The Story of the Fisherman

This story is part of the Translating Culture collection, a multimedia showcase of folktales translated from Russian, Spanish, and Arabic, curated by Sofi Sanders. An article discussing the collection is available in the non-fiction section.


A story about respect, faith, and magical powers
Sounds of the sea. Audio by Benboncan
Chapter II: Commencing With Part Of The Third Night, And Ending With Part Of The Ninth

There was a certain fisherman, advanced in age, who had a wife and three children; and though he was in indigent circumstances, it was his custom to cast his net, every day, no more than four times. One day he went forth at the hour of noon to the shore of the sea, and put down his basket, and cast his net, and waited until it was motionless in the water, when he drew together its strings, and found it to be heavy: he pulled, but could not draw it up: so he took the end of the cord, and knocked a stake into the shore, and tied the cord to it. He then stripped himself, and dived round the net, and continued to pull until he drew it out: whereupon he rejoiced, and put on his clothes; but when he came to examine the net, he found in it the carcass of an ass. At the sight of this he mourned, and exclaimed,

There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! This is a strange piece of fortune!—And he repeated the following verse:—

He then disencumbered his net of the dead ass, and wrung it out; after which he spread it, and descended into the sea, and—exclaiming, In the name of God! — cast it again, and waited till it had sunk and was still, when he pulled it, and found it more heavy and more difficult to raise than on the former occasion. He therefore concluded that it was full of fish: so he tied it, and stripped, and plunged and dived, and pulled until he raised it, and drew it upon the shore; when he found in it only a large jar, full of sand and mud; on seeing which, he was troubled in his heart, and repeated the following words of the poet:—

O angry fate, forbear! or, if thou wilt not forbear, relent! Neither favour from fortune do I gain, nor profit from the work of my hands, I came forth to seek my sustenance, but have found it to be exhausted. How many of the ignorant are in splendour! and how many of the wise, in obscurity!

So saying, he threw aside the jar, and wrung out and cleansed his net; and, begging the forgiveness of God for his impatience, returned to the sea the third time, and threw the net, and waited till it had sunk and was motionless: he then drew it out, and found in it a quantity of broken jars and pots.

Upon this, he raised his head towards heaven, and said:

O God, Thou knowest that I cast not my net more than four times; and I have now cast it three times!

Then—exclaiming, In the name of God!— he cast the net again into the sea, and waited till it was still; when he attempted to draw it up, but could not, for it clung to the bottom. And he exclaimed, There is no strength nor power but in God!—and stripped himself again, and dived round the net, and pulled it until he raised it upon the shore; when he opened it, and found in it a ḳumḳum of brass, filled with something, and having its mouth closed with a stopper of lead, bearing the impression of the seal of our lord Suleymán

At the sight of this, the fisherman was rejoiced, and said, This I will sell in the copper-market; for it is worth ten pieces of gold.

He then shook it, and found it to be heavy, and said, I must open it, and see what is in it, and store it in my bag; and then I will sell the bottle in the copper-market.

So he took out a knife, and picked at the lead until he extracted it from the bottle. He then laid the bottle on the ground, and shook it, that its contents might pour out; but there came forth from it nothing but smoke, which ascended towards the sky, and spread over the face of the earth; at which he wondered excessively.

And after a little while, the smoke collected together, and was condensed, and then became agitated, and was converted into an Efreet, whose head was in the clouds, while his feet rested upon the ground: his head was like a dome: his hands were like winnowing forks; and his legs, like masts: his mouth resembled a cavern: his teeth were like stones; his nostrils, like abwáḳ; and his eyes, like lamps; and he had dishevelled and dust-coloured hair.

When the fisherman beheld this ‘Efreet, the muscles of his sides quivered, his teeth were locked together, his spittle dried up, and he saw not his way. The ‘Efreet, as soon as he perceived him, exclaimed, There is no deity but God: Suleymán is the Prophet of God. O Prophet of God, slay me not; for I will never again oppose thee in word, or rebel against thee in deed!

O Máridsaid the fisherman, dost thou say, Suleymán is the Prophet of God? Suleymán hath been dead a thousand and eight hundred years; and we are now in the end of time. What is thy history, and what is thy tale, and what was the cause of thy entering this bottle?

When the Márid heard these words of the fisherman, he said, There is no deity but God! Receive news, O fisherman!

Of what, said the fisherman, dost thou give me news?

He answered, Of thy being instantly put to a most cruel death.

The fisherman exclaimed, Thou deservest, for this news, O master of the ‘Efreets, the withdrawal of protection from thee, O thou remote! Wherefore wouldst thou kill me? and what requires thy killing me, when I have liberated thee from the bottle, and rescued thee from the bottom of the sea, and brought thee up upon the dry land?

—The ‘Efreet answered, Choose what kind of death thou wilt die, and in what manner thou shalt be killed.What is my offence, said the fisherman, that this should be my recompense from thee?

The ‘Efreet replied, Hear my story, O fisherman.

Tell it then, said the fisherman, and be short in thy words; for my soul hath sunk down to my feet.

Know then, said he, that I am one of the heretical Jinn: I rebelled against Suleymán the son of Dáood: I and Ṣakhr the Jinnee; and he sent to me his Wezeer, Áṣaf the son of Barkhiyà, who came upon me forcibly, and took me to him in bonds, and placed me before him: and when Suleymán saw me, he offered up a prayer for protection against me, and exhorted me to embrace the faith, and to submit to his authority; but I refused; upon which he called for this bottle, and confined me in it, and closed it upon me with the leaden stopper, which he stamped with the Most Great Name: he then gave orders to the Jinn, who carried me away, and threw me into the midst of the sea. There I remained a hundred years; and I said in my heart, Whosoever shall liberate me, I will enrich him for ever:—but the hundred years passed over me, and no one liberated me: and I entered upon another hundred years; and I said, Whosoever shall liberate me, I will open to him the treasures of the earth;—but no one did so: and four hundred years more passed over me, and I said, Whosoever shall liberate me, I will perform for him three wants:—but still no one liberated me. I then fell into a violent rage, and said within myself, Whosoever shall liberate me now, I will kill him; and only suffer him to choose in what manner he will die. And lo, now thou hast liberated me, and I have given thee thy choice of the manner in which thou wilt die.

When the fisherman had heard the story of the ‘Efreet, he exclaimed, O Allah! that I should not have liberated thee but in such a time as this! Then said he to the ‘Efreet, Pardon me, and kill me not, and so may God pardon thee; and destroy me not, lest God give power over thee to one who will destroy thee.

The Márid answered, I must positively kill thee; therefore choose by what manner of death thou wilt die.

The fisherman then felt assured of his death; but he again implored the ‘Efreet, saying, Pardon me by way of gratitude for my liberating thee.

Why, answered the ‘Efreet, I am not going to kill thee but for that very reason, because thou hast liberated me.

O Sheykh of the ‘Efreets, said the fisherman, do I act kindly towards thee, and dost thou recompense me with baseness? But the proverb lieth not that saith,

The ‘Efreet, when he heard these words, answered by saying: Covet not life, for thy death is unavoidable.

Then said the fisherman within himself, This is a Jinnee, and I am a man; and God hath given me sound reason; therefore, I will now plot his destruction with my art and reason, like as he hath plotted with his cunning and perfidy.

So he said to the ‘Efreet, Hast thou determined to kill me?

He answered, Yes.

Then said he, By the Most Great Name engraved upon the seal of Suleymán, I will ask thee one question; and wilt thou answer it to me truly?

On hearing the mention of the Most Great Name, the ‘Efreet was agitated, and trembled, and replied,Yes; ask, and be brief.

The fisherman then said, How wast thou in this bottle? It will not contain thy hand or thy foot; how then can it contain thy whole body?

Dost thou not believe that I was in it? said the ‘Efreet.

The fisherman answered, I will never believe thee until I see thee in it.

Upon this, the ‘Efreet shook, and became converted again into smoke, which rose to the sky, and then became condensed, and entered the bottle by little and little, until it was all enclosed; when the fisherman hastily snatched the sealed leaden stopper, and, having replaced it in the mouth of the bottle, called out to the ‘Efreet, and said,

Choose in what manner of death thou wilt die. I will assuredly throw thee here into the sea, and build me a house on this spot; and whosoever shall come here, I will prevent his fishing in this place, and will say to him, Here is an ‘Efreet, who, to any person that liberates him, will propose various kinds of death, and then give him his choice of one of them.

On hearing these words of the fisherman, the ‘Efreet endeavoured to escape; but could not, finding himself restrained by the impression of the seal of Suleymán, and thus imprisoned by the fisherman as the vilest and filthiest and least of ‘Efreets. The fisherman then took the bottle to the brink of the sea. The ‘Efreet exclaimed, Nay! nay!—to which the fisherman answered, Yea, without fail! yea, without fail! The Márid then addressing him with a soft voice and humble manner, said,

What dost thou intend to do with me, O fisherman?

He answered, I will throw thee into the sea; and if thou hast been there a thousand and eight hundred years, I will make thee to remain there until the hour of judgment. Did I not say to thee, Spare me, and so may God spare thee; and destroy me not, lest God destroy thee? But thou didst reject my petition, and wouldest nothing but treachery; therefore God hath caused thee to fall into my hand, and I have betrayed thee.

Open to me, said the ‘Efreet, that I may confer benefits upon thee.

The fisherman replied, Thou liest, thou accursed! I and thou are like the Wezeer of King Yoonán and the sage Doobán.

What, said the ‘Efreet, was the case of the Wezeer of King Yoonán and the sage Doobán, and what is their story? The fisherman answered as follows:—

Continues with the Story of King Yoonán and the Sage Doobán

Works Cited

Boat” by Nailg Lin is licensed under the Unsplash License.

Teapot” by Pixabay is licensed under CC0 1.0.

© 1912 from The Thousand And One Nights Volume I translated by Edward William Lane. Edited by Edward Stanley Pool with illustrations by William Harvey, originally published by John Murray in 1859. Public Domain. This story and all images, gifs, and audio included are in the Public Domain under Creative Commons license.


About the Author

Edward William Lane, born in 1801, was a British orientalist, lexicographer, and translator. He studied Arabic in his home country before travelling to Egypt for two and a half years, and dressing as a Turk to closely study the culture. He wrote a detailed account of Egypt, as well as a book about the customs of the modern Egyptian and an Arabic-English dictionary. He also translated the stories from One Thousand and One Nights and selections from the Quran. His translation of the stories from Arabian Nights is accompanied by copious notes on the cultural specificities relevant to the stories, though his translation, one of the first in English, has been criticized for its exclusion of content that Lane deemed morally questionable or unacceptable for his Western audience.

About the Curator

Sofi Sanders is an assistant editor of HIVEMIND Magazine, focusing on the visual design of the website as well as this Translating Culture collection and its accompanying article. She is a Russian-American graduate student completing the Global Media and Cultures Master of Science at Georgia Tech with a concentration in Russian. Sofi is currently focusing on the interrelationships within cross-cultural communication and also investigating the state of the Russian news media, particularly with regard to corruption, censorship, and bias. Her interest in speculative fiction stems from fond childhood memories of Lord of the Rings, as well as her passion for cross-cultural (meaning alien cultures too!) reading and writing.

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