Friday, January 31, 2014

Shahrázád (Scheherazade), The Frame Tale of The Arabian Nights

La Premièr Nuit de Schéhérazade by Léon Carré

and Her Thousand Nights and a Night






Praise be to Him who hath made the histories of the Past an admonition unto the Present!

  In the chronicles of the ancient dynasty of the Sassanidae, 
who reigned for about four hundred years, from Persia to the borders of China, beyond the great river Ganges itself, we read the praises of one of the kings of this race, who was said to be the best monarch of his time. His subjects loved him, and his neighbors feared him, and when he died he left his kingdom in a more prosperous and powerful condition than any king had done before him.

The two sons who survived him loved each other tenderly, and it was a real grief to the elder, Shahryár, that the laws of the empire forbade him to share his dominions with his brother Shah Zamán. Indeed, after ten years, during which this state of things had not ceased to trouble him, Shahryár cut off the country of Great Tartary from the Persian Empire and made Shah Zamán king.

Now this Sultan Shahryár had a wife whom he loved more than all the world, and his greatest happiness was to surround her with splendor, and to give her the finest dresses and the most beautiful jewels. It was therefore with the deepest shame and sorrow that it was accidentally discovered, after several years, that she had deceived him completely. She had broken her marriage vow, and her whole conduct turned out to have been so incredibly bad, that he felt himself obliged to carry out the law of the land, and order the Grand-Wazír to put her to death before all the people.

The blow was so heavy that the Sultan’s mind almost gave way, and he declared that he was quite sure that at bottom all women were as wicked as the Sultana, if you could only find them out, and that the fewer the world contained the better. So every evening he married a fresh wife and had her beheaded the following morning before the Grand-Wazír, whose duty it was to provide these unhappy brides for the Sultan. The poor man fulfilled his task with reluctance, but there was no escape, and every day saw a girl married and a wife dead.

This behavior caused the greatest horror in the town, where nothing was heard but cries and lamentations. In one house was a father weeping for the loss of his daughter, in another a mother trembling for the fate of her child; and instead of the blessings that had formerly been heaped on the Sultan's head, the air was now full of curses.

The Grand-Wazír himself was the father of two daughters, of whom the elder was called *Shahrázád, and the younger Dunyázád.  Shahrázád was clever and courageous in the highest degree. Her father had given her the best masters in philosophy, medicine, science, and the fine arts. She had also read various books of histories, and the lives of preceding kings, and stories of past generations: it is asserted that she had collected together a thousand books of histories, relating to preceding generations and kings, and works of the poets, and besides all this, her beauty excelled that of any girl in the kingdom of Persia.

Shahrázád's sister, Dunyázád, was still very young, and she was a most loyal and loving sister.

One day, when the Grand-Wazír was talking to his eldest daughter, who was his delight and pride, Shahrázád said to him, "Father, I have a favor to ask of you. Will you grant it to me?"

"I can refuse you nothing," replied he, "that is just and reasonable."

"Then listen," said Shahrázád. "I am determined to stop this barbarous practice of the Sultan's, and to deliver the girls of this kingdom from the awful fate that hangs over them."

"It would be an excellent thing to do," returned the Grand-Wazír, "but how do you propose to accomplish it?"

"My father," answered Shahrázád, "it is you who have to provide the Sultan daily with a fresh wife, and I implore you, by all the affection you bear me, to allow the honor to fall upon me."

"Have you lost your senses?" cried the Grand-Wazír, starting back in horror. "What has put such a thing into your head? You ought to know by this time what it means to be the sultan's bride!"

"Yes, my father, I know it well," replied she, "and I am not afraid to think of it. If I fail, my death will be a glorious one, and if I succeed I shall have done a great service to my country."

"It is of no use," said the Grand-Wazír, "I shall never consent. If the Sultan was to order me to plunge a dagger in your heart, I should have to obey. What a task for a father! Ah, if you do not fear death, fear at any rate the anguish you would cause me."

He even related to her a story that he hoped would help to turn her mind away from this hopeless desire that she had to become the Sultan’s bride. But her determination to go to the palace remained unchanged.

"Once again, my father," insisted Shahrázád, "will you grant me what I ask?"

"What, are you still so obstinate?" exclaimed the Grand-Wazír. "Why are you so resolved upon your own ruin?"

But the maiden absolutely refused to attend to her father's words, and at length, in despair, the Grand-Wazír gave way to her request, and went sadly to the palace to tell the Sultan that the following evening he would bring him Shahrázád.

The Sultan received this news with the greatest astonishment.

"How have you made up your mind," he asked, "to sacrifice your own daughter to me?"

"Sire," answered the Grand-Wazír, "it is her own wish. Even the sad fate that awaits her could not hold her back."

