The History Of Ali Cogia - From The Arabian Nights
Source: Tales Of Folk And Fairies
In the city of Bagdad there once lived a merchant named Ali Cogia.
This merchant was faithful and honest in all his dealings, but he had
never made the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. He often felt troubled over
this, for he knew he was neglecting a religious duty, but he was so
occupied with his business affairs that it was difficult for him to
leave home. Year after year he planned to make the pilgrimage, but
always he postponed it, hoping for some more convenient time.
One night the merchant had a dream so vivid that it was more like a
vision than a dream. In this dream or vision an old man appeared
before him and, regarding him with a severe and reproachful look,
said, "Why have you not made the pilgrimage to Mecca?"
When Ali Cogia awoke he felt greatly troubled. He feared this dream
had been sent him as a reproach and a warning from heaven. He was
still more troubled when the next night he dreamed the same dream; and
when upon the third night the old man again appeared before him and
asked the same question, he determined to delay no longer, but to set
out upon the pilgrimage as soon as possible.
To this end he sold off all his goods except some that he decided to
carry with him to Mecca and to dispose of there. He settled all his
debts and rented his shop and his house to a friend, and as he had
neither wife nor family, he was now free to set out at any time.
The sale of his goods had brought in quite a large sum of money, so
that after he had set aside as much as was needed for the journey he
found he had still a thousand gold pieces left over.
These he determined to leave in some safe place until his return. He
put the money in an olive jar and covered it over with olives and
sealed it carefully. He then carried the jar to a friend named Abul
Hassan, who was the owner of a large warehouse.
"Abul Hassan," said he, "I am about to make the journey to Mecca, as
you perhaps know. I have here a jar of olives that I would like to
leave in your warehouse until my return, if you will allow me to do
Abul Hassan was quite willing that his friend should do this and gave
him the keys of the warehouse, bidding him place the jar wherever he
wished. "I will gladly keep it until you return," said he, "and you
may rest assured the jar will not be disturbed until such time as you
shall come and claim it."
Ali Cogia thanked his friend and carried the jar into the warehouse,
placing it in the farthest and darkest corner where it would not be in
the way. Soon after he set out upon his journey to Mecca.
When Ali Cogia left Bagdad he had no thought but that he would return
in a year's time at latest. He made the journey safely, in company
with a number of other pilgrims. Arrived in Mecca, he visited the
celebrated temples and other objects of interest that were there. He
performed all his religious duties faithfully, and after that he went
to the bazaar and secured a place where he could display the goods he
had brought with him.
One day a stranger came through the bazaar and stopped to admire the
beauty of the things Ali had for sale.
"It is a pity," said the stranger, "that you should not go to Cairo.
You could go there at no great expense, and I feel assured that you
would receive a far better price for your goods there than here. I
know, for I have lived in that city all my life, and I am familiar
with the prices that are paid for such fine merchandise as yours." The
stranger talked with Ali for some time and then passed on his way.
After he had gone the merchant meditated upon what had been said, and
he finally determined to follow the stranger's advice and to take such
goods as he had left to Cairo, and place them on sale there. This he
did and found that, as the stranger had promised, the prices he could
get there were much higher than those paid in Mecca.
While Ali Cogia was in Cairo he made the acquaintance of some people
who were about to journey down into Egypt by caravan. They urged Ali
to join them, and after some persuasion he consented to do so, as he
had always wished to see that country. From Egypt Ali Cogia journeyed
to Constantinople, and then on to other cities and countries. Time
flew by so rapidly that when, finally, Ali stopped to reckon up how
long it was since he had left Bagdad, he found that seven years had
He now determined to return without delay to his own city. He found a
camel that suited him, and having bought it he packed upon it such
goods as he had left, and set out for Bagdad.
