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

The Tale of the Wazir and the Sage Duban

translated by

Richard F. Burton


KNOW, O thou Ifrit, that in days of yore and in ages long gone before, a King called Yunan reigned over the city of Fars of the land of the Roum.1 He was a powerful ruler and a wealthy, who had armies and guards and allies of all nations of men; but his body was afflicted with a leprosy which leaches and men of science failed to heal. He drank potions and he swallowed powders and he used unguents, but naught did him good and none among the host of physicians availed to procure him a cure. At last there came to his city a mighty healer of men and one well stricken in years, the sage Duban hight. This man was a reader of books, Greek, Persian, Roman, Arabian, and Syrian; and he was skilled in astronomy and in leechcraft, the theorick as well as the practick; he was experienced in all that healeth and that hurteth the body; conversant with the virtues of every plant, grass and herb, and their benefit and bane; and he understood philosophy and had compassed the whole range of medical science and other branches of the knowledge tree. Now this physician passed but few days in the city, ere he heard of the King’s malady and all his bodily sufferings through the leprosy with which Allah had smitten him; and how all the doctors and wise men had failed to heal him. Upon this he sat up through the night in deep thought and, when broke the dawn and appeared the morn and light was again born, and the Sun greeted the Good whose beauties the world adorn,2 he donned his handsomest dress and going in to King Yunan, he kissed the ground before him: then he prayed for the endurance of his honour and prosperity in fairest language and made himself known saying, “O King, tidings have reached I me of what befel thee through that which is in thy person; and how the host of physicians have proved themselves unavailing to abate it; and lo! I can cure thee, O King; and yet will I not make thee drink of draught or anoint thee with ointment.” Now when King Yunan heard his words he said in huge surprise, “How wilt thou do this? By Allah, if thou make me whole I will enrich thee even to thy son’s son and I will give thee sumptuous gifts; and whatso thou wishest shall be thine and thou shalt be to me a cup companion3 and a friend.” The King then robed him with a dress of honour and entreated him graciously and asked him, “Canst thou indeed cure me of this complaint without drug and unguent?” and he answered, “Yes! I will heal I thee without the pains and penalties of medicine.” The King marvelled with exceeding marvel and said, “O physician, when shall be this whereof thou speakest, and in how many days shall it take place? Haste thee, O my son!” He replied,”I hear and I obey; the cure shall begin tomorrow.” So saying he went forth from the presence, and hired himself a house in the city for the better storage of his books and scrolls, his medicines and his aromatic roots. Then he set to work at choosing the fittest drugs and simples and he fashioned a bat hollow within, and furnished with a handle without, for which he made a ball; the two being prepared with consummate art. On the next day when both were ready for use and wanted nothing more, he went up to the King; and, kissing the ground between his hands bade him ride forth on the parade ground4 there to play at pall and mall. He was accompanied by his suite, Emirs and Chamberlains, Wazirs and Lords of the realm and, ere he was seated, the sage Duban came up to him, and handing him the bat said, “Take this mall and grip it as I do; so! and now push for the plain and leaning well over thy horse drive the ball with all thy might until thy palm be moist and thy body perspire: then the medicine will penetrate through thy palm and will permeate thy person. When thou hast done with playing and thou feelest the effects of the medicine, return to thy palace, and make the Ghusl-ablation5 in the Hammam bath, and lay thee down to sleep; so shalt thou be come whole; and now peace be with thee!” Thereupon King Yunan took the bat from the Sage and grasped it firmly; then, mounting steed, he drove the ball before him and gallopped after it till he reached it, when he struck it with all his might, his palm gripping the bat handle the while; and he ceased not malling the ball till his hand waxed moist and his skin, perspiring, imbibed the medicine from the wood. Then the sage Duban knew that the drugs had penetrated his person and bade him return to the palace and enter the Hammam without stay or delay; so King Yunan forthright returned and ordered them to clear for him the bath. They did so, the carpet spreaders making all haste, and the slaves all hurry and got ready a change of raiment for the King. He entered the bath and made the total ablution long and thoroughly; then donned his clothes within the Hammam and rode therefrom to his palace where he lay him down and slept. Such was the case with King Yunan, but as regards the sage Duban, he returned home and slept as usual and when morning dawned he repaired to the palace and craved audience. The King ordered him to be admitted; then, having kissed the ground between his hands, in allusion to the King he recited these couplets with solemn intonation:—

