alf laylah wa laylah.
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionating, the Compassionate!
praise be to Allah, the beneficient king, the creator of the universe, lord of the three worlds, who set up the firmament without pillars in its stead, and who stretched out the earth even as a bed, and grace, and prayer, blessing be upon our Lord Mohammed, lord of apostolic men, and upon his family and companion-train, prayer and blessings enduring and grace which unto the day of doom shall remain, amen! 'o thou of the three worlds sovereign!
And afterwards. Verily the works and words of those gone before us have become instances and examples to men of our modern day, that folk may view what admonishing chances befel other folk and may therefrom take warning; and that they may peruse the annals of antique peoples and all that hath betided them, and be thereby ruled and restrained: Praise, therefore, be to Him who hath made the histories of the Past an admonition unto the Present!
Now of such instances are the tales called "A Thousand Nights and a Night," together with their far-famed legends and wonders. Therein it is related (but Allah is All-knowing of His hidden things and All-ruling and All-honoured and All-giving and All-gracious and All-merciful!)
1. that, in tide of yore and in time long gone before, there was a King of the Kings of the Banu Sasan in the Islands of India and China, a Lord of armies and guards and servants and dependents.
2. He left only two sons, one in the prime of manhood and the other yet a youth, while both were Knights and Braves, albeit the elder was a doughtier horseman than the younger. So he succeeded to the empire; when he ruled the land and lorded it over his lieges with justice so exemplary that he was beloved by all the peoples of his capital and of his kingdom. His name was King Shahryar,
3. and he made his younger brother, Shah Zaman hight, King of Samarcand in Barbarian-land. These two ceased not to abide in their several realms and the law was ever carried out in their dominions; and each ruled his own kingdom, with equity and fair-dealing to his subjects, in extreme solace and enjoyment; and this condition continually endured for a score of years. But at the end of the twentieth twelve month the elder King yearned for a sight of his younger brother and felt that he must look upon him once more. So he took counsel with his Wazir
4. about visiting him, but the Minister, finding the project unadvisable, recommended that a letter be written and a present be sent under his charge to the younger brother with an invitation to visit the elder. Having accepted this advice the King forthwith bade prepare handsome gifts, such as horses with saddles of gem-encrusted gold; Mamelukes, or white slaves; beautiful handmaids, high-breasted virgins, and splendid stuffs and costly. He then wrote a letter to Shah Zaman expressing his warm love and great wish to see him, ending with these words, "We therefore hope of the favour and affection of the beloved brother that he will condescend to bestir himself and turn his face us-wards."
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Arabian Nights by Translated, with a Preface and Notes, by Sir Richard F. Burton Copyright © 2001 by Translated, with a Preface and and Notes, by Sir Richard F. Burton. Excerpted by permission of Modern Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.