The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/The Forbidden Doors of the Thousand and One Nights
THE FORBIDDEN DOORS OF THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.
By W. F. Kirby.
[Read at the Evening Meeting, 26th March, 1887.]
IT is interesting to reduce a popular story to its lowest terms, and to discover (as we often may without much difficulty) the very insignificant-looldng tap-root from which a most luxuriant growth has arisen. I remember once seeing the argument of "Paradise Lost" summed up as follows: "A man and woman find themselves in a garden; they are caught stealing the fruit, and are driven out."
I propose to call attention to five tales of The Thousand and One Nights, differing greatly from each other, and yet all based upon two fundamental ideas, and these very simple: (1) the existence of a door, which the hero is forbidden to open; and (2) his falling in love with a beautiful woman whom he sees from the house-top. As regards the latter incident (illustrated in the Old Testament by the story of David and Bathsheba), the flat roofs of Eastern houses, combined with the seclusion of women, must make it an almost everyday occurrence in the East. The five tales which I am about to consider lead us gradually from the simplest form of the story to the most complex, and they will also furnish occasion for observations on many collateral points besides the two which I have emphasised. Taking them in their natural order of complexity they may be arranged as follows:—
- I. The House with the Belvedere.
- II. The Man who never Laughed during the rest of his Life.
- III. The Third Kalandar's Tale.
- IV. The story of Janshah.
- V. Hasan of Bassorah.
All these tales are to be found in the translations of Mr. Payne and Sir Richard Burton ; and all, except that of Janshah, in that of the late Mr. E. W. Lane. It is to be regretted that the only version of Janshah in a published English edition is that of Lamb, taken from Zinserling's translation of Von Hammer's lost French version: and Von Hammer's rendering of this story is one of his very worst, in fact it is so confused as to render it highly probable that several pages of his MS. were transposed. Trébutien's French version is likewise taken from Zinserling; but the only good European version of the story with which I am acquainted besides the two English ones is the German translation of Weil. In a few months, however. Lady Burton's published edition may be expected to render Janshah as accessible to the English public as the Third Kalandar's Tale, the only story of the cycle which occurs in Galland's version.
But to return from this digression. The House with the Belvedere and The Man who never Laughed again are tales which form part of the cluster which goes by the following names: (1) The Book of Sindibad; (2) The Craft and Malice of Women (not to be confounded with a short tale called Women's Craft, which is found in the Breslau and Wortley Montague texts, as well as in the Persian Thousand and One Days, where it forms part of the story of Prince Fadlallah); and (3) The Story of the King, his Son, the Seven Wazirs, and the Damsel.
The House with the Belvedere is a house which cannot be entered without danger of sicknsss or death, and in this respect it resembles the haunted house in the story of Ali of Cairo. In the latter case, however, every one who entered was challenged by the Jinn in the name of a man for whom an enchanted treasure was reserved, and whoever did not respond to the name was put to death. In the tale now under consideration, the house is taken by a young man, who retains his health for some time, when he is accosted by an old woman (the usual go-between in Arab intrigues), who, finding him well, says, "I suppose thou hast not gone up to the upper story, neither looked out from the belvedere there." On searching the garden, the young man finds a door covered with cobwebs, and hesitates to open it lest this should be a sign of death lurking within. (The incident of the cobwebs is probably taken from the story of Mohammad hiding in a cave during his Flight, and his pursuers being deceived by a spider's web woven over the mouth.) Our hero at length summons courage, ascends to the belvedere, and sees a beautiful damsel sitting in another belvedere, and at once falls ill with love. Ultimately he obtains possession of her by means of the old woman. In the corresponding and probably older story of the Concealed Robe in the Persian Book of Sindibad (given by Mr. Clouston in his work on Sindibad, p. 73) the secret door does not appear. But I believe that there is some connection between forbidden doors and the adventures of the god Frey in the Eddas. Othin and Frigga alone are privileged to sit on the throne Hliðskjálf, from whence they can view the whole earth ; but Frey, moved by curiosity, once ascended it, and, as a just punishment for his presumption, was seized with mad love for the giantess Gerda, whom he could only obtain by giving up to his messenger Skimir the sword which he ought to have reserved to fight the enemies of the gods; and, having thus lost his weapon, he will be slain by the terrible Surtur at the great battle of Ragnarõk ; and, although we are told that Surtur is to vanquish all the gods, yet Frey is the only antagonist with whom his encounter is specially mentioned.
