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

The Barber’s Tale of his Fourth Brother

translated by

Richard F. Burton

NOW as for my fourth brother, O Commander of the Faithful, Al-Kuz al-aswáni, or the long necked Gugglet hight, from his brimming over with words, the same who was blind of one eye, he became a butcher in Baghdad and he sold flesh and fattened rams; and great men and rich bought their meat of him, so that he amassed much wealth and got him cattle and houses. He fared thus a long while, till one day, as he was sitting in his shop, there came up an old man and long o’ the beard, who laid down some silver and said, “Give me meat for this.” He gave him his money s worth of flesh and the oldster went his ways. My brother examined the Shaykh’s silver, and, seeing that the dirhams were white and bright, he set them in a place apart. The greybeard continued to return to the shop regularly for five months, and my brother ceased not to lay up all the coin he received from him in its own box. At last he thought to take out the money to buy sheep; so he opened the box and found in it nothing, save bits of white paper cut round to look like coin;1 so he buffeted his face and cried aloud till the folk gathered about him, whereupon he told them his tale which made them marvel exceedingly. Then he rose as was his wont, and slaughtering a ram hung it up inside his shop; after which he cut off some of the flesh, and hanging it outside kept saying to himself, “O Allah, would the ill omened old fellow but come!” And an hour had not passed before the Shaykh came with his silver in hand; where upon my brother rose and caught hold of him calling out, “Come aid me, O Moslems, and learn my story with this villain!” When the old man heard this, he quietly said to him, “Which will be the better for thee, to let go of me or to be disgraced by me amidst the folk?” “In what wilt thou disgrace me?” “In that thou sellest man’s flesh for mutton!” “Thou liest, thou accursed!” “Nay, he is the accursed who hath a man hanging up by way of meat in his shop. If the matter be as thou sayest, I give thee lawful leave to take my money and my life.” Then the old man cried out aloud, “Ho, ye people! if you would prove the truth of my words, enter this man’s shop.” The folk rushed in and found that the ram was become a dead man2 hung up for sale. So they set upon my brother crying out, “O Infidel! O villain!”; and his best friends fell to cuffing and kicking him and kept saying, “Dost thou make us eat flesh of the sons of Adam?” Furthermore, the old man struck him on the eye and put it out. Then they carried the carcass, with the throat cut, before the Chief of the city watch, to whom the old man said, “O Emir, this fellow butchers men and sells their flesh for mutton and we have brought him to thee; so arise and execute the judgments of Allah (to whom be honour and glory!).” My brother would have defended himself, but the Chief refused to hear him and sentenced him to receive five hundred sticks and to forfeit the whole of his property. And, indeed, had it not been for that same property which he expended in bribes, they would have surely slain him. Then the Chief banished him from Baghdad; and my brother fared forth at a venture, till he came to a great town, where he thought it best to set up as a cobbler; so he opened a shop and sat there doing what he could for his livelihood. One day, as he went forth on his business, he heard the distant tramp of horses and, asking the cause, was told that the King was going out to hunt and course; so my brother stopped to look at the fine suite. It so fortuned that the King’s eye met my brother’s; whereupon the King hung down his head and said, “I seek refuge with Allah from the evil of this day!”;3 and turned the reins of his steed and returned home with all his retinue. Then he gave orders to his guards, who seized my brother and beat him with a beating so painful that he was well nigh dead; and my brother knew not what could be the cause of his maltreatment, after which he returned to his place in sorriest plight. Soon afterwards he went to one of the King’s household and related what had happened to him; and the man laughed till he fell upon his back and cried, “O brother mine, know that the King cannot bear to look at a monocular, especially if he be blind of the right eye, in which case he doth not let him go without killing him.” When my brother heard this, he resolved to fly from that city; so he went forth from it to another wherein none knew him and there he abode a long while. One day, being full of sorrowful thought for what had befallen him, he sallied out to solace himself; and, as he was walking along, he heard the distant tramp of horses behind him and said, “The judgement of Allah is upon me!” and looked about for a hiding place but found none. At last he saw a closed door which he pushed hard: it yielded. and he entered a long gallery in which he took refuge, but hardly had he done so, when two men set upon him crying out, “Allah be thanked for having delivered thee into our hands, O enemy of God! These three nights thou hast robbed us of our rest and sleep, and verily thou hast made us taste of the death cup.” My brother asked, “O folk, what ails you?”; and they answered, “Thou givest us the change and goest about to disgrace us and plannest some plot to cut the throat of the house master! Is it not enough that thou hast brought him to beggary, thou and thy fellows? But now give us up the knife wherewith thou threatenest us every night.” Then they searched him and found in his waist belt the knife used for his shoe leather; and he said, “O people, have the fear of Allah before your eyes and maltreat me not, for know that my story is a right strange!” “And what is thy story?” said they: so he told them what had befallen him, hoping they would let him go; however they paid no heed to what he said and, instead of showing some regard, beat him grievously and tore off his clothes: then, finding on his sides the scars of beating with rods, they said, “O accursed! these marks are the manifest signs of thy guilt!” They carried him before the Governor, whilst he said to himself, “I am now punished for my sins and none can deliver me save Allah Almighty!” The Governor addressing my brother asked him, “O villain, what led thee to enter their house with intention to murther?”; and my brother answered, “I conjure thee by Allah, O Emir, hear my words and be not hasty in condemning me!” But the Governor cried, “Shall we listen to the words of a robber who hath beggared these people, and who beareth on his back the scar of his stripes?” adding, “They surely had not done this to thee, save for some great crime.” So he sentenced him to receive an hundred cuts with the scourge, after which they set him on a camel and paraded him about the city, proclaiming, “This is the requital and only too little to requite him who breaketh into people’s houses.” Then they thrust him out of the city, and my brother wandered at random, till I heard what had befallen him; and, going in search of him, questioned him of his case; so he acquainted me with his story and all his mischances, and I carried him secretly to the city where I made him an allowance for his meat and drink. Then the Caliph gave ear to


1.    This is one of the feats of Al-Símiyá = white magic; fascinating the eyes. In Europe it has lately taken the name of “Electro-biology.”    [back]

2.    Again by means of the “Símiyá” or power of fascination possessed by the old scoundrel.    [back]

3.    A formula for averting “Al-Ayn,” the evil eye. It is always unlucky to meet a one-eyed man, especially the first thing in the morning and when setting out on any errand. The idea is that the fascinated one will suffer from some action of the physical eye. Monoculars also are held to be rogues: so the Sanskrit saying “Few one-eyed men be honest men.”    [back]

[FN#659] Al-Nashshár from Nashr = sawing: so the fiddler in Italian is called the “village-saw” (Sega del villaggio). He is the Alnaschar of the Englished Galland and Richardson. The tale is very old. It appears as the Brahman and the Pot of Rice in the Panchatantra; and Professor Benfey believes (as usual with him) that this, with many others, derives from a Buddhist source. But I would distinctly derive it from æsop’s market-woman who kicked over her eggs, whence the Lat. prov. Ante victoriam canere triumphum = to sell the skin before you have caught the bear. In the “Kalilah and Dimnah” and its numerous offspring it is the “Ascetic with his Jar of oil and honey;” in Rabelais (i., 33) Echephron’s shoemaker spills his milk, and so La Perette in La Fontaine. See M. Max Muller’s “Chips,” (vol. iii., appendix) The curious reader will compare my version with that which appears at the end of Richardson’s Arabic Grammar (Edit. Of 1811): he had a better, or rather a fuller MS. (p. 199) than any yet printed.

[FN#660] Arab. “Atr” = any perfume, especially oil of roses; whence our word “Otter,’ through the Turkish corruption.

[FN#661] The texts give “dirhams” (100,000 = 5,000 dinars) for “dinars,” a clerical error as the sequel shows.

[FN#662] “Young slaves,” says Richardson, losing “colour.”

[FN#663] Nothing more calculated to give affront than such a refusal. Richardson (p. 204) who, however, doubts his own version (p. 208), here translates, “and I will not give liberty to my soul (spouse) but in her apartments.” The Arabic, or rather Cairene, is, “wa lá akhalli rúhi” I will not let myself go, i.e., be my everyday self, etc.

[FN#664] “Whilst she is in astonishment and terror.” (Richardson.)

[FN#665] “Chamber of robes,” Richardson, whose text has “Nám” for “Manám.”

[FN#666] “Till I compleat her distress,” Richardson, whose text is corrupt.

[FN#667] “Sleep by her side,” R. the word “Name” bearing both senses.

[FN#668] “Will take my hand,” R. “takabbal” being also ambiguous.

[FN#669] Arab. “Mu’arras” one who brings about “’Ars,” marriages, etc. So the Germ. = “Kupplerinn” a Coupleress. It is one of the many synonyms for a pimp, and a word in general use (Pilgrimage i., 276).The most insulting term, like Dayyús, insinuates that the man panders for his own wife.

[FN#670] Of hands and face, etc. See Night cccclxiv.

[FN#671] Arab. “Sadakah” (sincerity), voluntary or superogatory alms, opposed to “Zakát” (purification), legal alms which are indispensable. “Prayer carries us half way to Allah, fasting brings us to the door of His palace and alms deeds (Sadakah) cause us to enter.” For “Zakát” no especial rate is fixed, but it should not be less than one-fortieth of property or two and a half per cent. Thus Al-lslam is, as far as I know, the only faith which makes a poor-rate (Zakát) obligatory and which has invented a property-tax, as opposed the unjust and unfair income-tax upon which England prides herself.

