It is related that ’Abd Allah, the son of Aboo Kilábeh, went forth to seek a camel that had run away, and while he was proceeding over the deserts of El-Yemen and the district of Seba, he chanced to arrive at a vast city encompassed by enormous fortifications, around the circuit of which were pavilions rising high into the sky. So when he approached it, he imagined that there must be inhabitants within it, of whom he might inquire for his camel; and, accordingly, he advanced, but on coming to it he found that it was desolate, without any one to cheer its solitude.
“I alighted,” says he, “from my she-camel, and tied up her foot; and then, composing my mind, entered the city. On approaching the fortifications, I found that they had two enormous gates, the like of which, for size and height, have never been seen elsewhere in the world, set with a variety of jewels and jacinths, white and red, and yellow and green; and when I beheld this, I was struck with the utmost wonder at it, and the sight astonished me. I entered the fortifications in a state of terror and with a wandering mind, and saw them to be of the same large extent as the city, and to comprise elevated pavilions, every one of these containing lofty chambers, and all of them constructed of gold and silver, and adorned with rubies and chrysolites and pearls and various-coloured jewels. The folding-doors of these pavilions were like those of the fortifications in beauty, and the floors were overlaid with large pearls, and with balls like hazel-nuts, composed of musk and ambergris and saffron. And when I came into the midst of the city, I saw not in it a created being of the sons of Adam; and I almost died of terror. I then looked down from the summits of the lofty chambers and pavilions, and saw rivers running beneath them; and in the great thoroughfare-streets of the city were fruit-bearing trees and tall palm-trees. And the construction of the city was of alternate bricks of gold and silver; so I said within myself, No doubt this is the paradise promised in the world to come.
“I carried away of the jewels which were as its gravel, and the musk that was as its dust, as much as I could bear, and returned to my district, where I acquainted the people with the occurrence. And the news reached Mo’áwiyeh, the son of Aboo Sufyán (who was then Caliph), in the Hejáz; so he wrote to his lieutenant in San’a of El-Yemen, saying, ‘Summon that man, and inquire of him the truth of the matter!’ His lieutenant therefore caused me to be brought, and demanded of me an account of my adventure, and of what had befallen me; and I informed him of what I had seen. He then sent me to Mo’áwiyeh, and I acquainted him also with that which I had seen, but he disbelieved it; so I produced to him some of those pearls and the little balls of ambergris and musk and saffron. The latter retained somewhat of their sweet scent; but the pearls had become yellow and discoloured.
“At the sight of these Mo’áwiyeh wondered, and he sent and caused Kaab el-Ahbár to be brought before him, and said to him, ‘O Kaab el-Ahbár, I have called thee on account of a matter of which I desire to know the truth, and I hope that thou mayest be able to certify me of it.’ ‘And what is it, O Prince of the Faithful?’ asked Kaab el-Ahbár. Mo’áwiyeh said, ‘Hast thou any knowledge of the existence of a city constructed of gold and silver, the pillars whereof are of chrysolite and ruby, and the gravel of which is of pearls, and of balls like hazel-nuts, composed of musk and ambergris and saffron?’ He answered, ‘Yes, O Prince of the Faithful! It is Irem Zat-el-’Emád, the like of which hath never been constructed in the regions of the earth; and Sheddád, the son of ’A’d the Greater, built it.’ ‘Relate to us,’ said Mo’áwiyeh, ‘somewhat of its history.’ And Kaab el-Ahbár replied thus:—
“‘’A’d the Greater had two sons, Shedeed and Sheddád, and when their father perished they reigned conjointly over the countries after him, and there was no one of the kings of the earth who was not subject to them. And Shedeed the son of ’A’d died, so his brother Sheddád ruled alone over the earth after him. He was fond of reading the ancient books; and when he met with the description of the world to come, and of paradise, with its pavilions and lofty chambers, and its trees and fruits, and of the other things in paradise, his heart enticed him to construct its like on the earth, after this manner which hath been above mentioned. He had under his authority a hundred thousand kings, under each of whom were a hundred thousand valiant chieftains, and under each of these were a hundred thousand soldiers. And he summoned them all before him, and said to them, “I find in the ancient books and histories the description of the paradise that is in the other world, and I desire to make its like upon the earth. Depart ye therefore to the most pleasant and most spacious vacant tract in the earth, and build for me in it a city of gold and silver, and spread, as its gravel, chrysolites and rubies and pearls, and as the supports of the vaulted roofs of that city make columns of chrysolite, and fill it with pavilions, and over the pavilions construct lofty chambers, and beneath them plant, in the by-streets and great-thoroughfare streets, varieties of trees bearing different kinds of ripe fruits, and make rivers to run beneath them in channels of gold and silver.” To this they all replied, “How can we accomplish that which thou hast described to us, and how can we procure the chrysolites and rubies and pearls that thou hast mentioned?” But he said, “Know ye not that the kings of the world are obedient to me, and under my authority, and that no one who is in it disobeyeth my command?” They answered, “Yes, we know that.” “Depart then,” said he, “to the mines of chrysolite and ruby, and to the places where pearls are found, and gold and silver, and take forth and collect their contents from the earth, and spare no exertions. Take also for me, from the hands of me, such of those things as ye find, and spare none, nor let any escape you; and beware of disobedience!”