Happy is Eloquence when thou art named her sire
            ⚪ But mourns she whenas other man the title claimed.
O Lord of fairest presence, whose illuming rays
            ⚪ Clear off the fogs of doubt aye veiling deeds high famed,
Ne’er cease thy face to shine like Dawn and rise of Morn
            ⚪ And never show Time’s face with heat of ire inflamed!
Thy grace hath favoured us with gifts that worked such wise
            ⚪ As rain clouds raining on the hills by words enframed:
Freely thou lavishedst thy wealth to rise on high
            ⚪ Till won from Time the heights whereat thy grandeur aimed.

Now when the Sage ceased reciting, the King rose quickly to his feet and fell on his neck; then, seating him by his side he bade dress him in a sumptuous dress; for it had so happened that when the King left the Hammam he looked on his body and saw no trace of leprosy: the skin was all clean as virgin silver. He joyed thereat with exceeding joy, his breast broadened6 with delight and he felt thoroughly happy. Presently, when it was full day he entered his audience hall and sat upon the throne of his kingship whereupon his Chamberlains and Grandees flocked to the presence and with them the Sage Duban. Seeing the leach the King rose to him in honour and seated him by his side; then the food trays furnished with the daintiest viands were brought and the physician ate with the King, nor did he cease companying him all that day. Moreover, at nightfall he gave the physician Duban two thousand gold pieces, besides the usual dress of honour and other gifts galore, and sent him home on his own steed. After the Sage had fared forth King Yunan again expressed his amazement at the leach’s art, saying, “This man medicined my body from without nor anointed me with aught of ointments: by Allah, surely this is none other than consummate skill! I am bound to honour such a man with rewards and distinction, and take him to my companion and my friend during the remainder of my days.” So King Yunan passed the night in joy and gladness for that his body had been made whole and had thrown off so pernicious a malady. On the morrow the King went forth from his Serraglio and sat upon his throne, and the Lords of Estate stood about him, and the Emirs and Wazirs sat as was their wont on his right hand and on his left. Then he asked for the Sage Duban, who came in and kissed the ground before him, when the King rose to greet him and, seating him by his side, ate with him and wished him long life. Moreover he robed him and gave him gifts, and ceased not conversing with him until night approached. Then the King ordered him, by way of salary, five dresses of honour and a thousand dinars.7 The physician returned to his own house full of gratitude to the King. Now when next morning dawned the King repaired to his audience hall, and his Lords and Nobles surrounded him and his Chamberlains and his Ministers, as the white encloseth the black of the eye.8 Now the King had a Wazir among his Wazirs, unsightly to look upon, an ill omened spectacle; sor did, ungenerous, full of envy and evil will. When this Minister saw the King place the physician near him and give him all these gifts, he jaloused him and planned to do him a harm, as in the saying on such subject, “Envy lurks in every body;” and the saying, “Oppression hideth in every heart: power revealeth it and weakness concealeth it.” Then the Minister came before the King and, kissing the ground between his hands, said, “O King of the age and of all time, thou in whose benefits I have grown to manhood, I have weighty advice to offer thee, and if I withhold it I were a son of adultery and no true born man; wherefore an thou order me to disclose it I will so do forthwith.” Quoth the King (and he was troubled at the words of the Minister), “And what is this counsel of thine?” Quoth he, “O glorious monarch, the wise of old have said:—Whoso regardeth not the end, hath not Fortune to friend; and indeed I have lately seen the King on far other than the right way; for he lavisheth largesse on his enemy, on one whose object is the decline and fall of his kingship: to this man he hath shown favour, honouring him with over honour and making of him an intimate. Wherefore I fear for the King’s life.” The King, who was much troubled and changed colour, asked, “Whom cost thou suspect and anent whom doest thou hint?” and the Minister answered, “O King, an thou be asleep, wake up! I point to the physician Duban.” Rejoined the King, “Fie upon thee! This is a true friend who is favoured by me above all men, because he cured me with some thing which I held in my hand, and he healed my leprosy which had baffled all physicians; indeed he is one whose like may not be found in these days—no, not in the whole world from furthest east to utmost west! And it is of such a man thou sayest such hard sayings. Now from this day forward I allot him a settled solde and allowances, every month a thousand gold pieces; and, were I to share with him my realm ’twere but a little matter. Perforce I must suspect that thou speakest on this wise from mere envy and jealousy as they relate of the King Sindibád.”——And Shahrázád perceived the dawn of day, and ceased saying her permitted say. Then quoth Dunyázád, “O my sister, how pleasant is thy tale, and how tasteful, how sweet, and how grateful!” She replied, “And where is this compared with what I could tell thee on the coming night if the King deign spare my life?” Then said the King in himself, “By Allah, I will not slay her until I hear the rest of her tale, for truly it is wondrous.” So they rested that night in mutual embrace until the dawn. Then the King went forth to his Hall of Rule, and the Wazir and the troops came in, and the audience chamber was thronged and the King gave orders and judged and appointed and deposed and bade and forbade during the rest of that day till the Court broke up, and King Shahryar returned to his palace.

