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Full of mischief, valor, ribaldry, and romance, The Arabian Nights has enthralled readers for centuries. These are the tales that saved the life of Shahrazad, whose husband, the king, executed each of his wives after a single night of marriage. Beginning an enchanting story each evening, Shahrazad always withheld the ending: A thousand and one nights later, her life was spared forever. These tales, including Aladdin; or, the Wonderful Lamp, Sinbad the Seaman and Sinbad the Landsman, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, have entered into the popular imagination, demonstrating that Shahrazad’s spell remains unbroken.
There was an emperor of Persia named Kosrouschah, who, when he first came to his crown, in order to obtain a knowledge of affairs, took great pleasure in night excursions, attended by a trusty minister. He often walked in disguise through the city, and met with many adventures, one of the most remarkable of which happened to him upon his first ramble, which was not long after his accession to the throne of his father.
After the ceremonies of his father’s funeral rites and his own inauguration were over, the new sultan, as well from inclination as from duty, went out one evening attended by his grand vizier, disguised like himself, to observe what was transacting in the city. As he was passing through a street in that part of the town inhabited only by the meaner sort, he heard some people talking very loud; and going close to the house whence the noise proceeded, and looking through a crack in the door, perceived a light, and three sisters sitting on a sofa, conversing together after supper. By what the eldest said he presently understood the subject of their conversation was wishes: “for,” said she, “since we are talking about wishes, mine shall be to have the sultan’s baker for my husband, for then I shall eat my fill of that bread, which by way of excellence is called the sultan’s; let us see if your tastes are as good as mine.” “For my part,” replied the second sister, “I wish I was wife to the sultan’s chief cook, for then I should eat of the most excellent dishes; and as I am persuaded that the sultan’s bread is common in the palace, I should not want any of that; therefore you see,” addressing herself to her eldest sister, “that I have a better taste than you.” The youngest sister, who was very beautiful, and had more charms and wit than the two elder, spoke in her turn: “For my part, sisters,” said she, “I shall not limit my desires to such trifles, but take a higher flight; and since we are upon wishing, I wish to be the emperor’s queen–consort. I would make him father of a prince, whose hair should be gold on one side of his head, and silver on the other; when he cried, the tears from his eyes should be pearls; and when he smiled, his vermilion lips should look like a rosebud fresh–blown.”
The three sisters’ wishes, particularly that of the youngest, seemed so singular to the sultan, that he resolved to gratify them in their desires; but without communicating his design to his grand vizier, he charged him only to take notice of the house, and bring the three sisters before him the following day.