Edgar Allan Poes Erzählung The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade (Februar 1845) handelt davon, wie es nach 1001 Nacht weiterging. Bis zu dieser war alles fantastisch erzählt und flogen die Teppiche nebst anderen Gaukeleien und Gespinsten durch die arabische Nacht und weiter. Nun aber wird Scheherazade, fortgesetzt von der Hinrichtung bedroht, ein Märchen verzählen, das stufenweise in die Realität der Naturwissenschaften, der industriellen Revolution und der Moderne sich ausweitet. (Für eine taugliche deutschsprachige Übersetzung der Erzählung cf. Edgar Allan Poe: Die tausendundzweite Erzählung der Scheherazade. Übers. v. Hans Wollschläger. In: Ders.: Gesammelte Werke in 5 Bänden. Bd. 3: Der schwarze Kater. Erzählungen. Zürich: Haffmanns 1994, S. 414-440.) Das wird nun unglaubwürdig, die Folgen sind absehbar und Scheherazade muss lächeln … denn das meiste von dem, was nun zu erzählen wäre – von der Daguerreotypie bis zum Hochofen, von der Eisenbahn bis zu Babbages Rechenmaschine, vom Elektro- bis zum Drucktelegraphen, den Beobachtungen der Pflanzen wie der Lichtgeschwindigkeit als relativ einzuschätzendem Faktor gegenüber Wahrnehmbarkeit (mithin Poe hinreichend populär erscheinendes Wissen um 1845!, das vom Broadway Journal jedoch mit einer Fülle an Fußnoten – hier: Fingerzeigen – nachgetragen wird) –, wird dem König vorenthalten bleiben. Dieser glaubt ihr just die 1002. Nachtgeschichte nicht und lässt sie exekutieren: zu fabelhaft hebt sich von ihren märchenhaften Erzählfolien ab, was an Erkenntnissen, Erfindungen und Entwicklungen bei Naturwissenschaften und Technik insbesondere des 19. Jahrhunderts sich ausstellen lässt.
(»Will I, nill I« / »Ob ich will oder nicht«, wird wie Scheherazade sechs Jahre später Melvilles Starbuck am Hauptmast der Pequod im 38. Kapitel des MD seufzen. Auch sein Schicksal ist bestimmt.)
Als die Nacht kippt:
“‘It was just after this adventure that we encountered a continent of immense extent and prodigious solidity, but which, nevertheless, was supported entirely upon the back of a sky-blue cow that had no fewer than four hundred horns.’” (☞ 1)Edgar Allan Poe, The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade, 1845
“That, now, I believe,” said the king, “because I have read something of the kind before, in a book.”
“‘We passed immediately beneath this continent, (swimming in between the legs of the cow), and, after some hours, found ourselves in a wonderful country indeed, which, I was informed by the man-animal, was his own native land, inhabited by things of his own species. This elevated the man-animal very much in my esteem, and in fact, I now began to feel ashamed of the contemptuous familiarity with which I had treated him; for I found that the man-animals in general were a nation of the most powerful magicians, who lived with worms in their brain, (☞ 2) which, no doubt, served to stimulate them by their painful writhings and wrigglings to the most miraculous efforts of imagination!’”
“Nonsense!” said the king.
“‘Among the magicians, were domesticated several animals of very singular kinds; for example, there was a huge horse whose bones were iron and whose blood was boiling water. In place of corn, he had black stones for his usual food; and yet, in spite of so hard a diet, he was so strong and swift that he would drag a load more weighty than the grandest temple in this city, at a rate surpassing that of the flight of most birds.’” (☞ 3)
“Twattle!” said the king.
“‘I saw, also, among these people a hen without feathers, but bigger than a camel; instead of flesh and bone she had iron and brick; her blood, like that of the horse, (to whom, in fact, she was nearly related,) was boiling water; and like him she ate nothing but wood or black stones. This hen brought forth very frequently, a hundred chickens in the day; and, after birth, they took up their residence for several weeks within the stomach of their mother.’” (☞ 4)
“Fa! lal!” said the king.
