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

The Fisherman and the Jinni

translated by

Richard F. Burton


IT HATH reached me, O auspicious King, that there was a Fisher man well stricken in years who had a wife and three children, and withal was of poor condition. Now it was his custom to cast his net every day four times, and no more. On a day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore, where he laid down his basket; and, tucking up his shirt and plunging into the water, made a cast with his net and waited till it settled to the bottom. Then he gathered the cords together and haled away at it, but found it weighty; and however much he drew it landwards, he could not pull it up; so he carried the ends ashore and drove a stake into the ground and made the net fast to it. Then he stripped and dived into the water all about the net, and left not off working hard until he had brought it up. He rejoiced thereat and, donning his clothes, went to the net, when he found in it a dead jackass which had torn the meshes. Now when he saw it, he exclaimed in his grief, “There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah the Glorious, the Great!” Then quoth he, “This is a strange manner of daily bread;” and he began reciting in extempore verse:—

O toiler through the glooms of night in peril and in pain
            ⚪ Thy toiling stint for daily bread comes not by might and main!
Seest thou not the fisher seek afloat upon the sea
            ⚪ His bread, while glimmer stars of night as set in tangled skein.
Anon he plungeth in despite the buffet of the waves
            ⚪ The while to sight the bellying net his eager glances strain;
Till joying at the night’s success, a fish he bringeth home
            ⚪ Whose gullet by the hook of Fate was caught and cut in twain.
When buys that fish of him a man who spent the hours of night
            ⚪ Reckless of cold and wet and gloom in ease and comfort fain,
Laud to the Lord who gives to this, to that denies his wishes
            ⚪ And dooms one toil and catch the prey and other eat the fishes.1

Then quoth he, “Up and to it; I am sure of His beneficence, Inshallah!” So he continued:—

When thou art seized of Evil Fate, assume
            ⚪ The noble soul’s long suffering: ’tis thy best:
Complain not to the creature; this be plaint
            ⚪ From one most Ruthful to the ruthlessest.

The Fisherman, when he had looked at the dead ass, got it free of the toils and wrung out and spread his net; then he plunged into the sea, saying, “In Allah’s name!” and made a cast and pulled at it, but it grew heavy and settled down more firmly than the first time. Now he thought that there were fish in it, and he made it fast, and doffing his clothes went into the water, and dived and haled until he drew it up upon dry land. Then found he in it a large earthen pitcher which was full of sand and mud; and seeing this he was greatly troubled and began repeating these verses2:—

Forbear, O troubles of the world,
            ⚪ And pardon an ye nill forbear:
I went to seek my daily bread
            ⚪ I find that breadless I must fare:
For neither handcraft brings me aught
            ⚪ Nor Fate allots to me a share:
How many fools the Pleiads reach
            ⚪ While darkness whelms the wise and ware.

So he prayed pardon of Allah and, throwing away the jar, wrung his net and cleansed it and returned to the sea the third time to cast his net and waited till it had sunk. Then he pulled at it and found therein potsherds and broken glass; whereupon he began to speak these verses:—

He is to thee that daily bread thou canst nor loose nor bind
            ⚪ Nor pen nor writ avail thee aught thy daily bread to find:
For joy and daily bread are what Fate deigneth to allow;
            ⚪ This soil is sad and sterile ground, while that makes glad the hind.
The shafts of Time and Life bear down full many a man of worth
            ⚪ While bearing up to high degree wights of ignoble mind.
So come thou, Death! for verily life is not worth a straw
            ⚪ When low the falcon falls withal the mallard wings the wind:
No wonder ’tis thou seest how the great of soul and mind
            ⚪ Are poor, and many a loser carle to height of luck designed.
This bird shall overfly the world from east to furthest west
            ⚪ And that shall win her every wish though ne’er she leave the nest.

Then raising his eyes heavenwards he said, “O my God!3 verily Thou wottest that I cast not my net each day save four times4; the third is done and as yet Thou hast vouchsafed me nothing. So this time, O my God, deign give me my daily bread.” Then, having called on Allah’s name,5 he again threw his net and waited its sinking and settling; whereupon he haled at it but could not draw it in for that it was entangled at the bottom. He cried out in his vexation “There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah!” and he began reciting:—

Fie on this wretched world, an so it be
            ⚪ I must be whelmed by grief and misery:
Tho’ gladsome be man’s lot when dawns the morn
            ⚪ He drains the cup of woe ere eve he see:
Yet was I one of whom the world when asked
            ⚪ “Whose lot is happiest?” oft would say “’Tis he!”

