A Tailor Entertains a King

July 05, 2014

Arabian Nights Manuscript

Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.
Vol. 16, pp. 149-162 of The Harvard Classics

Here is another of those fanciful Oriental stories that proclaims the democracy of Eastern despotism. A tailor might talk with a king and receive either a death sentence or the office of Grand Vizier as a reward.

Nights 24–32

The Story Told by the Tailor

KNOW, O King of the age, that what hath happened to me is more wonderful than the events which have happened to all the others. Before I met the humpback, I was, early in the morning, at an entertainment given to certain tradesmen of my acquaintance, consisting of tailors and linen-drapers and carpenters and other; and when the sun had risen, the repast was brought for us to eat; and lo, the master of the house came in to us, accompanied by a strange and handsome young man, of the inhabitants of Baghdad. He was attired in clothes of the handsomest description, and was a most comely person, except that he was lame; and as soon as he had entered and saluted us, we rose to him; but when he was about to seat himself, he observed among us a man who was a barber, whereupon he refused to sit down, and desired to depart from us. We and the master of the house, however, prevented him, and urged him to seat himself; and the host conjured him, saying, What is the reason of thy entering, and then immediately departing?—By Allah, O my master, replied he, offer me no opposition; for the cause of my departure is this barber, who is sitting with you. And when the host heard this, he was exceedingly surprised, and said, How is it that the heart of this young man, who is from Baghdad, is troubled by the presence of this barber? We then looked towards him, and said, Relate to us the cause of thy displeasure against this barber; and the young man replied, O company, a surprising adventure happened to me with this barber in Baghdad, my city; and he was the cause of my lameness, and of the breaking of my leg; and I have sworn that I will not sit in any place where he is present, nor dwell in any town where he resides: I quitted Baghdad and took up my abode in this city, and I will not pass the next night without departing from it.—Upon this, we said to him, We conjure thee, by Allah, to relate to us thy adventure with him.—And the countenance of the barber turned pale when he heard us make this request. The young man then said,—

  Know, O good people, that my father was one of the chief merchants of Baghdad; and God (whose name be exalted!) blessed him with no son but myself; and when I grew up, and had attained to manhood, my father was admitted to the mercy of God, leaving me wealth and servants and other dependants; whereupon I began to attire myself in clothes of the handsomest description, and to feed upon the most delicious meats. Now God (whose perfection be extolled!) made me to be a hater of women; and so I continued, until, one day, I was walking through the streets of Baghdad, when a party of them stopped my way: I therefore fled from them, and, entering a by-street which was not a thoroughfare, I reclined upon a mastabah at its further extremity. Here I had been seated but a short time when, lo, a window opposite the place where I sat was opened, and there looked out from it a damsel like the full moon, such as I had never in my life beheld. She had some flowers, which she was watering, beneath the window; and she looked to the right and left, and then shut the window, and disappeared from before me. Fire had been shot into my heart, and my mind was absorbed by her; my hatred of women was turned into love, and I continued sitting in the same place until sunset, in a state of distraction from the violence of my passion, when lo, the Kadi of the city came riding along, with slaves before him and servants behind him, and alighted, and entered the house from which the damsel had looked out: so I knew that he must be her father.

  I then returned to my house, sorrowful and fell upon my bed, full of anxious thoughts; and my female slaves came in to me, and seated themselves around me, not knowing what was the matter with me; and I acquainted them not with my case, nor returned any answers to their questions; and my disorder increased. The neighbours, therefore, came to cheer me with their visits; and among those who visited me was an old woman, who, as soon as she saw me, discovered my state; whereupon she seated herself at my head, and, addressing me in a kind manner, said, O my son, tell me what hath happened to thee? So I related to her my story, and she said, O my son, this is the daughter of the Kadi of Baghdad, and she is kept in close confinement: the place where thou sawest her is her apartment, and her father occupies a large saloon below, leaving her alone; and often do I visit her: thou canst obtain an interview with her only through me: so brace up thy nerves. When I heard, therefore what she said, I took courage, and fortified my heart; and my family rejoiced that day. I rose up firm in limb, and hoping for complete restoration; and the old woman departed; but she returned with her countenance changed, and said, O my son, ask not what she did when I told her of thy case; for she said, If thou abstain not, O ill-omened old woman, from this discourse, I will treat thee as thou deservest:—but I must go to her a second time.

  On hearing this, my disorder increased: after some days, however, the old woman came again, and said, O my son, I desire of thee a reward for good tidings. My soul returned to my body at these words, and I replied, Thou shalt receive from me everything that thou canst wish. She then said, I went yesterday to the damsel, and when she had beheld me with broken heart and weeping eye, she said to me, O my aunt, wherefore do I see thee with contracted heart?—and when she thus said, I wept, and answered, O my daughter and mistress, I came to thee yesterday from visiting a youth who loveth thee, and he is at the point of death on thy account:—and, her heart being moved with compassion, she asked, Who is this youth of whom thou speakest? I answered, He is my son, and the child that is dear to my soul; he was thee at the window some days ago, while thou wast watering thy flowers: and when he beheld thy face, he became distracted with love for thee; I informed him of the conversation that I had with thee the first time; upon which his disorder increased, and he took to his pillow: he is now dying, and there is no doubt of his fate.—And upon this, her countenance became pale and she said, Is this all on my account?—Yea, by Allah, I answered; and what dost thou order me to do?—Go to him, said she; convey to him my salutation, and tell him that my love is greater than his; and on Friday next, before the congregation prayers, let him come hither: I will give orders to open the door to him, and to bring him up to me, and I will have a short interview with him, and he shall return before my father comes back from the prayers.

  When I heard these words of the old woman, the anguish which I had suffered ceased; my heart was set at rest, and I gave her the suit of clothes which I was then wearing, and she departed, saying to me, Cheer up thy heart. I replied, I have no longer any pain. The people of my house, and my friends, communicated, one to another, the good news of my restoration to health, and I remained thus until the Friday, when the old woman came in to me, and asked me respecting my state: so I informed her that I was happy and well. I then dressed and perfumed myself, and sat waiting for the people to go to prayers, that I might repair to the damsel; but the old woman said to me, Thou hast yet more than ample time, and if thou go to the bath and shave, especially for the sake of obliterating the traces of thy disorder, it will be more becoming.—It is a judicious piece of advice, replied I; but I will shave my head first, and then go into the bath.

  So I sent for a barber to shave my head, saying to the boy, Go to the market, and bring me a barber, one who is a man of sense, little inclined to impertinence, that he may not make my head ache by his chattering. And the boy went, and brought this sheykh, who, on entering, saluted me; and when I returned his salutation, he said to me, May God dispel thy grief and thine anxiety, and misfortunes and sorrows! I responded, My God accept thy prayer! He then said, Be cheerful, O my master: for health hath returned to thee. Dost thou desire to be shaved or to be bled?—for it hath been handed down, on the authority of Ibn-’Abbas 1 that the Prophet said, Whoso shorteneth his hair on Friday, God will avert from him seventy diseases;—and it hath been handed down also, on the same authority, that the Prophet said, Whoso is cupped on Friday will not be secure from the loss of sight and from frequent disease.—Abstain, said I, from this useless discourse, and come immediately, shave my head for I am weak. And he arose, and, stretching forth his hand, took out a handkerchief, and opened it; and lo, there was in it an astrolabe, consisting of seven plates; and he took it, and went into the middle of the court, where he raised his head towards the sun, and looked for a considerable time; after which he said to me, Know that there have passed, of this our day,—which is Friday, and which is the tenth of Safar, of the year 263 of the Flight of the Prophet,—upon whom be the most excellent of blessings and peace!—and the ascendant star of which, according to the required rules of the science of computation, is the planet Mars,—seven degrees and six minutes; and it happeneth that Mercury hath come in conjunction with that planet; and this indicateth that the shaving of hair is now a most excellent operation; and it hath indicated to me, also, that thou desirest to confer a benefit upon a person: and fortunate is he!—but after that, there is an announcement that presenteth itself to me respecting a matter which I will not mention to thee.

  By Allah, I exclaimed, thou hast wearied me, and dissipated my mind, and augured against me, when I required thee only to shave my head: arise, then, and shave it; and prolong not thy discourse to me. But he replied, By Allah, if thou knewest the truth of the case, thou wouldst demand of me a further explication; and I counsel thee to do this day as I direct thee, according to the calculations deduced from the stars: it is thy duty to praise God, and not to oppose me; for I am one who giveth thee good advice, and who regardeth thee with compassion: I would that I were in thy service for a whole year, that thou mightest do me justice; and I desire not any pay from thee for so doing. When I heard this, I said to him, Verily thou art killing me this day, and there is no escape for me.—O my master, he replied, I am he whom the people call Es-Samit, [“the Silent,”] on account of the paucity of my speech, by which I am distinguished above my brothers: for my eldest brother is named El Bakbuk; and the second, El-Heddar; and the third, Bakbak 2; and the fourth is named El-Kuz El-Aswani; and the fifth, El-Feshshar; and the sixth is named Shakalik; and the seventh brother is named Es-Samit; and he is myself.

  Now when this barber thus overwhelmed me with his talk, I felt as if my gall-bladder had burst, and said to the boy, Give him a quarter of a piece of gold and let him depart from me for the sake of Allah: for I have no need to shave my head. But the barber on hearing what I said to the boy, exclaimed, What is this that thou hast said, O my lord? By Allah, I will accept from thee no pay unless I serve thee; and serve thee I must; for to do so is incumbent on me, and to perform what thou requirest; and I care not if I receive from thee no money. If thou knowest not my worth, I know thine; and thy father—may Allah have mercy upon him!—treated us with beneficence; for he was a man of generosity. By Allah, thy father sent for me one day, like this blessed day, and when I went to him, he had a number of his friends with him, and he said to me, Take some blood from me. So I took the astrolabe, and observed the altitude for him, and found the ascendant of the hour to be of evil omen, and that the letting of blood would be attended with trouble: I therefore acquainted him with this, and he conformed to my wish, and waited until the arrival of the approved hour, when I took the blood from him. He did not oppose me; but, on the contrary, thanked me; and in like manner all the many present thanked me; and thy father gave me a hundred pieces of gold for services similar to the letting of blood.—May God, said I, shew no mercy to my father for knowing such a man as thou!—and the barber laughed, and exclaimed, There is no deity but God! Mohammad is God’s Apostle! Extolled be the perfection of Him who changeth others, but is not changed! I did not imagine thee to be otherwise than a man of sense; but thou hast talked nonsense in consequences of thine illness. God hath mentioned, in his Excellent Book, those who restrain their anger, and who forgive men:—but thou art excused in every case. I am unacquainted, however, with the cause of thy haste; and thou knowest that thy father used to do nothing without consulting me; and it hath been said, that the person to whom one applies for advice should be trusted: now thou wilt find no one better acquainted with the affairs of the world than myself, and I am standing on my feet to serve thee. I am not displeased with thee, and how then art thou displeased with me? But I will have patience with thee on account of the favours which I have received from thy father.—By Allah, said I, thou hast wearied me with thy discourse, and overcome me with thy speech! I desire that thou shave my head and depart from me.

  I gave vent to my rage; and would have risen, even if he had wetted my head, when he said, I knew that displeasure with me had overcome thee; but I will not be angry with thee, for thy sense is weak, and thou art a youth: a short time ago I used to carry thee on my shoulder, and take thee to the school.—Upon this, I said to him, O my brother, I conjure thee by Allah, depart from me that I may perform my business, and go thou thy way. Then I rent my clothes; and when he saw me do this, he took the razor, and sharpened it, and continued to do so until my soul almost parted from my body; then advancing to my head, he shaved a small portion of it; after which he raised his hand, and said, O my lord, haste is from the Devil;—and he repeated this couplet:—

Deliberate, and haste not to accomplish thy desire; and be merciful, so shalt thou meet with one merciful:
For there is no hand but God’s hand is above it; nor oppressor that shall not meet with an oppressor.

O my lord (he then continued), I do not imagine that thou knowest my condition in society; for my hand lighteth upon the heads of kings and emirs and wezirs and sages and learned men; and of such a one as myself hath the poet said,—

The trades altogether are like a necklace, and this barber is the chief pearl of the strings.
He excelleth all that are endowed with skill, and under his hands are the heads of Kings.

—Leave, said I, that which doth not concern thee! Thou hast contracted my heart, and troubled my mind.—I fancy that thou art in haste, he rejoined. I replied, Yes! Yes! Yes!—Proceed slowly, said he; for verily haste is from the Devil, and it giveth occasion to repentance and disappointment; and he upon whom be blessing and peace hath said, The best of affairs is that which is commenced with deliberation:—and, by Allah, I am in doubt as to thine affair: I wish, therefore, that thou wouldst make known to me what thou art hasting to do; and may it be good; for I fear it is otherwise.

  There now remained, to the appointed time, three hours; and he threw the razor from his hand in anger, and, taking the astrolabe, went again to observe the sun; then after he had waited a long time, he returned, saying, There remain, to the hour of prayer, three hours, neither more nor less.—For the sake of Allah, said I, be silent; for thou hast crumbled my liver!—and thereupon he took the razor, and sharpened it as he had done the first time, and shaved another portion of my head. Then stopping again, he said, I am in anxiety on account of thy hurry: if thou wouldst acquaint me with the cause of it, it would be better for thee; for thou knowest that thy father used to do nothing without consulting me.

  I perceived now that I could not avoid his importunity, and said within myself, The time of prayer is almost come, and I desire to go before the people come out from the service: if I delay a little longer, I know not how to gain admission to her. I therefore said to him, Be quick, and cease from this chattering and impertinence; for I desire to repair to an entertainment with my friends. But when he heard the mention of the entertainment, he exclaimed, The day is a blessed day for me! I yesterday conjured a party of my intimate friends to come and feast with me, and forgot to prepare for them anything to eat; and now I have remembered it. Alas for the disgrace that I shall experience from them!—So I said to him, Be in no anxiety on this account, since thou hast been told that I am going to-day to an entertainment; for all the food and drink that is in my house shall be thine if thou use expedition in my affair, and quickly finish shaving my head.—May God recompense thee with every blessing! he replied: describe to me what thou hast for my guests, that I may know it.—I have, said I, five dishes of meat, and ten fowls fricandoed, and a roasted lamb.—Cause them to be brought before me, he said, that I may see them. So I had them brought to him, and he exclaimed, Divinely art thou gifted! How generous is thy soul; But the incense and perfumes are wanting.—I brought him, therefore, a box containing nedd 3 and aloes-wood and ambergris and musk, worth fifty pieces of gold.—The time had now become contracted, like my own heart; so I said to him, Receive this, and shave the whole of my head, by the existence of Mohammad, God bless and save him! But he replied, By Allah, I will not take it until I see all that it contains. I therefore ordered the boy, and he opened the box to him; whereupon the barber threw down the astrolabe from his hand, and seating himself upon the ground, turned over the perfumes and incense and aloes-wood in the box until my soul almost quitted my body.

  He then advanced, and took the razor, and shaved another small portion of my head; after which he said, By Allah, O my son, I know not whether I should thank thee or thank thy father; for my entertainment to-day is entirely derived from thy bounty and kindness, and I have no one among my visitors deserving of it: for my guests are Zeytun the bath-keeper, and Sali’ the wheat-seller, and ‘Awkal the bean-seller, and ‘Akresheh the grocer, and Homeyd the dustman, and ‘Akarish the milk-seller, and each of these hath a peculiar dance which he performeth, and peculiar verses which he reciteth; and the best of their qualities is, that they are like thy servant, the memluk who is before thee; and I, thy slave, know neither loquacity nor impertinence. As to the bath-keeper, he saith, If I go not to the feast, it cometh to my house!—and as to the dustman, he is witty, and full of frolic: often doth he dance, and say, News, with my wife, is not kept in a chest!—and each of my friends hath jests that another hath not: but the description is not like the actual observation. If thou choose, therefore, to come to us, it will be more pleasant both to thee and to us: relinquish then, thy visit to thy friends of whom thou hast told us that thou desirest to go to them: for the traces of disease are yet upon thee, and probably thou art going to a people of many words, who will talk of that which concerneth them not; or probably there will be among them one impertinent person; and thy soul is already disquieted by disease.—I replied, if it be the will of God, that shall be on some other day:—but he said, It will be more proper that thou first join my party of friends, that thou mayest enjoy their conviviality, and delight thyself with their salt. Act in accordance with the saying of the poet:—

Defer not a pleasure when it can be had; for fortune often destroyeth our plans.

  Upon this I laughed from a heart laden with anger, and said to him, Do what I require, that I may go in the care of God, whose name be exalted! and do thou go to thy friends, for they are awaiting thine arrival. He replied, I desire nothing but to introduce thee into the society of these people; for verily they are of the sons of that class among which is no impertinent person; and if thou didst but behold them once, thou wouldst leave all thine own companions.—May God, said I, give thee abundant joy with them, and I must bring them together here some day.—If that be thy wish, he rejoined, and thou wilt first attend the entertainment of thy friends this day, wait until I take this present with which thou hast honoured me, and place it before my friends, that they may eat and drink without waiting for me, and then I will return to thee, and go with thee to thy companions; for there is no false delicacy between me and my companions that should prevent my leaving them; so I will return to thee quickly, and repair with thee whithersoever thou goest.—Upon this I exclaimed, There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! Go thou to thy companions, and delight thy heart with them, and leave me to repair to mine, and to remain with them this day, for they are waiting my arrival.—But he said, I will not leave thee to go alone.—The place to which I am going, said I, none can enter except myself.—I suppose then, he rejoined, that thou hast an appointment to-day with some female: otherwise, thou wouldst take me with thee; for I am more deserving than all other men, and will assist thee to attain what thou desirest. I fear that thou art going to visit some strange woman, and that thy life will be lost; for in this city of Baghdad no one can do anything of this kind, especially on such a day as this; seeing that the Wali of Baghdad is a terrible, sharp sword.—Wo to thee, O wicked old man! I exclaimed, what are these words with which thou addressest me!—And upon this, he kept a long silence.The time of prayer had now arrived, and the time of the Khutbeh 4 was near, when he had finished shaving my head: So I said to him, Go with this food and drink to thy friends, and I will wait for thee until thou return, and thou shalt accompany me:—and I continued my endeavours to deceive him; that he might go away; but he said to me, Verily thou art deceiving me, and wilt go alone, and precipitate thyself into a calamity from which there will be no escape for thee; by Allah! by Allah! then quit not this spot until I return to thee, and accompany thee, that I may know what will be the result of thine affair.—I replied, Well: prolong not thine absence from me. And he took the food and drink and other things which I had given him, but intrusted them to a porter to convey them to his abode, and concealed himself in one of the by—streets. I then immediately arose. The mueddins on the menarehs had chanted the Selam of Friday; and I put on my clothes, and went forth alone, and, arriving at the by-street, stopped at the door of the house where I had seen the damsel: and lo, the barber was behind me, and I knew it not. I found the door open, and entered; and immediately the master of the house returned from the prayers, and entered the saloon, and closed the door; and I said within myself, How did this devil discover me?

  Now it happened, just at this time, for the fulfillment of God’s purpose to rend the veil of protection before me, that a female slave belonging to the master of the house committed some offence, in consequence of which he beat her, and she cried out; whereupon a male slave came in to him to liberate her; but he beat him also, and he likewise cried out; and the barber concluded that he was beating me; so he cried, and rent his clothes, and sprinkled dust upon his head, shrieking, and calling for assistance. He was surrounded by people, and said to them, My master hath been killed in the house of the Kadi! Then running to my house, crying out all the while, and with a crowd behind him, he gave the news to my family; and I knew not what he had done when they approached, crying, Alas for our master!—the barber all the while being before them, with his clothes, rent, and a number of the people of the city with them. They continued shrieking, the barber shrieking at their head, and all of them exclaiming, Alas for our slain!—Thus they advanced to the house in which I was confined; and when the Kadi heard of this occurrence, the event troubled him, and he arose, and opened the door, and seeing a great crowd, he was confounded, and said, O people, what is the news?

  The servants replied, Thou hast killed our master.—O people, rejoined he, what hath your master done unto me that I should kill him; and wherefore do I see this barber before you?—Thou hast just now beaten him with mikra‘ahs, said the barber; and I heard his cries.—What hath he done that I should kill him? repeated the Kadi. And whence, he added, came he; and whither would he go?—Be not an old man of malevolence, exclaimed the barber; for I know the story, and the reason of his entering thy house, and the truth of the whole affair; thy daughter is in love with him, and he is in love with her; and thou hast discovered that he had entered thy house, and hast ordered thy young men, and they have beaten him. By Allah, none shall decide between us and thee except the Khalifeh; or thou shalt bring forth to us our master that his family may take him; and oblige me not to enter and take him forth from you: haste then thyself to produce him.

  Upon this, the Kadi was withheld from speaking, and became utterly abashed before the people: but presently he said to the barber, If thou speak truth, enter thyself, and bring him forth. So the barber advanced, and entered the house, and when I saw him do so, I sought for a way to escape; but I found no place of refuge except a large chest which I observed in the same apartment in which I then was; I therefore entered this, and shut down the lid, and held in my breath. Immediately after, the barber ran into the saloon, and, without looking in any other direction than that in which I had concealed myself, came thither: then turning his eyes to the right and left, and seeing nothing but the chest, he raised it upon his head; whereupon my reason forsook me. He quickly descended with it, and I, being now certain that he would not quit me, opened the chest, and threw myself upon the ground. My leg was broken by the fall; and when I came to the door of the house, I found a multitude of people: I had never seen such a crowd as was there collected on that day; so I began to scatter gold among them, to divert them; and while they were busied in picking it up, I hastened through the by-streets of Baghdad, followed by this barber; and wherever I entered, he entered after me, crying, They would have plunged me into affliction on account of my master! Praise be to God who aided me against them, and delivered my master from their hands! Thou continuedst, O my master, to be excited by haste for the accomplishment of thine evil design until thou broughtest upon thyself this event; and if God had not blessed thee with me, thou hadst not escaped from this calamity into which thou hast fallen; and they might have involved thee in a calamity from which thou wouldst never have escaped. Beg, therefore, of God, that I may live for thy sake, to liberate thee in future. By Allah, thou hast almost destroyed me by thine evil design, desiring to go alone; but we will not be angry with thee for thine ignorance, for thou art endowed with little sense and of a hasty disposition.—Art thou not satisfied, replied I, with that which thou hast done, but wilt thou run after me through the market-streets?—And I desired for death to liberate me from him; but found it not; and in the excess of my rage I ran from him, and, entering a shop in the midst of the market, implored the protection of its owner; and he drove away the barber from me.

  I then seated myself in a magazine belonging to him, and said within myself, I cannot now rid myself of this barber; but he will be with me night and day, and I cannot endure the sight of his face. So I immediately summoned witnesses, and wrote a document, dividing my property among my family, and appointing a guardian over them, and I ordered him to sell the house and all the immovable possessions, charging him with the care of the old and young, and set forth at once on a journey in order to escape from this wretch. I then arrived in your country, where I took up my abode, and have remained a considerable time; and when ye invited me, and I came unto you, I saw this vile wretch among you, seated at the upper end of the room. How, then, can my heart be at ease, or my sitting in your company be pleasant to me, with this fellow, who hath brought these events upon me, and been the cause of the breaking of my leg?

  The young man still persevered in his refusal to remain with us; and when we had heard his story, we said to the barber, Is this true which the young man hath said of thee?—By Allah, he answered, it was through my intelligence that I acted thus towards him; and had I not done so, he had perished: myself only was the cause of his escape; and it was through the goodness of God, by my means, that he was afflicted by the breaking of his leg instead of being punished by the loss of his life. Were I a person of many words, I had not done him this kindness; and now I will relate to you an event that happened to me, that ye may believe me to be a man of few words, and less of an impertinent than my brothers; and it was this:—


Note 1. One of the most learned of the companions of his cousin Mohammad, and one of the most celebrated of the relators of his sayings and actions. 
Note 2. All three names signify “Chatterer.” 
Note 3. A perfume composed of ambergris, musk, and aloes-wood; or simply ambergris. 
Note 4. Friday sermon. 

You Might Also Like


Like us on Facebook