Now all the while that Ali Cogia had been travelling from place to
place the jar containing the gold pieces had rested undisturbed and
forgotten in Abul Hassan's warehouse. Abul and his wife sometimes
talked of Ali and wondered when he would return and how he had fared
upon his journey. They were surprised at his long absence and feared
some misfortune might have come upon him. At one time there was a
rumor that he was dead, but this rumor was afterward denied.
Now the very day that Ali Cogia set out upon his return journey Abul
Hassan and his wife were seated at the table at their evening meal,
and their talk turned upon the subject of olives.
"It is a long time since we have had any in the house," said the wife.
"Indeed, I do not remember when I last tasted one, and yet it is my
favorite fruit. I wish we had some now."
"Yes, we must get some," said Abul Hassan. "And by the way, that
reminds me of the jar that Ali Cogia left with us. I wonder whether
the olives in it are still good. They have been there for some years
"Yes, for seven years," replied his wife. "No doubt they are all
spoiled by this time."
"That I will see," said Abul Hassan, rising and taking up a light. "If
they are still good we might as well have some, for I do not believe
Ali Cogia will ever return to claim the jar."
His wife was horrified. "What are you thinking of?" cried she. "Ali
Cogia entrusted this jar to you, and you gave your word that it would
not be disturbed until he came again to claim it. We heard, indeed,
that he was dead, but this rumor was afterward denied. What opinion
would he have of you if he returned and found you had helped yourself
to his olives?"
Abul Hassan, still holding the light in his hand, waited impatiently
until his wife had finished speaking. Then he replied, "Ali Cogia will
not return; of that I feel assured. And at any rate, if he should, I
can easily replace the olives."
"You can replace the olives, no doubt," answered his wife, "but they
would not be Ali Cogia's olives. This jar is a sacred trust and should
not be disturbed by you under any consideration." But though she spoke
thus strongly she could see by her husband's face that he had not
changed his determination. He now took up the dish and said, "If the
olives are good I will bring a dish full from the jar, but if they are
spoiled, as I suppose they are, I will replace the cover and no one
will be any the wiser."
His wife would have tried again to dissuade him, but without listening
further he went at once to the warehouse. It did not take him long to
find the jar. He took off the cover and found that, as he had
suspected, the olives were spoiled. Wishing to see whether those
beneath were in the same condition he tilted the jar and emptied some
of them out into the dish. What was his surprise to see some gold
pieces fall out with the olives. Abul Hassan could hardly believe his
eyes. Hastily he plunged his hands down into the jar and soon found
that except for the top layer of fruit the whole jar was full of gold
Abul Hassan's eyes sparkled with desire. He was naturally a very
avaricious man, and the sight of the gold awakened all his greed. It
had been there in his warehouse, all unknown to him, for seven years.
He felt as though he had been tricked, for, thought he, "All this time
I might have been using this money to advantage by trading with it and
with no harm to any one, for I could have replaced it at any time I
heard Ali Cogia was about to return."
For a while he stood there lost in thought. Then he returned the gold
to the jar, covered it over with olives as before, and replaced the
cover, and taking up the empty dish and the light he returned to his
"You were quite right," said he carelessly. "The olives were spoiled,
so I did not bring any."
"You should not even have opened the jar," said his wife. "Heaven
grant that no evil may come upon us for this."
To this remark Abul Hassan made no reply, and soon after he and his
wife retired to rest. But the merchant could not sleep. All night he
tossed and twisted, thinking of the gold and planning how he could
make it his own, and it was not until morning that he fell into a
The next day he arose early and as soon as the bazaar opened he went
out and bought a quantity of olives. He brought them home and carried
them into the warehouse secretly, and without his wife's knowing
anything about it. Then he again opened Ali Cogia's jar, and having
emptied it of its contents, he filled it with fresh olives and
replaced the cover in such a way that no one, looking at it, would
have known it had been disturbed. He then threw the spoiled olives
away and hid the gold in a secret place known only to himself.
About a month after this Ali Cogia returned to Bagdad. As his own
house was still rented he took a room in a khan and at once hastened
to Abul Hassan's house to get his jar.
