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AND when we turn to the Arabian tales, we not only see, by their identity with the Hindoo and Slavonic legends, that they are of great antiquity, dating back to the time when these widely diverse races, Aryan and Semitic, were one, but we find in them many allusions to the battle between good and evil, between God and the serpent.
Abou Mohammed the Lazy, who is a very great magician, with power over the forces of the air and the Afrites, beholds a battle between two great snakes, one tawny-colored, the other white. The tawny serpent is overcoming the white one; but Abou Mohammed kills it with a rock. "The white serpent" (the sun) "departed and was absent for a while, but returned"; and the tawny serpent was torn to pieces and scattered over the land, and nothing remained of her but her head.
And then we have the legend of "the City of Brass," or bronze. It relates to "an ancient age and period in the olden time." One of the caliphs, Abdelmelik, the son of Marwan, has heard from antiquity that Solomon, (Solomon is, in Arabic, like Charlemagne in the middle-age myths of Europe, the synonym for everything venerable and powerful,) had imprisoned genii in bottles of brass, and the Caliph desired to procure some of these bottles.
Then Talib (the son of Sahl) tells the Caliph that a man once voyaged to the Island of Sicily, but a wind arose and blew him away "to one of the lands of God."
"This happened during the black darkness of night."
It was a remote, unfrequented land; the people were black and lived in caves, and were naked and of strange speech. They cast their nets for Talib and brought up a bottle of brass or bronze, containing one of the imprisoned genii, who came out of it, as a blue smoke, and cried in a horrible voice, "Repentance, repentance, O prophet of God!"
All this was in a Western land. And Abdelmelik sent Talib to find this land. It was "a journey of two years and some months going, and the like returning." It was in a far country. They first reach a deserted palace in a desolate land, the palace of "Kosh the son of Sheddad the son of Ad, the greater." He read an inscription:
"Here was a people, whom, after their works, thou shalt see wept over for their lost dominion.
"And in this palace is the last information respecting lords collected in the dust.
"Death hath destroyed them and disunited them, and in the dust they have lost what they amassed."
Talib goes on with his troops, until they come to a great pillar of black stone, sunk into which, to his armpits, was a mighty creature; "he had two wings and four arms; two of them like those of the sons of Adam, and two like the fore-legs of lions with claws. He had hair upon his head like the tails of horses, and two eyes like two burning coals, and he had a third eye in his forehead, like the eye of the lynx, from which there appeared sparks of fire."
He was the imprisoned comet-monster, and these
arms and eyes, darting fire, remind us of the description given of the apostate angel in the other legends:
THE AFRITE IN THE PILLAR.
"He was tall and black; and he was crying out 'Extolled be the perfection of my Lord, who hath appointed me this severe affliction and painful torture until the day of resurrection!'"
The party of Talib were stupefied at the sight and retreated in fright. And the wise man, the Sheik Abdelsamad, one of the party, drew near and asked the imprisoned monster his history. And he replied:
"I am an Afrite of the genii, and my name is Dahish, the son of Elamash, and I am restrained here by the majesty of God.
"There belonged to one of the sons of Eblis an idol of red carnelian, of which I was made guardian; and there used to worship it one of the kings of the sea, of illustrious dignity, of great glory, leading, among his troops of the genii, a million warriors who smote with swords before him, and who answered his prayer in cases of difficulty. These genii, who obeyed him, were under my command and authority, following my words when I ordered them: all of them were in rebellion against Solomon the son of David (on both of whom be peace!), and I used to enter the body of the idol, to command them and to forbid them."
Solomon sent word to this king of the sea that he must give up the worship of the idol of red carnelian; the king consulted the idol, and this Afrite, speaking through the idol, encouraged the king to refuse. What,--he said to him,--can Solomon do to thee, "when thou art in the midst of this great sea?" And so Solomon came to compel the island-race to worship the true God; he surrounded his island, and filled the land with his troops, assisted by birds and wild beasts, and a dreadful battle followed in the air:
"After this they came upon us all together, and we contended with him in a wide tract for a period of two days; and calamity befell us on the third day, and the decree of God (whose name be exalted!) was executed among us. The first who charged upon Solomon were I and my troops: and I said to my companions, 'Keep in your places in the battle-field while I go forth to them and challenge Dimiriat."' (Dimiriat was the Sun, the
bright one.) "And lo, he came forth, like a great mountain, his fires flaming and his smoke ascending; and he approached and smote me with a flaming fire; and his arrow prevailed over my fire. He cried out at me with a prodigious cry, so that I imagined the heaven had fallen and closed over me, and the mountains shook at his voice.
DAHISH OVERTAKEN BY DIMIRIAT.
