Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Story of the City of Brass’
The Arabian Nights
Part of Nights 566 and 578: Translation of Edward William Lane

THERE was in olden time, and in an ancient age and period, in Damascus of Syria, a King, one of the Khaleefehs, named Abd-El-Melik, the son of Marwán; and he was sitting, one day, having with him the great men of his empire, consisting of Kings and Sultans, when a discussion took place among them respecting the traditions of former nations. They called to mind the stories of our lord Suleymán the son of Daood (on both of whom be peace!) and the dominion and authority which God (whose name be exalted!) had bestowed upon him, over mankind and the Jinn and the birds and the wild beasts and other things; and they said, We have heard from those who were before us, that God (whose perfection be extolled, and whose name be exalted!) bestowed not upon any one the like of that which He bestowed upon our lord Suleymán, and that he attained to that to which none other attained, so that he used to imprison the Jinn and the Márids and the Devils in bottles of brass, and pour molten lead over them, and seal this cover over them with his signet….  1
  And the Prince of the Faithful, Abd-El-Melik, the son of Marwán, wondered at these words, and said, Extolled be the perfection of God! Suleymán was endowed with a mighty dominion!—And among those who were present in that assembly was En-Fábighah Edh-Dhubyánee; and he said, Tálib hath spoken truth in that which he hath related, and the proof of his veracity is the saying of the Wise, the First [thus versified]:—
  And [consider] Suleymán, when the Deity said to him, Perform the office of Khaleefeh, and govern with diligence;
And whoso obeyeth thee, honor him for doing so; and whoso disobeyeth thee, imprison him forever.
He used to put them into bottles of brass, and to cast them into the sea.
  And the Prince of the Faithful approved of these words, and said, By Allah, I desire to see some of these bottles! So Tálib the son of Sahl replied, O Prince of the Faithful, thou art able to do so and yet remain in thy country. Send to thy brother Abd-El-Azeez, the son of Marwán, desiring him to bring them to thee from the Western Country, that he may write orders to Moosà to journey from the Western Country, to this mountain which we have mentioned, and to bring thee what thou desirest of these bottles; for the furthest tract of his province is adjacent to this mountain.—And the Prince of the Faithful approved of his advice, and said, O Tálib, thou has spoken truth in that which thou hast said, and I desire that thou be my messenger to Moosà the son of Nuseyr for this purpose, and thou shalt have a white ensign, together with what thou shalt desire of wealth or dignity or other things, and I will be thy substitute to take care of thy family. To this Tálib replied, Most willingly, O Prince of the Faithful. And the Khaleefeh said to him, Go, in dependence on the blessing of God, and his aid….  3
  So Tálib went forth on his way to Egypt … and to Upper Egypt, until they came to the Emeer Moosà, the son of Nuseyr; and when he knew of his approach he went forth to him and met him, and rejoiced at his arrival; and Tálib handed to him the letter. So he took it and read it, and understood its meaning; and he put it upon his head, saying, I hear and obey the command of the Prince of the Faithful. He determined to summon his great men; and they presented themselves; and he inquired of them respecting that which had been made known to him by the letter; whereupon they said, O Emeer, if thou desire him who will guide thee to that place, have recourse to the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, the son of Abd-El-Kuddoos Es-Samoodee; for he is a knowing man, and hath traveled much, and he is acquainted with the deserts and wastes and the seas, and their inhabitants and their wonders, and the countries of their districts. Have recourse, therefore, to him, and he will direct thee to the object of thy desire.—Accordingly he gave orders to bring him, and he came before him; and lo, he was a very old man, whom the vicissitudes of years and times had rendered decrepit. The Emeer Moosà saluted him, and said to him, O sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, our lord the Prince of the Faithful, Abd-El-Melik the son of Marwán, hath commanded us thus and thus, and I possess little knowledge of that land, and it hath been told me that thou art acquainted with that country and the routes. Hast thou then a wish to accomplish the affair of the Prince of the Faithful?—The sheykh replied, Know, O Emeer, that this route is difficult, far extending, with few tracks. The Emeer said to him, How long a period doth it require? He answered, It is a journey of two years and some months going, and the like returning; and on the way are difficulties and horrors, and extraordinary and wonderful things. Moreover, thou art a warrior for the defense of the faith, and our country is near unto the enemy; so perhaps the Christians may come forth during our absence; it is expedient, therefore, that thou leave in thy province one to govern it.