 

When It Was The Fifth Night,

Her sister said, “Do you finish for us thy story if thou be not sleepy,” and she resumed:—It hath reached me, O auspicious King and mighty Monarch, that King Yunan said to his Minister, “O Wazir, thou art one whom the evil spirit of envy hath possessed because of this physician, and thou plottest for my putting him to death, after which I should repent me full sorely, even as repented King Sindibad for killing his falcon.” Quoth the Wazir, Pardon me, O King of the age, how was that?” So the King began the story of

KING SINDIBAD AND HIS FALCON.


1.    The geography is ultra-Shakespearean. “Fárs” (whence “Persia”) is the central Province of the grand old Empire now a mere wreck, “Rúm” (which I write Roum, in order to avoid Jamaica) is the neo-Roman or Byzantine Empire, while “Yunan” is the classical Arab term for Greece (Ionia) which unlearned Moslems believe to be now under water.    [back]

2.    The Sun greets Mohammed every morning even as it dances on Easter Day for Christendom. Risum teneatis?    [back]

3.    Arab. “Nadím,” a term often occurring. It denotes one who was intimate enough to drink with the Caliph, a very high honour and a dangerous. The last who sat with “Nudamá” was Al-Razi bi’llah A.H. 329 = 940. See Al-Siyuti’s famous “History of the Caliphs” translated and admirably annotated by Major H. S. Jarrett, for the Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 1880.    [back]

4.    Arab. Maydán (from Persian); Lane generally translates it “horse course” and Payne “tilting yard.” It is both and something more; an open space, in or near the city, used for reviewing troops, races, playing the Jeríd (cane-spear) and other sports and exercises: thus Al-Maydan=Gr. hippodrome. The game here alluded to is our “polo,” or hockey on horseback, a favourite with the Persian Kings, as all old illustrations of the Shahnamah show. Maydan is also a natural plain for which copious Arabic has many terms, Fayhah or Sath (a plain generally), Khabt (a low-lying plain), Bat’há (a low sandy flat), Mahattah (a plain fit for halting) and so forth. (Pilgrimage iii., 11.)    [back]

5.    For details concerning the “Ghusl” see Night xliv.    [back]

6.    A popular idiom and highly expressive, contrasting the upright bearing of the self-satisfied man with the slouch of the miserable and the skirt-trailing of the woman in grief. I do not see the necessity of such Latinisms as “dilated” or “expanded.”    [back]

7.    All these highest signs of favour foreshow, in Eastern tales and in Eastern life, an approaching downfall of the heaviest; they are so great that they arouse general jealousy. Many of us have seen this at native courts.    [back]

8.    This phrase is contained in the word “ihdák”=encompassing, as the conjunctive does the pupil.    [back]


The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1 - Contents    |     King Sindibad and his Falcon


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