“‘He then wrote a letter to each of the kings in the regions of the earth, commanding them to collect all the articles of the kinds above mentioned that their subjects possessed, and to repair to the mines in which these things were found, and extract the precious stones that they contained, even from the beds of the seas. And they collected the things that he required in the space of twenty years; after which he sent forth the geometricians and sages, and labourers and artificers, from all the countries and regions, and they dispersed themselves through the deserts and wastes, and tracts and districts, until they came to a desert wherein was a vast open plain, clear from hills and mountains, and in it were springs gushing forth, and rivers running. So they said, “This is the kind of place which the king commanded us to seek, and called us to find.” They then busied themselves in building the city according to the direction of the King Sheddád, king of the whole earth, in its length and breadth; and they made through it the channels for the rivers, and laid the foundations conformably with the prescribed extent. The kings of the various districts of the earth sent thither the jewels and stones, and large and small pearls, and carnelian and pure gold, upon camels over the deserts and wastes, and sent great ships with them over the seas; and a quantity of those things, such as cannot be described nor calculated nor defined, was brought to the workmen, who laboured in the construction of this city three hundred years. And when they had finished it, they came to the king and acquainted him with the completion; and he said to them, “Depart, and make around it impregnable fortifications of great height, and construct around the circuit of the fortifications a thousand pavilions, each with a thousand pillars beneath it, in order that there may be in each pavilion a vizier.” So they went immediately, and did this in twenty years; after which they presented themselves before Sheddád, and informed him of the accomplishment of his desire.
“‘He therefore ordered his viziers, who were a thousand in number, and his chief officers, and such of his troops and others as he confided in, to make themselves ready for departure, and to prepare themselves for removal to Irem Zat-el-’Emád, in attendance upon the king of the world, Sheddád, the son of ’A’d. He ordered also such as he chose of his women and his hareem, as his female slaves and his eunuchs, to fit themselves out. And they passed twenty years in equipping themselves. Then Sheddád proceeded with his troops, rejoiced at the accomplishment of his desire, until there remained between him and Irem Zat-el-’Emád one day’s journey, when God sent down upon him and upon the obstinate infidels who accompanied him a loud cry from the heaven of His power, and it destroyed them all by the vehemence of its sound. Neither Sheddád nor any of those who were with him arrived at the city, or came in sight of it, and God obliterated the traces of the road that led to it, but the city remaineth as it was in its place until the hour of the judgment!’
“At this narrative, related by Kaab el-Ahbár, Mo’áwiyeh wondered, and he said to him, ‘Can any one of mankind arrive at that city?’ ‘Yes,’ answered Kaab el-Ahbár; ‘a man of the companions of Mohammed (upon whom be blessing and peace!), in appearance like this man who is sitting here, without any doubt.’ Esh-Shaabee also saith, ‘It is related, on the authority of the learned men of Hemyer, in El-Yemen, that when Sheddád and those who were with him were destroyed by the loud cry, his son Sheddád the Less reigned after him; for his father, Sheddád the Greater, had left him as successor to his kingdom, in the land of Hadramót and Seba, on his departure with the troops who accompanied him to Irem Zat-el-’Emád. And as soon as the news reached him of the death of his father, on the way before his arrival at the city of Irem, he gave orders to carry his father’s body from those desert tracts to Hadramót, and to excavate the sepulchre for him in a cavern. And when they had done this, he placed his body in it, upon a couch of gold, and covered the corpse with seventy robes, interwoven with gold and adorned with precious jewels; and he placed at his head a tablet of gold, whereon were inscribed these verses:—
“Eth-Tha’álibee also saith, ‘It happened that two men entered this cavern, and found at its upper end some steps, and having descended these, they found an excavation, the length whereof was a hundred cubits, and its breadth forty cubits, and its height a hundred cubits. And in the midst of this excavation was a couch of gold, upon which was a man of enormous bulk, occupying its whole length and breadth, covered with ornaments and with robes interwoven with gold and silver; and at his head was a tablet of gold, whereon was an inscription. And they took that tablet, and carried away from the place as much as they could of bars of gold and silver and other things.’”
Notes: Contains 13 folktales from the Orient.
Author: Charles John Tibbitts
Publisher: W. W. Gibbings, London