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"The Thousand-And-Second Tale of Scheherazade" by Edgar Allan Poe

This 1845 short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is a satirical variation of the popular Arabian Nights, also known as The Thousand-and-One Nights. As we know from the Arabian Nights, the heroine Scheherazade is married to a jealous king who—as he had done for his previous wives—sentences her to death the day after the wedding. The night they get married she tells a story, and the king postpones her death until the next day so that she can finish the story. She avoids death by telling stories for the next 1,001 nights.

In Poe's version, the narrator has discovered the long-lost Oriental text called Tellmenow Isitsoornot, which contains the "real" story of Scheherazade. We learn that on the 1,002nd night Scheherazade tells the story of Sinbad, whose adventures are just as fantastic as those told in the more popular version, but which in fact describe nineteenth century inventions and natural phenomena. One of these stranger-than-fiction stories concerns antlions:

"Humph!" said the king.

[Scheherazade:] "'We left this kingdom in great haste, and, after some days, came to another, where we were astonished to perceive myriads of monstrous animals with horns resembling scythes upon their heads. These hideous beasts dig for themselves vast caverns in the soil, of a funnel shape, and line the sides of them with rocks, so disposed one upon the other that they fall instantly, when trodden upon by other animals, thus precipitating them into the monsters' dens, where their blood is immediately sucked, and their carcasses afterwards hurled contemptuously out to an immense distance from the caverns of death.'"*

* The Myrmeleon—lion-ant. The term "monster" is equally applicable to small abnormal things and to great, while such epithets as "vast" are merely comparative. The cavern of the myrmeleon is vast in comparison with the hole of the common red ant. A grain of silex is, also, a "rock."


References

Poe, Edgar Allan. 1983. The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe. Edited by Tam Mossman. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Tomlinson, David O. 1996. "The Thousand-And-Second Tale of Scheherazade." In The Poe Perplex website. United States Naval Academy. Website no longer available.

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