It is a well-known theme that small actions can cause large, and often unpleasant, consequences. The story of Pandora opening her ill-fated box is one example. The phrase "let the genie out of the bottle" has a similar meaning and originates from the following story.
from "The Arabian Nights," translated by Edward Forster:
Once upon a time there was a very old fisherman, who was so poor, that he could barely obtain food for himself, his wife, and three children. He went out very early every morning to his work and he made it an absolute rule that he would throw his nets only four times a day.
One morning he set out before dawn and when he had got to the sea-shore, he undressed himself and threw his nets. In drawing them to land, he perceived they were heavy and began to imagine he should have an excellent haul, at which he was much pleased. But the moment after, he found not fish but the body of an ass in his nets, which the weight of the ass had torn in many places. When had mended his nets, he threw them a second time. He again found to his disappointment only a large basket, filled with sand and mud. He angrily threw aside the basket, and washing his nets from the mud, he threw them a third time. He brought up only stones, shells, and filth. It is impossible to describe his despair. The day now began to break, and he did not neglect his prayers, to which he added the following: "Thou knowest, O Lord, that I throw my nets only four times a day; three times have I cast them into the sea, without any profit for my labor. Once more alone remains; and I entreat thee to render the sea favorable, as thou formerly didst to Moses."
When the fisherman, had finished this prayer, he threw his nets for the fourth time. Again,from the weight, he supposed he had caught a great quantity of fish. Instead he found a vase of yellow copper, which seemed from its weight, to be filled with something; and he observed that it was shut up and fastened with lead on which there was the impression of a seal. "I will sell this to a founder," said he with joy, "and with the money I will purchase a measure of corn."
He had examined the vase on all sides; he shook it, in order to discover, whether its contents would rattle. He could hear nothing; and this, together with the impression of the seal on the lead, made him think it was fled with something valuable. In order to find this out, he took his knife, and got it open without much difficulty. He set it down before him, and while he was attentively observing it, there issued from it so thick a smoke, that he was obliged to step back a few paces. This smoke rose almost to the clouds, and spread itself over both the water and the shore, appearing like a thick fog. The fisherman was a good deal surprised at this sight. When the smoke had all come out from the vase, it collected itself and became a solid body, and then took the shape of a Genie, twice as large as any of the giants. At the appearance of so enormous a monster, the fisherman wished to run away, but his fears were so great, he was unable to move.
"Solomon, Solomon," cried the Genie, "great prophet of God, pardon I pray. I will nevermore oppose your will; but will obey all your commands."
The fisherman had no sooner heard these words spoken by the Genie, than he regained his courage and said, "Proud spirit, what is this you say; Solomon the prophet of the most High has been dead more than eighteen hundred years.Inform me, I pray, of your history, and on what account you were shut up in this vase?"
To this speech the Genie looked disdainfully at the fisherman and answered, "Speak more civilly. You are very bold to call me a proud spirit."
"Perhaps then," returned the fisherman, "it will be more civil to call you an owl of good luck."
"I tell you," said the, Genie, "speak to me more civilly, before I kill you."
"And for what reason, pray, will you kill me?" answered the fisherman. "Have you already forgotten, that I have set you at liberty?"
"I remember it very well," returned he, "but that shall not prevent my destroying you. I will only grant you one favor, to choose the manner of your death."
"But in what have I offended you? Is this how you wish to repay me for the good I have done you?"
"I cannot treat you otherwise," said the Genie. "I am one of those spirits who rebelled against God. All the other Genii acknowledged the great Solomon, the prophet of God, and submitted to him. Sacar and myself were the only ones who were above humbling ourselves. This powerful monarch had me seized and brought before the throne of the king.
"Solomon commanded me to repent, acknowledge his authority, and submit to his laws. I haughtily refused to obey him. In order to punish me, he enclosed me in this copper vase. To prevent my escape, he impressed his seal upon the leaden cover, on which the great name of God is engraven. This done, he gave the vase to one of those Genii who obeyed him, and ordered me thrown into the sea.
