The Arabian nights
Selected and Edited by Andrew Lang
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 curses.
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
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 ask?"
"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
The Sultan received this news with the greatest astonishment.
"How have you made up your mind," he asked, "to sacrifice your own daughter to me?"
"Sire," answered the grand-vizir, "it is her own wish. Even the sad fate that awaits her could not hold her