—He replied, Well. And he left his son Hároon as his substitute in his province, exacted an oath of fidelity to him, and commanded the troops that they should not oppose him, but obey him in all that he should order them to do. And they heard his words, and obeyed him. His son Hároon was of great courage, an illustrious hero, and a bold champion; and the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad pretended to him that the place in which were the things that the Prince of the Faithful desired was four months’ journey distant, on the shore of the sea, and that throughout the whole route were halting-places, adjacent one to another, and grass and springs. And he said, God will assuredly make this affair easy to us through the blessing attendant upon thee, O Viceroy of the Prince of the Faithful. Then the Emeer Moosà said, Knowest thou if any one of the Kings have trodden this land before us? He answered him, Yes, O Emeer: this land belonged to the King of Alexandria, Darius the Greek.  4
  [The cavalcade fare on, and soon reach a first “extraordinary and wonderful thing,”—the palace-tomb of great “Koosh, the son of Sheddad,” full of impressive mortuary inscriptions that set the party all a-weeping. Thence—]  5
  The soldiers proceeded, with the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad before them showing them the way, until all the first day had passed, and the second, and the third. They then came to a high hill, at which they looked, and lo, upon it was a horseman of brass, on the top of whose spear was a wide and glistening head that almost deprived the beholder of sight, and on it was inscribed, O thou who comest unto me, if thou know not the way that leadeth to the City of Brass, rub the hand of the horseman, and he will turn, and then will stop, and in whatsoever direction he stoppeth, thither proceed, without fear and without difficulty; for it will lead thee to the City of Brass.—And when the Emeer Moosà had rubbed the hand of the horseman, it turned like the blinding lightning, and faced a different direction from that in which they were traveling.  6
  The party therefore turned thither and journeyed on, and it was the right way. They took that route, and continued their course the same day and the next night until they had traversed a wide tract of country. And as they were proceeding, one day, they came to a pillar of black stone, wherein was a person sunk to his arm-pits, and he had two huge wings, and four arms; two of them like those of the sons of Adam, and two like the forelegs of lions, with claws. He had hair upon his head like the tails of horses, and two eyes like two burning coals, and he had a third eye, in his forehead, like the eye of the lynx, from which there appeared sparks of fire. He was black and tall; and he was crying out, Extolled be the perfection of my Lord, who hath appointed me this severe affliction and painful torture until the day of resurrection! When the party beheld him, their reason fled from them, and they were stupefied at the sight of his form, and retreated in flight; and the Emeer Moosà said to the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, What is this? He answered, I know not what he is. And the Emeer said, Draw near to him, and investigate his case: perhaps he will discover it, and perhaps thou wilt learn his history. The sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad replied, May God amend the state of the Emeer! Verily we fear him.—Fear ye not, rejoined the Emeer; for he is withheld from injuring you and others by the state in which he is. So the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad drew near to him, and said to him, O thou person, what is thy name, and what is thy nature, and what hath placed thee here in this manner? And he answered him, As to me, I am an ’Efreet of the Jinn, and my name is Dáhish the son of El-Amash, and I am restrained here by the majesty, confined by the power, [of God,] tormented as long as God (to whom be ascribed might and glory!) willeth. Then the Emeer Moosà said, O sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, ask him what is the cause of his confinement in this pillar. He therefore asked respecting that, and the ’Efreet answered him, Verily my story is wonderful, and it is this:—  7
  [The Evil Spirit narrates to them his history, being part of the famous war between Solomon and the Jinn.]  8
  The party therefore wondered at him, and at the horrible nature of his form; and the Emeer Moosà said, There is no deity but God! Suleymán was endowed with a mighty dominion!—And the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad said to the ’Efreet, O thou, I ask thee concerning a thing of which do thou inform us. The ’Efreet replied, Ask concerning what thou wilt. And the sheykh said, Are there in this place any of the ’Efreets confined in bottles of brass from the time of Suleymán, on whom be peace? He answered, Yes, in the Sea of El-Karkar, where are a people of the descendants of Nooh (on whom be peace!), whose country the deluge reached not, and they are separated there from [the rest of] the sons of Adam.—And where, said the sheykh, is the way to the City of Brass, and the place wherein are the bottles? What distance is there between us and it? The ’Efreet answered, It is near. So the party left him and proceeded; and there appeared to them a great black object, with two [seeming] fires corresponding with each other in position, in the distance, in that black object; whereupon the Emeer Moosà said to the sheykh, What is this great black object, and what are these two corresponding fires? The guide answered him, Be rejoiced, O Emeer; for this is the City of Brass, and this is the appearance of it that I find described in the Book of Hidden Treasures; that its wall is of black stones, and it hath two towers of brass of El-Andalus, which the beholder seeth resembling two corresponding fires; and thence it is named the City of Brass. They ceased not to proceed until they arrived at it; and lo, it was lofty, strongly fortified, rising high into the air, impenetrable: the height of its walls was eighty cubits, and it had five and twenty gates, none of which would open but by means of some artifice; and there was not one gate to it that had not, within the city, one like it: such was the beauty of the construction and architecture of the city. They stopped before it, and endeavored to discover one of its gates; but they could not; and the Emeer Moosà said to the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, O sheykh, I see not to this city any gate. The sheykh replied, O Emeer, thus do I find it described in the Book of Hidden Treasures; that it hath five and twenty gates, and that none of its gates may be opened but from within the city. And how, said the Emeer, can we contrive to enter it, and divert ourselves with a view of its wonders?  9
  Then the Emeer Moosà ordered one of his young men to mount a camel, and ride round the city, in the hope that he might discover a trace of a gate, or a place lower than that to which they were opposite. So one of his young men mounted, and proceeded around it for two days with their nights, prosecuting his journey with diligence, and not resting; and when the third day arrived, he came in sight of his companions, and he was astounded at that which he beheld of the extent of the city, and its height. Then he said, O Emeer, the easiest place in it is this place at which ye have alighted. And thereupon the Emeer Moosà took Tálib the son of Sahl, and the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, and they ascended a mountain opposite the city, and overlooking it; and when they had ascended that mountain, they saw a city than which eyes had not beheld any greater. Its pavilions were lofty, and its domes were shining; its mansions were in good condition, and its rivers were running; its trees were fruitful, and its gardens bore ripe produce. It was a city with impenetrable gates, empty, still, without a voice or a cheering inhabitant, but the owl hooting in its quarters, and birds skimming in circles in its areas, and the raven croaking in its districts and its great thoroughfare-streets, and bewailing those who had been in it. The Emeer Moosà paused, sorrowing for its being devoid of inhabitants, and its being despoiled of people and dwellers; and he said, Extolled be the perfection of Him whom ages and times change not, the Creator of the creation by his power! And while he was extolling the perfection of God, (to whom be ascribed might and glory!) he happened to look aside, and lo, there were seven tablets of white marble, appearing from a distance. So he approached them, and behold, they were sculptured and inscribed; and he ordered that their writing should be read: therefore the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad advanced and examined them and read them; and they contained admonition, and matter for example and restraint, unto those endowed with faculties of discernment. Upon the first tablet was inscribed, in the ancient Greek character,—
          O son of Adam, how heedless art thou of the case of him who hath been before thee! Thy years and age have diverted thee from considering him. Knowest thou not that the cup of death will be filled for thee, and that in a short time thou wilt drink it? Look then to thyself before entering thy grave. Where are those who possessed the countries and abased the servants of God and led armies? Death hath come upon them; and God is the terminator of delights and the separator of companions and the devastator of flourishing dwellings; so He hath transported them from the amplitude of palaces to the straightness of the graves.
  And in the lower part of the tablet were inscribed these verses:—
  Where are the Kings and the peoplers of the earth? They have quitted that which they have built and peopled;
And in the grave they are pledged for their past actions: there after destruction, they have become putrid corpses.
Where are the troops? They repelled not, nor profited. And where is that which they collected and hoarded?
The decree of the Lord of the Throne surprised them. Neither riches nor refuge saved them from it.