Abul Hassan was confounded when he saw Ali Cogia enter his house, for
he had managed to convince himself that Ali must be dead. This he had
done to try to excuse himself in his own eyes for taking the gold.
However he hid his confusion as best he could, and made the returned
traveller welcome, and asked him how he had fared in his journeyings.
Ali Cogia answered his inquiries politely, but he was uneasy and
restless, and as soon as he could make the opportunity he inquired
about the olive jar he had left in the warehouse.
"The jar is there where you put it, I am sure," answered Abul Hassan,
"though I myself have not seen it. I do not even know in what part of
the warehouse you left it. But here are the keys, and as I am busy I
will ask you to get it for yourself."
Ali Cogia made haste to seek out the jar and was much relieved to find
it exactly where he had left it and apparently untouched. He had trust
in Abul Hassan's honor, but a thousand pieces of gold was such a large
sum that he could not but feel some concern until he had it in his own
After thanking his fellow merchant for keeping the jar, more earnestly
than seemed necessary, he carried it back to his room in the khan, and
having locked the door he opened it. He removed the two top layers of
olives and was somewhat surprised not to see the gold. However, he
thought he must have covered the money more carefully than he had
supposed. He took out more olives, and then still more, but still
there were no signs of the gold.
Filled with misgivings, Ali Cogia tilted the jar and emptied out the
rest of the olives so hastily that they rolled all over the floor, but
not a single piece of gold was there.
The merchant was dismayed. He could scarcely believe that Abul Hassan
would rob him of his money, and yet there seemed no other explanation.
He knew that the merchant kept his warehouse locked except when he was
there himself, and that no one was allowed to visit it but those with
whom he was well acquainted, and then only upon special business.
Deeply troubled he returned to the merchant's house, determined to
demand an explanation and, if necessary, to force him by law to return
Abul Hassan seemed surprised to see Ali return so soon. "Did you
forget something?" he asked. "Or do you wish to speak to me upon some
"Do you not guess what I have come to speak to you about?" asked Ali.
"How should I guess? Unless it is to thank me again for keeping your
jar for you."
"Abul Hassan, when I went away I left a thousand pieces of gold in the
jar I placed in your warehouse. The gold is now gone. I suppose you
saw some way in which you could use it both for your advantage and my
own. If such is the case, please to give me some receipt for the
money, and I am willing to wait until you can return it to me, but I
think you should have spoken of the matter when I was here before."
Abul Hassan showed the greatest surprise at this address. "I do not
know what you are talking about," said he. "I know nothing about any
gold. If there was any in the jar, which I very much doubt, it must be
there still, for the jar has never been disturbed since you yourself
placed it in my warehouse."
"The gold certainly was in the jar when I placed it there, and you
must know it, for no one else could have taken it. No one goes into
the warehouse without your permission, as you have often told me and
then only for some express purpose."
Ali Cogia would have said more, but his fellow merchant interrupted
him. "I repeat I know nothing of any gold," he cried angrily. "Go away
and do not trouble me any further, or you will find yourself in
difficulties. Do you not see how your loud talking has gathered a
crowd about my house?"
And indeed a number of people had gathered in front of Abul's house,
drawn thither by the sound of the dispute. They listened with
curiosity to what the merchants were saying and presently became so
interested that they began to discuss the matter among themselves, and
to argue and dispute as to which of the merchants was in the right.
At last Ali Cogia, finding that Abul would confess nothing, said,
"Very well. I see you are determined to keep the money if possible.
But you shall find it is not as easy to rob me as you seem to think."
Then, laying his hand upon Abul's shoulder, he added, "I summon you to
appear with me before the Cadi, that he may decide the matter between
Now this is a summons no true Mussulman can disobey. Abul was
compelled to go before the Cadi with Ali, and a great crowd of people
followed them, eager to know what decision would be given in the
matter by the judge.
