Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Story Of The Grecian King And The Physician Douban

The Story Of The Grecian King And The Physician Douban [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]

The Story Of The Grecian King And The Physician Douban [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]

There was in the country of Zouman in Persia, a king, whose subjects were originally Greeks. This king was covered with leprosy, and his physicians in vain endeavoured to cure him. When they were at their wits' end what to prescribe for him, a very able physician, called Douban, arrived at his court.

This physician had learned his science in Greek, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Latin, Syriac, and Hebrew books; and, besides that, he was an expert philosopher, and fully understood the good and bad qualities of all sorts of plants and drugs. As soon as he was informed of the king's distemper, and understood that his physicians had given him over, he clad himself in the best robes he could procure, and found means to present himself before the king. 'Sir,' said he, 'I know that all your majesty's physicians have not been able to cure you of the leprosy, but if you will do me the honour to accept my services, I will engage to cure you without potions or external applications.'

The king listened to what he said, and answered, 'If you are able to perform what you promise, I will enrich you and your posterity, and, besides the presents I will make you, you shall be my chief favourite. Do you assure me, then, that you will cure me of my leprosy, without making me take any potion, or applying any external medicine?'

'Yes, sir,' replied the physician, 'I promise success, through God's assistance, and to-morrow I will make trial of it.'

The physician returned to his quarters, and made a mallet, hollow within, and at the handle he put in his drugs. He made also a ball in such a manner as suited his purpose, with which, next morning, he presented himself before the king, and, falling down at his feet, kissed the ground.

The physician Douban then rose up, and, after a profound reverence, said to the king that he judged it meet for his majesty to take horse, and go to the place where he was wont to play at polo. The king did so, and when he arrived there, the physician came to him with the mallet, and said to him, 'Sir, exercise yourself with this mallet, and strike the ball with it until you find your hands and your body in a sweat. When the medicine I have put up in the handle of the mallet is heated with your hand it will penetrate your whole body, and as soon as you perspire you may leave off the exercise, for then the medicine will have had its effect. As soon as you return to your palace, go into the bath, and cause yourself to be well washed and rubbed; then go to bed, and when you rise to-morrow you will find yourself cured.'

The king took the mallet and struck the ball, which was returned by the officers that played with him. He struck it again, and played so long that his hand and his whole body were in a sweat, and then the medicine shut up in the handle of the mallet had its operation, as the physician said. At this the king left off playing, returned to his palace, entered the bath, and observed very exactly what his physician had prescribed him.

He was very well after it, and next morning, when he arose, he perceived, with equal wonder and joy, that his leprosy was cured, and his body as clean as if he had never been attacked by that disease. As soon as he was dressed he came into the hall of audience, where he ascended his throne, and showed himself to his courtiers, who, eager to know the success of the new medicine, came thither betimes, and, when they saw the king perfectly cured, all expressed great joy. The physician Douban entered the hall, and bowed himself before the throne, with his face to the ground. The king, perceiving him, called him, made him sit down by his side, showed him to the assembly, and made him eat alone with him at his table.

Towards night, when he was about to dismiss the company, he caused the physician to be clad in a long, rich robe, like those which his favourites usually wore in his presence, and ordered him two thousand sequins. The next day and the day following he continued his favour towards him; in short, the prince, thinking that he could never sufficiently acknowledge his obligations to the able physician, bestowed every day new favours upon him.

But this king had a grand vizier, who was avaricious, envious, and naturally capable of all sorts of mischief. He could not see without envy the presents that were given to the physician, whose other merits had already begun to make him jealous, and therefore he resolved to lessen him in the king's esteem. To effect this he went to the king, and told him in private that he had some advice to give him which was of the greatest concern. The king having asked what it was, 'Sir,' said he, 'it is very dangerous for a monarch to put confidence in a man whose fidelity he has never tried. Though you heap favours upon the physician Douban, your majesty does not know but that he may be a traitor, and have come to this court on purpose to kill you.'

'From whom have you heard this,' answered the king, 'that you dare to tell it to me? Consider to whom you speak, and that you are suggesting a thing which I shall not easily believe.'

'Sir,' replied the vizier, 'I am very well informed of what I have had the honour to represent to your majesty; therefore do not let your dangerous confidence grow to a further height. If your majesty be asleep be pleased to wake, for I once more repeat that the physician Douban did not leave the heart of Greece, his native country, nor come here to settle himself at your court, except to execute the horrible design which I have just now hinted to you.'

'No, no, vizier,' replied the king, 'I am certain that this man, whom you treat as a villain and a traitor, is one of the best and most virtuous men in the world, and there is no man I love so much. You know by what medicine, or rather by what miracle, he cured me of my leprosy. If he had a design upon my life why did he save me? He needed only have left me to my disease. I could not have escaped it, my life was already half gone. Forbear, then, to fill me with unjust suspicions. Instead of listening to you, I tell you that from this day forward I will give that great man a pension of a thousand sequins per month for life. Nay, though I were to share with him all my riches and dominions, I should never pay him enough for what he has done for me. I perceive it to be his worth which raises your envy; but do not think that I will be unjustly possessed with prejudice against him.'

'I am very well assured,' said the vizier, 'that he is a spy sent by your enemies to attempt your majesty's life. He has cured you, you will say, but, alas! who can assure you of that? He has, perhaps, cured you only in appearance, and not radically. Who knows but that the medicine he has given you may, in time, have pernicious effects?'