"Let there be no mistake, Wazír," said the Sultan. "Remember you will have to take her life yourself. If you refuse, I swear that your head shall pay forfeit."

"Sire," returned the Wazír. "Whatever the cost, I will obey you. Though a father, I am your faithful subject." So the Sultan told the Grand-Wazír he might bring his daughter as soon as he liked.

The Wazír took back this news to Shahrázád, who received it as if it had been the most pleasant thing in the world. She thanked her father warmly for yielding to her wishes, and, seeing him still bowed down with grief, told him that she hoped he would never repent having allowed her to marry the Sultan. Then she went to prepare herself for the marriage, and begged that her sister Dunyázád should be sent for that she might speak to her.

When they were alone, Shahrázád addressed her thus: "My dear sister, I want your help in a very important affair. My father is going to take me to the palace to celebrate my marriage with the Sultan. When his Highness receives me, I shall beg him, as a last favor, to let you come to me, so that I may have your company during the last night I am alive. If, as I hope, he grants me my wish, be sure that you wake me an hour before the dawn, and speak to me in these words: ‘My sister, if you are not asleep, I beg you, before the sun rises, to tell me one of your strange stories.’ Then I shall begin, and I hope by this means to deliver the people from the terror that reigns over them."
Dunyázád replied that she would do with pleasure what her sister wished.

When the usual hour arrived the Grand-Wazír conducted Shahrázád to the palace, and left her alone with the Sultan, who bade her raise her veil and was amazed at her beauty. But seeing her eyes full of tears, he asked what was the matter. "Sire," replied Shahrázád, "I have a sister who loves me as tenderly as I love her. Grant me the favor of allowing her to sleep nearby this night, as it is the last we shall be together." Shahryár consented to Shahrázád's petition and Dunyázád was sent for.

An hour before daybreak Dunyázád awoke, and exclaimed, as she had promised, "My dear sister, if you are not asleep, tell me I pray you, before the sun rises, one of your strange stories. It is the last time that I shall have the pleasure of hearing you."

Shahrázád did not answer her sister, but turned to the Sultan. "Will your highness permit me to do as my sister asks?" said she.

"Willingly," he answered, for he was restless and pleased with the idea of listening to a story. And so on the first night of the thousand and one, Shahrázád began

The Tale of the Merchant and the Jinni.

It has been related to me, O auspicious King, said Shahrázád, 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 neighboring 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 Ifrit, 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!

Shahrázád, at this point, seeing that it was day, and knowing that the Sultan always rose very early to attend the council, stopped speaking.

"Indeed, sister," said Dunyázád, "this is a wonderful story."
"The rest is still more wonderful," replied Shahrázád, "and you would say so, if the sultan would allow me to live another day, and would give me leave to tell it to you the next night."
Shahryár, who had been listening to Shahrázád with pleasure, said to himself, "I will wait till to-morrow; I can always have her killed when I have heard the end of her story."
All this time the Grand-Wazír was in a terrible state of anxiety. But he was much delighted when he saw the Sultan enter the council-chamber without giving the terrible command that he was expecting.
The next morning, before the day broke, Dunyázád said, "Dear sister, if you are awake I pray you to go on with your story."
The Sultan did not wait for Shahrázád to ask his leave. "By all means, finish the story of the jinni and the merchant," he said. "I am curious to hear the end."

So Shahrázád went on with the story.

This happened every morning; the Sultana told a story, and the Sultan let her live to finish it.

On the hundred and forty-fifth night, when Shahrázád had made an end of the history of King Omar teen Ennuman and his sons, Shahryár said to her, "I desire that you tell me some story about birds."

Dunyázád, hearing this, said to her sister, "All this while I have never seen the Sultan light at heart till this night; and this gives me hope that the issue may be a happy one for you with him."

Then drowsiness overcame the Sultan; so he slept and Shahrázád, perceiving the approach of day, was silent. 

When it was the hundred and forty-sixth night, Shahrázád began as follows: "I have heard tell, O august King, that in              

The Story of the Birds and Beasts and the
Son of Adam a peacock once abode with his mate on the sea-shore, in a place that abounded in trees and streams, but was infested with lions and all manner of other wild beasts, and for fear of these latter, the two birds were wont to roost by night upon a tree, going forth by day in quest of food. They abode thus awhile, till, their fear increasing on them, they cast about for some other place wherein to dwell, and in the course of their search, they happened on an island abounding in trees and streams. So they alighted there and ate of its fruits and drank of its waters. Whilst they were thus engaged, up came a duck, in a state of great affright, and stayed not till she reached the tree on which the two peacocks were perched, when she seemed reassured. The peacock asked her the cause of her alarm, to which she replied, 'I am sick for sorrow and my fear of the son of Adam: beware, O beware of the sons of Adam!'