Thereupon he stripped and, diving down to the net, busied him self with it till it came to land. Then he opened the meshes and found therein a cucumber shaped jar of yellow copper,6 evidently full of something, whose mouth was made fast with a leaden cap, stamped with the seal ring of our Lord Sulayman son of David (Allah accept the twain!). Seeing this the Fisherman rejoiced and said, “If I sell it in the brass bazar ’tis worth ten golden dinars.” He shook it and finding it heavy continued, “Would to Heaven I knew what is herein. But I must and will open it and look to its contents and store it in my bag and sell it in the brass market.” And taking out a knife he worked at the lead till he had loosened it from the jar; then he laid the cup on the ground and shook the vase to pour out whatever might be inside. He found nothing in it; whereat he marvelled with an exceeding marvel. But presently there came forth from the jar a smoke which spired heavenwards into æther (whereat he again marvelled with mighty marvel), and which trailed along earth’s surface till presently, having reached its full height, the thick vapour condensed, and became an Ifrit, huge of bulk, whose crest touched the clouds while his feet were on the ground. His head was as a dome, his hands like pitchforks, his legs long as masts and his mouth big as a cave; his teeth were like large stones, his nostrils ewers, his eyes two lamps and his look was fierce and lowering. Now when the Fisherman saw the Ifrit his side muscles quivered, his teeth chattered, his spittle dried up and he became blind about what to do. Upon this the Ifrit looked at him and cried, “There is no god but the God, and Sulayman is the prophet of God;” presently adding, “O Apostle of Allah, slay me not; never again will I gainsay thee in word nor sin against thee in deed.”7 Quoth the Fisherman, “O Marid,8 diddest thou say, Sulayman the Apostle of Allah; and Sulayman is dead some thousand and eight hundred years ago,9 and we are now in the last days of the world! What is thy story, and what is thy account of thyself, and what is the cause of thy entering into this cucurbit?” Now when the Evil Spirit heard the words of the Fisher man, quoth he; “There is no god but the God: be of good cheer, O Fisherman!” Quoth the Fisherman, “Why biddest thou me to be of good cheer?” and he replied, “Because of thy having to die an ill death in this very hour.” Said the Fisherman, “Thou deservest for thy good tidings the withdrawal of Heaven’s protection, O thou distant one!10 Wherefore shouldest thou kill me and what thing have I done to deserve death, I who freed thee from the jar, and saved thee from the depths of the sea, and brought thee up on the dry land?” Replied the Ifrit, “Ask of me only what mode of death thou wilt die, and by what manner of slaughter shall I slay thee.” Rejoined the Fisherman, “What is my crime and wherefore such retribution?” Quoth the Ifrit, “Hear my story, O Fisherman!” and he answered, “Say on, and be brief in thy saying, for of very sooth my life breath is in my nostrils.”11 Thereupon quoth the Jinni, “Know, that I am one among the heretical Jann and I sinned against Sulayman, David-son (on the twain be peace!) I together with the famous Sakhr al Jinni;”12 whereupon the Prophet sent his minister, Asaf son of Barkhiya, to seize me; and this Wazir brought me against my will and led me in bonds to him (I being downcast despite my nose) and he placed me standing before him like a suppliant. When Sulayman saw me, he took refuge with Allah and bade me embrace the True Faith and obey his behests; but I refused, so sending for this cucurbit13 he shut me up therein, and stopped it over with lead whereon he impressed the Most High Name, and gave his orders to the Jann who carried me off, and cast me into the midmost of the ocean. There I abode an hundred years, during which I said in my heart, “Whoso shall release me, him will I enrich for ever and ever.” But the full century went by and, when no one set me free, I entered upon the second five score saying, “Whoso shall release me, for him I will open the hoards of the earth.” Still no one set me free and thus four hundred years passed away. Then quoth I, “Whoso shall release me, for him will I fulfil three wishes.” Yet no one set me free. Thereupon I waxed wroth with exceeding wrath and said to myself, “Whoso shall release me from this time forth, him will I slay and I will give him choice of what death he will die; and now, as thou hast released me, I give thee full choice of deaths.” The Fisherman, hearing the words of the Ifrit, said, “O Allah! the wonder of it that I have not come to free thee save in these days!” adding, “Spare my life, so Allah spare thine; and slay me not, lest Allah set one to slay thee.” Replied the Contumacious One, “There is no help for it; die thou must; so ask me by way of boon what manner of death thou wilt die.” Albeit thus certified the Fisherman again addressed the Ifrit saying, “Forgive me this my death as a generous reward for having freed thee;” and the Ifrit, “Surely I would not slay thee save on account of that same release.” “O Chief of the Ifrits,” said the Fisherman, “I do thee good and thou requitest me with evil! in very sooth the old saw lieth not when it saith:—

