Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
The Story of the Envious Man and of Him Who Was Envied
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In a town of moderate size, two men lived in
neighboring houses; but they had not been there very long before one man took
such a hatred of the other, and envied him so bitterly, that the poor man
determined to find another home, hoping that when they no longer met every day
his enemy would forget all about him. So he sold his house and the little
furniture it contained, and moved into the capital of the country, which was
luckily at no great distance. About half a mile from this city he bought a nice
little place, with a large garden and a fair-sized court, in the centre of which
stood an old well.
In order to live a quieter life, the good man put on the robe of a dervish, and
divided his house into a quantity of small cells, where he soon established a
number of other dervishes. The fame of his virtue gradually spread abroad, and
many people, including several of the highest quality, came to visit him and ask
Of course it was not long before his reputation reached the ears of the man who
envied him, and this wicked wretch resolved never to rest till he had in some
way worked ill to the dervish whom he hated. So he left his house and his
business to look after themselves, and betook himself to the new dervish
monastery, where he was welcomed by the founder with all the warmth imaginable.
The excuse he gave for his appearance was that he had come to consult the chief
of the dervishes on a private matter of great importance. "What I have to say
must not be overheard," he whispered; "command, I beg of you, that your
dervishes retire into their cells, as night is approaching, and meet me in the
The dervish did as he was asked without delay, and directly they were alone
together the envious man began to tell a long story, edging, as they walked to
and fro, always nearer to the well, and when they were quite close, he seized
the dervish and dropped him in. He then ran off triumphantly, without having
been seen by anyone, and congratulating himself that the object of his hatred
was dead, and would trouble him no more.
But in this he was mistaken! The old well had long been inhabited (unknown to
mere human beings) by a set of fairies and genii, who caught the dervish as he
fell, so that he received no hurt. The dervish himself could see nothing, but he
took for granted that something strange had happened, or he must certainly have
been dashed against the side of the well and been killed. He lay quite still,
and in a moment he heard a voice saying, "Can you guess whom this man is that we
have saved from death?"
"No," replied several other voices.
And the first speaker answered, "I will tell you. This man, from pure goodness
of heart, forsook the town where he lived and came to dwell here, in the hope of
curing one of his neighbours of the envy he felt towards him. But his character
soon won him the esteem of all, and the envious man's hatred grew, till he came
here with the deliberate intention of causing his death. And this he would have
done, without our help, the very day before the Sultan has arranged to visit
this holy dervish, and to entreat his prayers for the princess, his daughter."
"But what is the matter with the princess that she needs the dervish's prayers?"
asked another voice.
"She has fallen into the power of the genius Maimoum, the son of Dimdim,"
replied the first voice. "But it would be quite simple for this holy chief of
the dervishes to cure her if he only knew! In his convent there is a black cat
which has a tiny white tip to its tail. Now to cure the princess the dervish
must pull out seven of these white hairs, burn three, and with their smoke
perfume the head of the princess. This will deliver her so completely that
Maimoum, the son of Dimdim, will never dare to approach her again."
The fairies and genii ceased talking, but the dervish did not forget a word of
all they had said; and when morning came he perceived a place in the side of the
well which was broken, and where he could easily climb out.
The dervishes, who could not imagine what had become of him, were enchanted at
his reappearance. He told them of the attempt on his life made by his guest of
the previous day, and then retired into his cell. He was soon joined here by the
black cat of which the voice had spoken, who came as usual to say good-morning
to his master. He took him on his knee and seized the opportunity to pull seven
white hairs out of his tail, and put them on one side till they were needed.
The sun had not long risen before the Sultan, who was anxious to leave nothing
undone that might deliver the princess, arrived with a large suite at the gate
of the monastery, and was received by the dervishes with profound respect. The
Sultan lost no time in declaring the object of his visit, and leading the chief
of the dervishes aside, he said to him, "Noble scheik, you have guessed perhaps
what I have come to ask you?"
"Yes, sire," answered the dervish; "if I am not mistaken, it is the illness of
the princess which has procured me this honour."
"You are right," returned the Sultan, "and you will give me fresh life if you
can by your prayers deliver my daughter from the strange malady that has taken
possession of her."
"Let your highness command her to come here, and I will see what I can do."
The Sultan, full of hope, sent orders at once that the princess was to set out
as soon as possible, accompanied by her usual staff of attendants. When she
arrived, she was so thickly veiled that the dervish could not see her face, but
he desired a brazier to be held over her head, and laid the seven hairs on the
burning coals. The instant they were consumed, terrific cries were heard, but no
one could tell from whom they proceeded. Only the dervish guessed that they were
uttered by Maimoum the son of Dimdim, who felt the princess escaping him.
All this time she had seemed unconscious of what she was doing, but now she
raised her hand to her veil and uncovered her face. "Where am I? she said in a
bewildered manner; and how did I get here?"
The Sultan was so delighted to hear these words that he not only embraced his
daughter, but kissed the hand of the dervish. Then, turning to his attendants
who stood round, he said to them, "What reward shall I give to the man who has
restored me my daughter?"
They all replied with one accord that he deserved the hand of the princess.
"That is my own opinion," said he, "and from this moment I declare him to be my
Shortly after these events, the grand-vizir died, and his post was given to the
dervish. But he did not hold it for long, for the Sultan fell a victim to an
attack of illness, and as he had no sons, the soldiers and priests declared the
dervish heir to the throne, to the great joy of all the people.
One day, when the dervish, who had now become Sultan, was making a royal
progress with his court, he perceived the envious man standing in the crowd. He
made a sign to one of his vizirs, and whispered in his ear, "Fetch me that man
who is standing out there, but take great care not to frighten him." The vizir
obeyed, and when the envious man was brought before the Sultan, the monarch said
to him, "My friend, I am delighted to see you again." Then turning to an
officer, he added, "Give him a thousand pieces of gold out of my treasury, and
twenty waggon-loads of merchandise out of my private stores, and let an escort
of soldiers accompany him home." He then took leave of the envious man, and went
on his way.
Now when I had ended my story, I proceeded to show the genius how to apply it to
himself. "O genius," I said, "you see that this Sultan was not content with
merely forgiving the envious man for the attempt on his life; he heaped rewards
and riches upon him."
But the genius had made up his mind, and could not be softened. "Do not imagine
that you are going to escape so easily," he said. "All I can do is to give you
bare life; you will have to learn what happens to people who interfere with me."
As he spoke he seized me violently by the arm; the roof of the palace opened to
make way for us, and we mounted up so high into the air that the earth looked
like a little cloud. Then, as before, he came down with the swiftness of
lightning, and we touched the ground on a mountain top.
Then he stooped and gathered a handful of earth, and murmured some words over
it, after which he threw the earth in my face, saying as he did so, "Quit the
form of a man, and assume that of a monkey." This done, he vanished, and I was
in the likeness of an ape, and in a country I had never seen before.
However there was no use in stopping where I was, so I came down the mountain
and found myself in a flat plain which was bounded by the sea. I travelled
towards it, and was pleased to see a vessel moored about half a mile from shore.
There were no waves, so I broke off the branch of a tree, and dragging it down
to the waters edge, sat across it, while, using two sticks for oars, I rowed
myself towards the ship.
The deck was full of people, who watched my progress with interest, but when I
seized a rope and swung myself on board, I found that I had only escaped death
at the hands of the genius to perish by those of the sailors, lest I should
bring ill-luck to the vessel and the merchants. "Throw him into the sea!" cried
one. "Knock him on the head with a hammer," exclaimed another. "Let me shoot him
with an arrow," said a third; and certainly somebody would have had his way if I
had not flung myself at the captain's feet and grasped tight hold of his dress.
He appeared touched by my action and patted my head, and declared that he would
take me under his protection, and that no one should do me any harm.
At the end of about fifty days we cast anchor before a large town, and the ship
was immediately surrounded by a multitude of small boats filled with people, who
had come either to meet their friends or from simple curiosity. Among others,
one boat contained several officials, who asked to see the merchants on board,
and informed them that they had been sent by the Sultan in token of welcome, and
to beg them each to write a few lines on a roll of paper. "In order to explain
this strange request," continued the officers, "it is necessary that you should
know that the grand-vizir, lately dead, was celebrated for his beautiful
handwriting, and the Sultan is anxious to find a similar talent in his
successor. Hitherto the search has been a failure, but his Highness has not yet
given up hope."
One after another the merchants set down a few lines upon the roll, and when
they had all finished, I came forward, and snatched the paper from the man who
held it. At first they all thought I was going to throw it into the sea, but
they were quieted when they saw I held it with great care, and great was their
surprise when I made signs that I too wished to write something.
"Let him do it if he wants to," said the captain. "If he only makes a mess of
the paper, you may be sure I will punish him for it. But if, as I hope, he
really can write, for he is the cleverest monkey I ever saw, I will adopt him as
my son. The one I lost had not nearly so much sense!"
No more was said, and I took the pen and wrote the six sorts of writing in use
among the Arabs, and each sort contained an original verse or couplet, in praise
of the Sultan. And not only did my handwriting completely eclipse that of the
merchants, but it is hardly too much to say that none so beautiful had ever
before been seen in that country. When I had ended the officials took the roll
and returned to the Sultan.
As soon as the monarch saw my writing he did not so much as look at the samples
of the merchants, but desired his officials to take the finest and most richly
caparisoned horse in his stables, together with the most magnificent dress they
could procure, and to put it on the person who had written those lines, and
bring him to court.
The officials began to laugh when they heard the Sultan's command, but as soon
as they could speak they said, "Deign, your highness, to excuse our mirth, but
those lines were not written by a man but by a monkey."
"A monkey!" exclaimed the Sultan.
"Yes, sire," answered the officials. "They were written by a monkey in our
"Then bring me the monkey," he replied, "as fast as you can."
The Sultan's officials returned to the ship and showed the royal order to the
"He is the master," said the good man, and desired that I should be sent for.
Then they put on me the gorgeous robe and rowed me to land, where I was placed
on the horse and led to the palace. Here the Sultan was awaiting me in great
state surrounded by his court.
All the way along the streets I had been the object of curiosity to a vast
crowd, which had filled every doorway and every window, and it was amidst their
shouts and cheers that I was ushered into the presence of the Sultan.
I approached the throne on which he was seated and made him three low bows, then
prostrated myself at his feet to the surprise of everyone, who could not
understand how it was possible that a monkey should be able to distinguish a
Sultan from other people, and to pay him the respect due to his rank. However,
excepting the usual speech, I omitted none of the common forms attending a royal
When it was over the Sultan dismissed all the court, keeping with him only the
chief of the eunuchs and a little slave. He then passed into another room and
ordered food to be brought, making signs to me to sit at table with him and eat.
I rose from my seat, kissed the ground, and took my place at the table, eating,
as you may suppose, with care and in moderation.
Before the dishes were removed I made signs that writing materials, which stood
in one corner of the room, should be laid in front of me. I then took a peach
and wrote on it some verses in praise of the Sultan, who was speechless with
astonishment; but when I did the same thing on a glass from which I had drunk he
murmured to himself, "Why, a man who could do as much would be cleverer than any
other man, and this is only a monkey!"
Supper being over chessmen were brought, and the Sultan signed to me to know if
I would play with him. I kissed the ground and laid my hand on my head to show
that I was ready to show myself worthy of the honour. He beat me the first game,
but I won the second and third, and seeing that this did not quite please I
dashed off a verse by way of consolation.
The Sultan was so enchanted with all the talents of which I had given proof that
he wished me to exhibit some of them to other people. So turning to the chief of
the eunuchs he said, "Go and beg my daughter, Queen of Beauty, to come here. I
will show her something she has never seen before."
The chief of the eunuchs bowed and left the room, ushering in a few moments
later the princess, Queen of Beauty. Her face was uncovered, but the moment she
set foot in the room she threw her veil over her head. "Sire," she said to her
father, "what can you be thinking of to summon me like this into the presence of
"I do not understand you," replied the Sultan. "There is nobody here but the
eunuch, who is your own servant, the little slave, and myself, yet you cover
yourself with your veil and reproach me for having sent for you, as if I had
committed a crime."
"Sire," answered the princess, "I am right and you are wrong. This monkey is
really no monkey at all, but a young prince who has been turned into a monkey by
the wicked spells of a genius, son of the daughter of Eblis."
As will be imagined, these words took the Sultan by surprise, and he looked at
me to see how I should take the statement of the princess. As I was unable to
speak, I placed my hand on my head to show that it was true.
"But how do you know this, my daughter?" asked he.
"Sire," replied Queen of Beauty, "the old lady who took care of me in my
childhood was an accomplished magician, and she taught me seventy rules of her
art, by means of which I could, in the twinkling of an eye, transplant your
capital into the middle of the ocean. Her art likewise teaches me to recognise
at first sight all persons who are enchanted, and tells me by whom the spell was
"My daughter," said the Sultan, "I really had no idea you were so clever."
"Sire," replied the princess, "there are many out-of-the-way things it is as
well to know, but one should never boast of them."
"Well," asked the Sultan, "can you tell me what must be done to disenchant the
"Certainly; and I can do it."
"Then restore him to his former shape," cried the Sultan. "You could give me no
greater pleasure, for I wish to make him my grand-vizir, and to give him to you
for your husband."
"As your Highness pleases," replied the princess.
Queen of Beauty rose and went to her chamber, from which she fetched a knife
with some Hebrew words engraven on the blade. She then desired the Sultan, the
chief of the eunuchs, the little slave, and myself to descend into a secret
court of the palace, and placed us beneath a gallery which ran all round, she
herself standing in the centre of the court. Here she traced a large circle and
in it wrote several words in Arab characters.
When the circle and the writing were finished she stood in the middle of it and
repeated some verses from the Koran. Slowly the air grew dark, and we felt as if
the earth was about to crumble away, and our fright was by no means diminished
at seeing the genius, son of the daughter of Eblis, suddenly appear under the
form of a colossal lion.
"Dog," cried the princess when she first caught sight of him, "you think to
strike terror into me by daring to present yourself before me in this hideous
"And you," retorted the lion, "have not feared to break our treaty that engaged
solemnly we should never interfere with each other."
"Accursed genius!" exclaimed the princess, "it is you by whom that treaty was
"I will teach you how to give me so much trouble," said the lion, and opening
his huge mouth he advanced to swallow her. But the princess expected something
of the sort and was on her guard. She bounded on one side, and seizing one of
the hairs of his mane repeated two or three words over it. In an instant it
became a sword, and with a sharp blow she cut the lion's body into two pieces.
These pieces vanished no one knew where, and only the lion's head remained,
which was at once changed into a scorpion. Quick as thought the princess assumed
the form of a serpent and gave battle to the scorpion, who, finding he was
getting the worst of it, turned himself into an eagle and took flight. But in a
moment the serpent had become an eagle more powerful still, who soared up in the
air and after him, and then we lost sight of them both.
We all remained where we were quaking with anxiety, when the ground opened in
front of us and a black and white cat leapt out, its hair standing on end, and
miauing frightfully. At its heels was a wolf, who had almost seized it, when the
cat changed itself into a worm, and, piercing the skin of a pomegranate which
had tumbled from a tree, hid itself in the fruit. The pomegranate swelled till
it grew as large as a pumpkin, and raised itself on to the roof of the gallery,
from which it fell into the court and was broken into bits. While this was
taking place the wolf, who had transformed himself into a cock, began to swallow
the seed of the pomegranate as fast as he could. When all were gone he flew
towards us, flapping his wings as if to ask if we saw any more, when suddenly
his eye fell on one which lay on the bank of the little canal that flowed
through the court; he hastened towards it, but before he could touch it the seed
rolled into the canal and became a fish. The cock flung him-self in after the
fish and took the shape of a pike, and for two hours they chased each other up
and down under the water, uttering horrible cries, but we could see nothing. At
length they rose from the water in their proper forms, but darting such flames
of fire from their mouths that we dreaded lest the palace should catch fire.
Soon, however, we had much greater cause for alarm, as the genius, having shaken
off the princess, flew towards us. Our fate would have been sealed if the
princess, seeing our danger, had not attracted the attention of the genius to
herself. As it was, the Sultan's beard was singed and his face scorched, the
chief of the eunuchs was burned to a cinder, while a spark deprived me of the
sight of one eye. Both I and the Sultan had given up all hope of a rescue, when
there was a shout of "Victory, victory!" from the princess, and the genius lay
at her feet a great heap of ashes.
Exhausted though she was, the princess at once ordered the little slave, who
alone was uninjured, to bring her a cup of water, which she took in her hand.
First repeating some magic words over it, she dashed it into my face saying, "If
you are only a monkey by enchantment, resume the form of the man you were
before." In an instant I stood before her the same man I had formerly been,
though having lost the sight of one eye.
I was about to fall on my knees and thank the princess but she did not give me
time. Turning to the Sultan, her father, she said, "Sire, I have gained the
battle, but it has cost me dear. The fire has penetrated to my heart, and I have
only a few moments to live. This would not have happened if I had only noticed
the last pomegranate seed and eaten it like the rest. It was the last struggle
of the genius, and up to that time I was quite safe. But having let this chance
slip I was forced to resort to fire, and in spite of all his experience I showed
the genius that I knew more than he did. He is dead and in ashes, but my own
death is approaching fast." "My daughter," cried the Sultan, "how sad is my
condition! I am only surprised I am alive at all! The eunuch is consumed by the
flames, and the prince whom you have delivered has lost the sight of one eye."
He could say no more, for sobs choked his voice, and we all wept together.
Suddenly the princess shrieked, "I burn, I burn!" and death came to free her
from her torments.
I have no words, madam, to tell you of my feelings at this terrible sight. I
would rather have remained a monkey all my life than let my benefactress perish
in this shocking manner. As for the Sultan, he was quite inconsolable, and his
subjects, who had dearly loved the princess, shared his grief. For seven days
the whole nation mourned, and then the ashes of the princess were buried with
great pomp, and a superb tomb was raised over her.
As soon as the Sultan recovered from the severe illness which had seized him
after the death of the princess he sent for me and plainly, though politely,
informed me that my presence would always remind him of his loss, and he begged
that I would instantly quit his kingdom, and on pain of death never return to
it. I was, of course, bound to obey, and not knowing what was to become of me I
shaved my beard and eyebrows and put on the dress of a calender. After wandering
aimlessly through several countries, I resolved to come to Bagdad and request an
audience of the Commander of the Faithful.
And that, madam, is my story.
The other Calender then told his story.
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