and other tales of
Aarne-Thompson type 1620
D. L. Ashliman
Return to D. L. Ashliman's index of folklore and mythology electronic texts.
Many years ago there lived an emperor who loved beautiful new clothes so much that he spent all his money on being finely dressed. His only interest was in going to the theater or in riding about in his carriage where he could show off his new clothes. He had a different costume for every hour of the day. Indeed, where it was said of other kings that they were at court, it could only be said of him that he was in his dressing room!
One day two swindlers came to the emperor's city. They said that they were weavers, claiming that they knew how to make the finest cloth imaginable. Not only were the colors and the patterns extraordinarily beautiful, but in addition, this material had the amazing property that it was to be invisible to anyone who was incompetent or stupid.
"It would be wonderful to have clothes made from that cloth," thought the emperor. "Then I would know which of my men are unfit for their positions, and I'd also be able to tell clever people from stupid ones." So he immediately gave the two swindlers a great sum of money to weave their cloth for him.
They set up their looms and pretended to go to work, although there was nothing at all on the looms. They asked for the finest silk and the purest gold, all of which they hid away, continuing to work on the empty looms, often late into the night.
"I would really like to know how they are coming with the cloth!" thought the emperor, but he was a bit uneasy when he recalled that anyone who was unfit for his position or stupid would not be able to see the material. Of course, he himself had nothing to fear, but still he decided to send someone else to see how the work was progressing.
"I'll send my honest old minister to the weavers," thought the emperor. He's the best one to see how the material is coming. He is very sensible, and no one is more worthy of his position than he.
So the good old minister went into the hall where the two swindlers sat working at their empty looms. "Goodness!" thought the old minister, opening his eyes wide. "I cannot see a thing!" But he did not say so.
The two swindlers invited him to step closer, asking him if it wasn't a beautiful design and if the colors weren't magnificent. They pointed to the empty loom, and the poor old minister opened his eyes wider and wider. He still could see nothing, for nothing was there. "Gracious" he thought. "Is it possible that I am stupid? I have never thought so. Am I unfit for my position? No one must know this. No, it will never do for me to say that I was unable to see the material."
"You aren't saying anything!" said one of the weavers.
"Oh, it is magnificent! The very best!" said the old minister, peering through his glasses. "This pattern and these colors! Yes, I'll tell the emperor that I am very satisfied with it!"
"That makes us happy!" said the two weavers, and they called the colors and the unusual pattern by name. The old minister listened closely so that he would be able say the same things when he reported back to the emperor, and that is exactly what he did.
The swindlers now asked for more money, more silk, and more gold, all of which they hid away. Then they continued to weave away as before on the empty looms.
The emperor sent other officials as well to observe the weavers' progress. They too were startled when they saw nothing, and they too reported back to him how wonderful the material was, advising him to have it made into clothes that he could wear in a grand procession. The entire city was alive in praise of the cloth. "Magnifique! Nysseligt! Excellent!" they said, in all languages. The emperor awarded the swindlers with medals of honor, bestowing on each of them the title Lord Weaver.
The swindlers stayed up the entire night before the procession was to take place, burning more than sixteen candles. Everyone could see that they were in a great rush to finish the emperor's new clothes. They pretended to take the material from the looms. They cut in the air with large scissors. They sewed with needles but without any thread. Finally they announced, "Behold! The clothes are finished!"
The emperor came to them with his most distinguished cavaliers. The two swindlers raised their arms as though they were holding something and said, "Just look at these trousers! Here is the jacket! This is the cloak!" and so forth. "They are as light as spider webs! You might think that you didn't have a thing on, but that is the good thing about them."
"Yes," said the cavaliers, but they couldn't see a thing, for nothing was there.
"Would his imperial majesty, if it please his grace, kindly remove his clothes." said the swindlers. "Then we will fit you with the new ones, here in front of the large mirror."
The emperor took off all his clothes, and the swindlers pretended to dress him, piece by piece, with the new ones that were to be fitted. They took hold of his waist and pretended to tie something about him. It was the train. Then the emperor turned and looked into the mirror.
"Goodness, they suit you well! What a wonderful fit!" they all said. "What a pattern! What colors! Such luxurious clothes!"
"The canopy to be carried above your majesty awaits outside," said the grandmaster of ceremonies.
"Yes, I am ready!" said the emperor. "Don't they fit well?" He turned once again toward the mirror, because it had to appear as though he were admiring himself in all his glory.
The chamberlains who were to carry the train held their hands just above the floor as if they were picking up the train. As they walked they pretended to hold the train high, for they could not let anyone notice that they could see nothing.
The emperor walked beneath the beautiful canopy in the procession, and all the people in the street and in their windows said, "Goodness, the emperor's new clothes are incomparable! What a beautiful train on his jacket. What a perfect fit!" No one wanted it to be noticed that he could see nothing, for then it would be said that he was unfit for his position or that he was stupid. None of the emperor's clothes had ever before received such praise.
"But he doesn't have anything on!" said a small child.
"Good Lord, let us hear the voice of an innocent child!" said the father, and whispered to another what the child had said.
"A small child said that he doesn't have anything on!"
Finally everyone was saying, "He doesn't have anything on!"
The emperor shuddered, for he knew that they were right, but he thought, "The procession must go on!" He carried himself even more proudly, and the chamberlains walked along behind carrying the train that wasn't there.
A Brahman wrote seven stanzas in praise of his king's copper-colored silk robes. Seven men heard these stanzas and resolved to trick a foolish king from another city. Traveling to that city, the seven men said to the king, "Maharaja, what sort of robe is your majesty wearing? We have woven a copper-colored silk robe for the king of our city. It is like the thin silk robes from the divine world. In comparison to our king, you look like one of his servants." Thus spoke the seven men.
These words brought shame to the king. Thus filled with shame, he thought to himself, "I too am a king. Can I not have such robes woven for me as well?" Then he asked, "What would you require to weave such silk robes?"
The seven men replied, "You must obtain good silk thread and give it to us. Then construct for us a place in your festival garden and provide us with food and drink." Then they added, "The silk cloth that we weave is not visible to a low-born person; only a well-born person can see it."
So the king procured silk thread for the men. The men took it to the festival garden and put it away.
People came to the festival garden to look at the copper-colored silk robe. The seven men were there at work. The people could see their motions of weaving, cutting, and stitching, but the silk robe itself was not visible. Hence each man thought to himself, "I must be low-born, for I cannot see this copper-colored silk robe."
And what if these were their thoughts! Each person kept them to himself, and no one uttered them aloud.
The king sent a messenger to see if the robe was finished. He saw the seven men's motions of weaving and stitching, but the robe itself was not visible. "If I report that I did not see the robe, they will say that I am the son of a courtesan," he thought.
To hide his shame, the messenger returned to the royal house and said, "The men are weaving a priceless robe, but the work is not yet finished. Once finished, they will dress your honor in the robe."
Because of the messenger's statement, many people went to look at the robe, but in spite of the workers' motions, the robe was not visible to anyone. Fearing that others would call them illegitimate, they all said, "We see it. It is indeed a very costly robe." And they went away.
After seven days the king himself went to look at the silk robe. He looked, but it was not visible to him either. He uttered not a word that he could not see it.
Afterward the seven men came to the king and said, "We have woven for you the copper-colored silk robe. It is finished." Then they added, "Get out all the clothes that you have inherited from seven generations of ancestors. After we have dressed you in the new robe you must give us all those other clothes."
Thus the king took out all the vestments from his ancestors and gave them and all his other clothes to the seven men.
After receiving all the clothes, the seven men surrounded the king and told him that they were putting on him the copper-colored silk clothing. They stroked his head, saying that they were putting on the crown. They stroked his arms, saying that they were putting on the jacket. In the same manner they stroked all parts of his body, saying that they were dressing him. Then they brought the king into the middle of a great procession and announced to the citizens, "Neither his majesty our king, nor any other person within this procession has ever worn or even seen such clothing as this. In celebration of the king's new robe, let him sit atop the festival elephant and be carried throughout the entire city and then back to the royal house!"
Having said this, they brought forth the elephant, seated the naked king upon it, and started him on his procession throughout the city.
But the seven men took goods from his house and went away. And the foolish king remained without clothes.
Of old time there was a great king. One day a man came before him and said, "My king, I shall weave a turban such that one born in wedlock will see it, while the bastard will see it not." The king marveled and ordered that that weaver should weave that turban; and the weaver received an allowance from the king and tarried a long while. One day he folded up this side and that side of a paper and brought it and laid it before the king and said, "Oh king, I have woven that turban." So the king opened the paper and saw that there was nothing; and all the viziers and nobles who stood there looked on the paper and saw nothing. Then the king said in his heart, "Do you see? I am then a bastard"; and he was sad. And he thought, "Now, the remedy is this, that I say it is a goodly turban and admire it, else will I be put to shame before the folk." And he said, "Blessed by God! Oh master, it is a goodly turban, I like it much."
Then that weaver youth said, "Oh king, let them bring a cap that I may wind the turban for the king." They brought a cap, and the weaver youth laid that paper before him and moved his hands as though he wound the turban, and he put it on the king's head. All the nobles who were standing there said, "Blessed be it! Oh king, how fair, how beautiful a turban!" and they applauded it much.
Then the king rose and went with two viziers into a private room and said, "Oh viziers, I am then a bastard; I see not the turban."
The viziers said, "Oh king, we too see it not." At length they knew of a surety that the turban had not existence, and that that weaver had thus played a trick for the sake of money.
There was once a king who, during the day, used to sit on his throne and dispense justice, but who at night was accustomed to disguise himself and to wander about the streets of his city looking for adventures.
