And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of the day, and ceased saying her permitted say. Then quoth Dunyazad, “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?”
Part 2 of the reading project left us at the end of the 5th night, and with the subplots of the Fisherman and the Jinni concluded. The 6th begins now, with the peculiar conclusion of the tale, and the pitiful Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince.
The Fisherman and the Jinni
As always, a truly in-depth summary of the tale can be found on Faith’s post at Beyond the Dreamline. I’ll offer my own, in brevity, here.
The Fisherman, now done with his cautionary tale of the mystic Duban, tells the Jinni that he has every intention of throwing his jug back into the ocean, and will warn all who come to this part of the sea in the future against opening it. The Jinni doubles up, promising the fisherman great wealth (as he should have from the beginning) if only he is released, citing that even Allah tells his followers to have mercy on those that aggrieve them.
The Fisherman finally relents and opens the jug–at which point the Jinni takes his prison and chucks it out into the sea as far as he can. In this moment, the fisherman “piddled in his clothes”, but instead, the Jinni keeps his promise, leading the fisherman to a great oasis where red, blue, yellow, and white fish are swimming. He instructs the fisherman to catch one of each and go sell them to the sultan.
The fisherman does so, and is rewarded handsomely for his catch. However, every time the cook girl tries to fry the fish for the sultan, a strange woman comes out of the wall and tells them to remain true to their covenant, before zapping them to char. The sultan, frustrated, has the fisherman catch the same type of fish two more times. The second time, the Wazir observes the woman appear from the wall and decides that the sultan needs to be made aware of the oddity. However, when the sultan comes to watch on the third try, it is a black slave that emerges from the wall to char the fish after making them reaffirm their vows.
The sultan, quite stunned, calls the fisherman once more and tells him to lead he and his party to this oasis where the fisherman fishes. Oddly, none of the sultan’s guard can ever remember having seen the oasis before. The sultan and his men pitch their camp, and we never hear again from the fisherman.
Before the next tale can begin, however, the sultan must meet the Ensorcelled Prince, a man who has been half turned to stone by his adulterous wife. Not only that, but he is whipped repeatedly by her every night for trying to kill her lover, and striking him dumb instead. He finds the prince in a strange, empty palace, a man of handsome quality who (apparently) sings his laments to the night while he waits for his cruel wife to descend upon him again. When the sultan discovers the youth’s legs have been turned to stone, he begs the prince to tell him his story:
The Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince
In what could be one of Sharazad’s more terrible tales of spite, we learn of the Prince, and his lovely wife/cousin, who is perfect in every way. Both beautiful and kind, tender and sweet, the prince is left wanting for nothing. However, one day over his bathing, he hears his handmaids talking about what a horrible two-timing “slut” his wife is, and in an instant, his world is shattered.
Through the maids, and then his own trickery, he finds out that every night his wife has been giving him drugged wine, before doing the verbal version of spitting on him (“Sleep out the night, and never wake again: by Allah I loathe thee and I loathe thy whole body, and my soul turneth in disgust from cohabiting with thee; and I see not the moment when Allah shall snatch away thy life!”), steals his sword and runs off to find her black lover, who comes with his own ‘colorful’ assortment of descriptions:
She went forth … till she came at last to the outlying mounds (the rubbish heaps that outline the city, some as high as 100 feet – Burton) … and lo! my fair cousin had gone in to a hideous negro slave with his upper lip like the cover of a pot, and his lower like an open pot; … He was to boot a leper and a paralytic, lying upon a strew of sugar-cane trash and wrapped in an old blanket and the foulest rags and tatters.
His wife promptly kisses the ground before the slave, but he is quick to complain about how long she has been gone, because he could not take part in the festivities with his mates for her not being there. She curses the name of her husband, the prince, once more, and interestingly, the slave doubts her love, saying, in essence, that he is not so sure she is not simply using him to satisfy her “dirty lusts”.
Burton notes here that there was a belief amongst men at the time (which he too believed) that there is always a worthless man for whom a woman will throw away all she has. In his own words, “We have all known women who sacrificed everything despite themselves, as it were, for the most worthless of men. The world stares and scoffs and blames and understands nothing. There is for every woman one man and only one in whose slavery she is ‘ready to sweep the floor.’ Fate is mostly opposed to her meeting him but, when she does, adieu husband and children, humour and religion, life and soul.” He then goes on to talk about human nature’s love of contrasts, and sees that love as the reason that many ugly men find themselves so successful with beautiful women.
In any case, the wife assures the slave of her proper intentions, and he offers her a dinner of beer leavings and gruel comprised of enough out-of-date ingredients to make this reader’s stomach turn. After she eats, she climbs into the rags to be intimate with the slave–and finally the prince can stand it no longer, rushing forward to execute both of them. Of course, his sword misses its mark, striking the slave in the throat. He runs before either of them have a chance to see him (not really sure why he didn’t just finish the job…)
Afterwards, his wife returns and proclaims she must go into mourning for her mother and father, who have both died unexpectedly, and her brother, who lost his eyes to a snake-bite. The prince allows this, and even goes so far as to build her a lamentations tomb in his own house… which she obviously uses to hide the slave he’d struck dumb. This carries on for three entire years, with the wife wailing and sobbing for the loss of her lover’s vitality. At the end of the third year, the prince loses it, and yells at his wife, revealing that it was he who had harmed her lover so irreparably.
She flies off the floor like a banshee, screaming obscenities that are rejoined with words I really can’t put on this blog. In any case, the fight ends with the prince’s bottom half being turned to stone. But, the wife doesn’t stop there. She enchants his entire city, turning Muslims into white fish, Magians into red fish, Christians into blue fish, and the Jewish into yellow. Then, she set him on the dias he was still sitting on when the sultan (remember him?) found him, every day leaving the tomb where her lover is to strike him one hundred times with a bull whip.
The sultan naturally takes pity on this abused man, and hatches a clever plot to restore the prince and his kingdom. Again, Faith does a lovely job explaining this in detail, and there is not much of a difference between her translation and mine, so I recommend reading it. In short, the sultan rushes into the House of Lamentations and deals the slave the killing blow, before tossing his body down a well and dressing as him. With impeccable impersonation skills, he manages to convince the wife that he has not been able to get well due to the sadness of the prince and the people of his court, and will not recover until she undoes the wrongs she exacted over them. The wife, overjoyed to have her lover speaking again, frees the prince and his people, returns the kingdom back into its former glory, and returns to her “lover”. The sultan promptly kills her, violently.
In the end, the prince is so pleased to have met the sultan (and with the magic broken, his palace is returned to its rightful location, a year away from the sultan’s own) that he can not think of parting from the other’s company, so the sultan adopts him, and when they get back to his own home, he and the prince marry the fisherman’s two daughters. As an extra boon for the fisherman, his son is made a treasurer, so none in his family will ever be wanting.
I guess the Jinni really did make good on his promise!
The 9th night is nearly over by this time, but Sharazad needs her cliffhanger, or its her head. She begins what is so far the most riotous and amusing story of the Nights: The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.
Since this story spans nine full nights, I’ll pick it up next time.