  And the Emeer Moosà fainted; his tears ran down upon his cheeks, and he said, By Allah, indifference to the world is the most appropriate and the most sure course! Then he caused an inkhorn and a paper to be brought, and he wrote the inscription of the first tablet; after which he drew near to the second tablet, and the third, and the fourth; and having copied what was inscribed on them, he descended from the mountain; and the world had been pictured before his eyes.  12
  And when he came back to the troops, they passed the day devising means of entering the city; and the Emeer Moosà said to his Wezeer, Tálib the son of Sahl, and to those of his chief officers who were around him, How shall we contrive to enter the city, that we may see its wonders? Perhaps we shall find in it something by which we may ingratiate ourselves with the Prince of the Faithful.—Tálib the son of Sahl replied, May God continue the prosperity of the Emeer! Let us make a ladder, and mount upon it, and perhaps we shall gain access to the gate from within.—And the Emeer said, This is what occurred to my mind, and excellent is the advice. Then he called to the carpenters and blacksmiths, and ordered them to make straight some pieces of wood, and to construct a ladder covered with plates of iron. And they did so, and made it strong. They employed themselves in constructing it a whole month, and many men were occupied in making it. And they set it up and fixed it against the wall, and it proved to be equal to the wall in height, as though it had been made for it before that day. So the Emeer Moosà wondered at it, and said, God bless you! It seemeth, from the excellence of your work, as though ye had adapted it by measurement to the wall.—He then said to the people, Which of you will ascend this ladder, and mount upon the wall, and walk along it, and contrive means of descending into the city, that he may see how the case is, and then inform us of the mode of opening the gate? And one of them answered, I will ascend it, O Emeer, and descend and open the gate. The Emeer therefore replied, Mount. God bless thee!—Accordingly, the man ascended the ladder until he reached the top of it; when he stood, and fixed his eyes towards the city, clapped his hands, and cried out with his loudest voice, saying, Thou art beautiful! Then he cast himself down into the city, and his flesh became mashed with his bones. So the Emeer Moosà said, This is the action of the rational. How then will the insane act? If we do thus with all our companions, there will not remain of them one; and we shall be unable to accomplish our affair, and the affair of the Prince of the Faithful. Depart ye; for we have no concern with this city.—But one of them said, Perhaps another than this may be more steady than he. And a second ascended, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth; and they ceased not to ascend by that ladder to the top of the wall, one after another, until twelve men of them had gone, acting as acted the first. Therefore the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad said, There is none for this affair but myself, and the experienced is not like the inexperienced. But the Emeer Moosà said to him, Thou shalt not do that, nor will I allow thee to ascend to the top of this wall; for shouldst thou die, thou wouldst be the cause of the death of us all, and there would not remain of us one; since thou art the guide of the party. The sheykh however replied, Perhaps the object will be accomplished by my means, through the will of God, whose name be exalted! And thereupon all the people agreed to his ascending.  13
  Then the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad arose, and encouraged himself, and having said, In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!—he ascended the ladder, repeating the praises of God (whose name be exalted!) and reciting the Verses of Safety, until he reached the top of the wall; when he clapped his hands, and fixed his eyes. The people therefore all called out to him, and said, O sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, do it not, and cast not thyself down! And they said, Verily to God we belong, and verily unto him we return! If the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad fall, we all perish!—Then the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad laughed immoderately, and sat a long time repeating the praises of God, (whose name be exalted!) and reciting the Verses of Safety; after which he rose with energy, and called out with his loudest voice, O Emeer, no harm shall befall you; for God (to whom be ascribed might and glory!) hath averted from me the effect of the artifice and fraudulence of the Devil, through the blessing resulting from the utterance of the words, In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.—So the Emeer said to him, What hast thou seen, O sheykh? He answered, When I reached the top of the wall, I beheld ten damsels, like moons, who made a sign with their hands, as though they would say, Come to us. And it seemed to me that beneath me was a sea (or great river) of water; whereupon I desired to cast myself down, as our companions did: but I beheld them dead; so I withheld myself from them, and recited some words of the Book of God, (whose name be exalted!) whereupon God averted from me the influence of those damsels’ artifice, and they departed from me; therefore I cast not myself down, and God repelled from me the effect of their artifice and enchantment. There is no doubt that this is an enchantment and an artifice which the people of this city contrived in order to repel from it every one who should desire to look down upon it, and wish to obtain access to it; and these our companions are laid dead.  14
