The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/King Solomon's Carpet
KING SOLOMON'S CARPET
WHEN the Holy One, blessed be He, bestowed the kingdom of David upon Solomon his son, He also gave him power to rule over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the spirits and all things in Creation. On the day of his coronation the demons brought to his palace a magic carpet. Ashmodai their chief, in presenting it to Solomon, exclaimed,—
"Great King, son of David! our master and ruler! Know thou that this green silken carpet, so beautifully embroidered, will carry thee whithersoever thou wilt go. It is thine as a gift from thy ruler and master, the King of Kings. Its length is sixty miles and its breadth is as long as its length."
Ashmodai and the demons vanished, and Solomon stood gazing at the wonderful gift.
Now King Solomon had four chieftains ever at his command. There was Asaph son of Berechjah, who ruled over the children of men. Then Ramerat was the chief of the genii. The king of the beasts was the lion. The eagle ruled over the birds. When Solomon traveled the wind was ever with him waiting to obey the royal behest. When it pleased him he would take his morning meal in the east and, on that same day, he would sup in the west of the world.
There was also Ashmodai, King of the demons. Solomon could summon him to his presence by rubbing the magic ring which he wore on his right hand. This ring was engraved with the Holy Name of God. Solomon sent some of the demons to India whence they brought him wonderful water to irrigate his plants, which never withered. These plants supplied him with wonderful leaves with which he cured disease and sickness. In summer and winter lovely roses adorned his table. He loved to try and understand all things. In order to learn the different ways of men he disguised himself and mixed with all sorts and conditions of people. He was a man who had strung many experiences upon the chain of his remarkable life. Tales could be told of the varied phases of his career. Sometimes he was rich, at other times he was poor. He was King and again a beggar. Now let us listen to a brief account of one day's story in the extraordinary life of this wonderful monarch.
One fine summer's day he arose early in the morning. He was staying in his beautiful palace in Jerusalem. He betook himself as soon as he had dressed to the Holy Temple for the morning service of praise. He listened with bowed head to the sweet song of the Levites. They were singing the beautiful psalms written by his beloved father David. He loved to hear the sweet strains of the Temple organ. He joined in the responses with the rest of the worshipers. After the termination of Divine Service he returned to his palace. He then transacted the various affairs of state. The rest of the day was free. He resolved to spend it on his magic carpet. He would travel abroad and see something of the world.
He took the wonderful carpet out of his pocket. How it glittered in the sunshine! When it was spread out it looked like a sea of gold. He delighted to look at its wonderful embroidery, depicting all the marvels of the universe. He beheld pictures in silk, gold and jewels — there were mountains, trees, birds and beasts, giants and demons. When he stepped upon the carpet he ordered his servants to place his wonderful throne on it. When he sat thereon he sometimes imagined that he was the absolute ruler in heaven above, on the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth. His pride and vanity grew at the expense of his faith in God. At such moments his humility forsook him. He almost thought that he was a god.
No sooner was he on his magic carpet than he commanded one hundred thousand troops to be his escort. He touched his magic ring and said,—
"I will now set out for Damascus, where I will take my breakfast."
In the twinkling of an eye Damascus lay at his feet. The wind, bearing up the carpet, awaited further orders and the carpet was stationary betwixt heaven and earth. The genii served the breakfast which Solomon ate with relish, for it was now the fourth hour of the day and he had tasted nothing since his supper on the previous evening.
"Perhaps," said he to himself, "I will sup tonight in Media. Meanwhile, I will traverse the world, my domains, and see how life looks in the different lands. Verily I am great and mighty. There has never been any monarch in all time who has become as famous as I am. The Holy One, blessed be He, has given me unbounded wisdom, understanding, knowledge and intelligence. I am Solomon the Wise and I rule beasts, tame and wild, birds and fish, the spirits and demons, aye, all things in creation. I am truly a wonderful King."
At that moment the wind changed its course and the carpet tilted somewhat, so that forty thousand soldiers fell off the carpet.
They fell down and down till they reached the earth. This annoyed Solomon immensely and he began to rebuke the wind. He cried to it in a sharp voice,—
"Wind, return to thy former position, dost thou hear?""I hear very well, mighty son of David! and I will do as thou dost bid me, provided thou dost also return
THE CARPET WAS STATIONARY AND THE GENII
SERVED THE BREAKFAST—Page 34
In that moment Solomon was abashed. The rebuke of the wind had been fully deserved by the pride and vanity of the King. The wind bore up the carpet which now resumed its level position. Again the King rubbed his magic ring and commanded the wind to move on. The carpet flew through space and was just passing over a deep valley when Solomon cried, "Halt!" Below there were tens of thousands of tiny black ants. Solomon was somewhat taken aback to hear the voice of one ant crying to its little fellows: "Take cover! lest ye be crushed by the mighty army of the great King Solomon, the Servant of God."