“‘One of this nation of mighty conjurors created a man out of brass and wood, and leather, and endowed him with such ingenuity that he would have beaten at chess, all the race of mankind with the exception of the great Caliph, Haroun Alraschid. (☞ 5) Another of these magi constructed (of like material) a creature that put to shame even the genius of him who made it; for so great were its reasoning powers that, in a second, it performed calculations of so vast an extent that they would have required the united labor of fifty thousand fleshy men for a year. (☞ 6) But a still more wonderful conjuror fashioned for himself a mighty thing that was neither man nor beast, but which had brains of lead, intermixed with a black matter like pitch, and fingers that it employed with such incredible speed and dexterity that it would have had no trouble in writing out twenty thousand copies of the Koran in an hour, and this with so exquisite a precision, that in all the copies there should not be found one to vary from another by the breadth of the finest hair. This thing was of prodigious strength, so that it erected or overthrew the mightiest empires at a breath; but its powers were exercised equally for evil and for good.’”
“Ridiculous!” said the king.
“‘Among this nation of necromancers there was also one who had in his veins the blood of the salamanders; for he made no scruple of sitting down to smoke his chibouc in a red-hot oven until his dinner was thoroughly roasted upon its floor. (☞ 7) Another had the faculty of converting the common metals into gold, without even looking at them during the process. (☞ 8) Another had such a delicacy of touch that he made a wire so fine as to be invisible. (☞ 9) Another had such quickness of perception that he counted all the separate motions of an elastic body, while it was springing backward and forward at the rate of nine hundred millions of times in a second.’” (☞ 10)
“Absurd!” said the king.
“‘Another of these magicians, by means of a fluid that nobody ever yet saw, could make the corpses of his friends brandish their arms, kick out their legs, fight, or even get up and dance at his will. (☞ 11) Another had cultivated his voice to so great an extent that he could have made himself heard from one end of the world to the other. (☞ 12) Another had so long an arm that he could sit down in Damascus and indite a letter at Bagdad—or indeed at any distance whatsoever. (☞ 13) Another commanded the lightning to come down to him out of the heavens, and it came at his call; and served him for a plaything when it came. Another took two loud sounds and out of them made a silence. Another constructed a deep darkness out of two brilliant lights. (☞ 14) Another made ice in a red-hot furnace. (☞ 15) Another directed the sun to paint his portrait, and the sun did. (☞ 16) Another took this luminary with the moon and the planets, and having first weighed them with scrupulous accuracy, probed into their depths and found out the solidity of the substance of which they were made. But the whole nation is, indeed, of so surprising a necromantic ability, that not even their infants, nor their commonest cats and dogs have any difficulty in seeing objects that do not exist at all, or that for twenty millions of years before the birth of the nation itself had been blotted out from the face of creation.”’ (☞ 17)
“Preposterous!” said the king.
“‘The wives and daughters of these incomparably great and wise magi,’” continued Scheherazade, without being in any manner disturbed by these frequent and most ungentlemanly interruptions on the part of her husband—“‘the wives and daughters of these eminent conjurers are every thing that is accomplished and refined; and would be every thing that is interesting and beautiful, but for an unhappy fatality that besets them, and from which not even the miraculous powers of their husbands and fathers has, hitherto, been adequate to save. Some fatalities come in certain shapes, and some in others—but this of which I speak has come in the shape of a crotchet.’”
“A what?” said the king.
