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three pairs of lovers with space



Presented here is the only passage touching on Greek love from The Splendid Tale of Prince Diamond, a story in the mediaeval Arabic The Thousand Nights and One Night.

The text is from Powys Mathers’ celebrated translation (reprinted London, 1947) of Mardrus’s translation into French, volume IV pp. 392-5, according to which this passage was recounted by Shahrazād on the 915th night of the enveloping story.[1]


The Splendid Tale of Prince Diamond

After seven days’ flight with a giant, the beautiful Diamond, son of the king of a great realm (and described interchangeably as boy, youth and young man) has just alighted in the city of Wakak on a quest to solve the riddle of the Fircone and the Cypress.

Two Lovers by Reza Abbasi, ca. 1630

Diamond sat down on the terrace and was reflecting how he might descend to the street without attracting attention when the master of the house, a youth of unparalleled beauty, came up on to the terrace and greeted him with a smile, saying: “O most handsome of men, you have brought bright morning to my terrace. Are you an angel or a Jinni?” “Dear youth, I am a human being who has begun his day delightfully through seeing you,” answered Prince Diamond. “It is my Destiny which has led me to your most fortunate dwelling; that is all I can tell you.” He clasped the young man to his breast, and the two swore eternal friendship. They went down together into the guest room and feasted in company. Glory be to Allāh for uniting two such fair creatures, and freeing their path from complication!

When they had sealed their friendship by eating and drinking together, Prince Diamond turned to his host, who was none other than Farah, the favourite of the Sultān of Wakak, and said to him: “O Farah, as you are loved of the Sultān and must know all the secret affairs of the kingdom, will you do me a favour which can cost you nothing?” “Be it upon my head and before my eyes!” replied young Farah. “Speak, and, if it be sandals made out of my skin that you require, I will give them willingly.” Then said Diamond: “I only wish you to tell me what is the relation between Fircone and Cypress, and to explain the business of the negro who lies beneath the ivory bed of Prince Muhrah, daughter of King Kāmūs, master of Sīn and Masīn.”

Young Farah changed colour and his eyes grew troubled: he trembled as if he had seen the angel of death and, when Diamond tried to calm him with gentle words, said in a voice from which he strove to keep his anguish: “O Diamond, the King has ordered the death of any citizen or traveller who utters those two words, for he himself is Cypress and the name of his Queen is Fircone. That is all I can tell you in answer to your question. Of their relations I know nothing, and of the negro below the bed I know nothing. The King alone holds the answer to your riddle. If you like I will take you to the palace and make you known to him, for you are certain to please him mightily.”

Shahrazād telling King Shahryār the stories of The 1,001 Nights (her sister kneeling), by Gustaf Tenggren

Diamond thanked his new friend, and the two set out hand in hand, as it had been two angels walking, to the palace. King Cypress rejoiced at the sight of Diamond and gazed at him a full hour before bidding him approach. The prince kissed the earth between this monarch’s hands and, after greeting, offered him a red pearl threaded on a chaplet of yellow amber, so precious that the whole kingdom of Wakak could not have bought its like. Cypress accepted the present with great content, and then said: “O youth girt with all grace, ask me any favour in return and it shall be granted.” “O King of time answered Diamond, who had eagerly expected these words, “Allāh prevent me from asking aught save the favour of becoming your servant! Yet, if you insist that I ask more, grant me a promise of safety and I will speak from my heart.”

[1] It is one of the few stories in Mathers’s translation that is not in “Calcutta II”, the Arabic text of The Thousand Nights and One Night translated by Sir Richard Burton and Malcolm Lyons.




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