The Painter's Story (p. 53)

begins with an account of a fight which he witnessed in his garden between a white snake and a black snake, and seeing the former was about to succumb he slew the black snake. This incident also occurs in the Romance, when Hatim is returning from his second expedition, only the magnanimous hero does not kill—or even scotch—the black snake: he simply shouts, when it lets go its hold of the other and wriggles off. The white snake then becomes a handsome young man, and tells Hatim that he is the son of a king of the jinn, that the black snake is his father's slave, and bears a most deadly enmity towards himself, and so forth—an incident found in many Asiatic story-books. The Painter's subsequent experiences in the subaqueous palace of the king of the jinn do not occur in the romance, though the story is known to several collections, and, introduced by the incident of the two snakes, it is found, as follows, in Turkish Evening Entertainments, a translation,* by J. P. Brown, of a Turkish story-book entitled 'Ajá'ib el-ma'ásir wa ghara'ib en-nawádir (Wonders of Remarkable Incidents and Rarities of Anecdote), by Ahmed ibn Hemden, the Ketkhoda, surnamed Suhaylí (i.e. Canopus), who composed it for Murád, the fourth Ottoman sultán, who reigned between A. D. 1623 and A. D. 1640:

In ancient times the sovereign of the country of Saba was a man called Yeshrah. One day, when this excellent prince was travelling, he came to an extensive plain where were two serpents resembling frightful dragons. One of these was white, the other black. They were entwined around each other in desperate conflict, and the white one had received a wound in a most tender part of its body. The black serpent being thus victorious, the strength of the white one was exhausted; it could move no more, and the black one wreaked its vengeance upon the helpless animal. King Yeshrah, touched with pity, went to the assistance of the white snake, and aided it in its conquered state. He placed a diamond-pointed arrow in his bow, and, taking aim at the black snake, he let fly and instantly killed it. The white snake, thus released, crawled away.

One day the king received a visit from a youth of a handsome exterior, who informed him that he belonged to the race of the jinn, and was the white serpent rescued by him. The youth then made proffers of service to the king, which he declined, upon which he offered the king his sister in marriage. The king, enchanted by her beauty, accepted her, and the marriage took place on the king undertaking to consent to everything which his wife did, were it good or evil. Soon after the birth of his first son, a dog approached the queen, who suddenly cast the child into the dog's mouth, and the dog ran away with it, to the king's great grief. Their next child, a girl, the queen cast into a brazier, where the infant was immediately consumed. The king was now exceedingly afflicted; but the birth of a second daughter, who was so delicately beautiful on account of her resembling the húrís of Paradise that she was called Bilkís, some­what reconciled him to his loss. The king implored her not to treat this child as she had done the two others, for which she severely rebuked him.

Soon after this a powerful enemy attacked the king, and his own vazír, secretly allying himself with the enemy, poisoned the provisions designed for the king's army. The queen destroyed the provisions, at which the king in wrath demanded her reason. The queen explained the affair to her husband, and gave the remaining bread to an animal which fell dead after eating it. She then said that the king having broken the condition made on his marriage with her, all intercourse must now cease between them, and informed him that the son thrown to the dog was still alive, and had been brought up by a nurse in that form, and that the daughter was also in perfect health, nursed by the fire. Beseeching him to be mindful of their daughter Bilkís, who should succeed to the throne and become a great and illustrious queen, and promising to send to his succour an army of jinn-soldiers, she disappeared from the king's sight for ever. The troops of jinn came to his assistance as promised, routed the enemy's forces, and restored the king to his throne. But still he was afflicted by the loss of his wife. At length the fatal moment arrived, and he died; and his daughter Bilkís succeeded him on the throne, and her history has been written elsewhere in a detailed manner.

Thus, if we may place any credit in the foregoing story, the thrice-renowned Queen of Sheba was jinn-born: no wonder, therefore, if she was a miracle of beauty and wisdom! It does not appear, however, why her fairy-mother did not dispose of her soon after she was born, in the same extraordinary manner as she “made away” with her previous babes.—Regarding the notion that when a human being unites with one of a super­natural order there are certain conditions always imposed by the latter, the breaking of which must result in their separation, generally temporary, I take leave to refer the reader to my Popular Tales and Fictions, vol. i, p. 212 ff.

In more or less different forms the same story is found in the following works: in Les Mille et un Jours, which purports to have been translated, by Petis de la Croix, from a Persian collection entitled Hazár ú Yek Rúz, the Thousand and one Days, by a darvesh named Mukhlis, of Isfahán, from whom M. Petis obtained a copy in 1675, where it is entitled “Histoire du Roi Ruzvanschad et de la Princesse Cheheristani,” but in this version the king's fairy-wife leaves him only for a time; in a Turkish story-book, entitled Al-Faráj ba'd al-Shiddah, Joy after Distress, a work written not later than the 15th century;* and in a collection described by Dr. Chas. Rieu in his Catalogue of Persian MSS. in the British Museum, vol. ii, p. 759, Or. 237, which has no specific title, the compiler, whose poetical name was Hubbí, merely calling his work, Hikáyát-i 'Agíb ú Gharíb, Wonderful and Strange Tales. In this last work, the MS. of which is unfortunately imperfect, the final story, No. 34, relates how a king of Yaman, while hunting, saw two snakes, a white one and a black one, engaged in deadly combat. He sends an attendant to kill the black snake and rescue the white one, which was half dead; which being done, he causes the rescued snake to be laid down beside a spring of water, under the shade of a tree. The snake rallies, and after a while crawls away. When the king is asleep at night, the wall of his chamber suddenly opens and a fair youth appears. “I am,” says he, “the king of the parís (fairies). You rescued me from the black snake. I am now come to requite your kind act. If you wish it, I will make you rich with many treasures.” No more of the MS. remains,* but it is not unlikely that the sequel was similar to that of the Turkish story cited above.

The battle between the two snakes, which is found so often reproduced in Arabian and Persian story-books—though I can­not recollect having met with it in any Indian collection—seems reflected in two incidents in the Voyage of Saint Brandan. One day the saint and his companions discover a monstrous sea-serpent on the surface of the water, exhaling fire from its nostrils, as it were the roaring flame of a furnace; and while the pious voyagers could not measure its length they were more successful with its breadth, which was “full fifteen feet, I trow”; presently a monster of the same species appears, and a terrific combat takes place between the two, until one is torn by his antagonist into three pieces, when the victor sinks down into the sea. After this they see a deadly conflict in the air between a griffin and a dragon.—It is well known to students of the history of popular fictions that many Eastern tales and incidents had found their way into Western literature long before the collection commonly but incorrectly called the Arabian Nights, in its existing form, was compiled.

Among the countless absurdities abounding in the Toldoth Jeshu, a scurrilous “life” of Jesus Christ of Jewish invention—the text of which, with a Latin translation, is given at the end of the second volume of Wagenseil's Tela Ignea Satana', 1681—is an aërial conflict between Jeshu and Rabbi Judas before Queen Helena: “And when Jeshu had spoken the incommunicable Name,* there came a wind and raised him between heaven and earth. Thereupon Judas spake the same Name, and the wind raised him also between heaven and earth. And they flew, both of them, around in the regions of the air, and all who saw it marvelled. Judas then spake again the Name, and seized Jeshu and sought to cast him to the earth. But Jeshu also spake the Name, and sought to cast Judas down, and they strove one with the other.” Ultimately Judas prevails and casts Jeshu to the ground, and the elders seize him; his power leaves him; and he is subjected to the tauntings of his captors. Being rescued by his disciples, he hastened to the Jordan; and when he had washed therein his power returned, and with the Name he again wrought his former miracles.* This “story”— to employ the term in its nursery sense—strongly resembles the equally apocryphal legend of the aërial contest at Rome between St. Peter and Simon Magus, in which the apostle overthrew the magician.