"During the first period of my captivity, I swore that if anyone delivered me before the first hundred years were passed, I would make him rich even after his death. The time elapsed, and no one assisted me. During the second century I swore that if any released me, I would uncover for him all the treasures of the earth; still I was not more fortunate. During the third century, I promised to make my deliverer a most powerful monarch, to be always hovering near him, and to grant him every day any three requests he chose. This age too passed away, and I remained in the same situation. Enraged, at last, to be so long a prisoner, I swore that I would kill without mercy whoever should release me. The only favour I would grant him would be to choose the manner of his death. Since you have come here today and delivered me, choose whatever kind of death you will."
The fisherman was much affrightened by this speech. "How unfortunate am I," he exclaimed, "to come here and render so great a service to such an ungrateful wretch! Think of your injustice and revoke this most unreasonable oath. Pardon me, and God will pardon you. If you generously let me live, He will defend you from all attempts that may be made against your life."
"No," answered the Genie, "your death is certain; determine only how I shall kill you."
The fisherman was in great distress, not so much on his own account, as that of his three children and the wretched state to which they would be reduced by his death. He still endeavored to appease the Genie. "Alas!" he cried, "have pity on me, in consideration of what I have done for you."
"I have already told you," replied the Genie, "It is for that very reason, that I am obliged to take your life."
"It is very strange," added the fisherman, "that you are determined to return evil for good. The proverb says: he who does good to one that does not deserve it is always ill rewarded. I admit that I did not believe it, because nothing is more contrary to reason and the rights of society, yet now I cruelly find it to be true."
"Waste no more time", cried the Genie, "Make haste and tell me how you wish to die."
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and the fisherman thought of a plan. "Since I cannot escape death," he said, "I submit to the will of God, but before I choose the sort of death, I conjure you, by the great name of God, which is graven upon the seal of the prophet Solomon, to give true answer to the question I am going to put to you."
When the Genie found that he should be compelled to answer, he trembled and said to the fisherman. "Ask what you will, but make haste."
The Genie had no sooner promised to speak the truth, than the fisherman said to him, "I wish to know whether you really were in that vase; dare you swear it by the great name of God?"
"Yes," answered the Genie, "I do swear by the great name of God, that I most certainly was."
"In truth," replied the fisherman, "I cannot believe you. This vase cannot contain even one of your feet; how then can it hold your whole body?"
"I swear it, nonetheless," replied he, "that I was there just as you see me. Will you not believe me after the solemn oath I have taken?"
"No, indeed," insisted the fisherman, "I shall not believe you, unless I actually see it."
Immediately the form of the Genie began to change into smoke and spread itself as before over both the shore and the sea. Then collecting itself, it began to enter the vase, and continued to do so until nothing remained outside. A voice immediately issued forth, saying, "Now then, you credulous fisherman, do you believe me now that I am in the vase?"
But instead of answering the Genie, he immediately took the leaden cover and put it on the vase. "Now, Genie," he cried, "it is your turn to ask pardon, and choose what sort of death is most agreeable to you. But no; it is better that I should throw you again into the sea. Then, I will build on this very spot a house where I will live to warn all fishermen not to throw their nets and fish up so wicked a Genie as you."
At this speech the enraged Genie tried every method to get out of the vase, but in vain, for the impression of the seal of Solomon prevented him. Knowing then that the fisherman had the advantage over him, he began to conceal his rage. He said in a softened tone, "Whatever I did was merely in joke, and you should not take it seriously."
"0 Genie," answered the fisherman, "you were a moment ago the greatest of all the genii, and now are the most insignificant. Do not suppose that your flattering speeches will be of any use to you. You shall assuredly return to the sea and you may as well remain there till the day of judgment. I begged you in the name of God not to take my life and you rejected my prayers. I ought to reject yours likewise.
The Genie tried every argument to move the Fisherman's pity, but in vain. "I conjure you to open the vase," said he, "If you give me my liberty again, you shall have no reason to doubt my gratitude."
"You are too treacherous for me to trust you," returned the fisherman. "I should deserve to lose my life, if I was foolish enough to put it in your power a second time. You would most likely treat me the way the Greek king treated Douban, the physician."
But that is another story....
Creator of Trinity Atomic Web Site: Gregory Walker (email@example.com)