Leaving the simplest form of the Forbidden Door, we have next to consider two very similar stories—The Man who never Laughed again and The Third Kalandar. In the former tale a young spendthrift, who is reduced to beggary, is hired to wait on eleven old men, who live together in a grand house, dress in mourning, and weep and lament. One by one they die, and the last cautions the youth not to open a particular door. This also is covered with cobwebs, and is fastened with steel padlocks. The youth opens it, and it leads him through a long passage to the shore of a sea (or river, in some versions), where a great eagle pounces upon him and carries him to an island. He is taken up by a ship, and conveyed to a country inhabited only by women, where he is married to a beautiful queen, and acknowledged as king. The queen again forbids him to open a particular door, but, after seven years, he ventures to do so, thinking to behold greater treasures than he had yet seen, but he finds only the bird within, which carries him back to the seashore. He returns to the house where he had lived with the old men, pines away with vain regrets, and dies. Mr. Hartland (Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. p. 230) thinks that there was probably only one forbidden door in the original form of the story, and that the absence of any allusion to the harem may be regarded as a sign of antiquity. Mr. Clouston (Book of Sindibad, pp. 308-310) refers to several cognate Indian stories. Sir Richard Burton once remarked to me that he considers the forbidden door as a test of whether the real hero, destined to perpetual felicity, has arrived. If he resisted the temptation and did not open the door, he would simply live happy ever afterwards, and there would be no story to relate.
The story of the Third Kalandar is on nearly the same lines as that of the man who never laughed again. Here a wandering prince arrives at a palace inhabited by one old man and ten young men all blind of the left eye, who lament and smear their faces with soot and ashes every night. On asking for an explanation of these strange things, the prince is sewn up in the skin of a ram, and carried by a rukh to another palace inhabited by forty damsels, with whom he remains till the end of the year, one or other being always at his disposal. At the beginning of the new year they leave him for forty days, strictly forbidding him to open a particular door, within which he finds a winged horse which carries him back to the first palace, where it whisks out his eye with its tail, and the eleven one-eyed men banish him from their company. This story is distinguished from the others by the hero losing an eye, and by his falling in love with forty damsels at once. The heroes of all the other tales of this class content themselves with one bride only. I do not discuss the remainder of the Third Kalandar's story, as it has little or no connection either with forbidden doors or with any of the other stories which relate to them.
In the stories of Janshah and Hasan we have far more elaborate developments, nor do the heroes encounter any calamity which they are unable to surmount, if we except the death of Shamssah at the end of Janshah's adventures. The story of Janshah again introduces us to a prince, who, like Seyf El Mulook in The Thousand and One Nights, and the Prince of Kharezm in The Forty Vezirs, is predestined from his birth to hardship and wandering. (The Traveller's Tales of The Thousand and One Nights form a large and highly interesting series, one or two of which touch upon our present subject.) I have already mentioned that Von Hammer's version of this tale is unintelligible ; but there is positive proof that it does not exist in its original form even in the genuine text of The Nights, for we find Janshah boasting to Bulukiya that he has "looked upon our lord Solomon in his life," though, when he comes to tell his story, it turns out that he has merely visited the courts of Solomon's vice-gerents. Janshah was the prince of Kabul, a city second to none in the glories of Eastern romance ; for here Rudabeh was wooed by Zal, and became the mother of Rustem.
Janshah's adventures begin by his being driven out to sea with a few attendants. In The Nights, most if not all the voyages seem to be coasting voyages, and if the vessel is once driven out of sight of land, or upon a coast unknown to the captain and crew, every one is at fault ; but Janshah was simply cruising about in a fishing-boat. Once out of their reckoning, Janshah and his men sail from island to island and meet with various adventures. On one island they find cannibal monsters, who divide themselves in half. This incident is remarkable as being the only allusion in The Nights to the Nesuas, or half-man, except in Scott's story of the Sage and his Pupil. At length they arrive at a country inhabited by apes, and Janshah is compelled to become their king. Seyf El Mulook, another wandering prince, also came to a land of apes, but was more fortunate, for they already had a king, and he was able to pursue his journey when he pleased, without let or hindrance. Janshah and his men dwell with the apes for some time, making successful war upon the Ghuls who are their enemies. In the mountains Janshah finds a tablet written by Solomon which informs him that there are only two passes leading from the country of the apes; one to the east "swarming with Ghuls and wild beasts, Marids and Ifrits" (this reminds us of the approach to the Islands of Wak-wak, in the Story of Hasan of Bassorah), and leading to the shore of the Circumambient Ocean; and the other through the Wady of Ants to a river which dries up every Sabbath, on the other bank of which stands a city inhabited solely by Jews. Janshah is pursued by the apes, but they are attacked by the ants which are as large as dogs; and he succeeds in escaping across a river, but loses all his attendants.
There is no mention of ants in the version of Seyf El Mulook in The Thousand and One Nights, but in the Persian version in The Thousand and One Days, which I take to represent an earlier form of this story, Seyf's companion Saed is devoured one night, while they are sleeping together on an island infested by ants, Seyf himself only escaping through the magic power of his ring. So incredible did this incident appear to the English or Scotch translator of the version in Weber's Tales of the East that he has actually turned the ants into "wild beasts," reminding one of the old story of the African chief who swallowed every yarn the sailor told him, till he said that water sometimes became hard enough to walk upon in his country, when the chief lost all patience, and became highly indignant with him for telling such lies.
I think there is little doubt that the stories of ants in these Eastern tales are connected with the account which Herodotus gives of the ants in the deserts of Northern India, and which he describes as "somewhat less than dogs, but larger than foxes." (Thalia, § 102-105.)
Janshah, leaving the ants behind him, proceeds on his journey alone till he reaches the Sabbath river, which he crosses, and arrives at the city of the Jews. While waiting for a caravan to take him home, he hears a crier offering a thousand pieces of gold and a beautiful slave-girl in return for a single day's work. On answering the proclamation, Janshah is taken to a merchant, who leads him to the foot of a high mountain, where he sews him up in the skin of a mule. A huge bird carries Janshah to the summit of the mountain, whence he throws down precious stones to the Jew, who abandons him to his fate. Janshah wanders over the mountains till he arrives at the palace of Sheykh Nasr, Solomon's deputy-ruler of the birds, who receives him kindly, and promises to send him home when the birds arrive to pay him their usual annual visit. When the day comes, the sheykh goes forth to receive the homage of the birds, giving Janshah the keys of the palace to amuse himself with, and, of course, warns him not to open a particular door. Within it Janshah finds a great basin of water, a pavilion, and a great open saloon, containing many wonderful objects. Presently three doves, as large as eagles, descend to the basin, cast off their feather-dresses, and become three beautiful maidens, who bathe there. Janshah joins and converses with them (a very unusual circumstance in any tale of the kind, and wholly inconsistent with what follows), and they presently fly away, and leave him disconsolate.
The Jinn in most of the tales of The Thousand and One Nights resemble the Shedim or Mazikeen of the Jews; but the beautiful and gracious beings spoken of in such stories as Janshah and Hasan are human, except in their supernatural power, and more closely resemble the peris of Persia and the fairies of Italian romance, the Ifrits and Morids being represented as their subjects or slaves. The Deevs of Persia have more resemblance to the devils of the Middle Ages than to the evil Jinn of the Arabian Nights.
By the advice of Sheykh Nasr, Janshah waits his opportunity till next year; but it seems very inconsequential that, after their previous meeting with Janshah, one of the maidens should express her anxiety lest some one should be lying ambushed in the pavilion, and another should reply that there was no cause for anxiety, because none had entered the pavilion since the time of Solomon, neither man nor Jinni. Janshah steals their clothes, and Shamssah, the youngest, consents to become his wife. They remain with Sheykh Nasr for three months, after which Shamssah dons her feather-dress, and carries Janshah to Kabul, a journey of thirty months, in two days. Janshah's father. King Teghmus, builds a splendid palace for the pair, and buries the feather-dress under the foundations; and the wedding is celebrated with great pomp. But at midnight Shamssah, having found her feather-dress by her keen sense of smell, flies away to her own country, bidding Janshah seek her in Takni, the Castle of Jewels.
Janshah falls into a melancholy state, and King Teghmus, being much occupied in condoling with him, is attacked by the hostile kings Kafid and Fakun. Teghmus goes to the war; and, after two months' time, Janshah sets out on pretence of following him, but he gives his escort the slip; and, on the news reaching Teghmus, the latter shuts himself up in Kabul in despair, where he is beleaguered by King Kafid for seven years. Meantime Janshah makes his way back to the city of the Jews, where he again engages himself to the Jew merchant, and returns to the palace of Sheykh Nasr. At the annual meeting of the birds, none of them can give any information respecting the Castle of Jewels; and Sheykh Nasr commands a great bird to carry Janshah back to Kabul, but the bird misses his way, and they arrive at the palace of Sheykh Badri, the King of the Beasts. He receives Janshah kindly; but, when the beasts assemble, they also know nothing of the Castle of Jewels. Then Sheykh Badri sends Janshah to his brother. King Shimakh; and he sends him on to his superior, the monk Yaghmus, the most powerful of living beings, who had lived since the time of Noah. At length Janshah meets with a bird, who carries him to the Hill of Crystal, behind Mount Kaf. Here he is in sight of the Castle of Jewels, though still two months' journey distant. When he at length arrives, he is received in the kindest manner by King Shahlan, his father-in-law; and, after a time, he returns to Kabul with his wife, escorted by Marids, who destroy King Kafid's army, though the king himself receives a contemptuous dismissal, his life being granted him at Shamssah's request. After this Janshah and his wife pass a pleasant life, spending one year at Kabul and another at the Castle of Jewels, till Shamssah is killed by a shark while bathing, and Janshah sits by her grave weeping for the rest of his days.
The story of Janshah, though purely Arab in its present form, is combined in the Arabian Nights with two other tales, those of Hasib and Bulukiya, which are very decidedly Indian in their characteristics.
The last of the tales on our list is the great prose epic of Hasan of Bassorah, one of the longest, most interesting, and most coherent of the tales of The Thousand and One Nights. Hasan is no prince but a poor goldsmith, who is drugged by a Persian fire-worshipper, and carried by a great bird to the summit of the Mountain of the Clouds, whence he flings down several bundles of wood to the expectant Magian, who, it is implied, uses them in the preparation of the philosopher's stone. From thence Hasan dives from a precipice into a lake, and, after swimming ashore, he arrives at a palace inhabited by seven damsels, the daughters of a powerful King of the Jinn. The youngest of the maidens adopts Hasan as her foster-brother, and he remains in the palace for some time, till the sisters are summoned to a wedding; and they depart for two months, giving Hasan their keys, and forbidding him to open one door. Within it he finds a staircase leading to the terraced roofs of the palace, with a view over the gardens, and he wanders over the roof till he reaches a splendid pavilion, in the midst of which is a great basin of water. Thither ten birds repair, not sisters, but a princess and her handmaids. Hasan's foster-sister recognises the former by description as the daughter of the supreme King of the Jinn. When the princess returns, Hasan steals her feather-dress, and, after waiting till her companions have flown away, he drags her into the palace by her hair—which Sir Richard Burton explains as a symbolic marriage by capture, thereby legalising their union. This may be correct, for the first impression conveyed by this proceeding, which is specially insisted upon by Hasan's foster-sister, is that of needless if not brutal violence. Hasan's beloved is told that her feather-dress is burned; and she is easily reconciled to her fate, and consents to become Hasan's wife.
After a while, Hasan remembers the distress of his mother, who was left behind when he was stolen by the Persian; and he and his wife return to Bassorah. To avoid trouble on account of his sudden wealth, Hasan and his family remove to Baghdad, where they dwell for three years, during which time two sons are born.
Hasan then remembers his foster-sister, and sets out to visit her; but during his absence his wife, who has overheard him telling his mother where the feather-dress is hidden, persuades the old lady to let her visit the bath. The report of the beauty of the princess spreads through the city, and comes to the ears of the Empress Zubeydah, who sends for her, and is induced to compel the mother-in-law to give up the feather-dress. The princess takes her children, wraps herself in the feather-dress, and, becoming a bird, returns home, leaving a message for her husband that he must seek her out in the islands of Wak-wak.
It may be observed that although this princess and her family are far less amiable than Shamssah and her connections, yet Shamssah had less cause for deserting Janshah. Shamssah was married with her own consent, and with the knowledge of her sisters, and she had no cause for jealousy; whereas Hasan's wife had been torn from her family without their having any news of her; and it is clear that she felt herself neglected by her husband, even if she was not actually jealous of his foster-sister, though it must not be forgotten that marriage with a foster-sister, according to Eastern ideas, would be equivalent to incest.
When Hasan returns home and discovers his loss, he travels back to the palace of the princesses, which he is able to reach in a very short time, having slain the Persian, and possessed himself of his magic drum, with which he can summon any number of camels whenever he needs them. The princesses and their uncle, Abd El Kuddoos, whom they summon to their counsels, in vain endeavour to persuade Hasan to return to Baghdad; and at length the Sheykh takes him to a cavern, where he gives him a black horse, which conveys him to the Sheykh Abu-r-Ruweysh, who mounts him on an Ifrit, who carries him to the land of Camphor, opposite the islands of Wak-wak. These islands are inhabited by monsters of all kinds; and trees grew there bearing fruits like the heads of women, suspended by the hair, which cry out wak-wak at sunrise and sunset. This is the cry of the great bird of Paradise, in the Aru Islands, near New Guinea; and ever since reading the account of the bird in Wallace's Malay Archipelago I have regarded these islands as the islands of Wak-wak. Sir Richard Burton (vol. viii. p. 60, note) says that there are two Wak-waks, one being the peninsula of Guadafui (where the calabash-tree bears gourds resembling a man's head), and the other in the East Indies, about the location of which he seems in doubt.
Hassan, the king of the land of Camphor, sends Hasan in a ship across the strait, and on arriving on the shore of the territories of Wak-wak, the old woman, Shawahi Umm-ed-Dawahi, the leader of the army of amazons, takes him under her protection. When the army marches, they traverse three regions rendered almost impassable by swarms of birds, hosts of wild beasts, and legions of devils respectively; and at length arrive at the territories of the eldest of the seven daughters of the king of the islands of Wak-wak. Hasan recognises in this queen a great resemblance to his wife; and the queen, Noor El Huda, sends to her father for her sister (Menar-es-Sena). When Noor El Huda is convinced of her sister's mésalliance, she casts her into prison, and drives out Hasan, who wanders into the country, where he meets with two boys, the sons of a magician, who are quarreling over two talismans which their father has left them; a cap of darkness and a rod which gives the possessor power over seven tribes of the Jinn. With these talismans, which Hasan steals from the boys, he releases his wife and children, and escapes, accompanied by the old woman, Shawahi. They are pursued by Queen Noor El Huda, who is defeated after a three days' battle; but her sister begs her life, and makes peace between her and Shawahi. The queen and Shawahi then return to their own country, while Hasan and his family pursue their journey to the palace of the princesses. Here they rest awhile; and Abd El Kuddoos begs the talismans for himself and Abu-r-Ruweysh. Hasan's sister reproaches Menar-es-Sena with deserting her husband, and she answers with a laugh, "Whoso beguileth folk, him shall Allah beguile." Sir Richard Burton explains this as an allusion to Hasan having stolen her feather-dress; but I understand it rather to refer to her own desertion of her husband, and to the illtreatment she afterwards experienced from her sister.
Scott's MS., in addition to the story of Hasan of Bassorah, contains an abridgment (translated in vol. vi. of his Arabian Nights, and included in my own New Arabian Nights) under the title of "Mazin of Khorassaun." It differs little, except in length, and in some of the details of the journeys, and in the account of the talismans. Gauttier's French translation, and Habicht's German translation, which is derived from it, give Scott's story under the title of "Azem and the Queen of the Genii."
I might have mentioned that when the hero arrived at the palace of the princesses he finds two of them playing at chess—but chess is frequently mentioned in the Arabian Nights.
In the latter part of my paper I fear I have wandered a little from my main subject; but I have used it partly as a peg on which to hang various notes connected with the series of Arabian stories of forbidden doors, and I hope they have not been found altogether uninteresting.
While I was engaged on this paper, Mr. Nutt kindly referred me to Mr. Sidney Hartland's paper on the "Forbidden Chamber" (Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. pp. 193-242); but I found that Mr. Hartland had taken a different line to mine, and that it was unnecessary for me to remodel my own essay. I was, however, much interested to find the abstract of a story quoted by Hartland, p. 223, from Spitta Bey's Contes Arabes Modernes (a book which I had not seen), which is clearly derived from the same source as Chavis and Cazotte's story of the Maugraby, proving that Gauttier was quite wrong in supposing that the latter was based upon the rather bald and uninteresting story of Prince Benazir (Compare Gauttier, Mille et une Nuits, vol. vii. p. 217; Kirby in Burton's Thousand and One Nights, vol. x. p. 473). In another of Spitta Bey's tales I find a version of the Jealous Sisters, more resembling Galland's in some particulars than any other with which I am acquainted; while a third contains the story of the Nose-Tree, which I had not met with before in any genuine Oriental form.
- I have generally followed Sir Richard Burton's version, though in some cases I have preferred Lane's spelling of proper names.
- 13th Vezir's Story of Gibb's Translation, p. 151.
- This shows the Persian origin of the story, for peris frequently appear thus, under the form of doves.
- In the version of Hasan of Bassorab, given in the Select Library Edition of the Arabian Nights Entertainments (London, 1847), Menar-es-Sena is called Nur-al-Nissa.
- This old woman is a witch, and in one passage she is described as riding on a Greek jar of red earthenware.