The Cadi listened attentively to all the two merchants had to say and
after reflecting upon the matter he asked, "Abul Hassan, are you ready
to swear that you know nothing of the gold Ali Cogia says he left with
you, and that you did not disturb the jar?"
"I am," answered the merchant. "And indeed I wish to swear to it," and
this he did.
"And you, Ali Cogia; have you any witnesses to prove there was gold in
the jar when you left it in Abul Hassan's warehouse?"
"Alas! no; no one knew of it but myself."
"Then it is your word against his. Abul Hassan has sworn that he did
not touch the jar, and unless you can bring witnesses to your truth, I
cannot compel him to pay you a thousand pieces of gold that you may
never have lost."
The case was dismissed. Abul Hassan returned to his home, satisfied
and triumphant, but Ali Cogia with hanging head and bitterness of
But though the Cadi had decided against him, Ali was not willing to
let the matter rest there. He was determined to have justice done him,
even though he were obliged to appeal to the Caliph himself.
At that time Haroun-al-Raschid was Commander of the Faithful. Every
morning Haroun-al-Raschid went to the mosque to offer up prayers,
accompanied by his Grand Vizier and Mesrour the Chief Eunuch. As he
returned to the palace all who had complaints to make or petitions to
offer stationed themselves along the way and gave their complaints and
petitions in written form to Mesrour. Afterward these papers were
presented to the Caliph that he might read them and decide upon their
The day after the Cadi had dismissed the case of the two merchants,
Ali Cogia set out early in the morning and placed himself beside the
way where he knew the Caliph would pass.
In his hand he carried his complaint against Abul Hassan, written out
in due form. He waited until Haroun-al-Raschid was returning from the
mosque and then put the paper in the hand of Mesrour.
Later, when the Caliph was reading the papers, he was particularly
interested in the one presented by Ali Cogia: "This is a curious
case," said he to his Vizier, "and one which it will be difficult to
decide. Order the two merchants to appear before me to-morrow, and I
will hear what they have to say."
That evening the Caliph and his Vizier disguised themselves, and,
attended only by Mesrour, they went out to wander about the streets of
the city. It was the custom of the Caliph to do this, as in this way
he learned much about his people, their needs and wants and ways of
life, which would otherwise have been hidden from him.
For some time after they set out they heard and saw nothing of
importance, but as they came near to a court that opened off one of
the streets they heard the voices of a number of boys who were at play
there in the moonlight.
The Caliph motioned to his Vizier to be silent, and together they stole
to the opening of the court and looked in. The moon was so bright that
they could see clearly the faces of the boys at play there. They had
gathered about the tallest and most intelligent-looking lad, who
appeared to be their leader.
"Let us act out some play," the leader was saying. "I will be the
Cadi, and you shall bring some case before me to be tried."
"Very well," cried another. "But what case shall we take?"
"Let us take the case of Ali Cogia and Abul Hassan. We all know about
that, and if it had come before me I should have decided it differently
from the way the Cadi did."
All the boys agreed to this by clapping their hands.
The leader then appointed one boy to take the part of Ali Cogia and
another to be Abul Hassan. Still others were chosen to be guards and
merchants and so on.
The Caliph and his Vizier were much amused by this play of the boys,
and they sat down upon a bench so conveniently placed that they could
see all that went on without themselves being observed.
The pretended Cadi took his seat and commanded that Abul Hassan and
Ali Cogia should be brought before him. "And let Ali Cogia bring with
him the jar of olives in which he said he hid the gold," said he.
The lads who were taking the parts of Ali Cogia and Abul Hassan were
now led forward by some of the other boys and were told by the
pretended Cadi to state their cases. This they did clearly, for the
case had been much talked about by their elders, and they were well
acquainted with all the circumstances and had discussed them among
The pretended Cadi listened attentively to what they said, and then
addressing the lad who took the part of Abul he asked, "Abul Hassan,
are you willing to swear that you have not touched the jar nor opened
The pretended merchant said he was.
