Sunday, November 30, 2008

Solomon & The City of Brass

The following tale, brought down in Legends of the Jews, Volume 2, page 972, of one of King Solomon's adventures, bears a marked resemblance to the Arabian Nights' tale of "The City of Brass."
    Next he came to a magnificent building, into which he sought to enter in vain; he could find no door leading into it. After long search the demons came upon an eagle seven hundred years old, and he, unable to give them any information, sent him to his nine hundred years old brother, whose eyrie was higher than his own, and who would probably be in a position to advise them. But he in turn directed them to go to his still older brother. His age counted thirteen hundred years, and he had more knowledge than himself. This oldest one of the eagles reported that he remembered having heard his father say there was a door on the west side, but it was covered up by the dust of the ages that had passed since it was last used. So it turned out to be. They found an old iron door with the inscription: "We, the dwellers in this palace, for many years lived in comfort and luxury; then, forced by hunger, we ground pearls into flour instead of wheat — but to no avail, and so, when we were about to die, we bequeathed this palace to the eagles." A second statement contained a detailed description of the wonderful palace, and mentioned where the keys for the different chambers were to be found. Following the directions on the door, Solomon inspected the remarkable building, whose apartments were made of pearls and precious stones. Inscribed on the doors he found the following three wise proverbs, dealing with the vanity of all earthly things, and admonishing men to be humble:

    1. O son of man, let not time deceive thee; thou must wither away, and leave thy place, to rest in the bosom of the earth.

    2. Haste thee not, move slowly, for the world is taken from one and bestowed upon another.

    3. Furnish thyself with food for the journey, prepare thy meal while daylight lasts, for thou wilt not remain on earth forever, and thou knowest not the day of thy death. (78)

