Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – The Fisherman And The Genie

There was a very ancient fisherman, so poor that he could scarcely earn enough to maintain himself, his wife, and his three children. He went every day to fish betimes in the morning, and imposed it as a law upon himself not to cast his nets more than four times a day. He went one morning by moonlight, and coming to the seaside cast in his nets. As he drew them toward the shore he found them very heavy and thought he had a good draft of fish, at which he rejoiced within himself ; but. a moment after he found there was nothing in the nets but a basket of gravel and slime, which grieved him exceedingly. He threw away the basket, and washing his nets from the slime, he cast them in the second time, but brought up nothing except stone, shells, and mud. Almost beside himself with despair he cast the nets the third time, and with the same result. However, when daylight appeared, he did not forget to say his prayers, like a good Mussulman.

The fisherman, having finished his prayers, cast his nets the fourth time, and when he thought they might he filled, he drew them, as formerly, with great difficulty, but instead of fish he found nothing in them but a vessel of yellow copper, which, by its weight, seemed to be full of something. He observed that it was shut up and sealed with lead, having the impression of a seal upon it. This rejoiced him.

” I will sell it,” said he, ” and with the money arising from it buy a measure of corn.”

He examined the vessel on all sides and shook it to see if what was within made any noise, but heard nothing. This circumstance, with the impression of the seal upon the leaden cover, made him think there was something precious in it. He took a knife and opened the jar with very little labor. He presently turned the mouth downward, but nothing came out. He set it before him, and while he looked upon it attentively, there issued a very thick smoke, which obliged him to retire two or three paces. The smoke ascended to the clouds and, extending itself along the sea and upon the shore, formed a great mist which did mightily astonish the fisherman. When the smoke was all out of the vessel, it reunited itself and became a solid body, of which there was formed a genie twice as high as the greatest of giants. At this sight the fisherman would fain have fled, but he was so frightened he could not go one step.

” Solomon ! ” cried the genie immediately,—” Solomon, the great prophet, — pardon, pardon ! I will never more oppose your will; I will obey all your commands.”

The fisherman, when he heard these words from the genie, recovered his courage and said to him: ” Proud spirit, what is it that you say? It is above eighteen hundred years since the prophet Solomon died, and we are now at the end of time. Tell me your history, and how you came to be shut up in this vessel.”

The genie, turning to the fisherman with a fierce look, said, ” You must speak to me with more civility ; you are very bold to call me a proud spirit.”

” Very well,” replied the fisherman, ” shall I call you the owl of good luck ? ”

” I say,” answered the genie, ” speak to me more civilly before I kill you.”

” Ali ! ” replied the fisherman, ” why should you kill me? Did I not just now set you at liberty, and have you already forgotten it ? ”

” Yes, I remember it,” said the genie, ” but that shall not prevent me from killing you. I have only one favor to grant you.”

” And what is that ? ” said the fisherman.

” It is,” answered the genie, ” to give you your choice in what manner you would have me take your life.”

” But wherein have I offended you? ” replied the fisherman. ” Is that your reward for the good services I have done you ? ”

” I cannot treat you otherwise,” said the genie, ” and that you may be convinced of it,. hearken to my story. I am one of those rebellious spirits that op-posed Solomon, the great prophet, and submitted not to him. The great monarch sent Asaph, his chief minister, to apprehend me. That was accordingly done. Asaph seized my person and brought me by force before his master’s throne.

” Solomon, the son of David, commanded me to quit my way of living, to acknowledge his power, and to submit myself to his command. I bravely refused to obey, and told him I would rather expose myself to his. resentment than swear fealty and submit to him as he required. To punish me, he shut me up in this copper vessel, and gave it to one of the genii who submitted to him, with orders to throw me into the sea, which order was executed, to my sorrow. During the first hundred years of imprisonment I swore that if any one would deliver me before the hundred years expired, I would make him rich beyond his dream, but that century ran out and nobody did me that good office. During the second I made an oath that I would open all the treasures of the earth to any one that should set me at liberty, but with no better success. In the third I promised to make my deliverer a potent monarch, to be always near him in spirit, and to grant him every day three requests, of whatsoever nature they might be, but this century ran out, as well as the two former, and I continued in prison. At last, being angry at finding myself a prisoner so long, I swore that if afterwards any one should deliver me, I would kill him without mercy and grant him no other favor but to choose what kind of death he would die, and therefore, since you have delivered me today, I give you that choice.”

This discourse afflicted the poor fisherman extremely. ” I am very unfortunate,” cried he, ” to come hither to do such a piece of good service to one that is so ungrateful. I beg you to consider your injustice and revoke such an unreasonable oath. Pardon me and Heaven will pardon you; if you grant me my life, Heaven will protect you from all attempts against yours.”

” No ; your death is resolved upon,” said the genie ; only choose how you will die.”

Necessity is the mother of invention. The fisher-man bethought himself of a stratagem. ” Since I must die, then,” he said to the genie, ” I submit, but before I choose the manner of death I conjure you to answer me truly the question I am going to ask you.”