One evening he was passing by a certain garden when he observed four young girls sitting under a tree, and conversing together in earnest tones. Curious to overhear the subject of their discourse, he stopped to listen.
One of the girls said, "I think of all tastes the pleasantest in the world is the taste of telling lies."
This remark so interested the king that the next day he summoned the girl to his palace.
"Tell me," he said, "what you and your companions talked about under the tree last night."
"It was not about the king," answered she.
"Nevertheless," asked he, "what was it you said?"
"Those who tell lies, said I, must tell them because they find the practice agreeable," replied she.
"Whose daughter are you?" inquired the king.
"I am the daughter of a farmer," answered the girl.
"And what made you think there was pleasure in telling lies?" asked the king.
The girl answered saucily, "Oh, you yourself will tell lies someday!"
"How?" said the king. "What can you mean?"
The girl answered, "If you will give me two lacs of rupees, and six months to consider, I will promise to prove my words."
So the king gave the girl the sum of money she asked for, and agreed to her conditions.
After six months he called her to his presence again, and reminded her of her promise. Now, in the interval the girl had built a fine palace far away in the forest, upon which she had expended the wealth which the king had given to her. It was beautifully adorned with carvings and paintings, and furnished with silk and satin. So she now said to the king, "Come with me, and you shall see God."
Taking with him two of his ministers, the king went out, and by the evening they all arrived at the palace.
"This palace is the abode of God," said the girl. "But he will reveal himself only to one person at a time, and he will not reveal himself even to him unless he was born in lawful wedlock. Therefore, while the rest remain without, let each of you enter in order."
"Be it so," said the king. "But let my ministers precede me. I shall go in last."
So the first minister passed through the door and at once found himself in a noble room, and as he looked around he said to himself, "Who knows whether I shall be permitted to see God or not? I may be a bastard. And yet this place, so spacious and so beautiful, is a fitting dwelling place even for the deity." With all his looking and straining, however, he quite failed to see God anywhere. Then said he to himself, "If now I go out and declare that I have not seen God, the king and the other minister will throw it in my teeth that I am base-born. I have only one course open, therefore, which is to say that I have seen him."
So he went out, and when the king asked, "Have you seen God?" he answered at once, "Of course I have seen God."
"But have you really seen him?" continued the king.
"Really and truly," answered the minister.
"And what did he say to you?" inquired the king further.
"God commanded me not to divulge his words," readily answered the minister.
Then said the king to the other minister, "Now you go in."
The second minister lost no time in obeying his master's order, thinking in his heart as he crossed the threshold, "I wonder if I am base-born?" Finding himself in the midst of the magnificent chamber, he gazed about him on all sides, but failed to see God. Then said he to himself, "It is very possible I am base-born, for no God can I see. But it would be a lasting disgrace that I should admit it. I had better make out that I also have seen God."
Accordingly, he returned to the king, who said to him, "Well, have you seen God?" when the minister asserted that he had not only seen him, but that he had spoken with him too.
It was now the turn of the king, and he entered the room confident that he would be similarly favored. But he gazed around in dismay, perceiving no sign of anything which could even represent the Almighty. Then began he to think to himself, "This God, wherever he is, has been seen by both my ministers, and it cannot be denied, therefore, that their birthright is clear. Is it possible that I, the king, am a bastard, seeing that no God appears to me? The very thought is confusion, and necessity will compel me to assert that I have seen him too."
Having formed this resolution, the king stepped out and joined the rest of his party.
"And now, O king," asked the cunning girl, "have you also seen God?"
"Yes," answered he with assurance, "I have seen God."
"Really?" asked she again.
"Certainly," asserted the king.
Three times the girl asked the same question, and three times the king unblushingly lied. Then said the girl, "O king, have you never a conscience? How could you possibly see God, seeing that God is a spirit?"
Hearing this reproof, the king recalled to mind the saying of the girl that one day he would lie too, and, with a laugh, he confessed that he had not seen God at all. The two ministers, beginning to feel alarmed, confessed the truth as well. Then said the girl, "O king, we poor people may tell lies occasionally to save our lives, but what had you to fear? Telling lies, therefore, for many has its own attractions, and to them at least the taste of lying is sweet."
Far from being offended at the stratagem which the girl had practiced on him, the king was so struck with her ingenuity and assurance that he married her forthwith, and in a short time she became his confidential adviser in all his affairs, public as well as private. Thus this simple girl came to great honor and renown, and so much did she grow in wisdom that her fame spread through many lands.
A merchant that thought to deride a miller sitting among company said to him, "Sir, I have heard that every honest miller that tells the truth has a golden thumb."
The miller answered and said it was true.
Then the merchant said, "I pray, let me see your thumb." And when the miller showed his thumb, the merchant said, "I cannot perceive that your thumb is gold. It is the same as other men's thumbs."
The miller answered, and said, "Sir, the truth is that my thumb is gold, but you have no power to see it, for it has the property that he who is a cuckold shall never have power to see it."