    In one of the chambers, Solomon saw a number of statues, among them one that looked as though alive. When he approached it, it called out in a loud voice: "Hither, ye satans, Solomon has come to undo you." Suddenly there arose great noise and tumult among the statues. Solomon pronounced the Name, and quiet was restored. The statues were overthrown, and the sons of the satans ran into the sea and were drowned. From the throat of the lifelike statue he drew a silver plate inscribed with characters which he could not decipher, but a youth from the desert told the king: "These letters are Greek, and the words mean: 'I, Shadad ben Ad, ruled over a thousand thousand provinces, rode on a thousand thousand horses, had a thousand thousand kings under me, and slew a thousand thousand heroes, and when the Angel of Death approached me, I was powerless.'" (79)
Compare to the following excerpt from "The City of Brass:"
    They then passed on, and found a saloon constructed of polished marble adorned with jewels. The beholder imagined that upon its floor was running water, and if any one walked upon it he would slip. The Emir Musa therefore ordered the sheykh ‘Abd-Es-Samad to throw upon it something that they might be enabled to walk on it; and he did this, and contrived so that they passed on. And they found in it a great dome constructed of stones gilded with red gold. The party had not beheld, in all that they had seen, any thing more beautiful than it. And in the midst of that dome was a great dome-crowned structure of alabaster, around which were lattice-windows, decorated, and adorned with oblong emeralds, such as none of the Kings could procure. In it was a pavilion of brocade, raised upon columns of red gold, and within this were birds, the feet of which were of emeralds; beneath each bird was a net of brilliant pearls, spread over a fountain; and by the brink of the fountain was placed a couch adorned with pearls and jewels and jacinths, whereon was a damsel resembling the shining sun. Eyes had not beheld one more beautiful. Upon her was a garment of brilliant pearls, on her head was a crown of red gold, with a fillet of jewels, on her neck was a necklace of jewels in the middle of which were refulgent gems, and upon her forehead were two jewels the light of which was like that of the sun; and she seemed as though she were looking at the people, and observing them to the right and left. When the Emir Musa beheld this damsel, he wondered extremely at her loveliness, and was confounded by her beauty and the redness of her cheeks and the blackness of her hair. Any beholder would imagine that she was alive, and not dead. And they said to her, Peace be on thee, O damsel! But Talib the son of Sahl said to the Emir, May God amend thy state. Know that this damsel is dead. There is no life in her. How then can she return the salutation?—And he added, O Emir, she is skillfully embalmed; and her eyes have been taken out after her death, and quicksilver hath been put beneath them, after which they have been restored to their places; so they gleam; and whenever the air putteth them in motion, the beholder imagineth that she twinkleth her eyes, though she is dead.—Upon this the Emir Musa said, Extolled be the perfection of God, who hath subdued his servants by death!—And as to the couch upon which was the damsel, it had steps, and upon the steps were two slaves, one of them white and the other black; and in the hand of one of them was a weapon of steel, and in the hand of the other a jewelled sword that blinded the eyes; and before the two slaves was a tablet of gold, whereon was read an inscription, which was this:—
    In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise be to God, the Creator of man; and He is the Lord of lords, and the Cause of causes. In the name of God, the Everlasting, the Eternal: in the name of God, the Ordainer of fate and destiny. O son of Adam, how ignorant art thou in the long indulgence of hope! and how unmindful art thou of the arrival of the predestined period! Knowest thou not that death hath called for thee, and hath advanced to seize thy soul? Be ready then for departure, and make provision in the world; for thou wilt quit it soon. Where is Adam, the father of mankind? Where are Nuh and his offspring? Where are the sovereign Kisras and Cæsars? Where are the kings of India and El-’Irak? 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 Karun and Haman? 9 Where is Sheddad the son of ‘Ad? Where are Ken’an and the Lord of the Stakes? 10 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 of their presence. Did they prepare provision for the day of resurrection, and make themselves ready to reply to the Lord of men?—O thou, if thou know me not, I will acquaint thee with my name and my descent. I am Tedmur, the daughter of the King of the Amalekites, of those who ruled the countries with equity. I possessed what none of the Kings possessed, and ruled with justice, and acted impartially towards my subjects; I gave and bestowed, and I lived a long time in the enjoyment of happiness and an easy life, and possessing emancipated female and male slaves. Thus I did until the summoner of death came to my abode, and disasters occurred before me. And the case 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 them, 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 the districts, 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 decree of our Lord, committing our case to our Master; and thus we all died, as thou beholdest, and left what we had built and what we had treasured. This is the story: and after the substance there remaineth not aught save the vestige.
Both tales feature the exploratory King, the magical city, beautiful gems and other brilliant jewels and posessions, a statue bearing a placard that tells of the downfall of the city, and most importantly, the fact that the city has fallen due to its hunger. Each city declares that at the last, they resorted to displaying their wealth, because it did them no good, or alternatively leaving the city to the advances of the eagles.

Happily, Louis Ginzberg agrees with me, as his comment on the Solomon tale states:
    79. Ma'aseh ha-Nemalah published several times eparately and also in BHM V, 22-26. The Arabic origin of this legend is obvious, and the Arabic original is still in existence, though less known than the Hebrew translation; see Hebraische Bibliographie, XIII, 105, and Jellinek, Introduction to BHM V, 11-13. Salzberger, Salamo-Sage, 90, published an Arabic text containing the first part of Ma'aseh ha-Nemalah, but did not recognize the nature of the text. Comp. also Gaster, Exempla, No. 343 and Seymour Tales of King Solomon 80-99. See further Ben ha-Meleh, XVI, where David is said to have found an inscription upon which a king told of himself that he had ruled a thousand years, destroyed a thousand cities, annihilated a thousand armies, and married a thousand princesses. This is only a somewhat different version of the inscription by Shadad supposed to have been found by Solomon.
It's fascinating what similarities lie between our legends and folklore in general.


AK said...

Chana, is this a part of your homework for English?

Anonymous said...

When did this nonsense become "our legends"?

Anonymous said...

Not bad article, but I really miss that you didn't express your opinion, but ok you just have different approach

Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practice anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)

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muhammad abdo said...

This palace was in egypt, i believe that

Shadad ibn Aad was the grandfather king of the giant human nation which holy koran mentioned them" Strongest humans on earth and described them as builders of pyramids"

In egyptology untill now: Archaeologists hide several accounts of giant human mummies and skeletons in egypt,they hide them for sake of evolution.

So king solomon did discover some treasures of ancient egypt by this tale.