Diamonds, Diamonds Everywhere!

February 05, 2020

Sinbad and the Valley of Diamonds

Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.

Trapped in a valley filled with huge diamonds guarded by venomous serpents, Sindibad devised a clever means of escaping with many of the glittering jewels.

Vol. 16, pp. 243-250 of The Harvard Classics

The Second Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea

KNOW, O my brothers, that I was enjoying a most comfortable life, and the most pure happiness, as ye were told yesterday, until it occurred to my mind, one day, to travel again to the lands of other people, and I felt a longing for the occupation of traffic, and the pleasure of seeing the countries and islands of the world, and gaining my subsistence. I resolved upon that affair, and, having taken forth from my money a large sum, I purchased with it goods and merchandise suitable for travel, and packed them up. Then I went to the bank of the river, and found a handsome, new vessel, with sails of comely canvas, and it had a numerous crew, and was superfluously equipped. So I embarked my bales in it, as did also a party of merchants besides, and we set sail that day. The voyage was pleasant to us, and we ceased not to pass from sea to sea, and from island to island; and at every place where we cast anchor, we met the merchants and the grandees, and the sellers and buyers, and we sold and bought, and exchanged goods. Thus we continued to do until destiny conveyed us to a beautiful island, abounding with trees bearing ripe fruits, where flowers diffused their fragrance, with birds warbling, and pure rivers: but there was not in it an inhabitant, nor a blower of a fire. The master anchored our vessel at that island and the merchants with the other passengers landed there, to amuse themselves with the sight of its trees, and to extol the perfection of God, the One, the Omnipotent, and to wonder at the power of the Almighty King. I also landed upon the island with the rest, and sat by a spring of pure water among the trees. I had with me some food, and I sat in that place eating what God (whose name be exalted!) had allotted me. The zephyr was sweet to us in that place, and the time was pleasant to me; so slumber overcame me, and I reposed there, and became immersed in sleep, enjoying that sweet zephyr, and the fragrant gales. I then arose, and found not in the place a human being nor a Jinni. The vessel had gone with the passengers, and not one of them remembered me, neither any of the merchants nor any of the sailors: so they left me in the island.

  I looked about it to the right and left, and found not in it any one save myself. I was therefore affected with violent vexation, not to be exceeded, and my gall-bladder almost burst by reason of the severity of my grief and mourning and fatigue. I had not with me aught of worldly goods, neither food nor drink, and I had become desolate, weary in my soul, and despairing of life; and I said, Not every time doth the jar escape unbroken; and if I escaped the first time, and found him who took me with him from the shore of the island to the inhabited part, far, far from me this time is the prospect of my finding him who will convey me to inhabited lands! Then I began to weep and wail for myself until vexation overpowered me; and I blamed myself for that which I had done, and for my having undertaken this voyage and fatigue after I had been reposing at ease in my abode and my country, in ample happiness, and enjoying good food and good drink and good apparel, and had not been in want of any thing, either of money or goods or merchandise. I repented of my having gone forth from the city of Baghdad, and set out on a voyage over the sea, after the fatigue that I had suffered during my first voyage, and I felt at the point of destruction, and said, Verily to God we belong, and verily unto Him we return! And I was in the predicament of the mad. After that, I rose and stood up, and walked about the island to the right and left, unable to sit in one place. Then I climbed up a lofty tree; and began to look from it to the right and left; but saw nought save sky and water, and trees and birds, and islands and sands. Looking, however, with a scrutinizing eye, there appeared to me on the island a white object, indistinctly seen in the distance, of enormous size: so I descended from the tree, and went towards it, and proceeded in that direction without stopping until I arrived at it; and lo, it was a huge white dome, of great height and large circumference. I drew near to it, and walked round it; but perceived no door to it; and I found that I had not strength nor activity to climb it, on account of its exceeding smoothness. I made a mark at the place where I stood, and went round the dome measuring its circumference; and, lo, it was fifty full paces; and I meditated upon some means of gaining an entrance into it.

  The close of the day, and the setting of the sun, had now drawn near; and, behold, the sun was hidden, and the sky became dark, and the sun was veiled from me. I therefore imagined that a cloud had come over it; but this was in the season of summer: so I wondered; and I raised my head, and, contemplating that object attentively, I saw that it was a bird, of enormous size, bulky body, and wide wings, flying in the air; and this it was that concealed the body of the sun, and veiled it from view upon the island. At this my wonder increased, and I remembered a story which travellers and voyagers had told me long before, that there is, in certain of the islands, a bird of enormous size, called the rukh, that feedeth its young ones with elephants. I was convinced, therefore, that the dome which I had seen was one of the eggs of the rukh. I wondered at the works of God (whose name be exalted!); and while I was in this state, lo, that bird alighted upon the dome, and brooded over it with its wings, stretching out its legs behind upon the ground; and it slept over it.—Extolled be the perfection of Him who sleepeth not!—Thereupon I arose, and unwound my turban from my head, and folded it and twisted it so that it became like a rope; and I girded myself with it, binding it tightly round my waist, and tied myself by it to one of the feet of that bird, and made the knot fast, saying within myself, Perhaps this bird will convey me to a land of cities and inhabitants, and that will be better than my remaining in this island. I passed the night sleepless, fearing that if I slept, the bird would fly away with me when I was not aware; and when the dawn came, and morn appeared, the bird rose from its egg, and uttered a great cry, and drew me up into the sky. It ascended and soared up so high that I imagined it had reached the highest region of the sky, and after that, it descended with me gradually until it alighted with me upon the earth, and rested upon a lofty spot. So when I reached the earth, I hastily untied the bond from its foot, fearing it, though it knew not of me nor was sensible of me; and after I had loosed my turban from it, and disengaged it from its foot, shaking as I did so, I walked away. Then it took something from the face of the earth in its talons, and soared to the upper region of the sky; and I looked attentively at that thing, and, lo, it was a serpent, of enormous size, of great body, which it had taken and carried off towards the sea; and I wondered at that event.

  After this I walked about that place, and found myself upon an eminence, beneath which was a large, wide, deep valley; and by its side, a great mountain, very high; no one could see its summit by reason of its excessive height, and no one had power to ascend it. I therefore blamed myself for that which I had done, and said, Would that I had remained in the island, since it is better than this desert place; for in the island are found, among various fruits, what I might have eaten, and I might have drunk of its rivers; but in this place are neither trees nor fruits nor rivers: and there is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! Verily every time that I escape from a calamity, I fall into another that is greater and more severe!—Then I arose, and emboldened myself, and walked in that valley; and I beheld its ground to be composed of diamonds, with which they perforate minerals and jewels, and with which also they perforate porcelain and the onyx; and it is a stone so hard that neither iron nor rock have any effect upon it, nor can any one cut off aught from it, or break it, unless by means of the lead-stone. All that valley was likewise occupied by serpents and venomous snakes, every one of them like a palm-tree; and by reason of its enormous size, if an elephant came to it, it would swallow it. Those serpents appeared in the night, and hid themselves in the day, fearing lest the rukh and the vulture should carry them off, and after that tear them in pieces; and the cause of that I know not. I remained in that valley, repenting of what I had done, and said within myself, By Allah, I have hastened my own destruction! The day departed from me, and I began to walk along that valley, looking for a place in which to pass the night, fearing those serpents, and forgetting my food and drink and subsistence, occupied only by care for my life. And there appeared to me a cave near by; so I walked thither, and I found its entrance narrow. I therefore entered it and, seeing a large stone by its mouth, I pushed it, and stopped with it the mouth of the cave while I was within it; and I said within myself, I am safe now that I have entered this place; and when daylight shineth upon me, I will go forth, and see what destiny will do. Then I looked within the cave, and beheld a huge serpent sleeping at the upper end of it over its eggs. At this my flesh quaked, and I raised my head, and committed my case to fate and destiny; and I passed all the night sleepless, until the dawn rose and shone, when I removed the stone with which I had closed the entrance of the cave, and went forth from it, like one intoxicated, giddy from excessive sleeplessness and hunger and fear.

  I then walked along the valley; and while I was thus occupied, lo, a great slaughtered animal fell before me, and I found no one. So I wondered thereat extremely; and I remembered a story that I heard long before from certain of the merchants and travellers, and persons in the habit of journeying about,—that in the mountains of the diamonds are experienced great terrors, and that no one can gain access to the diamonds, but that the merchants who import them know a stratagem by means of which to obtain them: that they take a sheep, and slaughter it, and skin it, and cut up its flesh, which they throw down from the mountain to the bottom of the valley: so, descending fresh and moist, some of these stones stick to it. Then the merchants leave it until midday, and birds of the large kind of vulture and the aquiline vulture descend to that meat, and, taking it in their talons, fly up to the top of the mountain; whereupon the merchants come to them, and cry out at them, and they fly way from the meat. The merchants then advance to that meat, and take from it the stones sticking to it; after which they leave the meat for the birds and the wild beasts, and carry the stones to their countries. And no one can procure the diamonds but by means of this stratagem.—Therefore when I beheld that slaughtered animal, and remembered this story, I arose and went to the slaughtered beast. I then selected a great number of these stones, and put them into my pocket, and within my clothes; and I proceed to select, and put into my pockets and my girdle and my turban, and within my clothes. And while I was doing thus, lo, another great slaughtered animal. So I bound myself to it with my turban, and, laying myself down on my back, placed it upon my bosom, and grasped it firmly. Thus it was raised high above the ground; and, behold, a vulture descended upon it, seized it with its talons, and flew up with it into the air, with me attached to it; and it ceased not to soar up until it had ascended with it to the summit of the mountain, when it alighted with it, and was about to tear off some of it. And thereupon a great and loud cry arose from behind that vulture, and something made a clattering with a piece of wood upon the mountain; whereat the vulture flew away in fear, and soared into the sky.

  I therefore disengaged myself from the slaughtered animal, with the blood of which my clothes were polluted; and I stood by its side. And, lo, the merchant who had cried out at the vulture advanced to the slaughtered animal, and saw me standing there. He spoke not to me; for he was frightened at me, and terrified; but he came to the slaughtered beast, and turned it over; and, not finding any thing upon it, he uttered a loud cry, and said, Oh, my disappointment! There is no strength nor power but in God! We seek refuge with God from Satan the accursed!—He repented, and struck hand upon hand, and said, Oh, my grief! What is this affair?—So I advanced to him, and he said to me, Who art thou, and what is the reason of thy coming to this place? I answered him, Fear not, nor be alarmed; for I am a human being, of the best of mankind; and I was a merchant, and my tale is marvellous, and my story extraordinary, and the cause of my coming to this mountain and this valley is wondrous to relate. Fear not; for thou shalt receive of me what will rejoice thee: I have with me abundance of diamonds, of which I will give thee as much as will suffice thee, and every piece that I have is better than all that would come to thee by other means: therefore be not timorous nor afraid.—And upon this the man thanked me, and prayed for me, and conversed with me; and, lo, the other merchants heard me talking with their companion; so they came to me. Each merchant had thrown down a slaughtered animal; and when they came to us, they saluted me, and congratulated me on my safety, and took me with them; and I acquainted them with my whole story, relating to them what I had suffered on my voyage, and telling them the cause of my arrival in this valley. Then I gave to the owner of the slaughtered animal to which I had attached myself an abundance of what I had brought with me; and he was delighted with me, and prayed for me, and thanked me for that; and the other merchants said to me, By Allah, a new life hath been decreed thee; for no one ever arrived at this place before thee and escaped from it; but praise be to God for thy safety—They passed the next night in a pleasant and safe place, and I passed the night with them, full of the utmost joy at my safety and my escape from the valley of serpents, and my arrival in an inhabited country.

  And when day came, we arose and journeyed over that great mountain, beholding in that valley numerous serpents; and we continued to advance until we arrived at a garden in a great and beautiful island, wherein were camphor—trees, under each of which trees a hundred men might shade themselves. When any one desireth to obtain some camphor from one of these trees, he maketh a perforation in the upper part of it with something long, and catcheth what descendeth from it. The liquid camphor floweth from it, and concreteth like gum. It is the juice of that tree; and after this operation, the tree drieth, and becometh firewood. In that island too is a kind of wild beast called the rhinoceros which pastureth there like oxen and buffaloes in our country; but the bulk of that wild beast is greater than the bulk of the camel, and it eateth the tender leaves of trees. It is a huge beast, with a single horn, thick, in the middle of its head, a cubit in length, wherein is the figure of a man. And in that island are some animals of the ox-kind. Moreover, the sailors, and travellers, and persons in the habit of journeying about in the mountains and the lands, have told us, that this wild beast which is named the rhinoceros lifteth the great elephant upon its horn, and pastureth with it upon the island and the shores, without being sensible of it; and the elephant dieth upon its horn; and its fat, melting by the heat of the sun, and flowing upon its head entereth its eyes, so that it becometh blind. Then it lieth down upon the shore, and the rukh cometh to it, and carrieth it off [with the elephant] in its talons to its young ones, and feedeth them with it and with that which is upon its horn, [namely the elephant]. I saw also in that island abundance of the buffalo-kind, the like of which existeth not among us.

  The valley before mentioned containeth a great quantity of diamonds such as I carried off and hid in my pockets. For these the people gave me in exchange goods and commodities belonging to them; and they conveyed them for me, giving me likewise pieces of silver and pieces of gold; and I ceased not to proceed with them, amusing myself with the sight of different countries, and of what God hath created, from valley to valley and from city to city, we, in our way, selling and buying, until we arrived at the city of El Basrah. We remained there a few days, and then I came to the city of Baghdad, the Abode of Peace, and came to my quarter, and entered my house, bringing with me a great quantity of diamonds, and money and commodities and goods in abundance. I met my family and relations, bestowed alms and gifts, made presents to all my family and companions, and began to eat well and drink well and wear handsome apparel. I associated with friends, and companions, forgot all that I had suffered, and ceased not to enjoy a pleasant life and joyful heart and dilated bosom, with sport and merriment. Every one who heard of my arrival came to me, and inquired of me respecting my voyage, and the states of the different countries: so I informed him, relating to him what I had experienced and suffered; and he wondered at the severity of my sufferings, and congratulated me on my safety.—This is the end of the account of the events that befell me and happened to me during the second voyage; and to-morrow, if it be the will of God (whose name be exalted), I will relate to you the events of the third voyage.

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