We wrought them weal, they met our weal with ill;
            ⚪ Such, by my life! is every bad man’s labour:
To him who benefits unworthy wights
            ⚪ Shall hap what inapt to Ummi Amir’s neighbor.14

Now when the Ifrit heard these words he answered, “No more of this talk, needs must I kill thee.” Upon this the Fisherman said to himself, “This is a Jinni; and I am a man to whom Allah hath given a passably cunning wit, so I will now cast about to compass his destruction by my contrivance and by mine intelligence; even as he took counsel only of his malice and his frowardness.”15 He began by asking the Ifrit, “Hast thou indeed resolved to kill me?” and, receiving for all answer, “Even so,” he cried, “Now in the Most Great Name, graven on the seal ring of Sulayman the Son of David (peace be with the holy twain!), an I question thee on a certain matter wilt thou give me a true answer?” The Ifrit replied “Yea;” but, hearing mention of the Most Great Name, his wits were troubled and he said with trembling, “Ask and be brief.” Quoth the Fisherman, “How didst thou fit into this bottle which would not hold thy hand; no, nor even thy foot, and how came it to be large enough to contain the whole of thee?” Replied the Ifrit, “What! dost not believe that I was all there?” and the Fisherman rejoined, “Nay! I will never believe it until I see thee inside with my own eyes.”——And Shahrázád perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

 

When it was the Fourth Night,

Her sister said to her, “Please finish us this tale, an thou be not sleepy!” so she resumed:—It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the Fisherman said to the Ifrit, “I will never and nowise believe thee until I see thee inside it with mine own eyes;” the Evil Spirit on the instant shook16 and became a vapour, which condensed, and entered the jar little and little, till all was well inside when lo! the Fisherman in hot haste took the leaden cap with the seal and stoppered therewith the mouth of the jar and called out to the Ifrit, saying, “Ask me by way of boon what death thou wilt die! By Allah, I will throw thee into the sea17 before us and here will I build me a lodge; and whoso cometh hither I will warn him against fishing and will say:—In these waters abideth an Ifrit who giveth as a last favour a choice of deaths and fashion of slaughter to the man who saveth him!” Now when the Ifrit heard this from the Fisherman and saw him self in limbo, he was minded to escape, but this was prevented by Solomon’s seal; so he knew that the Fisherman had cozened and outwitted him, and he waxed lowly and submissive and began humbly to say, “I did but jest with thee.” But the other answered, “Thou liest, O vilest of the Ifrits, and meanest and filthiest!” and he set off with the bottle for the sea side; the Ifrit calling out “Nay! Nay!” and he calling out “Aye! Aye!” There upon the Evil Spirit softened his voice and smoothed his speech and abased himself, saying, “What wouldest thou do with me, O Fisherman?” “I will throw thee back into the sea,” he answered; “where thou hast been housed and homed for a thousand and eight hundred years; and now I will leave thee therein till Judgment day: did I not say to thee:—Spare me and Allah shall spare thee; and slay me not lest Allah slay thee? yet thou spurn east my supplication and hadst no intention save to deal un graciously by me, and Allah hath now thrown thee into my hands and I am cunninger than thou.” Quoth the Ifrit, “Open for me and I may bring thee weal.” Quoth the Fisherman, “Thou liest, thou accursed! my case with thee is that of the Wazir of King Yunan with the sage Duban.”18 “And who was the Wazir of King Yunan and who was the sage Duban; and what was the story about them?” quoth the Ifrit, whereupon the Fisherman began to tell

THE TALE OF THE WAZIR AND THE SAGE DUBAN.


