The Arabian Nights, or The Thousand Nights and One Night, translated by Richard F. Burton
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?”
So continues the lengthy tale of “The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.” Part 4 left us in the three ladies’ house, at the beginning of the first Kalandar’s tale on how he lost his left eye.
Note: Contains adult themes and violence.
The Porter & the Three Ladies of Baghdad (II)
As always, a truly in-depth summary of the tale can be found on Faith’s posts (#7-10) at Beyond the Dreamline. I’ll offer my own, in brevity, here. For the sake of not giving away everything, I will be focusing more on the essential events of each story.
It is the middle of the 11th Night, and Sharazad has just begun the tale of the First Kalandar. Of the three men’s stories, his is probably the most straightforward, and sympathetic.
A prince by birth, the First Kalandar’s fortunes fall into ruin after helping his cousin (also a prince) elope with a woman his father did not approve of. Given instruction to mortar up a passageway after they descend into it, the prince does so, too drunk to realize what sort of effect this might have in the coming days.
The next morning, the prince realizes his error and tries to find the passage again, but can’t. Distraught, he returns to his own country (hoping his cousin’s father will not question him). However, when he gets there, he finds out his father has been killed and the throne has been usurped by a Wazir he accidentally blinded in his youth. The Wazir promptly takes advantage of his new power to tear out the prince’s eye in retribution. Though the Wazir also orders the prince to be beheaded, the prince’s former slave can’t bring himself to do it, and tells the prince to run.
The prince immediately runs back to the homeland of his cousin, only to find the father wasting away with worry over his missing son. Finally, the prince admits the part he played in the cousin’s disappearance, and they go looking once more. They find the hole this time, and rush to find the prince’s cousin… only to find him, and his new wife, black as charcoal on the bed. Rather than grieve, the father is outraged, and spits on their corpses. When the prince begs the other to show more sorrow, the father explains that the reason he had been against their marriage was that the woman was the cousin’s sister. The prince is obviously horrified. It is suggested that the two were burned alive as divine punishment for their sins.
The cousin’s father decides to adopt the prince, given both of their sorry situations, but the trouble doesn’t stop there: the Wazir, power-hungry, has decided to invade this country as well.
He had come down on us with armies like the sands of the sea.
Seeing nothing else for it, the king begs the prince to seek out the Prince of the Faithful to get help. Thus, the prince became a Kalandar and began his journey, soon meeting up with the Second and Third Kalandar, and finally, ending up in the women’s home.
Here, the women forgive him his punishment, and demand the story of the Second Kalandar, a man so despicable he almost ruined the entire story for me.
The Second Kalandar is a cowardly and opportunistic man who also believes himself faultless. We are supposed to be sympathetic, but I can hardly summon the emotion.
This Kalandar, also a prince, well learned in every subject, but especially calligraphy, is summoned to a foreign land by a king who wishes to make his acquaintance. Eager to accept such a handsome invite, the prince loads several ships full of gifts and sets sail. However, once they land, they are robbed quite suddenly by a band of fifty highwaymen. The prince alone is able to escape with his life, braving the desert for many days with no supply to sustain him. Eventually, he comes across a small town, and the hut of a tailor, who kindly takes him in.
The tailor also tells him, upon hearing his story, to never mention his origins, as the king who summoned him has been in a feud with his father for many decades. Unfortunately, none of this buildup is relevant to the plot.
The prince, understanding that he must now hide as a peasant until the opportunity comes to make his way home, takes up being a woodcutter for a whole year. One morning he comes upon a trap door in the middle of the forest. Rather than be suspicious, he immediately decides to investigate, and finds the bride of a Jinni in the interior. While the bride turns out to be a woman kidnapped on her wedding night, she has no trouble inviting the prince to her bed, glad to have company with whom she can speak, human to human.
The prince finds this woman more beautiful than any on earth (and you can guess this means trouble), falls madly in love with her, and proclaims that he will fight the Jinni to free her (for selfish reasons). The woman begs him to reconsider, in that the Jinni doesn’t visit her often, and he will get to have the majority of her time, if he will only share her with her “husband” when she must be with him.
He refuses, kicks the hearth, which summons the Jinni… and as soon as the Jinni appears, he runs away. Leaving the woman to handle her angered husband by herself. Even hearing her screams, he books it back to the tailor’s home, overlooking the fact that he has left his axe and shoes as evidence in the wife’s apartments. Naturally the Jinni is able to trace them back to him, and when he finds the prince, forces him back into the woods for questioning.
Both the wife and prince deny any knowledge of one another, even when threatened with death. The woman is so stubborn with the secret that the Jinni kills her, first lopping off her hands and feet before taking off her head. This is one of the most violent portrayals of torture in the book so far, which was a bit worrisome for me, at only 120 pages in.
The prince maintains his innocence, and once the woman is dead, demands the Jinni free him, that he was an innocent merely invited in. The Jinni gives him the ultimatum, because he can not prove the two were adulterous, that he can be turned into one of three animals instead of being killed. The prince chooses an ape.
I really do not like this man, so I will be brief: as an ape, he is picked up as a pet by a passing ship, and through a series of events, find out that their monkey also knows his letters. The feat is so wondrous that even the king of the region they sail to desires to meet him. Faith gives a very detailed, and accurate account of what happens here. The daughter of the king recognizes him as a man (sound familiar?) and battles the Jinni that turned him to her untimely death. The prince’s eye is burned out in the process. As one of the few examples so far of a woman both powerful and well thought-of, it was disappointing to see her killed off, but also killed off so callously. The king, however, is heartbroken to have lost his daughter, and rightfully exiles the prince from his lands.
And so he came to meet the first and third Kalandar.
For some reason, the women forgive this man, too, though I think his story speaks plenty of his character.
Then we come to the hapless third Kalandar, and the story of his missing eye. This post is getting long, so I’ll simply sum it up in a couple of sentences (Beyond the Dreamline has a whole post dedicated to this tale): A prince accidentally kills the one heir of an aging king, before going into hiding, and coming across a group of Kalandars that are all missing their left eye. When he presses them for their story, against their warnings not to do so, they send him off to experience what had given them their affliction. There he finds dozens of virgins all ready to love and pamper him until the end of time, so long as he will not go into one room while they are away. Guess what he does?
Yep. And then he is promptly thrown from Paradise, sans his left eye, and the Kalandars, disgusted that he too would fall under insatiable curiosity, kick him out the door. And so he goes, and meets the first and second Kalandar.
And the women forgive him, and tell him he is free to go. The women then turn to the Caliph and the Wazir, and the Caliph quickly repeats his lie, before the party is at last disbanded for the night. The next day, the Caliph promptly commands Ja’afar to call on the women, so he can hear their stories, which are about as long as the Kalandars’ were, and far stranger. The Porter is forgotten, which is sort of strange, given it was his story to begin with.
But those tales are for another day.