Solomon commanded the wind to let the carpet fall nearer to the valley. He then cried aloud in a terrible fury: "We will descend to earth."
He commanded Ashmodai to appear before him. When the King of the demons saw Solomon on his wonderful throne he made obeisance and said,—
"Command, great Master, and thy wishes shall be fulfilled."
"Go, Ashmodai, and bring before me the ants in yonder valley."
The ants swarmed on the earth over which the magic carpet was hanging. Solomon said,—
"Where is the little ant that gave the command to all the other ants saying: 'Take cover' lest ye be crushed by my army?"
The little black ant came a few inches forward and said,—
"I am the one that gave this command."
"Who art thou?"
"I am the queen of the ants."
"What is thy name?"
"Now tell me, little queen, why didst thou give thy command to the other ants?"
"I was afraid that the ants might venture to gaze at thy magic carpet and thereby they would interrupt our service of praise with which we glorify God all day long. If we cease to praise our Creator we deserve to die, for then we are of no use in the world."
"Is it not true that ants also work?"
"It is true, but our work is also prayer. Idleness leads to pride and vanity, whereas toil makes one humble and meek. Dost thou not think likewise, wise King?"
"Never mind what I think, but let me rather ask thee a simple question."
"Dost thou not know, King Solomon, that it is not seemly for the one who asks a question to be on high, whilst the one who has to reply is down below?"
"What dost thou wish me to do, Machashamah?"
"Why, lift me up, of course, wisest of Kings."
King Solomon bent down and lifted up the ant. He placed the tiny insect on his magic carpet just in front of his golden throne. He turned to it and sat on his throne exclaiming,—
"Is it all right now?"
"No, it is not all right, great King."
"Why not, Machashamah?"
"It is also unbecoming for the questioner to be seated whilst the one who gives the answer is standing on a lower level. Take me upon thine hand and I will answer thy question—if I am able."
Solomon obeyed the ant.
"Is there any one in all the world greater than I am?"
"To be sure there is."
"Who is it, Machashamah ? "
"It is I."
"How dost thou dare to say this?"
"Because it is the truth."
"If I were not greater than thou art, surely the Holy One, blessed be He, would not have sent thee to me to take me upon thine hand."
When Solomon heard these words he was beside himself with fury. He cast the ant off his hand to the carpet and said to it,—
"Ant! thou knowest not to whom thou art speaking. Thou dost not really know who and what I am. I am Solomon, son of David, of blessed memory; I rule all things on earth, in the air and in the sea. I have a magic ring and a magic carpet, and what hast thou?"
"O Solomon! thou wilt one day be the food for the ants; they will feast on thy body in the grave, therefore boast not."
At that same moment Solomon fell upon his face and was put to shame by the truth spoken by the little queen of the ants.
He then commanded Ashmodai to remove all the ants to their former haunts, and calling to the wind to carry his carpet on high he said: "Away!"
The wind began to lift up the magic carpet, and as it was about to fly away into space, Machashamah cried out,—
"Farewell, King Solomon, forget not to praise God and to labor for the glory of His Holy Name. Remember all I have told thee and boast no more."
Solomon continued his journey betwixt heaven and earth. On and on he went, over hill and dale, across rivers and mountains. At last he came to a vast desert and noticed a huge mound. Coming nearer he saw that it was a large building almost entirely covered by the sand of the desert. He called to the wind to slacken its speed, saying that he wished to descend to the earth. His magic carpet glided down to the earth and Solomon stepped upon the sand. He at once summoned Ashmodai and bade him fold up the carpet. When this was done he put it into his pocket. He then asked his Princes and servants if they knew what sort of building it was. They shook their heads and told him they had never been in that desert before.
"See!" cried he, "it is much larger than my palace in the Lebanon. I will enter and see what sort of place it is. Find the entrance."
His Princes and servants looked on all sides for a door, but their efforts were all in vain. In his despair he again summoned Ashmodai.
"What is thy wish, master?"
"I am vexed because my Princes and servants cannot find an entrance to this building. What can you suggest?"
"Sovereign master! I will order my demons to ascend to the roof, and perhaps they may be able to find there a man or an animal. Dost thou approve?"
"Be it so, and let there be no delay."
Ashmodai bowed to the ground and vanished. The King of the demons bade some of his servants among the genii and demons to ascend to the roof and to report to him what was to be seen. They ascended, and having looked around they descended. They returned to Ashmodai and said,—
"Royal master! We saw not a son of man upon the roof, but we found a large mountain eagle sitting in her nest."