Then he commanded his companions, and they charged upon us all together: we also charged upon them, and we cried out one to another: the fires rose and the smoke ascended, the hearts of the combatants were almost cleft asunder, and the battle raged. The birds fought in the air, and the wild beasts in the dust; and I contended with Dimiriat until he wearied me and I wearied him;
after which I became weak, and my companions and troops were enervated and my tribes were routed."
The birds tore out the eyes of the demons, and cut them in pieces until the earth was covered with the fragments, like the trunks of palm-trees. "As for me, I flew from before Dimiriat, but he followed me a journey of three months until he overtook me." And Solomon hollowed out the black pillar, and sealed him in it with his signet, and chained him until the day of resurrection.
And Talib and his party go on still farther, and find "the City of Brass," a weird, mysterious, lost city, in a desolate land; silent, and all its people dead; a city once of high civilization, with mighty, brazen walls and vast machinery and great mysteries; a city whose inhabitants had perished suddenly in some great calamity. And on the walls were tablets, and on one of them were inscribed these solemn words:
"'Where are the kings and the peoples of the earth? They have quitted that which they have built and peopled. And in the grave they are pledged for their past actions. There, after destruction, they have become putrid corpses. Where are the troops? They repelled not nor profited. And where is that which they collected and boarded? The decree of the Lord of the Throne surprised them. Neither riches nor refuge saved them from it.'
"And they saw the merchants dead in their shops; their skins were dried, and their bones were carious, and they had become examples to him who would be admonished."
Everywhere were the dead, "lying upon skins, and appearing almost as if they would speak."
Their death seems to have been due to a long period of terrible heat and drought.
On a couch was a damsel more beautiful than all the daughters of Adam; she was embalmed, so as to preserve all her charms. Her eyes were of glass, filled with quick
silver, which seemed to follow the beholder's every motion. Near her was a tablet of gold, on which was inscribed:
"In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.... the Lord of lords, the Cause of causes; the Everlasting, the Eternal. . . . Where are the kings of the regions of the earth" Where are the Amalekites? Where are the mighty monarchs? The mansions are void of their presence, and they have quitted their families and homes. Where are the kings of the foreigners and the Arabs? They have all died and become rotten bones. Where are the lords of high degree? They have all died. Where are Korah and Haman? Where is Sheddad, the son of Add? Where are Canaan and Pharaoh? God hath cut them off, and it is he who cutteth short the lives of mankind, and he hath made the mansions to be void for their presence. . . . I am Tadmor, the daughter of the king of the Amalekites, of those who ruled the countries with equity: I possessed what none of the kings possessed," (i. e., in extent of dominion,) "and ruled with justice, and acted impartially toward my subjects; I gave and bestowed; and I lived a longtime in the enjoyment of happiness and an easy life, and emancipated both female and male slaves. Thus I did until the summoner of death came, and disasters occurred before me. And the cause was this: Seven years in succession came upon us, during which no water descended on us from heaven, nor did any grass grow for us on the face of the earth. So we ate what food we had in our dwellings, and after that we fell upon the beasts and ate, and there remained nothing. Upon this, therefore, I caused the wealth to be brought, and meted it with a measure, and sent it, by trusty men, who went about with it through all regions, not leaving unvisited a single large city, to seek for some food. But they found it not, and they returned to us with the wealth after a long absence. So, thereupon we exposed to view our riches and our treasures, locked the gates of the fortresses in our city, and submitted ourselves to the decrees of our Lord; and thus we all died, as thou beholdest, and left what we had built and what we had treasured."
And this strange tale has relations to all the other legends.
Here we have the great demon, darting fire, blazing, smoking, the destructive one; the rebel against the good God. He is overthrown by the bright-shining one, Dimiriat, the same as the Dev-Mrityu of the Hindoos; he and his forces are cut to pieces, and scattered over the land, and he, after being chased for months through space, is captured and chained. Associated with all this is a people of the Bronze Age--a highly civilized people; a people living on an island in the Western Sea, who perished by a calamity which came on them suddenly; "a summoner of death" came and brought disasters; and then followed a long period of terrible heat and drought, in which not they alone, but all nations and cities, were starved by the drying up of the earth. The demon had devoured the cows-the clouds; like Cacus, he had dragged them backward into his den, and no Hercules, no Indra, had arisen to hurl the electric bolt that was to kill the heat, restore the clouds, and bring upon the parched earth the grateful rain. And so this Bronze-Age race spread out their useless treasures to the sun, and, despite their miseries, they praise the God of gods, the Cause of causes, the merciful, the compassionate, and lie down to die.
And in the evil-one, captured and chained and sealed by Solomon, we seem to have the same thing prefigured in Revelation, xx, 2:
"2. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
"3. And he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should no more seduce the nations."
Next: Chapter XII. The Book Of Job