Friday, September 16, 2011

The Jealous Sisters

Once the Sultan was out in his kingdom and he overheard three sisters talking. The eldest was saying she would love to marry the Sultan's baker, for then she could eat all the bread in the world. The next said she would rather marry the head cook, for then she could have all the food she wanted as well as bread. The youngest and most beautiful said that she would rather have the Sultan himself.

The Sultan was amused and decided to grant the girls' whims. He summoned the sisters before him the next day and told them their wishes would be granted. The young women were embarrassed and insisted they had no idea they would be overheard, and were not worthy of such special treatment, but the Sultan carried out his plan. The eldest two sisters were married to the Baker and Head Cook, and the youngest was given a royal wedding and made the Sultana.

Soon the wives of the Baker and Head Cook grew jealous of their younger sister, the Sultana. They would get together and complain and discuss how they wanted to be revenged. Finally an opportunity arrived-the Sultana was pregnant. The sisters came to live in the Palace and spent all their time with her, and when the baby was born, a beautiful boy, they took the baby, placed him in a basket, and sent him floating down the river. They told the Sultan that his wife had given birth to a dog and he was furious. The Prince was found by the Sultan's gardener, who himself had no children. He took the baby home to his wife, who was overjoyed, and they raised the boy as their own son.

The same thing happened when the Sultana gave birth to another son, and the Sultan was even more furious, but the Gardener found the baby. Finally the Sultana gave birth to a baby girl, but once again deceived by the sisters, the Sultan became so furious he wanted her dead. But the Sultana was so well loved by the Grand Vizier and all the subject, they pleaded for her life. The Sultan allowed her to live, only on the condition that she be forced to sit in a box outside the mosque in the coarsest of clothes and spat upon by all who passed her. The sisters delighted in seeing their sister so humiliated, but she handled herself with such dignity that she won over the hearts of the people as well.

Meanwhile, the three royal children were being raised unaware of their true identities. But their adopted parents had noticed that they conducted themselves as people of high birth and provided them with all the education befitting people of their stations. The Princes were named Bahman and Perviz, and the Princess Parizade. The Princess joined her brothers at their lessons and learned just as much and just as well as they did. The Gardener wished them to have a beautiful place to live, retired from the Sultan's service, and bought them a lavish country house. The Gardener and his wife died before they could tell the children the secret of their parentage.

One day a pious old woman was passing by and Parizade showed her around the house and gardens. The woman was very complementary, but said that the house was lacking three things that would make it perfect-the Golden Water, the Singing Tree, and the Talking Bird. The Princess became obsessed with the idea of owning such priceless treasures, and her brother Bahman volunteered to go get them for her. Parizade said she would rather not put her brother in danger, but he insisted and left on his journey.

His instructions were to ride for twenty days with no stopping and then ask the first person he saw for the directions. He did as told and found a dervish with a beard so thick he had to cut it in order to understand what he was saying.

The dervish told him the way to the treasures, but warned him that on his way he would be taunted and harassed by the voices of all who had gone before him but died and were turned into black stones. The Prince was confident and went on his way, but became distracted and frustrated by the voices and became a stone himself.

Before the Prince left, he gave his sister a knife that would turn bloody if he should perish, and Parizade and Perviz were dismayed when they saw that their brother was dead, and Perviz insisted on going in his place. He came across the same dervish and succumbed to the same fate, and Perizade put on men's clothing and went to save them herself.
She heard the warning from the dervish, and decided to put cotton in her ears to block out the voices. The dervish was impressed by her wisdom, for no one else who had attempted the journey had had the foresight to take such precautions. The cotton blocked out most of the sounds, and Perizade was able to prevail over what she did hear. She successfully found the Talking Bird, who gave her directions to the other treasures, and to release her brothers and all the other men who were enchanted.

The siblings made their way home with their new riches and added them to their garden.

Not long afterwards, the Sultan was passing through and noticed the handsome and polite brothers and saw how well they hunted. He invited them to live with him in his Palace, but they refused on account of their sister. The Sultan asked them to consult with their sister, but the men forgot two nights in a row, and only on the third night did they remember. Parizade was concerned that they not insult the Sultan and suggested they consult the Talking Bird. The Bird advised that the brothers accept the invitation but also invite the Sultan to their house, and that Parizade should serve him a dish of cucumbers served with pearl sauce. Though she was surprised, she and her brothers agreed that they should listen to the bird's advice.

The Sultan was very impressed with their house and treasures. When the cucumber and pearl dish was served, he expressed his surprise, but the bird replied, "Surely Your Highness cannot be so surprised at beholding a cucumber stuffed with pearls, when you believed without any difficulty that the sultana had presented you with a dog, a cat, and a log of wood instead of children." The bird revealed the whole truth about the deception of the jealous sisters and the identity of the three siblings. The Sultan send word for the sisters to be executed and his wife to be released from her punishment, and the children and the Talking Bird returned to the Palace with their father.

The above tale is probably my favorite Arabian Nights tale I've read so far-maybe it's no coincidence that (at least in my edition) this is the last story before the Sultan proposes marriage to Scheherezade.

When reading ancient fairy tales from other cultures, it's hard to know how to interpret things. Were some parts meant to be accepted naturally or as a fantastic element? Are we supposed to agree or find it ironic and humorous? For exampe, when I read about the animal substitutes for the babies, I wondered if that was a fear some women had of giving birth to creatures. Certainly some women have been blamed for giving birth to girls and not boys, as if they had any control over it-but I liked the part at the end when the bird points out that the Sultan was being foolish for believing the lies.
I am often surprised when reading fairy tales at how the genders aren't always stereotyped as much as we think they are-I've found tales where gender roles seem to be reversed, but the particular collection of fairy tales that are famous today tend to fit the same patterns. But even so I was amazed that this tale was so pro-women. It's not just in Middle Eastern cultures that women have either been denied education, or educated differently than men, limited to languages and arts, but the story made a point of describing how Parizade learned all that her brothers did, even shooting with a bow and arrow, and she could "throw a javelin with the same skill as they, and sometimes better" (finally, an Arabian Nights tale I actually believe is told by a woman...) and when Parizade is riding to rescue her brothers, not only does her wisdom outshine their overconfidence, but "as she had been accustomed to riding from her childhood, she managed to travel as many miles daily as her brothers had done..." and she is capable in all physical tasks as well as mental.

Another thing that struck me was the apparant belief in the innate superiority of people with royal blood. I know that at least in Russia the royalty truly believed in their own innate superiority (I'm reading a book on it right now...) and really I think it would be impossible to be born into such power and priviledge and not let it go to your head. The gardener in the tale recognized their identity as royals due to their "beauty and air of distinction...their manners had all the grace and ease proper to people of high birth." It just seems so funny that people really thought of royalty as being a different breed of human...

The images in this book were credited to "Edmund Dulac and others," so that's all I can tell you for sure (the color plates definitely look like Dulac).
On another note, Blogger hasn't been letting me comment under my account, so I would have liked to respond to comments but haven't been able to. I really do appreciate being able to hear from other people...thank you for your time and thoughts and hopefully I can figure it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment