The Tale of the Wazir and the Sage Duban

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The Tale of the Wazir and the Sage Duban

Know, O thou Ifrit, that in days of yore and in ages long gone before, a King called Yunan reigned over the city of Fars of the land of the Roum.[1] He was a powerful ruler and a wealthy, who had armies and guards and allies of all nations of men; but his body was afflicted with a leprosy which leaches and men of science failed to heal. He drank potions and he swallowed powders and he used unguents, but naught did him good and none among the host of physicians availed to procure him a cure. At last there came to his city a mighty healer of men and one well stricken in years, the sage Duban hight. This man was a reader of books, Greek, Persian, Roman, Arabian, and Syrian; and he was skilled in astronomy and in leechcraft, the theorick as well as the practick; he was experienced in all that healeth and that hurteth the body; conversant with the virtues of every plant, grass and herb, and their benefit and bane; and he understood philosophy and had compassed the whole range of medical science and other branches of the knowledge-tree. Now this physician passed but few days in the city, ere he heard of the King's malady and all his bodily sufferings through the leprosy with which Allah had smitten him; and how all the doctors and wise men had failed to heal him. Upon this he sat up through the night in deep thought and, when broke the dawn and appeared the morn and light was again born, and the Sun greeted the Good whose beauties the world adorn,[2] he donned his handsomest dress and going in to King Yunan, he kissed the ground before him: then he prayed for the endurance

1^  The geography is ultra-Shakespearean. "Fárs" (whence "Persia") is the central Province of the grand old Empire now a mere wreck, "Rúm" (which I write Roum, in order to avoid Jamaica) is the neo-Roman or Byzantine Empire, while "Yunan" is the classical Arab term for Greece (Ionia) which unlearned Moslems believe to be now under water.
2^  The Sun greets Mohammed every morning even as it dances on Easter-Day for Christendom. Risum teneatis?


of his honour and prosperity in fairest language and made himself known saying, "O King, tidings have reached me of what befel thee through that which is in thy person; and how the host of physicians have proved themselves unavailing to abate it; and lo! I can cure thee, O King; and yet will I not make thee drink of draught or anoint thee with ointment." Now when King Yunan heard his words he said in huge surprise, "How wilt thou do this? By Allah, if thou make me whole I will enrich thee even to thy son's son and I will give thee sumptuous gifts; and whatso thou wishest shall be thine and thou shalt be to me a cup-companion[3] and a friend." The King then robed him with a dress of honour and entreated him graciously and asked him, "Canst thou indeed cure me of this complaint without drug and unguent?" and he answered, "Yes! I will heal thee without the pains and penalties of medicine." The King marvelled with exceeding marvel and said, "O physician, when shall be this whereof thou speakest, and in how many days shall it take place? Haste thee, O my son!" He replied, "I hear and I obey; the cure shall begin to-morrow." So saying he went forth from the presence, and hired himself a house in the city for the better storage of his books and scrolls, his medicines and his aromatic roots. Then he set to work at choosing the fittest drugs and simples and he fashioned a bat hollow within, and furnished with a handle without, for which he made a ball; the two being prepared with consummate art. On the next day when both were ready for use and wanted nothing more, he went up to the King; and, kissing the ground between his hands bade him ride forth on the parade ground[4] there to play at pall and mall. He was accompanied by his suite, Emirs and Chamberlains, Wazirs and Lords of the realm and, ere he was

3^  Arab. "Nadím," a term often occurring. It denotes one who was intimate enough to drink with the Caliph, a very high honour and a dangerous. The last who sat with "Nudamá" was Al-Razi bi'llah A.H. 329 = 940. See Al-Siyuti's famous "History of the Caliphs" translated and admirably annotated by Major H. S. Jarrett, for the Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 1880.
4^  Arab. Maydán (from Persian); Lane generally translates it "horse-course," and Payne "tilting-yard." It is both and something more; an open space, in or near the city, used for reviewing troops, races, playing the Jeríd (cane-spear) and other sports and exercises: thus Al-Maydan = Gr. hippodrome. The game here alluded to is our "polo," or hockey on horseback, a favourite with the Persian Kings, as all old illustrations of the Shahnamah show. Maydan is also a natural plain for which copious Arabic has many terms; Fayhah or Sath (a plain generally), Khabt (a low-lying plain), Bat'há (a low sandy flat), Mahattah (a plain fit for halting) and so forth. (Pilgrimage iii., 11.)


