IN days of yore and in times and tides long gone before, there dwelt in a certain town of Persia two brothers, one named Kasim and the other Ali Baba, who at their father’s demise had divided the little wealth he had left to them with equitable division, and had lost no time in wasting and spending it all. The elder, however, presently took to himself a wife, the daughter of an opulent merchant, so that when his father-in-law fared to the mercy of Almighty Allah, he became owner of a large shop filled with rare goods and costly wares and of a storehouse stocked with precious stuffs, likewise of much gold that was buried in the ground. Thus was he known throughout the city as a substantial man. But the woman whom Ali Baba had married was poor and needy. They lived, therefore, in a mean hovel, and Ali Baba eked out a scanty livelihood by the sale of fuel which he daily collected in the jungle and carried about the town to the bazaar upon his three asses.
The Arabian Nights have inspired writers, poets, composers and painters in the West.
In 1882, Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of ‘Treasure Island,’ wrote:
‘There is one book, for example, more generally loved than Shakespeare, that captivates in childhood, and still delights in age – I mean the ARABIAN NIGHTS – where you shall look in vain for moral or for intellectual interest. No human face or voice greets us among that wooden crowd of kings and genies, sorcerers and beggarmen. Adventure, on the most naked terms, furnishes forth the entertainment and is found enough.’
The Arabian Nights have a history that is largely mysterious. However, it is widely considered that they may include tales told by ancient travelers and merchants along the Chinese Silk Route. As they made their way from Northern China to the Middle East and Egypt, the travelers stopped in various towns and trading posts where they would tell these stories to each other for entertainment.
There lived once in Baghdad a very wealthy man, who lost all his substance and became so poor, that he could only earn his living by excessive labour. One night, he lay down to sleep, dejected and sick at heart, and saw in a dream one who said to him, ‘Thy fortune is at Cairo; go thither and seek it.’ So he set out for Cairo; but, when he arrived there, night overtook him and he lay down to sleep in a mosque.
Translation by Edward Lane (1841)
Illustration by Edmund Dulac (1907)
IN former days there lived in a town of Persia two brothers, one named Kasim, and the other ‘Ali Baba. Their father divided a small inheritance equally between them. Kasim married a rich wife, and became a wealthy merchant. ‘Ali Baba married a woman as poor as himself, and lived by cutting wood and bringing it upon three asses into the town to sell.
IT has been related to me, O happy King, said Shahrazad, that there was a certain merchant who had great wealth, and traded extensively with surrounding countries; and one day he mounted his horse, and journeyed to a neighbouring country to collect what was due to him, and, the heat oppressing him, he sat under a tree, in a garden, and put his hand into his saddle-bag, and ate a morsel of bread and a date which were among his provisions. Having eaten the date, he threw aside the stone, and immediately there appeared before him an ‘Efrit, of enormous height, who, holding a drawn sword in his hand, approached him, and said, Rise, that I may kill thee, as thou hast killed my son. the merchant asked him, How have I killed thy son? He answered, When thou atest the date, and threwest aside the stone, it struck my son upon the chest, and, as fate had decreed against him, he instantly died.