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À mon chevet: 'Sindbad'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
I embarked with a group of prominent merchants, and we became friends, as we sailed with a fair wind in peace and good health until we passed by a city called the City of China, and while we were in the utmost joy and happiness, talking among ourselves about travel and commerce, a violent head wind blew suddenly, and a heavy rain began to fall on us until we and our babies were drenched. So we covered the bales with felt and canvas, fearing that the goods would be spoiled by the rain, and began to pray and implore God the Almighty to deliver us from the peril we were in. Then the captain, girding his waist and tucking up his clothes, climbed up the mast and began to look to the right and left. Then he looked at the people in the ship and began to slap his face and pluck his beard. We asked him, "Captain, what is the matter?" And he said, "Implore the Almighty God for deliverance from the peril we are in, and weep for yourselves and bid each other farewell, for the wind has prevailed against us and driven us into the farthest of the seas of the world." He then descended from the mast, opened a chest, and took out of it a cotton bag. Then he untied the bag, took out of it some dust, like ashes, wetted it with water, and, waiting a little, smelled it. Then he took out of the chest a small book and began to read in it. Then he said to us, "Passengers, in this book there is an amazing statement that whoever comes to this place will never leave it safely and will surely perish, for this region is called the Province of the Kings, and in it is the tomb of our Lord Solomon, the son of David (peace be on him), and there are huge, horrible-looking whales, and whenever a ship enters this region, one of them rises from the sea and swallows it with everything in it."

When we heard the captain's explanation, we were dumbfounded, and hardly had he finished his words when the ship suddenly began to rise out of the water and drop again, and we heard a great cry, like a peal of thunder, at which we were struck almost dead with terror, sure of our destruction. Suddenly we saw a whale heading for the boat, like a towering mountain, and we were terrified and wept bitterly for ourselves and prepared for death. We kept looking at that whale, marveling at its terrible shape, when suddenly another whale, the most huge and most terrible we had ever seen, approached us, and while we bade each other farewell and wept for ourselves, a third whale, even greater than the other two, approached, and we were stupefied and driven mad with terror. Then the three whales began to circle the ship, and the third whale lunged at the ship to swallow it, when suddenly a violent gust of wind blew, and the ship rose and fell on a massive reef, breaking in pieces, and all the merchants and the other passengers and the bales sank in the sea.

I took off all my clothes, except for a shirt, and swam until I caught a plank of wood from the ship and hung on it. Then I got on it and held on to it, while the wind and the waves toyed with me on the surface of the water, carrying me up and down. I was in the worst of plights, with fear and distress and hunger and thirst. I blamed myself for what I had done and for incurring more hardships, after a life of ease, and said to myself, "O Sindbad the Sailor, you don't learn, for every time you suffer hardships and weariness, yet you don't repent and renounce travel in the sea, and when you renounce, you lie to yourself. I deserve my plight, which had been decreed by God the Almighty to cure me of my greed, which is the root of all my suffering, for I have abundant wealth." I returned to my reason and said to myself, "In this voyage, I repent to the Almighty God with a sincere repentance, and I will never again embark on travel, nor mention it, nor even think of it, for the rest of my life." I continued to implore the Almighty God and to weep, recalling my former days of play and pleasure and cheer and contentment and happiness.

-- Sindbad, and Other Stories from the Arabian Nights, pp. 54-55 (trans. Husain Haddawy)
Husain Haddawy's translation of The Arabian Nights revealed the historical core of the famous collection of stories. The most famous tales -- Sindbad the Sailor, 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and 'Ala al-Din and the Magic Lamp -- are actually much latter accretions to the collection, and Haddawy could not resist offering a translation of them, along with The Story of Qamar al-Zaman and His Two Sons, Amjad and As'ad. Sindbad's seven tales, told to a porter also named Sindbad, recount his miraculous escapes from all sorts of dangerous situations and fantastical places and creatures, until finally in this seventh voyage he recants of his desire to seek adventure.


Anonymous said...

A peal of thunder in the Sinbad excerpt, not "peel."

Charles T. Downey said...

Damn. Thanks for pointing that out.