grant him three wishes every day; but that century passed away
as the other two had done, and I remained in the same plight. At last
I grew angry at being captive for so long, and I vowed that if anyone
would release me I would kill him at once, and would only allow him to
choose in what manner he should die. So you see, as you have freed me
to-day, choose in what way you will die."
The fisherman was very unhappy. "What an unlucky man I am to have
freed you! I implore you to spare my life."
"I have told you," said the genius, "that it is impossible. Choose
quickly; you are wasting time."
The fisherman began to devise a plot.
"Since I must die," he said, "before I choose the manner of my death, I
conjure you on your honour to tell me if you really were in that vase?"
"Yes, I was," answered the genius.
"I really cannot believe it," said the fisherman. "That vase could not
contain one of your feet even, and how could your whole body go in? I
cannot believe it unless I see you do the thing."
Then the genius began to change himself into smoke, which, as before,
spread over the sea and the shore, and which, then collecting itself
together, began to go back into the vase slowly and evenly till there
was nothing left outside. Then a voice came from the vase which said
to the fisherman, "Well, unbelieving fisherman, here I am in the vase;
do you believe me now?"
The fisherman instead of answering took the lid of lead and shut it
down quickly on the vase.
"Now, O genius," he cried, "ask pardon of me, and choose by what death
you will die! But no, it will be better if I throw you into the sea
whence I drew you out, and I will build a house on the shore to warn
fishermen who come to cast their nets here, against fishing up such a
wicked genius as you are, who vows to kill the man who frees you."
At these words the genius did all he could to get out, but he could
not, because of the enchantment of the lid.
Then he tried to get out by cunning.
"If you will take off the cover," he said, "I will repay you."
"No," answered the fisherman, "if I trust myself to you I am afraid you
will treat me as a certain Greek king treated the physician Douban.
Listen, and I will tell you."