The genie, finding himself obliged to give a positive answer, replied to the fisherman, ” Ask what you will, but make haste.”

When the genie had promised to speak the truth, the fisherman said to him, ” I would know if you were actually in this vessel.”

” Yes,” replied the genie, ” I was, and it is a certain truth.”

” In good faith,” answered the fisherman, ” I cannot believe you ; the vessel is not capable of holding one of your feet, and how is it possible that your whole body could lie in it ? ”

” Nevertheless I declare to you,” replied the genie, “that I was there just as you see me here. Is it possible that you do not believe me? ”

” Truly, not I,” said the fisherman; “nor will I believe you, unless you show it me.”

Upon this the body of the genie was dissolved and changed itself into smoke, extending itself as formerly upon the sea and along the shore ; and then at last, being gathered together, it began to reenter the vessel, which it continued to do by a slow and equal motion in a smooth and exact way, till nothing was left out, and immediately a voice came forth, which said to the fisherman, ” Well, now, incredulous fellow, I am all in the vessel ; do you not believe me now ? ”

The fisherman, instead of answering the genie, took the cover of lead and speedily shut the vessel.

” Genie,” cried he, ” now it is your turn to beg my favor, and to choose which way I shall put you to death; but not so; it is better that I should throw you into the sea, from which I took you. Then I will build a house upon the bank, where I will dwell, to give notice to all fishermen who come to throw in their nets, to beware of such a wicked genie as you are.”

The genie, enraged at these expressions, tried his utmost to get out of the vessel again, but finding it impossible, and perceiving that the fisherman had the advantage of him, he thought fit to dissemble his anger. ” Fisherman,” said he in a pleasant tone, ” take heed you do not what you say, for what I spoke to you before was only by way of jest.”

” 0 genie,” replied the fisherman, ” your crafty discourse will signify nothing to you, but to the sea you shall return. If you have stayed there already so long as you told me, you may very well stay there some time longer. I begged of you not to take my life, and you did reject my prayers ; I am obliged to treat you in the same manner.”

” My good friend fisherman,” cried the genie, ” I conjure you once more not to be guilty of such cruelty. Consider that it is not good to avenge one’s self, and that, on the other hand, it is commendable to do good for evil.”

“No,” said the fisherman ; ” it is in vain to talk of letting you out ; I am just going to throw you to the bottom of the sea.”

” Hear me one word more,” cried the genie ; ” I promise to do you no hurt; nay, far from that, I will show you a way to become exceedingly rich.”

The hope of delivering his family from poverty prevailed with the fisherman. ” I could listen to you,” said he, “were there any credit to be given to your word.”

The genie promised him faithfully, and at length the fisherman took off the covering of the vessel. At that very instant the smoke came out, and the genie, having resumed his form as before, kicked the vessel into the sea.

This action frightened the fisherman. ” Genie,” said he, “what is the meaning of that? Will you break the promise you have just made? ”

The genie laughed at the fisherman’s fear, and answered, ” No, fisherman, be not afraid, I only did it to divert myself. To persuade you that I am in earnest, I bid you take your nets and follow me.”

When they came to the side of a pond, the genie said to the fisherman, ” Cast in your nets and catch fish.”

The fisherman did not doubt he would catch some, because he saw a great number in the pond, but he was extremely surprised when he found they were of four colors—white, red, blue, and yellow. He threw in his nets and brought out one of each color. Never having seen the like, he could not but admire them, and judging that he might get a considerable sum for them, he was joyful.

” Carry those fish, said the genie, ” and present them to your sultan. He will give you more money for them than ever you had in your life. You may come every day to fish in this pond, but I give you warning not to throw in your nets more than once a day; otherwise you will repent it. If you follow my advice, you will prosper.”

Having spoken thus, he struck his foot upon the ground, which opened and swallowed him up and then closed again.

The fisherman, being resolved to follow the genie’s advice exactly, forebore casting in his nets a second time. Very well satisfied with his catch, he returned to the town, making a thousand reflections upon his adventure.

He went straight to the sultan’s palace to present his fish. The sultan was surprised when he saw the four fishes. He took them up one after another and, after having admired them a long time, said to his first vizier, ” Take those fishes to the handsome cookmaid that the emperor of the Greeks sent me. I feel sure they must be as good to eat as they are to look at.”

The vizier carried them himself to the cook, and delivered them into her hands. ” Look you,” said he ; “there are four fishes newly brought to the sultan. He orders you to prepare them.”

Then he returned to his master, who ordered him to give the fisherman four hundred pieces of gold.

The fisherman, who had never seen so much gold in his life, could scarcely believe his own good for-tune, but thought it must be a dream. When he found it to be real, he at once provided necessities for his family with it.

Now, having told you what happened to the fisher-man, I must acquaint you with what befell the sultan’s cookmaid, whom we shall find in great perplexity.

She put the fish over the fire in a frying pan with oil, and when she thought them fried enough on one side, she turned them upon the other; but, 0 monstrous prodigy ! scarce were they turned when the walls of the kitchen opened, and in came a young lady of wonderful beauty and comely size. She was clad in flowered satin, after the Egyptian manner, with pendants in her ears, and she wore bracelets of gold garnished with rubies and carried a rod of myrtle in her hand.

She came toward the frying pan—to the great amazement of the cookmaid, who stood immovable at the sight—and, touching one of the fishes with the end of the rod, said, ” Fish, fish, art thou in thy duty ? ”

As the fish answered nothing, she repeated these words, and then the four fishes lifted up their heads all together and said to her, ” Yes, yes ; if you reckon, we reckon ; if you pay your debts, we pay ours ; if you fly, we overcome and are content.”

As soon as they had uttered these words, the lady overturned the frying pan and entered into the wall, which shut and became as it was before.

The cookmaid was mightily frightened at this, and, coming to herself a little, went to take up the fishes that had fallen upon the hearth, but found them blacker than coal and not fit to be carried to the sultan. She fell to weeping most bitterly. ” Alas! said she, ” what will become of me? If I tell the sultan what I have seen, he will not believe me, but will be enraged against me.”

While she was thus bewailing, in came the grand vizier and asked her if the fishes were ready. She told him all that had happened, which we may easily imagine astonished him, but without speaking a word concerning it to the sultan he invented an excuse that satisfied him. He then sent for the fisher-man and bade him bring four more such fish, saying a misfortune had befallen the others and they were not fit to be carried to the sultan. The fisherman told the vizier it was some trouble to get them, but he would certainly bring them the next day.

Accordingly the fisherman went away by night and, coming to the pond, threw in his nets betimes next morning, took four such fishes as the former, and brought them to the vizier at the hour appointed. The minister took them himself and shut himself up alone with the cookmaid. She put them over the fire, as she had done the four others the day before. When they were fried on one side and she had turned them on the other, the kitchen wall opened, and the same lady came in with the rod in her hand, touched one of the fishes and spoke to it as before, and all four gave her the same answer. After the four fishes had answered the young lady, she over-turned the frying pan with her rod and retired into the same place in the wall from which she had come.

” This is too surprising and extraordinary,” said the grand vizier, ” to be concealed from the sultan. I will inform him of this prodigy.” This he accordingly did.

The sultan was impatient to see the marvel himself. He sent for the fisherman and said to him, ” Friend, cannot you bring me four more such fishes ? ”

The fisherman replied, ” If your Majesty will be pleased to allow me three days’ time, I will do it.”

Having obtained his time, he went to the pond the next morning, and at the first throwing in of his net he caught four such fishes; he brought them presently to the sultan, who was all the more rejoiced at it, because he did not expect them so soon, and who gave him another four hundred pieces of gold.

As soon as the sultan had the fish, he ordered them to be carried into the closet, with all that was necessary for frying them. He shut himself up there with the vizier, who put them in the pan over the fire and when they were fried on one side turned them on the other. Then the wall of the closet opened, but instead of the young lady there came out a black man, in the habit of a slave and of a gigantic stature, with a great green staff in his hand.

He advanced toward the pan and, touching one of the fishes with his staff, said to it in a terrible voice, ” Fish, art thou in thy duty? ”

At these words the fishes raised up their heads and answered, ” Yes, yes, we are ; if you reckon, we reckon ; if you pay your debts, we pay ours; if you fly, we overcome and are content.”

The fishes had no sooner uttered these words than the black man threw the pan into the middle of the closet and reduced the fishes to a coal. He then retired fiercely and entered into the hole in the wall; it shut and appeared just as it did before. –

The sultan, who was a brave man, resolved to go in person and inquire what it all meant. Therefore he got the direction to the place from the fisherman, dressed himself in a walking suit, and, with a scimitar in his hand, sallied forth alone upon the adventure.

I cannot tell you all his wonderful escapes from the power of the magician, but will merely say that he succeeded in discovering a palace, from which he released a very amiable young prince, who had been confined there a long time. He found that the fishes were formerly the servants belonging to this prince, and that they had been changed into fishes for endeavoring to release their master. They now regained their proper form ; the palace of the magician was destroyed; the prince married the sultan’s beautiful daughter; and the fisherman, who had been the cause of these happy events, was made a nobleman. Thus you see the genie was as good as his word in making the fisherman’s fortune.

Adapted from The Arabian Nights

genie (je’ni) : a nature spirit, believed to be able to interfere in human affairs and to be sometimes subject to magic control. — Mussulman (müs’ul man): a Mohammedan (mo ham’ed an), or follower of the prophet ‘Mohammed (Mo; ham’ed). — Asaph (a’saf). — genii : the plural of genie.—vizier (vi zee): a high executive officer in Mohammedan countries; a minister or councilor of state. — scimitar (sim i ter) : a sword with a much-curved blade, used especially by Arabs and Persians.