Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Story of the Fisherman
THERE was a certain fisherman, advanced in age, who had a wife and three children; and though he was in indigent circumstances, it was his custom to cast his net, every day, no more than four times. One day he went forth at the hour of noon to the shore of the sea, and put down his basket, and cast his net, and waited until it was motionless in the water, when he drew together its strings, and found it to be heavy: he pulled, but could not draw it up: so he took the end of the cord, and knocked a stake into the shore, and tied the cord to it. He then stripped himself, and dived round the net, and continued to pull until he drew it out: whereupon he rejoiced, and put on his clothes; but when he came to examine the net, he found in it the carcass of an ass. At the sight of this he mourned, and exclaimed, There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! This is a strange piece of fortune!And he repeated the following verse:
O thou who occupiest thyself in the darkness of night, and in peril!
Spare thy trouble; for the support of Providence is not obtained by toil!
He then disencumbered his net of the dead ass, and wrung it out; after which he spread it, and descended into the sea, andexclaiming, In the name of God!cast it again, and waited till it had sunk and was still, when he pulled it, and found it more heavy and more difficult to raise than on the former occasion. He therefore concluded that it was full of fish: so he tied it, and stripped, and plunged and dived, and pulled until he raised it, and drew it upon the shore; when he found in it only a large jar, full of sand and mud; on seeing which, he was troubled in his heart, and repeated the following words of the poet:
O angry fate, forbear! or, if thou wilt not forbear, relent!
Neither favour from fortune do I gain, nor profit from the work of my hands.
I came forth to seek my sustenance, but have found it to be exhausted.
How many of the ignorant are in splendor! and how many of the wise, in obscurity!
So saying, he threw aside the jar, and wrung out and cleansed his net; and, begging the forgiveness of God for his impatience, returned to the sea the third time, and threw the net, and waited till it had sunk and was motionless: he then drew it out, and found in it a quantity of broken jars and pots.
Upon this, he raised his head towards heaven, and said, O God, Thou knowest that I cast not my net more than four times; and I have now cast it three times! Thenexclaiming, In the name of God!he cast the net again into the sea, and waited till it was still; when he attempted to draw it up, but could not, for it clung to the bottom. And he exclaimed, There is no strength nor power but in God!and he stripped himself again, and dived round the net, and pulled until he raised it upon the shore; when he opened it, and found in it a bottle of brass, filled with something, and having its mouth closed with a stopper of lead, bearing the impression of the seal of our lord Suleyman.1 At the sight of this, the fisherman was rejoiced, and said, This I will sell in the copper-market; for it is worth ten pieces of gold. He then shook it, and found it to be heavy, and said, I must open it, and see what is in it, and store it in my bag; and then I will sell the bottle in the copper-market. So he took out a knife, and picked at the lead until he extracted it from the bottle. He then laid the bottle on the ground, and shook it, that its contents might pour out; but there came forth from it nothing but smoke, which ascended towards the sky, and spread over the face of the earth; at which he wondered excessively. And after a little while, the smoke collected together, and was condensed, and then became agitated, and was converted into an Efrit, whose head was in the clouds, while his feet rested upon the ground: his head was like a dome: his hands were like winnowing forks; and his legs, like masts: his mouth resembled a cavern: his teeth were like stones; his nostrils, like trumpets; and his eyes, like lamps; and he had dishevelled and dust-coloured hair.
When the fisherman beheld this Efrit, the muscles of his sides quivered, his teeth were locked together, his spittle dried up, and he saw not his way. The Efrit, as soon as he perceived him, exclaimed, There is no deity but God; Suleyman is the Prophet of God. O Prophet of God, slay me not; for I will never again oppose thee in word, or rebel against thee in deed!O Marid, said the fisherman, dost thou say, Suleyman is the Prophet of God? Suleyman hath been dead a thousand and eight hundred years; and we are now in the end of time. What is thy history, and what is thy tale, and what was the cause of thy entering this bottle? When the Marid heard these words of the fisherman, he said, There is no deity but God! Receive news, O fisherman! Of what, said the fisherman, dost thou give me news? He answered, Of thy being instantly put to a most cruel death. The fisherman exclaimed, Thou deservest, for this news, O master of the Efrits, the withdrawal of protection from thee, O thou remote!2 Wherefore wouldst thou kill me? and what requires thy killing me, when I have liberated thee from the bottle, and rescued thee from the bottom of the sea, and brought thee up upon the dry land?The Efrit answered, Choose what kind of death thou wilt die, and in what manner thou shalt be killed. What is my offence, said the fisherman, that this should be my recompense from thee? The Efrit replied, Hear my story, O fisherman.Tell it then, said the fisherman, and be short in thy words; for my soul hath sunk down to my feet.