1.    Here, as in other places, I have not preserved the monorhyme, but have ended like the English sonnet with a couplet; as a rule the last two lines contain a “Husn makta’” or climax.    [back]

2.    Lit. “he began to say (or speak) poetry,” such improvising being still common amongst the Badawin as I shall afterwards note. And although Mohammed severely censured profane poets, who “rove as bereft of their senses through every valley” and were directly inspired by devils (Koran xxvi.), it is not a little curious to note that he himself spoke in “Rajaz” (which see) and that the four first Caliphs all “spoke poetry.” In early ages the verse would not be written, if written at all, till after the maker’s death. I translate “inshád” by “versifying” or “repeating” or “reciting,” leaving it doubtful if the composition be or be not original. In places, however, it is clearly improvised and then as a rule it is model doggrel.    [back]

3.    Arab. “Allahumma”=Yá Allah (O Allah) but with emphasis the Fath being a substitute for the voc. part. Some connect it with the Heb. “Alihím,” but that fancy is not Arab. In Al-Hariri and the rhetoricians it sometimes means to be sure; of course; unless indeed; unless possibly=Greek νὴ δία.    [back]

4.    Probably in consequence of a vow. These superstitious practices, which have many a parallel amongst ourselves, are not confined to the lower orders in the East.    [back]

5.    i.e., saying “Bismillah!” the pious ejaculation which should precede every act. In Boccaccio (viii., 9) it is “remembering Iddio e’ Santi.”    [back]

6.    Arab. Nahás asfar = brass, opposed to “Nahás” and “Nahás ahmar,” = copper.    [back]

7.    This alludes to the legend of Sakhr al-Jinni, a famous fiend cast by Solomon David-son into Lake Tiberias whose storms make it a suitable place. Hence the “Bottle imp,” a world-wide fiction of folk-lore: we shall find it in the “Book of Sindibad,” and I need hardly remind the reader of Le Sage’s “Diable Boiteux,” borrowed from “El Diablo Cojuelo,” the Spanish novel by Luiz Velez de Guevara.    [back]

8.    Márid (lit. “contumacious” from the Heb. root Marad to rebel, whence “Nimrod” in late Semitic) is one of the tribes of the Jinn, generally but not always hostile to man. His female is “Máridah.”    [back]

9.    As Solomon began to reign (according to vulgar chronometry) in B.C. 1015, the text would place the tale circ. A.D. 785, = A.H. 169. But we can lay no stress on this date which may be merely fanciful. Professor Tawney very justly compares this Moslem Solomon with the Hindu King, Vikramáditya, who ruled over the seven divisions of the world and who had as many devils to serve him as he wanted.    [back]

10.    Arab. “Yá Ba’íd:” a euphemism here adopted to prevent using grossly abusive language. Others will occur in the course of these pages.    [back]

11.    i.e. about to fly out; “My heart is in my mouth.” The Fisherman speaks with the dry humour of a Fellah.    [back]

12.    “Sulayman,” when going out to ease himself, entrusted his seal-ring upon which his kingdom depended to a concubine “Amínah” (the “Faithful”), when Sakhr, transformed to the King’s likeness, came in and took it. The prophet was reduced to beggary, but after forty days the demon fled throwing into the sea the ring which was swallowed by a fish and eventually returned to Sulayman. This Talmudic fable is hinted at in the Koran (chaps. xxxviii.), and commentators have extensively embroidered it. Asaf, son of Barkhiya, was Wazir to Sulayman and is supposed to be the “one with whom was the knowledge of the Scriptures” (Koran, chaps. xxxvii.), i.e. who knew the Ineffable Name of Allah. See the manifest descendant of the Talmudic Koranic fiction in the “Tale of the Emperor Jovinian” (No. lix.) of the Gesta Romanorum, the most popular book of mediæval Europe composed in England (or Germany) about the end of the thirteenth century.    [back]

13.    Arab. “Kumkam,” a gourd-shaped bottle of metal, china or glass, still used for sprinkling scents. Lane gives an illustration (chaps. viii., Mod. Egypt.).    [back]

14.    Arab. meaning “the Mother of Amir,” a nickname for the hyena, which bites the hand that feeds it.    [back]

15.    The intellect of man is stronger than that of the Jinni; the Ifrit, however, enters the jar because he has been adjured by the Most Great Name and not from mere stupidity. The seal-ring of Solomon according to the Rabbis contained a chased stone which told him everything he wanted to know.    [back]

16.    The Mesmerist will notice this shudder which is familiar to him as preceding the “magnetic” trance.    [back]

17.    Arab. “Bahr” which means a sea, a large river, a sheet of water, etc., lit. water cut or trenched in the earth. Bahri in Egypt means Northern; so Yamm (Sea, Mediterranean) in Hebrew is West.    [back]

18.    In the Bull Edit. “Ruyán,” evidently a clerical error. The name is fanciful not significant.    [back]


The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1 - Contents    |     The Tale of the Wazir and the Sage Duban


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