Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves

Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves : A Persian folk tale retold by Walter McVitty


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Long ago, in the land of Persia, there lived two brothers, Cassim and Ali Baba. Cassim married a rich but unpleasant woman and became a wealthy merchant, while Ali Baba married a poor but kindly woman and lived a humble life by cutting wood and selling it in the marketplace.

One day, while working in the forest, he saw a band of evil-looking men riding toward him. Fearing they might be robbers and cutthroats, he hid himself among the branches of a tree, which was growing beside a very large rock.

Forty men, all armed with long swords, brought their horses to a halt, right underneath this tree. Their leader sprang from his horse and called to the rock, “Open, Sesame!"

At once the rock opened, revealing a cave, into which the robbers bundled their bulging saddlebags. The rock then closed behind them, and all was silent.

Ali Baba looked on in amazement. He dared not leave his tree in case the bandits suddenly came out and caught him spying on them, for he knew that would surely mean death.

After some time, the rock opened up once more and the forty thieves came out, their saddlebags now empty. As they mounted their horses, their leader raised his hand and called out, “Close, Sesame!" The rock closed up once again and the robbers rode off.

Fascinated by what he had seen, Ali Baba climbed down from his tree and stood before the rock. He was curious to see if the magic words would work for him too. “Open, Sesame!" he cried, and behold, the great rock opened at his command.

Trembling with excitement, he entered the cave. The door closed behind him. Instead of being dark and gloomy as he expected, the cave was well lit, for there was a hole in its roof.

Ali Baba was astonished by what he saw. Piled before him was a great treasure—expensive silks, costly rugs, and heaps of gold and silver.

Although poor, Ali Baba was not a greedy man. He quickly filled a few sacks with gold coins, just enough for his two donkeys to carry.

“Open, Sesame!" he commanded again, and hurried out. Remembering to say “Close, Sesame!" he then led his donkeys’ home.

When Ali Baba’s wife saw the gold, she was speechless. He told her what he had seen and done and said to her, “You must promise to tell no one about this. We will bury the treasure and use it but a little at a time. Then no one will be suspicious. But first we must measure it. While I dig the hole, run to my brother Cassim’s house and borrow his weighing pan—but remember, say nothing more."

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Cassim’s wife was very curious to know what Ali Baba could possibly have that was worth measuring, so she placed some suet° on the bottom of the pan. When it was returned to her, she was astonished to find a piece of gold stuck to the suet. She became jealous and angry and said to her husband, “Your brother Ali Baba is so wealthy he does not just count his gold. He has to measure it, like grain! He pretends to
be poor, but he must be richer than all of us."

When he saw the scales and the gold coin, Cassim, too, grew jealous and angry. He ran to his brother’s house and was just in time to see him putting the last of the gold into the hole. And so Ali Baba had to tell his brother the whole story.

Trembling with excitement, the greedy Cassim cried, “In the morning I will go to the cave myself - with ten donkeys. I will be richer than you!"

“Be careful, brother," warned Ali Baba. “If the forty thieves catch you, they will surely kill you."

Cassim soon found the rock and, saying the magic words, opened up the cave and fell upon its treasure. He piled the gold into sack after sack. But when the time came for him to leave, he could not remember the magic words.

“Open, Barley!" he cried in panic, but of course nothing happened. He tried again and again. “Open, Rye! Open, Caraway!" But it was no use. He was now a prisoner.

Later that day the forty thieves returned. When they saw the ten donkeys tied up outside the cave, they knew that someone had discovered their secret. With swords drawn, they rushed inside and killed Cassim without mercy and cut him into six parts.

“We will leave his body inside the cave," said the robber chief, “as a warning to anyone else who might be foolish enough to try to steal our treasure."

As the day wore on, Cassim’s wife, waiting at home, grew more and more worried. When her husband did not return that night, she ran weeping to Ali Baba to ask for his help.

In the morning he went to the cave, where he found the remains of Cassim’s body, which he brought back in a sack. When he arrived at his own house, he called for his servant Morgiana, an orphan who had been raised as a daughter by Ali Baba and his wife. She had grown into a brave and wise woman and knew how to solve problems of all kinds.

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