seated, the sage Duban came up to him, and handing him the bat said, "Take this mall and grip it as I do; so! and now push for the plain and leaning well over thy horse drive the ball with all thy might until thy palm be moist and thy body perspire: then the medicine will penetrate through thy palm and will permeate thy person. When thou hast done with playing and thou feelest the effects of the medicine, return to thy palace, and make the Ghusl-ablution[5] in the Hammam-bath, and lay thee down to sleep; so shalt thou become whole; and now peace be with thee!" Thereupon King Yunan took the bat from the Sage and grasped it firmly; then, mounting steed, he drove the ball before him and gallopped after it till he reached it, when he struck it with all his might, his palm gripping the bat handle the while; and he ceased not malling the ball till his hand waxed moist and his skin, perspiring, imbibed the medicine from the wood. Then the sage Duban knew that the drugs had penetrated his person and bade him return to the palace and enter the Hammam without stay or delay; so King Yunan forthright returned and ordered them to clear for him the bath. They did so, the carpet spreaders making all haste, and the slaves all hurry and got ready a change of raiment for the King. He entered the bath and made the total ablution long and thoroughly; then donned his clothes within the Hammam and rode therefrom to his palace where he lay him down and slept. Such was the case with King Yunan, but as regards the sage Duban, he returned home and slept as usual and when morning dawned he repaired to the palace and craved audience. The King ordered him to be admitted; then, having kissed the ground between his hands, in allusion to the King he recited these couplets with solemn intonation:—

   Happy is Eloquence when thou art named her sire ❋
     But mourns she whenas other man the title claimed.
   O Lord of fairest presence, whose illuming rays ❋
     Clear off the fogs of doubt aye veiling deeds high famed,
   Ne'er cease thy face to shine like Dawn and rise of Morn ❋
     And never show Time's face with heat of ire inflamed!
   Thy grace hath favoured us with gifts that worked such wise ❋
     As rain-clouds raining on the hills by wolds enframed:
   Freely thou lavishedst thy wealth to rise on high ❋
     Till won from Time the heights whereat thy grandeur aimed.

Now when the Sage ceased reciting, the King rose quickly to

5^  For details concerning the "Ghusl" see Night xliv.


his feet and fell on his neck; then, seating him by his side he bade dress him in a sumptuous dress; for it had so happened that when the King left the Hammam he looked on his body and saw no trace of leprosy: the skin was all clean as virgin silver. He joyed thereat with exceeding joy, his breast broadened[6] with delight and he felt thoroughly happy. Presently, when it was full day he entered his audience-hall and sat upon the throne of his kingship whereupon his Chamberlains and Grandees flocked to the presence and with them the sage Duban. Seeing the leach the King rose to him in honour and seated him by his side; then the food trays furnished with the daintiest viands were brought and the physician ate with the King, nor did he cease companying him all that day. Moreover, at nightfall he gave the physician Duban two thousand gold pieces, besides the usual dress of honour and other gifts galore, and sent him home on his own steed. After the Sage had fared forth King Yunan again expressed his amazement at the leach's art, saying, "This man medicined my body from without nor anointed me with aught of ointments: by Allah, surely this is none other than consummate skill! I am bound to honour such a man with rewards and distinction, and take him to my companion and my friend during the remainder of my days." So King Yunan passed the night in joy and gladness for that his body had been made whole and had thrown off so pernicious a malady. On the morrow the King went forth from his Serraglio and sat upon his throne, and the Lords of Estate stood about him, and the Emirs and Wazirs sat as was their wont on his right hand and on his left. Then he asked for the Sage Duban, who came in and kissed the ground before him, when the King rose to greet him and, seating him by his side, ate with him and wished him long life. Moreover he robed him and gave him gifts, and ceased not conversing with him until night approached. Then the King ordered him, by way of salary, five dresses of honour and a thousand dinars.[7] The physician returned to his own house full of gratitude to the King. Now when next morning dawned the King repaired to his

6^  A popular idiom and highly expressive, contrasting the upright bearing of the self-satisfied man with the slouch of the miserable and the skirt-trailing of the woman in grief. I do not see the necessity of such Latinisms as "dilated" or "expanded."
7^  All these highest signs of favour foreshow, in Eastern tales and in Eastern life, an approaching downfall of the heaviest; they are so great that they arouse general jealousy. Many of us have seen this at native courts.


