Sunday, November 7, 2010

On The First Voyage

My story, noble gentlemen, is a wondrous one. From birth blessed with wealth, I lived extravagantly in Baghdad, the city of pleasures, indulging in the joys of life in the belief that my riches would never be exhausted. I was to learn that this was not so. In the hope of avoiding poverty and want, I put everything together that remained to me, sold my properties for some thousand Dirhems, bought and equipped a fine ship, had it laden with goods of best quality and set off like other merchants to trade at sea.

I took on an experienced captain and entrusted him with the ship and crew. We weighed anchor and set off to sea. Basra was my first port of call. After about seven days sailing we saw a small sunny island covered in bushes, small sized palm trees and rare plants. We dropped anchor and I made my way alone in a wooden tub of a small boat to the island to collect herbs, which I wanted to use to make a hashish dish.

As I was unsuspectingly plucking the best ones, the captain suddenly shouted to me from deck as loudly as he could: "Sindbad, your life is in danger! Return to the ship as fast as you can! This is not an island, but a colossal fish!"

Sindbad shipwrecked At that very moment the monster sprang up out of the water. It thundered and hissed; the waves crashed - I was thrown up together with the wooden tub and sent flying into the billows. My captain had lost his head and in his terror set sail as fast as he could and abandoned me to my fate. He and the ship had soon disappeared from sight.

Remembering the sweetness of life, I swung myself up on the back of the capsized tub, took off my shoes and began to use my feet as oars working the water. Fish big and small, of the most bizarre forms and gleaming in all colours accompanyied me, leaping out of the water as if to encourage me and spur me on to continue my strange voyage. I rowed with all my might. But what I was trying to do to save myself soon turned out to be a hopeless undertaking. A storm arose, took violent hold of me and hurled me up and down the mountains of water. I was certain my doom was approaching.

Night fell, leaving me in this desperate situation. I was driven hither and thither in the darkness endlessly and hopelessly until I lost consciousness due to weakness and exhaustion.

When I awoke, wind and waves - oh kind fate! - had thrown me on to the shore of a high island whose bright sand gleamed in the glorious light of the morning. Sindbad's sore feet When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was the dark face of a black bending over me in astonishment.

"Who are you, where have you come from?!" he called.

"I am a stranger who has experienced extraordinary things", I replied politely, and tried to stand up.

But as soon as I put my feet, which I had used as oars, on the hard ground of the island, I found that they were numb and the soles had been gnawed by fish. Not enough with that: mussles, crabs, little sea urchins and all sorts of other known and unknown small water creatures had attached themselves to them and could not be easily removed. Concerned about this new plight, I sat down again in the soft sand. Now I made inquiries about the situation and nature of the island.

"This island", the black began, "belongs to King Mihrdshan; but His Majesty's city lies on the opposite side of the island to where we are now. This part is uninhabited and nobody ever sets foot on it for years on end. Only a coincidence has brought me here. The king's horses broke loose to bathe in the sea, and while I was searching for them I came here and found you, Sir."

Sindbad on crutches We set off without delay. A warm and gentle wind blew, rich fruits and many sweet water springs could be seen on both sides of our path. As we approached the city, the king had already received a report and sent for me.

I was brought to him, and as soon as I stood before him, I greeted him respectfully, whereupon he returned my salaam, wished me a long life and made me most welcome. Then he inquired about my story. I told it to him from beginning to end: what had happened to me, and what I had seen.

"Oh my son, you have been miraculously saved!" said the king, who was astonished by my adventures and experiences, but kept looking surreptitiously at my feet and was hardly able to suppress his laughter. - "Were you not destined to have a long life, you would never have escaped these hardships." When I broached the subject of my greatest torment and mentioned my feet, his reticence was abandoned. King Mihrdshan began to laugh heartily and took immense pleasure in my tale.

King Mihrdshan is amused The king was well disposed towards me and made me his harbour master and registrar of all incoming ships. I fulfilled my duties conscientiously and was content with my fate. But one thing grieved me. Every time the king caught sight of me, he winked merrily, which indicated quite clearly to me that he regarded me as a charlatan, that he considered the stories of my adventures as amusing and fantastic inventions which could not be taken seriously but were a ploy with which I had wormed my way into his favour and into an exalted position. I had no greater desire than to be able to correct the false idea which the king had of me. And so it came to pass - my wish was granted.

One day, early in the morning, a splendid merchant ship dropped anchor. To whom, noble gentlemen, do you think the ship belonged? - It was my own! - After some hesitation, the captain recognised me. He confirmed my story to the king, after I had asked him to describe the journey we had undertaken together to the living island - my feet proved the rest.

Sindbad rich again As I still went around barefoot, the king secretly filled my shoes with gold and costly jewels and handed them to me, expressing his sincere regret for having so misjudged me. Then he had his slaves bring carpets and valuable textiles on board my ship, which was soon filled with treasures from top to bottom. I began to prepare for the voyage home.

King Mihrdshan stood with his entire court on the terrace overlooking the sea. He smiled benevolently at me and let me depart with all honours. But it was clear that it pained him to bid me farewell. - He said he would never again find somebody like me, Sindbad the Sailor, who not only actually had experienced such extraordinary adventures, but who was able to relate them so splendidly and with such style. Everybody waved farewell.

Soon King Mihrdshan's island had become a small streak on the horizon and then it disappeared completely. A fortnight later I reached Baghdad, having been favoured by winds and weather. Now I was full of happiness. Having returned to the city of my fathers richer than ever and safe and sound, I resolved to begin a quiet and contemplative life.

To do that, I had to take care to suppress my love of adventure, so as to avoid falling victim again to the devil of the sea who was waiting for me out there on the broad seas with all his caprices and tricks.



One Thousand and One Night Al-Masudi 956.

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