In the chronicles of the ancient dynasty
of the Sassanidae, who reigned for about four hundred
years, from Persia to the borders of China, beyond
the great river Ganges itself, we read the praises
of one of the kings of this race, who was said to
be the best monarch of his time. His subjects
loved him, and his neighbors feared him, and when he
died he left his kingdom in a more prosperous and
powerful condition than any king had done before him.
The two sons who survived him loved
each other tenderly, and it was a real grief to the
elder, Schahriar, that the laws of the empire forbade
him to share his dominions with his brother Schahzeman.
Indeed, after ten years, during which this state
of things had not ceased to trouble him, Schahriar
cut off the country of Great Tartary from the Persian
Empire and made his brother king.
Now the Sultan Schahriar had a wife
whom he loved more than all the world, and his greatest
happiness was to surround her with splendour, and
to give her the finest dresses and the most beautiful
jewels. It was therefore with the deepest shame
and sorrow that he accidentally discovered, after
several years, that she had deceived him completely,
and her whole conduct turned out to have been so bad,
that he felt himself obliged to carry out the law
of the land, and order the grand-vizir to put
her to death. The blow was so heavy that his
mind almost gave way, and he declared that he was
quite sure that at bottom all women were as wicked
as the sultana, if you could only find them out, and
that the fewer the world contained the better.
So every evening he married a fresh wife and had
her strangled the following morning before the grand-vizir,
whose duty it was to provide these unhappy brides
for the Sultan. The poor man fulfilled his task
with reluctance, but there was no escape, and every
day saw a girl married and a wife dead.
This behaviour caused the greatest
horror in the town, where nothing was heard but cries
and lamentations. In one house was a father
weeping for the loss of his daughter, in another perhaps
a mother trembling for the fate of her child; and
instead of the blessings that had formerly been heaped
on the Sultan’s head, the air was now full of
The grand-vizir himself was the
father of two daughters, of whom the elder was called
Scheherazade, and the younger Dinarzade. Dinarzade
had no particular gifts to distinguish her from other
girls, but her sister was clever and courageous in
the highest degree. Her father had given her
the best masters in philosophy, medicine, history and
the fine arts, and besides all this, her beauty excelled
that of any girl in the kingdom of Persia.
One day, when the grand-vizir
was talking to his eldest daughter, who was his delight
and pride, Scheherazade said to him, “Father,
I have a favour to ask of you. Will you grant
it to me?”
“I can refuse you nothing,”
replied he, “that is just and reasonable.”
“Then listen,” said Scheherazade.
“I am determined to stop this barbarous practice
of the Sultan’s, and to deliver the girls and
mothers from the awful fate that hangs over them.”
“It would be an excellent thing
to do,” returned the grand-vizir, “but
how do you propose to accomplish it?”
“My father,” answered
Scheherazade, “it is you who have to provide
the Sultan daily with a fresh wife, and I implore
you, by all the affection you bear me, to allow the
honour to fall upon me.”
“Have you lost your senses?”
cried the grand-vizir, starting back in horror.
“What has put such a thing into your head?
You ought to know by this time what it means to be
the sultan’s bride!”
“Yes, my father, I know it well,”
replied she, “and I am not afraid to think of
it. If I fail, my death will be a glorious one,
and if I succeed I shall have done a great service
to my country.”
“It is of no use,” said
the grand-vizir, “I shall never consent.
If the Sultan was to order me to plunge a dagger
in your heart, I should have to obey. What a
task for a father! Ah, if you do not fear death,
fear at any rate the anguish you would cause me.”
“Once again, my father,”
said Scheherazade, “will you grant me what I
“What, are you still so obstinate?”
exclaimed the grand-vizir. “Why are
you so resolved upon your own ruin?”
But the maiden absolutely refused
to attend to her father’s words, and at length,
in despair, the grand-vizir was obliged to give
way, and went sadly to the palace to tell the Sultan
that the following evening he would bring him Scheherazade.
The Sultan received this news with
the greatest astonishment.
“How have you made up your mind,”
he asked, “to sacrifice your own daughter to
“Sire,” answered the grand-vizir,
“it is her own wish. Even the sad fate
that awaits her could not hold her back.”
“Let there be no mistake, vizir,”
said the Sultan. “Remember you will have
to take her life yourself. If you refuse, I swear
that your head shall pay forfeit.”
“Sire,” returned the vizir.
“Whatever the cost, I will obey you. Though
a father, I am also your subject.” So the
Sultan told the grand-vizir he might bring his
daughter as soon as he liked.
The vizir took back this news
to Scheherazade, who received it as if it had been
the most pleasant thing in the world. She thanked
her father warmly for yielding to her wishes, and,
seeing him still bowed down with grief, told him that
she hoped he would never repent having allowed her
to marry the Sultan. Then she went to prepare
herself for the marriage, and begged that her sister
Dinarzade should be sent for to speak to her.
When they were alone, Scheherazade addressed her thus:
“My dear sister; I want your
help in a very important affair. My father is
going to take me to the palace to celebrate my marriage
with the Sultan. When his Highness receives
me, I shall beg him, as a last favour, to let you
sleep in our chamber, so that I may have your company
during the last night I am alive. If, as I hope,
he grants me my wish, be sure that you wake me an
hour before the dawn, and speak to me in these words:
’My sister, if you are not asleep, I beg you,
before the sun rises, to tell me one of your charming
stories.’ Then I shall begin, and I hope
by this means to deliver the people from the terror
that reigns over them.” Dinarzade replied
that she would do with pleasure what her sister wished.
When the usual hour arrived the grand-vizir
conducted Scheherazade to the palace, and left her
alone with the Sultan, who bade her raise her veil
and was amazed at her beauty. But seeing her
eyes full of tears, he asked what was the matter.
“Sire,” replied Scheherazade, “I
have a sister who loves me as tenderly as I love her.
Grant me the favour of allowing her to sleep this
night in the same room, as it is the last we shall
be together.” Schahriar consented to Scheherazade’s
petition and Dinarzade was sent for.
An hour before daybreak Dinarzade
awoke, and exclaimed, as she had promised, “My
dear sister, if you are not asleep, tell me I pray
you, before the sun rises, one of your charming stories.
It is the last time that I shall have the pleasure
of hearing you.”
Scheherazade did not answer her sister,
but turned to the Sultan. “Will your highness
permit me to do as my sister asks?” said she.
“Willingly,” he answered. So Scheherazade