audience-hall, and his Lords and Nobles surrounded him and his Chamberlains and his Ministers, as the white encloseth the black of the eye.[8] Now the King had a Wazir among his Wazirs, unsightly to look upon, an ill-omened spectacle; sordid, ungenerous, full of envy and evil will. When this Minister saw the King place the physician near him and give him all these gifts, he jaloused him and planned to do him a harm, as in the saying on such subject, "Envy lurks in every body;" and the saying, "Oppression hideth in every heart: power revealeth it and weakness concealeth it." Then the Minister came before the King and, kissing the ground between his hands, said, "O King of the age and of all time, thou in whose benefits I have grown to manhood, I have weighty advice to offer thee, and if I withhold it I were a son of adultery and no true-born man; wherefore an thou order me to disclose it I will so do forthwith." Quoth the King (and he was troubled at the words of the Minister), "And what is this counsel of thine?" Quoth he, "O glorious monarch, the wise of old have said:—Whoso regardeth not the end, hath not Fortune to friend; and indeed I have lately seen the King on far other than the right way; for he lavisheth largesse on his enemy, on one whose object is the decline and fall of his kingship: to this man he hath shown favour, honouring him with over honour and making of him an intimate. Wherefore I fear for the King's life." The King, who was much troubled and changed colour, asked, "Whom dost thou suspect and anent whom doest thou hint?" and the Minister answered, "O King, an thou be asleep, wake up! I point to the physician Duban." Rejoined the King, "Fie upon thee! This is a true friend who is favoured by me above all men, because he cured me with something which I held in my hand, and he healed my leprosy which had baffled all physicians; indeed he is one whose like may not be found in these days—no, not in the whole world from furthest east to utmost west! And it is of such a man thou sayest such hard sayings. Now from this day forward I allot him a settled solde and allowances, every month a thousand gold pieces; and, were I to share with him my realm 'twere but a little matter. Perforce I must suspect that thou speakest on this wise from mere envy and jealousy as they relate of the King Sindibád."—

And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day, and ceased saying her permitted say.

8^  This phrase is contained in the word "ihdák" = encompassing, as the conjunctive does the pupil.


Then quoth Dunyazad, "O my sister, how pleasant is thy tale, and how tasteful, how sweet, and how grateful!" She replied, "And where is this compared with what I could tell thee on the coming night if the King deign spare my life?" Then said the King in himself, "By Allah, I will not slay her until I hear the rest of her tale, for truly it is wondrous." So they rested that night in mutual embrace until the dawn. Then the King went forth to his Hall of Rule, and the Wazir and the troops came in, and the audience-chamber was thronged and the King gave orders and judged and appointed and deposed and bade and forbade during the rest of that day till the Court broke up, and King Shahryar returned to his palace.

Now when it was the Fifth Night,

Her sister said, "Do you finish for us thy story if thou be not sleepy," and she resumed:—

It hath reached me, O auspicious King and mighty Monarch, that King Yunan said to his Minister, "O Wazir, thou art one whom the evil spirit of envy hath possessed because of this physician, and thou plottest for my putting him to death, after which I should repent me full sorely, even as repented King Sindibad for killing his falcon." Quoth the Wazir, "Pardon me, O King of the age, how was that?" So the King began the story of

King Sindibad and His Falcon


["]Now this is what occurred in the case of King Sindibad; and I am assured that were I to do as thou desirest I should repent even as the man who killed his parrot.["] Quoth the Wazir, "And how was that?" And the King began to tell

The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot


The Minister, hearing the words of King Yunan, rejoined, "O Monarch, high in dignity, and what harm have I done him, or what evil have I seen from him that I should compass his death? I would not do this thing, save to serve thee, and soon shalt thou sight that it is right; and if thou accept my advice thou shalt be saved, otherwise thou shalt be destroyed even as a certain Wazir who acted treacherously by the young Prince." Asked the King, "How was that?" and the Minister thus began

The Tale of the Prince and the Ogress.


["]Thou likewise, O King, if thou continue to trust this leach, shalt be made to die the worst of deaths. He verily thou madest much of and whom thou entreatedest as an intimate, will work thy destruction. Seest thou not how he healed the disease from outside thy body by something grasped in thy hand? Be not assured that he will not destroy thee by something held in like manner!" Replied King Yunan, "Thou hast spoken sooth, O Wazir, it may well be as thou hintest


O my well-advising Minister; and belike this Sage hath come as a spy searching to put me to death; for assuredly if he cured me by a something held in my hand, he can kill me by a something given me to smell." Then asked King Yunan, "O Minister, what must be done with him?" and the Wazir answered, "Send after him this very instant and summon him to thy presence; and when he shall come strike him across the neck; and thus shalt thou rid thyself of him and his wickedness, and deceive him ere he can deceive thee." "Thou hast again spoken sooth, O Wazir," said the King and sent one to call the Sage who came in joyful mood for he knew not what had appointed for him the Compassionate; as a certain poet saith by way of illustration:—

   O Thou who fearest Fate, confiding fare ❋
     Trust all to Him who built the world, and wait:
   What Fate saith "Be" perforce must be, my lord! ❋
     And safe art thou from th' undecreed of Fate.

As Duban the physician entered he addressed the King in these lines:—

   An fail I of my thanks to thee nor thank thee day by day ❋
     For whom composed I prose and verse, for whom my say and lay?
   Thou lavishedst thy generous gifts ere they were craved by me ❋
     Thou lavishedst thy boons unsought sans pretext or delay:
   How shall I stint my praise of thee, how shall I cease to laud ❋
     The grace of thee in secresy and patentest display?
   Nay; I will thank thy benefits, for aye thy favours lie ❋
     Light on my thought and tongue, though heavy on my back they weigh.

And he said further on the same theme:—

   Turn thee from grief nor care a jot! ❋
     Commit thy needs to Fate and Lot!
   Enjoy the Present passing well ❋
     And let the Past be clean forgot;
   For whatso haply seemeth worse ❋
     Shall work thy weal as Allah wot:
   Allah shall do whate'er He wills ❋
     And in His will oppose Him not.

And further still:—

   To th' All-wise Subtle One trust worldly things ❋
     Rest thee from all whereto the worldling clings:
   Learn wisely well naught cometh by thy will ❋
     But e'en as willeth Allah, King of Kings.


And lastly:

   Gladsome and gay forget thine every grief ❋
     Full often grief the wisest hearts outwore:
   Thought is but folly in the feeble slave ❋
     Shun it and so be savèd evermore.

Said the King for sole return, "Knowest thou why I have summoned thee?" and the Sage replied, "Allah Most Highest alone kenneth hidden things!" But the King rejoined, "I summoned thee only to take thy life and utterly to destroy thee." Duban the Wise wondered at this strange address with exceeding wonder and asked, "O King, and wherefore wouldest thou slay me, and what ill have I done thee?" and the King answered, "Men tell me thou art a spy sent hither with intent to slay me; and lo! I will kill thee ere I be killed by thee;" then he called to his Sworder, and said, "Strike me off the head of this traitor and deliver us from his evil practices." Quoth the Sage, "Spare me and Allah will spare thee; slay me not or Allah shall slay thee." And he repeated to him these very words, even as I to thee, O Ifrit, and yet thou wouldst not let me go, being bent upon my death. King Yunan only rejoined, "I shall not be safe without slaying thee; for, as thou healedst me by something held in hand, so am I not secure against thy killing me by something given me to smell or otherwise." Said the physician, "This then, O King, is thy requital and reward; thou returnest only evil for good." The King replied, "There is no help for it; die thou must and without delay." Now when the physician was certified that the King would slay him without waiting, he wept and regretted the good he had done to other than the good. As one hath said on this subject:—

   Of wit and wisdom is Maymúnah[9] bare ❋
     Whose sire in wisdom all the wits outstrippeth:
   Man may not tread on mud or dust or clay ❋
     Save by good sense, else trippeth he and slippeth.

Hereupon the Sworder stepped forward and bound the Sage Duban's eyes and bared his blade, saying to the King, "By thy leave;" while the physician wept and cried, "Spare me and Allah

9^  Some proverbial name now forgotten. Torrens (p. 48) translates it "the giglot" (Fortune?) but "cannot discover the drift."


will spare thee, and slay me not or Allah shall slay thee," and began repeating:—

   I was kind and 'scapèd not, they were cruel and escaped; ❋
     And my kindness only led me to Ruination Hall;
   If I live I'll ne'er be kind; if I die, then all be damned ❋
     Who follow me, and curses their kindliness befal.

"Is this," continued Duban, "the return I meet from thee? Thou givest me, meseems, but crocodile-boon." Quoth the King, "What is the tale of the crocodile?", and quoth the physician, "Impossible for me to tell it in this my state; Allah upon thee, spare me, as thou hopest Allah shall spare thee." And he wept with exceeding weeping. Then one of the King's favourites stood up and said, "O King! grant me the blood of this physician; we have never seen him sin against thee, or doing aught save healing thee from a disease which baffled every leach and man of science." Said the King, "Ye wot not the cause of my putting to death this physician, and this it is. If I spare him, I doom myself to certain death; for one who healed me of such a malady by something held in my hand, surely can slay me by something held to my nose; and I fear lest he kill me for a price, since haply he is some spy whose sole purpose in coming hither was to compass my destruction. So there is no help for it; die he must, and then only shall I be sure of my own life." Again cried Duban, "Spare me and Allah shall spare thee; and slay me not or Allah shall slay thee." But it was in vain. Now when the physician, O Ifrit, knew for certain that the King would kill him, he said, "O King, if there be no help but I must die, grant me some little delay that I may go down to my house and release myself from mine obligations and direct my folk and my neighbours where to bury me and distribute my books of medicine. Amongst these I have one, the rarest of rarities, which I would present to thee as an offering: keep it as a treasure in thy treasury." "And what is in the book?" asked the King and the Sage answered, "Things beyond compt; and the least of secrets is that if, directly after thou hast cut off my head, thou open three leaves and read three lines of the page to thy left hand, my head shall speak and answer every question thou deignest ask of it." The King wondered with exceeding wonder and shaking[10]

10^  Arab. "Ihtizáz," that natural and instinctive movement caused by good news suddenly given, etc.


with delight at the novelty, said, "O physician, dost thou really tell me that when I cut off thy head it will speak to me?" He replied, "Yes, O King!" Quoth the King, "This is indeed a strange matter!" and forthwith sent him closely guarded to his house, and Duban then and there settled all his obligations. Next day he went up to the King's audience hall, where Emirs and Wazirs, Chamberlains and Nabobs, Grandees and Lords of Estate were gathered together, making the presence-chamber gay as a garden of flower-beds. And lo! the physician came up and stood before the King, bearing a worn old volume and a little étui of metal full of powder, like that used for the eyes.[11] Then he sat down and said, "Give me a tray." So they brought him one and he poured the powder upon it and levelled it and lastly spake as follows: "O King, take this book but do not open it till my head falls; then set it upon this tray, and bid press it down upon the powder, when forthright the blood will cease flowing. That is the time to open the book." The King thereupon took the book and made a sign to the Sworder, who arose and struck off the physician's head, and placing it on the middle of the tray, pressed it down upon the powder. The blood stopped flowing, and the Sage Duban unclosed his eyes and said, "Now open the book, O King!" The King opened the book, and found the leaves stuck together; so he put his finger to his mouth and, by moistening it, he easily turned over the first leaf, and in like way the second, and the third, each leaf opening with much trouble; and when he had unstuck six leaves he looked over them and, finding nothing written thereon, said, "O physician, there is no writing here!" Duban replied, "Turn

11^  Arab. "Kohl," in India, Surmah, not a "collyrium," but powdered antimony for the eyelids. That sold in the bazars is not the real grey ore of antimony but a galena or sulphuret of lead. Its use arose as follows. When Allah showed Himself to Moses on Sinai through an opening the size of a needle, the Prophet fainted and the Mount took fire: thereupon Allah said, "Henceforth shalt thou and thy seed grind the earth of this mountain and apply it to your eyes!" The powder is kept in an étui called Makhalah and applied with a thick blunt needle to the inside of the eyelid, drawing it along the rim; hence etui and probe denote the sexual rem in re and in cases of adultery the question will be asked, "Didst thou see the needle in the Kohl-pot?" Women mostly use a preparation of soot or lamp-black (Hind. Kajala, Kajjal) whose colour is easily distinguished from that of Kohl. The latter word, with the article (Al-Kohl) is the origin of our "alcohol;" though even M. Littré fails to show how "fine powder" became "spirits of wine." I found this powder (wherewith Jezebel "painted" her eyes) a great preservative from ophthalmia in desert-travelling: the use in India was universal, but now European example is gradually abolishing it.


over yet more;" and he turned over three others in the same way. Now the book was poisoned; and before long the venom penetrated his system, and he fell into strong convulsions and he cried out, "The poison hath done its work!" Whereupon the Sage Duban's head began to improvise:—

   There be rulers who have ruled with a foul tyrannic sway ❋
     But they soon became as though they had never, never been:
   Just, they had won justice: they oppressed and were opprest ❋
     By Fortune, who requited them with ban and bane and teen:
   So they faded like the morn, and the tongue of things repeats ❋
     "Take this for that, nor vent upon Fortune's ways thy spleen."

No sooner had the head ceased speaking than the King rolled over dead.

Return to The Fisherman and the Jinni#p.60