Night followed night.

Story followed story.

And still Shahrázád kept her life, just as she hoped she might when she first determined to sacrifice herself to save her country.
Now, during this long time, Shahrázád had born the King three boy children: so, when she had made an end of another marvelous story, she rose to her feet and kissing ground before him, said, "O King of the time, of the age and the tide, I am your handmaid and these thousand nights and a night have I entertained you with stories of folk of yore and many wonders. May I then make bold to crave a boon of Your Highness?"

He replied, "Ask, O Shahrázád, and it shall be granted to you.”
Whereupon she cried out to the nurses and the eunuchs, saying, "Bring me my children." So they brought them to her in haste, and they were three sons. "O King, these are your children and I crave that you release me from the doom of death, as a dole to these infants, that their mother might remain alive."

When the Sultan heard this, he wept, and pulling the boys to his bosom, said, "By Allah, O Shahrázád, I pardoned you before the coming of these children!"
So she kissed his hands and feet and rejoiced saying, “The Lord make your life long and increase you in majesty!”
When the morning morrowed, the Sultan went forth and, sitting down on the throne of the Kingship, summoned the Lords of his land. When this august host had come before him, he distinguished the Wazír, Shahrázád's father, and treated him with utmost kindness before all the company, and said to him, "Allah protect you for giving me to wife your noble daughter, who has been the means of my repentance from slaying the daughters of my kingdom."

The Sultan commanded that his marriage to Shahrázád should be celebrated throughout the entire kingdom.  The day was set and all the cities decorated after the goodliest fashion and diffused scents and burnt aloes-wood and other perfumes in all the markets and thoroughfares. Then while the drums beat and the flutes and pipes sounded and mimes and mountebanks played and plied their arts, the Sultan lavished on his subjects generous gifts of coin and cloth; and it was indeed a notable day.

King Shahryár commanded to spread the tables with beasts roasted whole, and sweetmeats and all manner of viands, and bade the crier cry to the folk that they should come up to the Divan and eat and drink and that this should be a means of reconciliation between him and them. So, high and low, great and small came up to him and they all ate and drank seven days with their nights.

In due time King Shahryár summoned chroniclers and copyists and bade them write all that had betided him with his wife, first and last; so they wrote this and named it "The Stories of the Thousand Nights and A Night." The book came to thirty volumes and these the Sultan laid up in his treasury.

And the Sultan abode with his wife for many years in all pleasance and solace of life, for that indeed Allah the Most High had changed their annoy into such great joy; and on this wise they continued till they were translated to the ruth* of Almighty Allah.

Then there reigned after them a wise ruler, who loved tales and legends, and he found in the treasury these marvelous stories and wondrous histories, contained in the thirty volumes. So he read in them first to last, and each book astounded and delighted him more than that which preceded it. He admired what he had read therein of description and discourse and rare traits and anecdotes and moral instances and reminiscences, and bade the folk copy them and dispread them over all lands and climes; wherefore their report was bruited* abroad and the people named them "The marvels and wonders of the Thousand Nights and a Night."

This is all that hath come down to us of the origin of this book, and ALLAH is All-knowing. So Glory be to Him whom the shifts of Time waste not away, nor doth aught of chance or change affect His sway: whom one case diverteth not from other case and Who is sole in the attributes of perfect grace.

And prayer and peace be upon the Lord's Chosen One among His creatures, our lord MOHAMMED the Prince of mankind through whom we supplicate Him for a goodly and a godly 


 by Edmund Dulac


How Wonderful Are the Works of Allah!


from the 

One Thousand and One 


 كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎ 

Kitāb alf laylah wa-laylah


*Shahrázád, most often presented as Scheherazade, from the French translations. 

Shahrázád (Persian) = City-freer, probably from Shirzád = lion-born. [from the footnotes in Sir Richard F. Burton’s translation.]

*ruth: a feeling of pity, distress, or grief; from rue; in this instance then we might take the phrase to mean “to within the realm of the pitying or compassionate Allah.”

*bruited: spread a report or rumor widely; from Old French bruit ‘noise’

There were two main sources for this adaptation of the story of Shahrázád: The Arabian Nights Entertainments, edited by Andrew Lang, and Tales from the Arabian Nights, translated by Sir Richard F. Burton. I have also incorporated small sections from the translations of Edward William Lane, and John Payne.


I have chosen to follow Sir Richard’s presentation of names throughout this version of the frame tale.

Burton                             Lang

Shahryár                          Schahriar


Shah Zamán                     Schahzeman


Wazír                              Vizir


Shahrázád                        Scheherazade


Dunyázád                        Dinarzade


Jinni,  Ifrit                        Genius (Latin) 
                                          (now we use Genie, from French)