The Grecian king, who had by nature very little sense, was not able to see through the wicked design of his vizier, nor had he firmness enough to persist in his first opinion. This conversation staggered him. 'Vizier,' said he, 'thou art in the right. He may be come on purpose to take away my life, which he could easily do by the very smell of some of his drugs. We must consider what is proper for us to do in this case.'

When the vizier found the king in such a mood as he wished, 'Sir,' said he, 'the surest and speediest method you can take to secure your life is to send immediately for the physician Douban, and order his head to be cut off as soon as he comes.'

'In truth,' said the king, 'I believe that is the way we must take to put an end to his design.' When he had spoken thus, he called for one of his officers, and ordered him to go for the physician, who, knowing nothing, came to the palace in haste.

'Do you know,' said the king, when he saw him, 'why I sent for you?'

'No, sir,' answered he, 'I wait till your majesty be pleased to inform me.'

'I sent for you,' replied the king, 'to rid myself of you by taking your life.'

No man can express the surprise of the physician when he heard the sentence of death pronounced against him. 'Sir,' said he, 'why would your majesty take my life? What crime have I committed?'

'I am informed on good authority,' replied the king, 'that you came to my court only to attempt my life, but to prevent you I will be sure of yours. Give the blow,' said he, to the executioner, who was present, 'and deliver me from a perfidious wretch, who came hither on purpose to assassinate me.'

When the physician heard this cruel order, he readily judged that the honours and presents he had received from the king had procured him enemies, and that the weak monarch had been imposed on. He repented that he had cured him of his leprosy; but it was now too late. 'Is it thus' replied the physician, 'that you reward me for curing you?' The king would not hearken to him, but a second time ordered the executioner to strike the fatal blow. The physician then had recourse to his prayers: 'Alas! sir,' cried he, 'prolong my days, and God will prolong yours; do not put me to death, lest God treat you in the same manner.'

The Grecian king, instead of having regard to the prayers of the physician, cruelly replied, 'No no; I must of necessity cut you off, otherwise you may take my life away with as much art as you cured me.' The physician melted into tears, and bewailed himself for being so ill rewarded by the king, but prepared for death. The executioner bound up his eyes, tied his hands, and was going to draw his scimitar.

Then the courtiers who were present, being moved with compassion, begged the king to pardon him, assuring his majesty that he was not guilty of the crime laid to his charge, and that they would answer for his innocence; but the king was inflexible, and answered them so as they dared not say any more on the matter.

The physician, being on his knees, his eyes bound, and ready to receive the fatal blow, addressed himself once more to the king: 'Sir,' said he, 'since your majesty will not revoke the sentence of death, I beg, at least, that you would give me leave to return to my house, to give orders about my burial, to bid farewell to my family, to give alms, and to bequeath my books to those who are capable of making good use of them. I have one which I would particularly present to your majesty: it is a very precious book, and worthy to be laid up very carefully in your treasury.' 'Well,' replied the king, 'why is that book so precious?' 'Sir,' said the physician, 'because it contains an infinite number of curious things; of which the chief is that when you have cut off my head, if your majesty will take the trouble to open the book at the sixth leaf, and read the third line of the left page, my head will answer all the questions you ask it.' The king, being curious to see such a wonderful thing, deferred his death till the next day, and sent him home under a strong guard.

The physician put his affairs in order; and report spread that an unheard of miracle was to happen after his death, the viziers, emirs, officers of the guard, and, in a word, the whole court, repaired next day to the hall of audience, that they might witness it.

The physician Douban was soon brought in, and advanced to the foot of the throne, with a great book in his hand: then he called for a basin, upon which he laid the cover that the book was wrapped in, and presented the book to the king. ' Sir,' said he, 'take that book, if you please. As soon as my head is cut off, order that it be put into the basin upon the cover of the book; as soon as it is put there, the bleeding will stop: then open the book, and my head will answer your questions. But sir,' said he, 'permit me once more to implore your majesty's clemency; for God's sake grant my request, I protest to you that I am innocent.' 'Your prayers,' answered the king, 'are in vain; and, were it for nothing but to hear your head speak after your death, it is my will that you should die.' As he said this, he took the book out of the physician's hand, and ordered the executioner to do his duty.

The head was so dexterously cut off that it fell into the basin, and was no sooner laid upon the cover of the book than the bleeding stopped. Then, to the great surprise of the king and all the spectators, it opened its eyes, and said, 'Sir, will your majesty be pleased to open the book?' The king opened it, and finding that one leaf was as it were glued to another, he put his finger to his mouth that he might turn it with the more ease. He did so till he came to the sixth leaf, and finding no writing in the place where he was bidden to look for it, 'Physician,' said he to the head, 'there is nothing written.'

'Turn over some more leaves,' replied the head. The king continued to turn over, always putting his finger to his mouth, until the poison, with which each leaf was imbrued, came to have its effect; all of a sudden he was taken with an extraordinary fit, his eyesight failed, and he fell down at the foot of the throne in violent convulsions.

When the physician Douban, or rather his head, saw that the poison had taken effect and that the king had but a few moments to live, 'Tyrant,' it cried, 'now you see how princes are treated who, abusing their authority, cut off innocent men. Soon or late God punishes their injustice and cruelty.' Scarcely had the head spoken these words when the king fell down dead, and the head itself lost what life it had.

The Story Of The Grecian King And The Physician Douban [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]


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