The lad then asked, "Has Ali Cogia brought the jar of olives into
court with him?"
"It is here," said the boys who were taking the parts of officers of
The feigned Cadi ordered them to place the jar before him, which they
pretended to do. He then went through the motions of lifting the lid
and examining the olives and even of tasting one.
"These are very fine olives," said he. "Ali Cogia, when did you say
you placed this jar in the warehouse?"
"It was when I left Bagdad, seven years ago," answered the pretended
"Abul Hassan, is that so?"
The boy who acted the part of Abul said that it was.
"Let the olive merchants be brought into court," commanded the
The boys who were taking the parts of olive merchants now came
"Tell me," said the feigned Cadi, "how long is it possible to keep
"However great the care that is taken," they answered, "it is
impossible to preserve them for more than three years. After that time
they lose both color and flavor and are fit for nothing but to be
thrown out." The boys spoke with assurance, for their fathers were
among the most expert olive dealers in the city, and they knew what
they were talking about.
The pretended Cadi then bade them examine the olives in the jar and
tell him how old they were. "As you see," said he, "they are of a fine
color, large, and of a delicious fresh taste."
The feigned merchants pretended to examine them carefully and then
announced the olives were of that year's growth.
"But Ali Cogia says he left them with Abul Hassan seven years ago, and
to this statement Abul Hassan agrees."
"It is impossible they should have been kept that long," answered the
feigned merchants. "As we tell you, after three years olives are worth
nothing, and at the end of seven years they would be utterly spoiled.
These are fresh olives and of this year's growth."
The boy who took the part of Abul Hassan would have tried to explain
and make excuses, but the pretended Cadi bade him be silent.
"You have sworn falsely," said he, "and also proved yourself a thief."
Then to the pretended guards he cried, "Take him away and let him be
hung according to the law."
The feigned guards dragged away the boy who was acting Abul Hassan and
then, the play being finished, all the boys clapped their hands and
shouted their approval of the way the feigned Cadi had conducted the
Seeing that all was over the Caliph withdrew, beckoning to the Vizier
and Mesrour to follow him. After they had gone a short distance,
Haroun-al-Raschid turned to the Vizier and asked him what he thought
of the play they had just witnessed.
"I think," said the Vizier, "that the pretended Cadi showed a wisdom
and a judgment that the real Cadi would do well to imitate. I also
think the boy is a lad of remarkable intelligence."
"It is my own thought," replied the Caliph. "Moreover I have a further
thought. You know this very case between Ali Cogia and Abul Hassan is
to appear before me to-morrow, I have it in mind to send you to bring
this boy to the palace, and I will then let him conduct this case in
reality as he has to-day in play."
The Vizier applauded this plan, and he and his master returned to the
palace, still talking of the boy.
The next day the Vizier went back to the court they had visited the
evening before, and after looking about he found the lad who had taken
the part of the Cadi sitting in a doorway. The Vizier approached him
and spoke to him in a kind and friendly manner.
"My boy," said he, "I have come here by order of the Commander of the
Faithful. Last evening, when you were acting your play, he overheard
all that was said, and he wishes to see you at the palace to-day."
The boy was alarmed when he heard this, grew pale, and showed great
uneasiness. "Have I done something wrong?" he asked. "If I have I did
it unknowingly, and I hope I am not to be punished for something I did
"You have done no wrong," answered the Vizier, "and it is not to
punish you that the Caliph has sent for you. Indeed he is very much
pleased with your conduct, and his sending for you in this manner is a
great honor." He then told the lad what it was the Caliph wished him
Instead of being put at ease by this the lad showed even greater
discomfort. "This seems a strange thing for me to do," said he:--"to
decide a case between two grown men--I who am only a child. I am
afraid I will not be able to please the Caliph, and that he will be
angry with me."
"Conduct the case as wisely as you did last night when you were
playing," answered the Vizier, "and the Caliph will not be displeased
The boy then asked permission to go and tell his mother where he was
going and for what purpose, and to this the Vizier consented.