Know then, said he, that I am one of the heretical Jinn: I rebelled against Suleyman the son of Daud; I and Sakhr the Jinni; and he sent to me his Wezir, Asaf the son of Barkhiya, who came upon me forcibly, and took me to him in bonds, and placed me before him: and when Suleyman saw me, he offered up a prayer for protection against me, and exhorted me to embrace the faith, and to submit to his authority; but I refused; upon which he called for this bottle, and confined me in it, and closed it upon me with the leaden stopper, which he stamped with the Most Great Name: he then gave orders to the Jinn, who carried me away, and threw me into the midst of the sea. There I remained a hundred years; and I said in my heart, Whosoever shall liberate me, I shall enrich him for ever:but the hundred years passed over me, and no one liberated me: and I entered upon another hundred years; and I said, Whosoever shall liberate me, I will open to him the treasures of the earth;but no one did so: and four hundred years more passed over me, and I said, Whosoever shall liberate me, I will perform for him three wants:but still no one liberated me. I then fell into a violent rage, and said within myself, Whosoever shall liberate me now, I will kill him; and only suffer him to choose in what manner he will die. And lo, now thou hast liberated me, and I have given thee thy choice of the manner in which thou wilt die.
When the fisherman had heard the story of the Efrit, he exclaimed, O Allah! that I should not have liberated thee but in such a time as this! Then said he to the Efrit, Pardon me, and kill me not, and so may God pardon thee; and destroy me not, lest God give power over thee to one who will destroy thee. The Marid answered, I must positively kill thee; therefore choose by what manner of death thou wilt die. The fisherman then felt assured of his death; but he again implored the Efrit, saying, Pardon me by way of gratitude for my liberating thee.Why, answered the Efrit, I am not going to kill thee but for that very reason, because thou hast liberated me.O Sheykh of the Efrits, said the fisherman, do I act kindly towards thee, and dost thou recompense me with baseness? But the proverb lieth not that saith,
We did good to them, and they returned us the contrary; and such, by my life, is the conduct of the wicked.
Thus he who acteth kindly to the under serving is recompensed in the same manner as the aider of Umm-Amir.3
The Efrit, when he heard these words, answered by saying, Covet not life, for thy death is unavoidable. Then said the fisherman within himself, This is a Jinni, and I am a man; and God hath given me sound reason; therefore, I will now plot his destruction with my art and reason, like as he hath plotted with his cunning and perfidy. So he said to the Efrit, Hast thou determined to kill me? He answered, Yes. Then said he, By the Most Great Name engraved upon the seal of Suleyman, I will ask thee one question; and wilt thou answer it to me truly? On hearing the mention of the Most Great Name, the Efrit was agitated, and trembled, and replied, Yes; ask, and be brief. The fisherman then said, How wast thou in this bottle? It will not contain thy hand or thy foot; how then can it contain thy whole body?Dost thou not believe that I was in it? said the Efrit. The fisherman answered, I will never believe thee until I see thee in it. Upon this, the Efrit shook, and became converted into smoke, which rose to the sky and then became condensed, and entered the bottle by little and little, until it was all enclosed when the fisherman hastily snatched the sealed leaden stopper, and, having replaced it in the mouth of the bottle, called out to the Efrit, and said, Choose in what manner of death thou wilt die. I will assuredly throw thee here into the sea, and build me a house on this spot; and whosoever shall come here, I will prevent his fishing in this place, and will say to him, Here is an Efrit, who to any person that deliberates him, will propose various kinds of death, and then give him his choice of one of them. On hearing these words of the fisherman, the Efrit endeavoured to escape; but could not, finding himself restrained by the impression of the seal of Suleyman, and thus imprisoned by the fisherman as the vilest and filthiest and least of Efrits. The fisherman then took the bottle to the brink of the sea. The Efrit exclaimed, Nay! nay!to which the fisherman answered, Yea, without fail! yea, without fail! The Marid then addressing him with a soft voice and humble manner, said, What dost thou intend to do with me, O fisherman? He answered, I will throw thee into the sea; and if thou hast been there a thousand and eight hundred years, I will make thee to remain there until the hour of judgment. Did I not say to thee, Spare me, and so may God spare thee; and destroy me not, lest God destroy thee? But thou didst reject my petition, and wouldst nothing but treachery; therefore God hath caused to fall into my hand, and I have betrayed thee.Open to me, said the Efrit, that I may confer benefits upon thee. The fisherman replied, Thou liest, thou accursed! I and thou are like the Wezir of King Yunan and the sage Duban.What, said the Efrit, was the case of the Wezir Yunan and the sage Duban, and what is their story? The fisherman answered as follows:
Note 1. No man ever obtained such absolute power over the Jinn as Suleyman Ibn-Daud (Solomon, the Son of David). This he did by virtue of a most wonderful talisman, which is said to have come down to him from heaven. It was a seal-ring, upon which was engraved the most great name of God; and partly composed of brass, and partly of iron. With the brass he stamped with written commands to the good Jinn; with the iron [which they greatly dread], those to the evil Jinn, or Devils. Over both orders he had unlimited power; as well as over the birds and the winds, and, as is generally said, the wild beasts. His Wezir, Asaf the son of Barkhiya, is also said to have been acquainted with the most great name, by uttering which the greatest miracles may be performed; even that of raising the dead. By virtue of this name, engraved on his ring, Suleyman compelled the Jinn to assist in building the Temple of Jerusalem, and in various other works. Many of the evil Jinn he converted to the true faith; and many others of this class, who remained obstinate in infidelity, he confined in prisons. [back]
Note 2. [Implying a malediction, but excepting bystanders.] [back]