Who Is Scheherazade?

    Scheherazade (Persian: Shahrazad) is the mythical storyteller of the Thousand Nights and a Night. Here’s her story, in brief.

    There was once a king named Shahryar, who ruled much of what is today India and Southeast Asia. To his chagrin he discovered his wife in the kitchen, under the cook. The king ordered his vizier to put the queen to death, and *swhup*, *clunk*, *wobble* went her head. King Shahryar then commiserated with his brother, who was also a king (of what is today Uzbekistan) and who had also recently killed an unfaithful wife. Totally depressed, the two of them ran away from their kingdoms together.
    Ambling on the seashore, King Shahryar and his brother Shahzaman beheld a giant demon coming toward them, cleaving the ocean like a sword, and they scurried up a tree to hide. The demon unlocked a chest and out popped a beautiful woman. The demon laid his head on this woman’s lap to sleep. But the woman slipped out, and, seeing two kings in a tree, demanded they both come down and have sex with her right then and there, or else she would wake the demon. They complied, and the woman afterward confiscated each man’s ring, adding them—lovers numbers ninety-nine and one hundred—to her collection. Then she let them go.
    Strangely, the kings felt better. “Here is a great demon,” they reasoned, “who has been cuckolded not once but a hundred times! We are not so bad off as we thought.” And with that cheery notion they returned to their respective kingdoms, bitterly convinced that all women everywhere were no better than the most cunning femme fatale.
    King Shahryar, on his return, ordered his vizier to bring him a virgin. He deflowered the girl, and, as she would surely someday betray him, ordered the vizier to kill her in the morning. That evening another virgin was presented, bedded, and beheaded at sunrise. This went on until the vizier could find no more virgins in the land. The old man despaired, knowing his head was next if the king’s id went unsated.
    The vizier’s eldest daughter, Scheherazade, learned of her father’s predicament and resolved both to save him and gain amnesty for the thousands of virgins who had fled for their lives across foreign borders. She offered herself to the king, and after sleeping with him told him a story. At dawn the story wasn’t finished, and King Shahryar was so enrapt that he put off slaughtering her till the next morning. But the next night’s after-sex story seamlessly ran into another story that, amazingly, was at a most suspenseful juncture when the sun rose.
    After a thousand and one nights, Scheherazade had borne King Shahryar three princes and told him the most marvelous tales (all true, of course) that anyone had ever heard: terrors greater than he and his brother had experienced with the demon; sweetness and ecstasy that their wives had known before their executions; and wisdom, heroism, love, and piety that Shahryar had never imagined, and could dream of now only because of his nights with Scheherazade.
    The king repented and married Scheherazade; all the virgins journeyed home from exile; and the land was fertile and fruitful once again and ever after.