  He then walked along the wall till he came to the two towers of brass, when he saw that they had two gates of gold, without locks upon them, or any sign of the means of opening them. Therefore the sheykh paused as long as God willed, and looking attentively, he saw in the middle of one of the gates a figure of a horseman of brass, having one hand extended, as though he were pointing with it, and on it was an inscription, which the sheykh read, and lo, it contained these words:—Turn the pin that is in the middle of the front of the horseman’s body twelve times, and then the gate will open. So he examined the horseman, and in the middle of the front of his body was a pin, strong, firm, well fixed; and he turned it twelve times; whereupon the gate opened immediately, with a noise like thunder; and the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad entered. He was a learned man, acquainted with all languages and characters. And he walked on until he entered a long passage, whence he descended some steps, and he found a place with handsome wooden benches, on which were people dead, and over their heads were elegant shields, and keen swords, and strung bows, and notched arrows. And behind the [next] gate were a bar of iron, and barricades of wood, and locks of delicate fabric, and strong apparatus. Upon this, the sheykh said within himself, Perhaps the keys are with these people. Then he looked, and lo, there was a sheykh who appeared to be the oldest of them, and he was upon a high wooden bench among the dead men. So the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad said, May not the keys of the city be with this sheykh? Perhaps he was the gate-keeper of the city, and these were under his authority. He therefore drew near to him, and lifted up his garments, and lo, the keys were hung to his waist. At the sight of them, the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad rejoiced exceedingly; his reason almost fled from him in consequence of his joy: and he took the keys, approached the gate, opened the locks, and pulled the gate and the barricades and other apparatus which opened, and the gate also opened, with a noise like thunder, by reason of its greatness and terribleness, and the enormousness of its apparatus. Upon this, the sheykh exclaimed, God is most great!—and the people made the same exclamation with him, rejoicing at the event. The Emeer Moosà also rejoiced at the safety of the sheykh ’Abd-Es-Samad, and at the opening of the gate of the city; the people thanked the sheykh for that which he had done, and all the troops hastened to enter the gate. But the Emeer Moosà cried out to them, saying to them, O people, if all of us enter, we shall not be secure from some accident that may happen. Half shall enter, and half shall remain behind.  15
  The Emeer Moosà then entered the gate, and with him half of the people, who bore their weapons of war. And the party saw their companions lying dead: so they buried them. They saw also the gate-keepers and servants and chamberlains and lieutenants lying upon beds of silk, all of them dead. And they entered the market of the city, and beheld a great market, with lofty buildings, none of which projected beyond another: the shops were open, and the scales hung up, and the utensils of brass ranged in order, and the kháns were full of all kinds of goods. And they saw the merchants dead in their shops: their skins were dried, and their bones were carious, and they had become examples to him who would be admonished. They saw likewise four markets of particular shops filled with wealth. And they left this place, and passed on to the silk-market, in which were silks and brocades interwoven with red gold and white silver upon various colours, and the owners were dead, lying upon skins, and appearing almost as though they would speak. Leaving these, they went on to the market of jewels and pearls and jacinths; and they left it, and passed on to the market of the money-changers, whom they found dead, with varieties of silks beneath them, and their shops were filled with gold and silver. These they left, and they proceeded to the market of the perfumers; and lo, their shops were filled with varieties of perfumes, and bags of musk, and ambergris, and aloes-wood, and nedd, and camphor, and other things; and the owners were all dead, not having with them any food. And when they went forth from the market of the perfumers, they found near unto it a palace, decorated, and strongly constructed; and they entered it, and found banners unfurled, and drawn swords, and strung bows, and shields hung up by chains of gold and silver, and helmets gilded with red gold. And in the passages of that palace were benches of ivory, ornamented with plates of brilliant gold, and with silk, on which were men whose skins had dried upon the bones: the ignorant would imagine them to be sleeping; but, from the want of food, they had died, and tasted mortality. Upon this, the Emeer Moosà paused, extolling the perfection of God (whose name be exalted!) and his holiness, and contemplating the beauty of that palace.  16
  [They find the palace a marvel of splendor, but as awfully silent and mausoleum-like as the rest of the city; and soon reach a magnificent hall in which lies the dead body of “Jedmur, the Daughter of the King of the Amalekites,” magnificently laid in state, and magically preserved and protected. Tálib unwisely and covetously attempts to rob the corpse of jewels; and is instantly beheaded by its enchanted guards. The Emeer Moosà and the sage ’Abd-Es-Samad, however, leave the place in safety, return to Upper Egypt and Syria by way of the Country of the Blacks, succeed in securing twelve of the wonderful bottles containing Jinn,—and the tale concludes with the Emeer Moosà’s resignation of his throne that he may die in Jerusalem, so profoundly has he been affected by the adventure.]  17

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