[FN#672] A Greek girl.

[FN#673] This was making himself very easy; and the idea is the gold in the pouch caused him to be so bold. Lane’s explanation (in loco) is all wrong. The pride engendered by sudden possession of money is a lieu commun amongst Eastern story tellers; even in the beast-fables the mouse which has stolen a few gold pieces becomes confident and stout-hearted.

[FN#674] Arab. “al-Málihah” also means the beautiful (fem.) from Milh=salt, splendour, etc., the Mac edit. has “Mumallihah” = a salt-vessel.

[FN#675] i.e., to see if he felt the smart.

[FN#676] Arab. “Sardábeh” (Persian)=an underground room used for coolness in the hot season. It is unknown in Cairo but every house in Baghdad, in fact throughout the Mesopotamian cities, has one. It is on the principle of the underground cellar without which wine will not keep: Lane (i., 406) calls it a “vault”.

[FN#677] In the orig. “O old woman!” which is insulting.

[FN#678] So the Italians say “a quail to skin.”

[FN#679] “Amen” is the word used for quarter on the battle-field; and there are Joe Millers about our soldiers in India mistaking it for “a man” or (Scottice) “a mon.”

[FN#680] Illustrating the Persian saying “Allah himself cannot help a fool.”

[FN#681] Any article taken from the person and given to a criminal is a promise of pardon, of course on the implied condition of plenary confession and of becoming “King’s evidence.”

[FN#682] A naïve proposal to share the plunder.

[FN#683] In popular literature “Schacabac.”, And from this tale comes our saying “A Barmecide’s Feast,” i.e., an illusion.

[FN#684] The Castrato at the door is still (I have said) the fashion of Cairo and he acts “Suisse” with a witness.

[FN#685] As usual in the East, the mansion was a hollow square surrounding what in Spain is called Patio: the outer entrance was far from the inner, showing the extent of the grounds.

[FN#686] “Nahnu málihín” = we are on terms of salt, said and say the Arabs. But the traveller must not trust in these days to the once sacred tie; there are tribes which will give bread with one hand and stab with the other. The Eastern use of salt is a curious contrast with that of Westerns, who made it an invidious and inhospitable distinction, e.g., to sit above the salt-cellar and below the salt. Amongst the ancients, however, “he took bread and salt” means he swore, the food being eaten when an oath was taken. Hence the “Bride cake” of salt, water and flour.

[FN#687] Arab. “Harísah,” the meat-pudding before explained.

[FN#688] Arab. “Sikbáj,” before explained; it is held to be a lordly dish, invented by Khusraw Parwiz. “Fatted duck” says the Bresl. Edit. ii., 308, with more reason.

[FN#689] I was reproved in Southern Abyssinia for eating without this champing, “Thou feedest like a beggar who muncheth silently in his corner;” and presently found that it was a sign of good breeding to eat as noisily as possible.

[FN#690] Barley in Arabia is, like our oats, food for horses: it fattens at the same time that it cools them. Had this been known to our cavalry when we first occupied Egypt in 1883-4 our losses in horse-flesh would have been far less; but official ignorance persisted in feeding the cattle upon heating oats and the riders upon beef, which is indigestible, instead of mutton, which is wholesome.

[FN#691] i.e. “I conjure thee by God.”

[FN#692] i.e. “This is the very thing for thee.”

[FN#693] i.e., at random.

[FN#694] This is the way of slaughtering the camel, whose throat is never cut on account of the thickness of the muscles. “Égorger un chameau” is a mistake often made in French books.

[FN#695] i.e. I will break bounds.

[FN#696] The Arabs have a saying corresponding with the dictum of the Salernitan school:—

Noscitur a labiis quantum sit virginis antrum: Noscitur a naso quanta sit haste viro; (A maiden’s mouth shows what’s the make of her chose; And man’s mentule one knows by the length of his nose.)

Whereto I would add:—

And the eyebrows disclose how the lower wig grows.

The observations are purely empirical but, as far as my experience extends, correct.

[FN#697] Arab. “Kahkahah,” a very low proceeding.

[FN#698] Or “for every death there is a cause;” but the older Arabs had a saying corresponding with “Deus non fecit mortem.”

[FN#699] The King’s barber is usually a man of rank for the best of reasons, that he holds his Sovereign’s life between his fingers. One of these noble Figaros in India married an English lady who was, they say, unpleasantly surprised to find out what were her husband’s official duties.

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