Ashmodai reported the result to Solomon, who commanded him to bring to his presence the sea eagle, the prince of the birds. When the sea eagle came before Solomon, he ordered it to fetch the mountain eagle from the roof of the building. This was done. As soon as the mountain eagle saw Solomon, she began to utter the praise of God and then she greeted the King.
The King looked at the old bird and said,—
What is thy name?"
"How old art thou?"
"My years number seven hundred."
"Hast thou ever seen the door of the building on the roof of which thou hast thy nest ?"
"King! mayest thou live forever! By the life of thy head I know nothing of the door. I have a brother two hundred years older than I am. He is more learned than I, perhaps he can tell thee, King, what thou desirest to know. He lives in a nest a little above my home."
Solomon again commanded the sea eagle to fetch Alanad's brother. When he came before the King he was praising the great and good Creator of all things. He then greeted Solomon, who asked him,—
"What is thy name?"
"What is thy age?"
"The days of my life are nine hundred years."
"Dost thou know where the entrance to yonder building is situated?"
"Mighty King! By thy life I assure thee that I know not where the entrance is. May be that my brother, who is four hundred years older than I am, can tell thee. His nest is a little beyond mine."
Once more Solomon told the sea eagle to bring this old bird before him. "Do not forget," he added, "to carry it if it cannot fly." It was brought before the King, and like its brother and sister it was praising God.
After their mutual greeting Solomon inquired, —
"How old art thou?"
"I am one thousand and three hundred years old."
"What is thy name?"
"My father called me Alta-'amar."
"Hast thou seen any entrance to this building here?"
"By thy head, wise King! I know it not, but well do I remember my late father speaking of its golden door. This was situated on the side looking towards sunset. Owing to the time that has passed since it was last opened, when it admitted a mighty King, it has been covered over by the sand of the desert. For this reason it is now hidden from view. If it please thee, wise Solomon, let thy command go forth that the sand shall disappear. Forgive my presumption in giving advice to one so wise."
"I thank thee, Alta-'amar, for thy advice, but I do not see how I can cause the sand to vanish. Can you suggest how it might be done?"
"Command the wind to blow the sand away on the side facing sunset and the entrance will be seen."
"Many thanks, and now farewell."
The three old eagles returned to their nests. Solomon commanded the wind to blow with all its might and to drive away the sand on the west side of the building. In a few minutes a wonderful sight met the King's gaze. Lo! there stood a beautiful portico, and Solomon entered. He came to a massive iron door. Time had made her inroads and the iron was very rusty. There was an inscription in Hebrew which Solomon began to read. The following was what he read, —
"O children of men! be it known to you that I and my Princes dwelt in this magic palace for very many years in joy and contentment. At last hunger invaded its walls and entered within. We ground our best pearls with the little corn we could obtain, but all in vain. Hunger drove us forth and we left our home for the eagles to take our place. At length we grew weary of life, for we were faint in our souls and bodies and we laid ourselves down to sleep in the dust. We told the eagles to say to all comers, who might ask them about this wonderful palace, 'We found it already built. Let no man enter unless he be a King or a prophet. If he desire to enter let him dig up the sand on the right side of the portico, where he will see a crystal box. He must break this box open in order to get the keys of the palace.'"
Solomon told his Princes and attendants that he would inspect the palace by himself. He followed the directions which he had read and he was very happy when he found the crystal box. When he had broken it open he took out the keys. Without any delay he opened the iron door and entered the palace.
He was greatly surprised to see that another door now faced him. It was of burnished gold. He found the key to open this door, and when he had opened it he was amazed to find another door in front of him. After he had opened it, he entered a large room full of pearls and precious jewels. In the next room he found gold and silver coins in large boxes. He went on and saw a large courtyard. Its pavement was of gold. He passed on and entered a magnificent dining hall, very spacious and lofty. It was perfumed with the scent of paradise. "Never have I seen such a noble room. It is truly fit for a King," exclaimed Solomon in astonishment and delight. The dining hall had another courtyard at its further end. Solomon passed through and saw in the center the image of a scorpion cast in silver. He removed it and found beneath it a large ring set in a wooden trap-door. He lifted up the latter and saw a secret staircase. He descended and found treasures uncounted, precious jewels and money. He went on and came to a door of silver on which he read these words,—
"The lord of this magic palace was a King, mighty and honored. At his presence lions trembled and bears fainted, for he was a mighty warrior. Here he lived in bliss and peace, ruling the lands east and west. After many happy years his time to die came, alas! all too soon, and when he died his crown fell off his head. If thou art stout-hearted enough to enter the next room, thou wilt see wonderful and terrible sights. If thou art faint-hearted return and begone."
Solomon knew no fear; did he not wear on the little finger of his right hand his magic ring? He went to the next room and opened the door. He entered and found a sack tied at its mouth. He untied it and found that it contained rubies, emeralds and diamonds. He saw a large label attached to the sack and he read the following words written thereon, —
"The owners of these gems were very wealthy men; their treasures are here, but they are dead. Worldly treasures remain on earth when their owners pass from this life. Reader! Ask thyself these questions and find their answers. How long shall I stand on earth? What will happen to me? How much will I eat and drink? How often shall I dress myself in beautiful garments? How often shall I make others afraid and how often shall I feel afraid? Son of man! be not deceived by time. Thou also wilt wither and pass away, leaving this magic palace, and 'thou wilt sleep beneath the soft earth. Do not be in too great a hurry, thou hast little that is really thine, for the world takes from one to give to another. Take provision with thee on thy last journey. Prepare whilst it is still day what thou mayest require when it grows dark. Thou also wilt pass from the light into the darkness where is the shadow of death. Thou knowest not the day of thy last journey."
Solomon read and re-read the strange words. When he came to the end of the room he was somewhat startled to see in front of him a life-size image of a man seated on a throne with a crown upon his head and a scepter in his hand. Solomon gazed at it for a few seconds—it seemed to be alive. Did the lips tremble? Did not the eyes open? Did not the scepter seem to move? Solomon advanced nearer and nearer, and at last he put his hand upon the scepter and tried to remove it. He could not, the hand held it fast. He now put his hand on the crown, when he was terrified to see the lips open and he heard the image cry in a terrible voice that shook the palace,—
"Come hither, ye children of Satan! See, Solomon, King of Israel, is here. He has come across the desert to destroy you in this your magic palace."
Whilst the image was speaking fire and smoke came forth through its nostrils. At that second horrible screaming and wild tumult, as loud as the crash of thunder, deafened Solomon's ears. The very earth seemed to quake. Solomon knew that now was the moment for him to be mastered or to overcome his foes. He cried in a bold voice,—
"Hearken to my words, ye children of Satan! You think you can frighten me? You are mightily mistaken. I am Solomon, son of David, I come here in the name of the Holy One to rule and subdue all things which He has created. If you presume to rebel against me I will punish you with terrible chastisement. Now begone, and let there be peace wherever the children of men dwell."
He then pronounced the Name of God and all was as silent as when he entered the room. Then the image fell to the ground and the children of Satan vanished. They hastened on and on till they came to the great sea, into which they threw themselves. Solomon again advanced to the fallen image and took a silver plate out of its mouth. It had a strange inscription which he was unable to read. He returned to his retinue and handed round the silver plate, asking them to read it. They could not do so. He then told them what he had seen and done in the magic palace.
"You know," he exclaimed, "how very much I have exerted myself to explore this wonderful palace, and now that I have seen all it contains and I have learnt its secrets, I am puzzled by this little inscription. I must find out what it means."
He rubbed his magic ring and summoned Ashmodai.
"Good Ashmodai, find some one who can read the writing on this plate."
Ashmodai made an obeisance and vanished. In a moment he returned with a child of the desert. The lad was dressed like a shepherd boy. As soon as he saw Solomon he fell on his face to the ground. The King told him to rise. He obeyed and said to the King,—
"Tell me what is troubling thee, mighty Solomon, wisest of mortals!"
"Take this silver tablet and read its inscription."
The child of the desert took the silver plate and looked at it for a few moments. He then said,—
"This writing is neither Hebrew nor Arabic. It is Greek, and the following is its meaning: 'The image on the throne with the Crown on its head and the scepter in its hand is the likeness of Shadad the son of 'Ad, King of the desert. I ruled over a thousand thousand provinces. I rode a thousand thousand horses. A thousand thousand Kings paid me tribute. I slew a thousand thousand warriors and when the angel of death came near to me, I was powerless. My strength left me, and I was helpless. So will it ever be with all who trust in horses and chariots and rely upon the arm of flesh. Take heed, O reader, and ponder well over these words. Weigh them in thy heart and remember them.'"
"Enough," cried Solomon; "spread out my magic carpet — O Wind! lift it up and carry us back to Jerusalem. It is getting late and I will not sup to-night in Media but in the Holy City. Away."
The next second all the retinue around their King, who sat on his golden throne, were on their way to Jerusalem. In the twinkling of an eye, just as the sun began to set in the west, Solomon arrived in his capital. He entered his palace and sent for his golden pen. He dipped it into his imperishable ink and with a smile across his mouth he wrote in his scroll the story of his day's experience: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
(ed. Jellinek, v. pp. 22-26).
- Ps. xxxvii. 11.