In the chronicles of the ancient dynasty of the Sassanidae, who reigned for about four hundred
years, from Persia to the borders of China, beyond the great river Ganges itself, we read the
praises of one of the kings of this race, who was said to be the best monarch of his time. His
subjects loved him, and his neighbors feared him, and when he died he left his kingdom in a more
prosperous and powerful condition than any king had done before him.
The two sons who survived him loved each other tenderly, and it was a real grief to the elder,
Schahriar, that the laws of the empire forbade him to share his dominions with his brother
Schahzeman. Indeed, after ten years, during which this state of things had not ceased to trouble
him, Schahriar cut off the country of Great Tartary from the Persian Empire and made his brother
Now the Sultan Schahriar had a wife whom he loved more than all the world, and his greatest
happiness was to surround her with splendour, and to give her the finest dresses and the most
beautiful jewels. It was therefore with the deepest shame and sorrow that he accidentally
discovered, after several years, that she had deceived him completely, and her whole conduct
turned out to have been so bad, that he felt himself obliged to carry out the law of the land, and
order the grand-vizir to put her to death. The blow was so heavy that his mind almost gave way,
and he declared that he was quite sure that at bottom all women were as wicked as the sultana, if
you could only find them out, and that the fewer the world contained the better. So every evening
he married a fresh wife and had her strangled the following morning before the grand-vizir, whose
duty it was to provide these unhappy brides for the Sultan. The poor man fulfilled his task with
reluctance, but there was no escape, and every day saw a girl married and a wife dead.
This behaviour caused the greatest horror in the town, where nothing was heard but cries and
lamentations. In one house was a father weeping for the loss of his daughter, in another perhaps a
mother trembling for the fate of her child; and instead of the blessings that had formerly been
heaped on the Sultan's head, the air was now full of curses.
The grand-vizir himself was the father of two daughters, of whom the elder was called
Scheherazade, and the younger Dinarzade. Dinarzade had no particular gifts to distinguish her
from other girls, but her sister was clever and courageous in the highest degree. Her father had
given her the best masters in philosophy, medicine, history and the fine arts, and besides all this,
her beauty excelled that of any girl in the kingdom of Persia.
One day, when the grand-vizir was talking to his eldest daughter, who was his delight and pride,
Scheherazade said to him, "Father, I have a favour to ask of you. Will you grant it to me?"
"I can refuse you nothing," replied he, "that is just and reasonable."
"Then listen," said Scheherazade. "I am determined to stop this barbarous practice of the Sultan's,
and to deliver the girls and mothers from the awful fate that hangs over them."
"It would be an excellent thing to do," returned the grand-vizir, "but how do you propose to
"My father," answered Scheherazade, "it is you who have to provide the Sultan daily with a fresh
wife, and I implore you, by all the affection you bear me, to allow the honour to fall upon me."
"Have you lost your senses?" cried the grand-vizir, starting back in horror. "What has put such a
thing into your head? You ought to know by this time what it means to be the sultan's bride!"
"Yes, my father, I know it well," replied she, "and I am not afraid to think of it. If I fail, my death
will be a glorious one, and if I succeed I shall have done a great service to my country."
"It is of no use," said the grand-vizir, "I shall never consent. If the Sultan was to order me to
plunge a dagger in your heart, I should have to obey. What a task for a father! Ah, if you do not
fear death, fear at any rate the anguish you would cause me."
"Once again, my father," said Scheherazade, "will you grant me what I ask?"
"What, are you still so obstinate?" exclaimed the grand-vizir. "Why are you so resolved upon your
But the maiden absolutely refused to attend to her father's words, and at length, in despair, the
grand-vizir was obliged to give way, and went sadly to the palace to tell the Sultan that the
following evening he would bring him Scheherazade.
The Sultan received this news with the greatest astonishment.
"How have you made up your mind," he asked, "to sacrifice your own daughter to me?"
"Sire," answered the grand-vizir, "it is her own wish. Even the sad fate that awaits her could not
hold her back."
"Let there be no mistake, vizir," said the Sultan. "Remember you will have to take her life
yourself. If you refuse, I swear that your head shall pay forfeit."
"Sire," returned the vizir. "Whatever the cost, I will obey you. Though a father, I am also your
subject." So the Sultan told the grand-vizir he might bring his daughter as soon as he liked.
The vizir took back this news to Scheherazade, who received it as if it had been the most pleasant
thing in the world. She thanked her father warmly for yielding to her wishes, and, seeing him still
bowed down with grief, told him that she hoped he would never repent having allowed her to
marry the Sultan. Then she went to prepare herself for the marriage, and begged that her sister
Dinarzade should be sent for to speak to her.
When they were alone, Scheherazade addressed her thus:
"My dear sister; I want your help in a very important affair. My father is going to take me to the
palace to celebrate my marriage with the Sultan. When his Highness receives me, I shall beg him,
as a last favour, to let you sleep in our chamber, so that I may have your company during the last
night I am alive. If, as I hope, he grants me my wish, be sure that you wake me an hour before
the dawn, and speak to me in these words: "My sister, if you are not asleep, I beg you, before the
sun rises, to tell me one of your charming stories." Then I shall begin, and I hope by this means to
deliver the people from the terror that reigns over them." Dinarzade replied that she would do
with pleasure what her sister wished.
When the usual hour arrived the grand-vizir conducted Scheherazade to the palace, and left her
alone with the Sultan, who bade her raise her veil and was amazed at her beauty. But seeing her
eyes full of tears, he asked what was the matter. "Sire," replied Scheherazade, "I have a sister
who loves me as tenderly as I love her. Grant me the favour of allowing her to sleep this night in
the same room, as it is the last we shall be together." Schahriar consented to Scheherazade's
petition and Dinarzade was sent for.
An hour before daybreak Dinarzade awoke, and exclaimed, as she had promised, "My dear sister,
if you are not asleep, tell me I pray you, before the sun rises, one of your charming stories. It is
the last time that I shall have the pleasure of hearing you."
Scheherazade did not answer her sister, but turned to the Sultan. "Will your highness permit me to
do as my sister asks?" said she.
"Willingly," he answered. So Scheherazade began.