A Spanking for Shahrazad

Early in the famous collection of Arabic stories known most popularly as The Arabian Nights, there’s a story called The Tale Of The Bull And The Ass. The Wazir is telling the story to his daughter Shahrazad to illustrate the dangers of trickery and thus to dissuade her from her scheming against the murderous king. But he also uses the opportunity to menace Shahrazad with a beating of her own, if she won’t desist from what he sees as her mad scheme.

The tale itself features a merchant with the gift of understanding animal speech, who is laboring under a deadly vow not to reveal anything that animals actually say. Awkward! Yet, when the merchant laughs aloud at something he hears pass between ass and bull, his wife simply must know the details:

“Needs must thou tell me the cause of that laugh,” said she, and he replied, “Thou wottest that when I prayed Allah to vouchsafe me understanding of the tongues of beasts and birds, I made a vow never to disclose the secret to any under pain of dying on the spot.”

“No matter,” cried she, “tell me what secret passed between the Bull and the Ass and die this very hour an thou be so minded;” and she ceased not to importune him till he was worn out and clean distraught. So at last he said, “Summon thy father and thy mother and our kith and kin and sundry of our neighbours,” which she did; and he sent for the Kazi and his assessors, intending to make his will and reveal to her his secret and die the death; for he loved her with love exceeding because she was his cousin, the daughter of his father’s brother, and the mother of his children, and he had lived with her a life of an hundred and twenty years.

Then, having assembled all the family and the folk of his neighbourhood, he said to them, “By me there hangeth a strange story, and ’tis such that if I discover the secret to any, I am a dead man.” Therefore quoth every one of those present to the woman, “Allah upon thee, leave this sinful obstinacy and recognise the right of this matter, lest haply thy husband and the father of thy children die.” But she rejoined, “I will not turn from it till he tell me, even though he come by his death.” So they ceased to urge her; and the trader rose from amongst them and repaired to an out house to perform Wuzu ablution, and he purposed thereafter to return and to tell them his secret and to die.

Now, daughter Shahrazad, that merchant had in his out houses some fifty hens under one cock, and whilst making ready to farewell his folk he heard one of his many farm dogs thus address in his own tongue the Cock, who was flapping his wings and crowing lustily and jumping from one hen’s back to another and treading all in turn, saying “O Chanti clear! how mean is thy wit and how shameless is thy conduct! Be he disappointed who brought thee up! Art thou not ashamed of thy doings on such a day as this!”

“And what,” asked the Rooster, “hath occurred this day?” when the Dog answered, “Doss thou not know that our master is this day making ready for his death? His wife is resolved that he shall disclose the secret taught to him by Allah, and the moment he so doeth he shall surely die. We dogs are all a mourning; but thou clappest thy wings and clarionest thy loudest and treadest hen after hen. Is this an hour for pastime and pleasuring? Art thou not ashamed of thyself?”

“Then by Allah,” quoth the Cock, “is our master a lack wit and a man scanty of sense: if he cannot manage matters with a single wife, his life is not worth prolonging. Now I have some fifty Dame Partlets; and I please this and provoke that and starve one and stuff another; and through my good governance they are all well under my control. This our master pretendeth to wit and wisdom, and he hath but one wife, and yet knoweth not how to manage her.”

Asked the Dog, “What then, O Cock, should the master do to win clear of his strait?” “He should arise forthright,” answered the Cock, “and take some twigs from yon mulberry tree and give her a regular back basting and rib roasting till she cry:–I repent, O my lord! I will never ask thee a question as long as I live! Then let him beat her once more and soundly, and when he shall have done this he shall sleep free from care and enjoy life. But this master of ours owns neither sense nor judgment.”

“Now, daughter Shahrazad,” continued the Wazir, “I will do to thee as did that husband to that wife.”

Said Shahrazad, “And what did he do?”

He replied, “When the merchant heard the wise words spoken by his Cock to his Dog, he arose in haste and sought his wife’s chamber, after cutting for her some mulberry twigs and hiding them there; and then he called to her, “Come into the closet that I may tell thee the secret while no one seeth me and then die.”

She entered with him and he locked the door and came down upon her with so sound a beating of back and shoulders, ribs, arms and legs, saying the while, “Wilt thou ever be asking questions about what concerneth thee not?” that she was well nigh senseless.

Presently she cried out, “I am of the repentant! By Allah, I will ask thee no more questions, and indeed I repent sincerely and wholesomely.” Then she kissed his hand and feet and he led her out of the room submissive as a wife should be.

Her parents and all the company rejoiced and sadness and mourning were changed into joy and gladness. Thus the merchant learnt family discipline from his Cock and he and his wife lived together the happiest of lives until death.

“And thou also, O my daughter!” continued the Wazir, “Unless thou turn from this matter I will do by thee what that trader did to his wife.”

  1. David commented on July 22nd, 2009:

    The wise words of the Cock — indeed. :->

  2. calliope commented on July 24th, 2009:

    I think that the merchants wife had been too long counceled by their cat…he seemed pretty pussy whipped there until he learned from his cock!

  3. Lars commented on September 29th, 2011:

    Canterbury tales ?????????????

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