When the lad's mother heard that he was to go to the palace to act as
judge in a case of such importance she could hardly believe her ears.
She was frightened lest the lad should in some way offend the Caliph
by saying or doing something ill-judged.
The lad tried to reassure her, though he himself was far from being at
"If the Caliph was pleased with the way I conducted the case last
night I do not think he can be so very much displeased with me
to-day," said he; "for I feel sure that only in this way can we
discover the truth between the two merchants."
When the lad returned to the Vizier he looked very grave, and as they
went along together on their way to the palace the Vizier tried in
every way to put him more at ease and give him confidence.
Immediately upon their arrival at the palace they were shown into the
room where the Caliph was sitting. Haroun-al-Raschid greeted the boy
with no less kindness than the Vizier had shown and asked him if he
understood the purpose for which he had been brought thither.
The lad said he did.
"Then let the two merchants come in," said the Caliph.
Ali Cogia and Abul Hassan were at once brought in by the officers of
the court. Ali Cogia brought with him the jar of olives, for so he had
been commanded to do.
The Cadi who had judged between the two merchants had also been
ordered to attend, and he entered and took the place assigned to him.
The Caliph then turned to the lad and bade him open the case by
bidding the merchants tell their stories, and this, after a moment's
pause, the lad did.
Ali Cogia told his story just as he had before, stating that he had
left with Abul Hassan seven years before a thousand pieces of gold
packed in a jar and covered over with olives.
"Is this the jar you left with Abul Hassan?" asked the boy, pointing
to the jar Ali had brought into court.
Ali stated that it was.
"Abul Hassan, do you also say this is the jar Ali Cogia left with
you?" asked the lad.
Abul answered that it was. He also asked to be allowed to take his
oath that the jar had not been disturbed after it was left in his
warehouse until Ali Cogia had returned and removed it.
"That is not necessary at present," answered the boy. "First let some
expert olive merchants be brought in."
Several olive dealers, the most expert in the city, had been sent for,
and they now came forward.
The lad asked these real merchants the same questions he had asked of
the feigned merchants the night before. "How long," said he, "is it
possible to keep olives good?"
And the merchants answered, as had the boys, "Not more than three
years, for no matter how carefully they have been packed, after that
time they lose both color and flavor."
"Look in that jar," said the lad, "and tell us how long you think
those olives have been kept there."
The merchants examined the olives with the greatest care, and then
they all agreed that the olives were of that year's growth and quite
"And do you not think it possible they may have been kept a year or
"No, it is not possible," answered the merchants. "We know, of a
surety, as we have already said, that these olives are of this year's
growth, and have only recently been packed in the jar."
When Ali Cogia heard this he gave a cry of surprise, but Abul Hassan
was silent; his face grew as pale as ashes, and his legs failed under
him, for he knew that the merchants, in saying this, had pronounced
sentence against him.
But the lad turned to the Caliph and begged that he might now be
allowed to hand over the case to him. "When I pronounced sentence last
night, it was but in play," said he. "But this is not play. A man's
life is at stake, and I dare not pronounce sentence upon him."
To this request the Caliph agreed. "Abul Hassan, you have condemned
yourself," he said. He then bade the guards take Abul Hassan away and
execute him according to the law.
Before the wretched man was hanged, however, he confessed his guilt
and told where he had hidden the thousand pieces of gold that belonged
to Ali Cogia.
After Abul had been led away the Caliph caressed and praised the lad
for conducting the case so wisely and with so much judgment.
"As for you," said he to the Cadi, "you have not shown the wisdom I
demand from my judges. Learn from this child that such cases are not
to be dismissed lightly, but to be inquired into with judgment and
care. Otherwise it may go ill with you."
The Cadi retired, full of shame, but the Caliph ordered that a hundred
pieces of gold should be given to the boy and that he should be sent
home to his mother with honor.