The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1

Tale of the Trader and the Jinni

translated by

Richard F. Burton


IT IS RELATED, O auspicious King, that there was a merchant of the merchants who had much wealth, and business in various cities. Now on a day he mounted horse and went forth to recover monies in certain towns, and the heat sore oppressed him; so he sat beneath a tree and, putting his hand into his saddle bags, took thence some broken bread and dry dates and began to break his fast. When he had ended eating the dates he threw away the stones with force and lo! an Ifrit appeared, huge of stature and brandishing a drawn sword, wherewith he approached the merchant and said, “Stand up that I may slay thee, even as thou slewest my son!” Asked the merchant, “How have I slain thy son?” and he answered, “When thou atest dates and threwest away the stones they struck my son full in the breast as he was walking by, so that he died forthwith.”1 Quoth the merchant, “Verily from Allah we proceeded and unto Allah are we returning. There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great! If I slew thy son, I slew him by chance medley. I pray thee now pardon me.” Rejoined the Jinni, “There is no help but I must slay thee.” Then he seized him and dragged him along and, casting him to the earth, raised the sword to strike him; whereupon the merchant wept, and said, “I commit my case to Allah,” and began repeating these couplets:—

Containeth Time a twain of days, this of blessing that of bane
            ⚪ And holdeth Life a twain of halves, this of pleasure that of pain.
See’st not when blows the hurricane, sweeping stark and striking strong
            ⚪ None save the forest giant feels the suffering of the strain?
How many trees earth nourisheth of the dry and of the green
            ⚪ Yet none but those which bear the fruits for cast of stone complain.
See’st not how corpses rise and float on the surface of the tide
            ⚪ While pearls o’price lie hidden in the deepest of the main!
In Heaven are unnumbered the many of the stars
            ⚪ Yet ne’er a star but Sun and Moon by eclipse is overta’en.
Well judgedst thou the days that saw thy faring sound and well
            ⚪ And countedst not the pangs and pain whereof Fate is ever fain.
The nights have kept thee safe and the safety brought thee pride
            ⚪ But bliss and blessings of the night are ’genderers of bane!

When the merchant ceased repeating his verses the Jinni said to him, “Cut thy words short, by Allah! needs must I slay thee.” But the merchant spake him thus, “Know, O thou Ifrit, that I have debts due to me and much wealth and children and a wife and many pledges in hand; so permit me to go home and discharge to every claimant his claim; and I will come back to thee at the head of the new year. Allah be my testimony and surety that I will return to thee; and then thou mayest do with me as thou wilt and Allah is witness to what I say.” The Jinni took sure promise of him and let him go; so he returned to his own city and transacted his business and rendered to all men their dues and after informing his wife and children of what had betided him, he appointed a guardian and dwelt with them for a full year. Then he arose, and made the Wuzuablution to purify himself before death and took his shroud under his arm and bade farewell to his people, his neighbours and all his kith and kin, and went forth despite his own nose.2 They then began weeping and wailing and beating their breasts over him; but he travelled until he arrived at the same garden, and the day of his arrival was the head of the New Year. As he sat weeping over what had befallen him, behold, a Shaykh,3 a very ancient man, drew near leading a chained gazelle; and he saluted that merchant and wishing him long life said, “What is the cause of thy sitting in this place and thou alone and this be a resort of evil spirits?” The merchant related to him what had come to pass with the Ifrit, and the old man, the owner of the gazelle, wondered and said, “By Allah, O brother, thy faith is none other than exceeding faith and thy story right strange; were it graven with gravers on the eye corners, it were a warner to whoso would be warned.” Then seating himself near the merchant he said, “By Allah, O my brother, I will not leave thee until I see what may come to pass with thee and this Ifrit.” And presently as he sat and the two were at talk the merchant began to feel fear and terror and exceeding grief and sorrow beyond relief and ever growing care and extreme despair. And the owner of the gazelle was hard by his side; when behold, a second Shaykh approached them, and with him were two dogs both of greyhound breed and both black. The second old man after saluting them with the salam, also asked them of their tidings and said “What causeth you to sit in this place, a dwelling of the Jann?”4 So they told him the tale from beginning to end, and their stay there had not lasted long before there came up a third Shaykh, and with him a she mule of bright bay coat; and he saluted them and asked them why they were seated in that place. So they told him the story from first to last: and of no avail, O my master, is a twice told tale! There he sat down with them, and lo! a dust cloud advanced and a mighty send devil appeared amidmost of the waste. Presently the cloud opened and behold, within it was that Jinni hending in hand a drawn sword, while his eyes were shooting fire sparks of rage. He came up to them and, haling away the merchant from among them, cried to him, “Arise that I may slay thee, as thou slewest my son, the life stuff of my liver.”5 The merchant wailed and wept, and the three old men began sighing and crying and weeping and wailing with their companion. Presently the first old man (the owner of the gazelle) came out from among them and kissed the hand of the Ifrit and said, “O Jinni, thou Crown of the Kings of the Jann! were I to tell thee the story of me and this gazelle and thou shouldst consider it wondrous wouldst thou give me a third part of this merchant’s blood?” Then quoth the Jinni “Even so, O Shaykh! if thou tell me this tale, and I hold it a marvellous, then will I give thee a third of his blood.” Thereupon the old man began to tell

THE FIRST SHAYKH’S STORY.


1.    Travellers tell of a peculiar knack of jerking the date-stone, which makes it strike with great force: I never saw this “Inwá” practised, but it reminds me of the water splashing with one hand in the German baths.    [back]

2.    i.e., sorely against his will.    [back]

3.    Arab. “Shaykh”=an old man (primarily), an elder, a chief (of the tribe, guild, etc.), and honourably addressed to any man. Comp. among the neo Latins “Sieur,” “Signora,” “Señor,” “Senhor,” etc. from Lat. “Senior,” which gave our “Sire” and “Sir.” Like many in Arabic the word has a host of different meanings and most of them will occur in the course of The Nights. Ibrahim (Abraham) was the first Shaykh or man who became grey. Seeing his hairs whiten he cried, “O Allah what is this?” and the answer came that it was a sign of dignified gravity. Hereupon he exclaimed, “O Lord increase this to me!” and so it happened till his locks waxed snowy white at the age of one hundred and fifty. He was the first who parted his hair, trimmed his mustachios, cleaned his teeth with the Miswák (tooth-stick), pared his nails, shaved his pecten, snuffed up water, used ablution after stool and wore a shirt (Tabari).    [back]

4.    The word is mostly plural = Jinnís: it is also singular = a demon; and Ján bin Ján has been noticed.    [back]

5.    With us moderns “liver” suggests nothing but malady: in Arabic and Persian as in the classic literature of Europe it is the seat of passion, the heart being that of affection. Of this more presently.    [back]


The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1 - Contents    |     The First Shaykh’s Story


Back    |    Words Home    |    Richard Burton Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback