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How I Got Rich - by Sindbad the Sailor

Illustration from The Story of Sinbad the Sailor

Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.
Vol. 16 pp. 231-242 of The Harvard Classic

Sindbad, a poor man, recited woeful verses before the magnificent dwelling of Sindbad of the Sea. The great Sindbad, hearing him, invited the poor Sindbad to a feast and told the wonderful story of his fabulous fortune.

Nights 537–566

The Story of Es-Sindibad of the Sea and Es-Sindibad of the Land

THERE was, in the time of Khalifeh, the Prince of the Faithful, Harun Er-Rashid, in the city of Baghdad, a man called Es-Sindibad the Porter. He was a man in poor circumstances, who bore burdens for hire upon his head. And it happened to him that he bore one day a heavy burden, and that day was excessively hot; so he was wearied by the load, and perspired profusely, the heat violently oppressing him. In this state he passed by the door of a merchant, the ground before which was swept and sprinkled, and there the air was temperate; and by the side of the door was a wide mastabah. The porter therefore put down his burden upon that mastabah, to rest himself, and to scent the air; and when he had done so, there came forth upon him, from the door, a pleasant, gentle gale, and an exquisite odour, wherewith the porter was delighted. He seated himself upon the edge of the mastabah, and heard in that place the melodious sounds of stringed instruments, with the lute among them, and mirth-exciting voices, and varieties of distinct recitations. He heard also the voices of birds, warbling, and praising God (whose name be exalted!) with diverse tones and with all dialects; consisting of turtle-doves and hezars and blackbirds and nightingales and ring-dove and kirawans; 1 whereupon he wondered in his mind, and was moved with great delight. He then advanced to that door, and found within the house a great garden, wherein he beheld pages and slaves and servants and other dependants, and such things as existed not elsewhere save in the abodes of Kings and Sultans; and after that, there blew upon him the odour of delicious, exquisite viands, of all different kinds, and of delicious wine.

  Upon this he raised his eyes towards heaven, and said, Extolled be thy perfection, O Lord! O Creator! O Supplier of the conveniences of life! Thou suppliest whom Thou wilt without reckoning! O Allah, I implore thy forgiveness of all offences, and turn to Thee repenting of all faults! O Lord, there is no animadverting upon Thee with respect to thy judgment, and thy power; for Thou not be questioned regarding that which Thou doest, and Thou art able to do whatsoever Thou wilt! Extolled by thy perfection! Thou enrichest whom Thou wilt, and whom Thou wilt Thou impoverishest! Thou magnifiest whom Thou wilt, and whom Thou wilt Thou abasest! There is no deity but Thou! How great is thy dignity! and how mighty is thy dominion! and how excellent is thy government! Thou hast bestowed favours upon him whom Thou choosest among thy servants, and the owner of this place is in the utmost affluence, delighting himself with pleasant odours and delicious meats and exquisite beverages of all descriptions. And Thou has appointed unto thy creatures what Thou wilt, and what Thou hast predestined for them; so that among them one is weary, and another is at ease; and one of them is prosperous, and another is like me, in the extreme of fatigue and abjection!—And he recited thus:—

How many wretched persons are destitute of ease! and how many are in luxury, reposing in the shade!
I find myself afflicted by trouble beyond measure; and strange is my condition, and heavy is my load!
Others are in prosperity, and from wretchedness are free, and never for a single day have borne a load like mine;
Incessantly and amply blest, throughout the course of life, with happiness and grandeur, as well as drink and meat.
All men whom God hath made are in origin alike; and I resemble this man, and he resembleth me;
But otherwise, between us is a difference as great as the difference that we find between wine and vinegar.
Yet in saying this, I utter no falsehood against Thee, [O my Lord;] art wise, and with justice Thou hast judged.

  And when Es-Sindibad the Porter had finished the recitation of his verses, he desired to take up his burden and to depart. But, lo, there came forth to him from that door a young page, handsome in countenance, comely in stature, magnificent in apparel; and he laid hold upon the porter’s hand, saying to him, Enter: answer the summons of my master; for he calleth for thee. And the porter would have refused to enter with the page; but he could not. He therefore deposited his burden with the doorkeeper in the entrance passage, and, entering the house with the page, he found it to be a handsome mansion, presenting an appearance of joy and majesty. And he looked towards a grand chamber, in which he beheld noblemen and great lords; and in it were all kinds of flowers, and all kinds of sweet scents, and varieties of dried and fresh fruits, together with abundance of various kinds of exquisite viands, and beverage prepared from the fruit of the choicest grape-vines. In it were also instruments of music and mirth, and varieties of beautiful slave-girls, all ranged in proper order. And at the upper end of that chamber was a great and venerable man, in the sides of whose beard grey hairs had begun to appear. He was of handsome form, comely in countenance, with an aspect of gravity and dignity and majesty and stateliness. So, upon this, Es-Sindibad the Porter was confounded, and he said within himself, By Allah, this place is a portion of Paradise, or it is the palace of a King or Sultan! Then, putting himself in a respectful posture, he saluted the assembly, prayed for them, and kissed the ground before them; after which he stood, hanging down his head in humility. But the master of the house gave him permission to seat himself. He therefore sat. And the master of the house had caused him to draw near unto him, and now began to cheer him with conversation, and to welcome him; and he put before him some of the various excellent, delicious, exquisite viands. So Es-Sindibad the Porter advanced, and, having said, In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,—ate until he was satisfied and satiated, when he said, Praise be to God in every case!—and washed his hands, and thanked them for this.

  The master of the house then said, Thou art welcome, and thy day is blessed. What is thy name, and what trade dost thou follow?—O my master, he answered, my name is Es-Sindibad the Porter, and I bear upon my head men’s merchandise for hire. And at this, the master of the house smiled, and he said to him, Know, O porter, that thy name is like mine; for I am Es-Sindibad of the Sea: but, O porter, I desire that thou let me hear the verses that thou wast reciting when thou wast at the door. The porter therefore was ashamed, and said to him, I conjure thee by Allah that thou be not angry with me; for fatigue and trouble, and paucity of what the hand possesseth, teach a man ill manners, and impertinence. His host, however, replied, Be not ashamed; for thou hast become my brother; recite then the verses, since they pleased me when I heard them from thee as thou recitedst them at the door. So upon this the porter recited to him those verses, and they pleased him, and he was moved with delight on hearing them. He then said to him, O porter, know that my story is wonderful, and I will inform thee of all that happened to me and befell me before I attained this prosperity and sat in this place wherein thou seest me. For I attained not this prosperity and this place save after severe fatigue and great trouble and many terrors. How often have I endured fatigue and toil in my early years! I have performed seven voyages, and connected with each voyage is a wonderful tale, that would confound the mind. All that which I endured happened by fate and destiny, and from that which is written there is no escape nor flight.

Note 1. Or karawan: stone-curlew.

Nights 537–566
The First Voyage of Es-Sindibad of the Sea

KNOW, O master, O noble persons, that I had a father; a merchant, who was one of the first in rank among the people and the merchants, and who possessed abundant wealth and ample fortune. He died when I was a young child, leaving to me wealth and buildings and fields; and when I grew up, I put my hand upon the whole of the property, ate well and drank well, associated with the young men, wore handsome apparel, and passed my life with my friends and companions, feeling confident that this course would continue and profit me; and I ceased not to live in this manner for a length of time. I then returned to my reason, and recovered from my heedlessness, and found that my wealth had passed away, and my condition had changed, and all [the money] that I had possessed had gone. I recovered not to see my situation but in a state of fear and confusion of mind, and remembered a tale that I had heard before, the tale of our lord Suleyman the son of Da’ud (on both of whom be peace!), respecting his saying, Three things are better than three: the day of death is better than the day of birth; and a living dog is better than a dead lion; and the grave is better than the palace 1. Then I arose, and collected what I had, of effects and apparel, and sold them; after which I sold my buildings and all that my hand possessed, and amassed three thousand pieces of silver; and it occurred to my mind to travel to the countries of other people; and I remembered one of the sayings of the poets, which was this:—

In proportion to one’s labour, eminences are gained; and he who seeketh eminence passeth sleepless nights.
He diveth in the sea who seeketh for pearls, and succeedeth in acquiring lordship and good fortune.
Whoso seeketh eminence without labouring for it loseth his life in the search of vanity.

  Upon this, I resolved, and arose, and bought for myself goods and commodities and merchandise, with such other things as were required for travel; and my mind had consented to my performing a sea-voyage. So I embarked in a ship, and it descended to the city of El-Basrah, with a company of merchants; and we traversed the sea for many days and nights. We had passed by island after island, and from sea to sea, and from land to land, and in every place by which we passed we sold and bought, and exchanged merchandise. We continued our voyage until we arrived at an island like one of the gardens of Paradise, and at that island the master of the ship brought her to anchor with us. He cast the anchor, and put forth the landing-plank, and all who were in the ship landed upon that island. They had prepared for themselves fire-pots, and they lighted the fires in them; and their occupations were various: some cooked; others washed; and others amused themselves. I was among those who were amusing themselves upon the shores of the island, and the passengers were assembled to eat and drink and play and sport. But while we were thus engaged, lo, the master of the ship, standing upon its side, called out with his loudest voice, O ye passengers, whom may God preserve! come up quickly in to the ship, hasten to embark, and leave your merchandise, and flee with your lives, and save yourselves from destruction; for this apparent island, upon which ye are, is not really an island, but it is a great fish that hath become stationary in the midst of the sea, and the sand hath accumulated upon it, so that it hath become like an island, and trees have grown upon it since times of old; and when ye lighted the fire upon it, the fish felt the heat, and put itself in motion, and now it will descend with you into the sea, and ye will all be drowned: then seek for yourselves escape before destruction, and leave the merchandise.—The passengers, therefore, hearing the words of the master of the ship, hastened to go up into the vessel, leaving the merchandise, and their other goods, and their copper cooking-pots, and their fire-pots; and some reached the ship, and others reached it not. The island had moved, and descended to the bottom of the sea, with all that were upon it, and the roaring sea, agitated with waves, closed over it.

  I was among the number of those who remained behind upon the island; so I sank in the sea with the rest who sank. But God (whose name be exalted!) delivered me and saved me from drowning and supplied me with a great wooden bowl, of the bowls in which the passengers had been washing, and I laid hold upon it and got into it, induced by the sweetness of life, and beat the water with my feet as with oars, while the waves sported with me, tossing me to the right and left. The master of the vessel had caused her sails to be spread, and pursued his voyage with those who had embarked, not regarding such as had been submerged; and I ceased not to look at that vessel until it was concealed from my eye. I made sure of destruction, and night came upon me while I was in this state; but I remained so a day and a night, and the wind and the waves aided me until the bowl came to a stoppage with me under a high island, whereon were trees overhanging the sea. So I laid hold upon a branch of a lofty tree, and clung to it, after I had been at the point of destruction; and I kept hold upon it until I landed on the island, when I found my legs benumbed, and saw marks of the nibbling of fish upon their hams, of which I had been insensible by reason of the violence of the anguish and fatigue that I was suffering.

  I threw myself upon the island like one dead, and was unconscious of my existence, and drowned in my stupefaction; and I ceased not to remain in this condition until the next day. The sun having then risen upon me, I awoke upon the island, and found that my feet were swollen, and that I had become reduced to the state in which I then was. Awhile I dragged myself along in a sitting posture, and then I crawled upon my knees. And there were in the island fruits in abundance, and springs of sweet water: therefore I ate of those fruits; and I ceased not to continue in this state for many days and nights. My spirit had then revived, my soul had returned to me, and my power of motion was renewed; and I began to meditate, and to walk along the shore of the island, amusing myself among the trees with the sight of the things that God (whose name be exalted!) had created; and I had made for myself a staff from those trees, to lean upon it. Thus I remained until I walked, one day, upon the shore of the island, and there appeared unto me an indistinct object in the distance. I imagined that it was a wild beast, or one of the beasts of the sea; and I walked towards it, ceasing not to gaze at it; and, lo, it was a mare, of superb appearance, tethered in a part of the island by the sea-shore. I approached her; but she cried out against me with a great cry, and I trembled with fear of her, and was about to return, when, behold, a man came forth from beneath the earth, and he called to me and pursued me, saying to me, Who art thou, and whence hast thou come, and what is the cause of thine arrival in this place? So I answered him, O my master, know that I am a stranger, and I was in a ship, and was submerged in the sea with certain others of the passengers; but God supplied me with a wooden bowl, and I got into it, and it bore me along until the waves cast me upon this island. And when he heard my words, he laid hold of my hand and said to me, Come with me. I therefore went with him, and he descended with me into a grotto beneath the earth, and conducted me into a large subterranean chamber, and, having seated me at the upper end of that chamber, brought me some food. I was hungry; so I ate until I was satiated and contented, and my soul became at ease. Then he asked me respecting my case, and what had happened to me; wherefore I acquainted him with my whole affair from beginning to end; and he wondered at my story.

  And when I had finished my tale, I said, I conjure thee by Allah, O my master, that thou be not displeased with me: I have acquainted thee with the truth of my case and of what hath happened to me, and I desire of thee that thou inform me who thou art, and what is the cause of thy dwelling in this chamber that is beneath the earth, and what is the reason of thy tethering this mare by the sea-side. So he replied, Know that we are a party dispersed in this island, upon its shores, and we are the grooms of the King El-Mihraj, having under our care all his horses; and every month, when moonlight commenceth, we bring the swift mares, and tether them in this island, every mare that has not foaled, and conceal ourselves in this chamber beneath the earth, that they may attract the sea-horses. This is the time of the coming forth of the sea-horse; and afterwards, if it be the will of God (whose name be exalted!), I will take thee with me to the King El-Mihraj, and divert thee with the sight of our country. Know, moreover, that if thou hadst not met with us, thou hadst not seen any one in this place, and wouldst have died in misery, none knowing of thee. But I will be the means of the preservation of thy life, and of thy return to thy country.—I therefore prayed for him, and thanked him for his kindness and beneficence; and while we were thus talking, the horse came forth from the sea, as he had said. And shortly after, his companions came each leading a mare; and, seeing me with him, they inquired of me my story, and I told them what I had related to him. They then drew near to me, and spread the table, and ate, and invited me: so I ate with them; after which, they arose, and mounted the horses, taking me with them, having mounted me on a mare.

  We commenced our journey, and proceeded without ceasing until we arrived at the city of the King El-Mihraj, and they went in to him and acquainted him with my story. He therefore desired my presence, and they took me in to him, and stationed me before him; whereupon I saluted him, and he returned my salutation, and welcomed me, greeting me in an honourable manner, and inquired of me respecting my case. So I informed him of all that had happened to me, and of all that I had seen, from beginning to end; and he wondered at that which had befallen me and happened to me, and said to me, O my son, by Allah thou hast experienced an extraordinary preservation, and had it not been for the predestined length of thy life, thou hadst not escaped from these difficulties; but praise be to God for thy safety! Then he treated me with beneficence and honour, caused me to draw near to him, and began to cheer me with conversation and courtesy; and he made me his superintendent of the sea—port, and registrar of every vessel that came to the coast. I stood in his presence to transact his affairs, and he favoured me and benefited me in every respect; he invested me with a handsome and costly dress, and I became a person high in credit with him in intercessions, and in accomplishing the affairs of the people. I ceased not to remain in his service for a long time; and whenever I went to the shore of the sea, I used to inquire of the merchants and travellers and sailors respecting the direction of the city of Baghdad, that perchance some one might inform me of it, and I might go with him thither and return to my country; but none knew it, nor knew any one who went to it. At this I was perplexed, and I was weary of the length of my absence from home; and in this state I continued for a length of time, until I went in one day to the King El-Mihraj, and found with him a party of Indians. I saluted them, and they returned my salutation, and welcomed me, and asked me respecting my country; after which, I questioned them as to their country, and they told me that they consisted of various races. Among them are the Shakiriyeh, who are the most noble of their races, who oppress no one, nor offer violence to any. And among them are a class called the Brahmans, a people who never drink wine; but they are persons of pleasure and joy and sport and merriment, and possessed of camels and horses and cattle. They informed me also that the Indians are divided into seventy-two classes; and I wondered at this extremely. And I saw, in the dominions of the King El-Mihraj, an island, among others, which is called Kasil, in which is heard the beating of tambourines and drums throughout the night, and the islanders and travellers informed us that Ed-Dejjal 2 is in it. I saw too, in the sea in which is that island, a fish two hundred cubits long, and the fishermen fear it; wherefore they knock some pieces of wood, and it fleeth from them; and I saw a fish whose face was like that of the owl. I likewise saw during that voyage many wonderful and strange things, such that, if I related them to you, the description would be too long.

  I continued to amuse myself with the sight of those islands and the things that they contained, until I stood one day upon the shore of the sea, with a staff in my hand, as was my custom, and lo, a great vessel approached, wherein were many merchants; and when it arrived at the harbour of the city and its place of anchoring, the master furled its sails, brought it to an anchor by the shore, and put forth the landing-plank; and the sailors brought out every thing that was in that vessel to the shore. They were slow in taking forth the goods, while I stood writing their account, and I said to the master of the ship, Doth aught remain in thy vessel? He answered, Yes, O my master; I have some goods in the hold of the ship; but their owner was drowned in the sea at one of the islands during our voyage hither, and his goods are in our charge; so we desire to sell them, and to take a note of their price, in order to convey it to his family in the city of Baghdad, the Abode of Peace. I therefore said to the master, What was the name of that man, the owner of the goods? He answered, His name was Es-Sindibad of the Sea, and he was drowned on his voyage with us in the sea. And when I heard his words, I looked at him with a scrutinizing eye, and recognized him; and I cried out at him with a great cry, and said, O master, know that I am the owner of the goods which thou hast mentioned, and I am Es-Sindibad of the Sea, who descended upon the island from the ship, with the other merchants who descended; and when the fish that we were upon moved, and thou calledst out to us, some got into the vessel, and the rest sank, and I was among those who sank. But God (whose name be exalted!) preserved me and saved me from drowning by means of a large wooden bowl, of those in which passengers were washing, and I got into it, and began to beat the water with my feet, and the wind and the waves aided me until I arrived at this island, when I landed on it, and God (whose name be exalted!) assisted me, and I met the grooms of the King El-Mihraj, who took me with them and brought me to this city. They then led me in to the King El-Mihraj, and I acquainted him with my story; whereupon he bestowed benefits upon me, and appointed me clerk of the harbour of this city, and I obtained profit in his service, and favour with him. Therefore these goods that thou hast are my goods and my portion.

  But the master said, There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! There is no longer faith nor conscience in any one!—Wherefore, O master, said I, when thou hast heard me tell thee my story? He answered, Because thou heardest me say that I had goods whose owner was drowned: therefore thou desirest to take them without price; and this is unlawful to thee; for we saw him when he sank, and there were with him many of the passengers, not one of whom escaped. How then dost thou pretend that thou art the owner of the goods?—So I said to him, O master, hear my story, and understand my words, and my veracity will become manifest to thee; for falsehood is a characteristic of the hypocrites. Then I related to him all that I had done from the time that I went forth with him from the city of Baghdad until we arrived at that island upon which we were submerged in the sea, and I mentioned to him some circumstances that had occurred between me and him. Upon this, therefore, the master and the merchants were convinced of my veracity, and recognized me; and they congratulated me on my safety, all of them saying, By Allah, we believed not that thou hadst escaped drowning; but God hath granted thee a new life. They then gave me the goods, and I found my name written upon them, and nought of them was missing. So I opened them, and took forth from them something precious and costly; the sailors of the ship carried it with me, and I went up with it to the King to offer it as a present, and inform him that this ship was the one in which I was a passenger. I told him also that my goods had arrived all entire, and that this present was a part of them. And the King wondered at this affair extremely; my veracity in all that I had said became manifest to him, and he loved me greatly, and treated me with exceeding honour, giving me a large present in return for mine.

  Then I sold my bales, as well as the other goods that I had, and gained upon them abundantly; and I purchased other goods and merchandise and commodities of that city. And when the merchants of the ship desired to set forth on their voyage, I stowed all that I had in the vessel, and, going in to the King, thanked him for his beneficence and kindness; after which I begged him to grant me permission to depart on my voyage to my country and my family. So he bade me farewell, and gave me an abundance of things at my departure, of the commodities of that city; and when I had taken leave of him, I embarked in the ship, and we set sail by the permission of God, whose name be exalted! Fortune served us, and destiny aided us, and we ceased not to prosecute our voyage night and day until we arrived in safety at the city of El-Basrah. There we landed, and remained a short time; and I rejoiced at my safety, and my return to my country; and after that, I repaired to the city of Baghdad, the Abode of Peace, with abundance of bales and goods and merchandise of great value. Then I went to my quarter, and entered my house, and all my family and companions came to me. I procured for myself servants and other dependants, and memluks and concubines and male black slaves, so that I had a large establishment; and I purchased houses and other immovable possessions, more than I had at first. I enjoyed the society of my companions and friends, exceeding my former habits, and forgot all that I had suffered from fatigue, and absence from my native country, and difficulty, and the terrors of travel. I occupied myself with delights and pleasures, and delicious meats and exquisite drinks, and continued in this state. Such were the events of the first of my voyages; and to-morrow, if it be the will of God (whose name be exalted!), I will relate to you the tale of the second of the seven voyages.

  Es-Sindibad of the Sea then made Es-Sindibad of the Land to sup with him; after which he gave orders to present him with a hundred pieces of gold, and said to him, Thou hast cheered us by thy company this day. So the porter thanked him, and took from him what he had given him, and went his way, meditating upon the events that befell and happened to mankind, and wondering extremely. He slept that night in his abode; and when the morning came, he repaired to the house of Es-Sindibad of the Sea, and went in to him; and he welcomed him, and treated him with honour, seating him by him. And after the rest of his companions had come, the food and drink were set before them, and the time was pleasant to them, and they were merry. Then Es-Sindibad of the Sea began his narrative thus:— 3

Note 1. Eccles., vii. I; ix. 4. 
Note 2. Antichrist of the Muslims. 
Note 3. A paragraph similar to the preceding occurs at the end of the narrative of each of Es-Sindibad’s voyages, but, as in the case of Shahrazad’s repetitions each night, it is not here repeated. 


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