“‘A crotchet’” said Scheherazade. “‘One of the evil genii, who are perpetually upon the watch to inflict ill, has put it into the heads of these accomplished ladies that the thing which we describe as personal beauty consists altogether in the protuberance of the region which lies not very far below the small of the back. Perfection of loveliness, they say, is in the direct ratio of the extent of this lump. Having been long possessed of this idea, and bolsters being cheap in that country, the days have long gone by since it was possible to distinguish a woman from a dromedary-’”
“Stop!” said the king—“I can’t stand that, and I won’t. You have already given me a dreadful headache with your lies. The day, too, I perceive, is beginning to break. How long have we been married?—my conscience is getting to be troublesome again. And then that dromedary touch—do you take me for a fool? Upon the whole, you might as well get up and be throttled.”
These words, as I learn from the “Isitsoornot,” both grieved and astonished Scheherazade; but, as she knew the king to be a man of scrupulous integrity, and quite unlikely to forfeit his word, she submitted to her fate with a good grace. She derived, however, great consolation, (during the tightening of the bowstring,) from the reflection that much of the history remained still untold, and that the petulance of her brute of a husband had reaped for him a most righteous reward, in depriving him of many inconceivable adventures.
☞ 1: The earth is upheld by a cow of a blue color, having horns four hundred in number.”—Sale’s Koran.
☞ 2: “The Entozoa, or intestinal worms, have repeatedly been observed in the muscles, and in the cerebral substance of men.”—See Wyatt’s Physiology, p. 143.
☞ 3: On the Great Western Railway, between London and Exeter, a speed of 71 miles per hour has been attained. A train weighing 90 tons was whirled from Paddington to Didcot (53 miles) in 51 minutes.
☞ 4: The Eccalobeion
☞ 5: Maelzel’s Automaton Chess-player.
☞ 6: Babbage’s Calculating Machine.
☞ 7: Chabert, and since him, a hundred others.
☞ 8: The Electrotype.
☞ 9: Wollaston made of platinum for the field of views in a telescope a wire one eighteen-thousandth part of an inch in thickness. It could be seen only by means of the microscope.
☞ 10: Newton demonstrated that the retina beneath the influence of the violet ray of the spectrum, vibrated 900,000,000 of times in a second.
☞ 11: Voltaic pile.
☞ 12: The Electro Telegraph Printing Apparatus.
☞ 13: The Electro telegraph transmits intelligence instantaneously- at least at so far as regards any distance upon the earth.
☞ 14: Common experiments in Natural Philosophy. If two red rays from two luminous points be admitted into a dark chamber so as to fall on a white surface, and differ in their length by 0.0000258 of an inch, their intensity is doubled. So also if the difference in length be any whole-number multiple of that fraction. A multiple by 2 1/4, 3 1/4, &c., gives an intensity equal to one ray only; but a multiple by 2 1/2, 3 1/2, &c., gives the result of total darkness. In violet rays similar effects arise when the difference in length is 0.000157 of an inch; and with all other rays the results are the same—the difference varying with a uniform increase from the violet to the red. “Analogous experiments in respect to sound produce analogous results.”
☞ 15: Place a platina crucible over a spirit lamp, and keep it a red heat; pour in some sulphuric acid, which, though the most volatile of bodies at a common temperature, will be found to become completely fixed in a hot crucible, and not a drop evaporates—being surrounded by an atmosphere of its own, it does not, in fact, touch the sides. A few drops of water are now introduced, when the acid, immediately coming in contact with the heated sides of the crucible, flies off in sulphurous acid vapor, and so rapid is its progress, that the caloric of the water passes off with it, which falls a lump of ice to the bottom; by taking advantage of the moment before it is allowed to remelt, it may be turned out a lump of ice from a red-hot vessel.
☞ 16: The Daguerreotype.
☞ 17: Although light travels 167,000 miles in a second, the distance of 61 Cygni (the only star whose distance is ascertained) is so inconceivably great, that its rays would require more than ten years to reach the earth. For stars beyond this, 20—or even 1000 years—would be a moderate estimate. Thus, if they had been annihilated 20, or 1000 years ago, we might still see them to-day by the light which started from their surfaces 20 or 1000 years in the past time. That many which we see daily are really extinct, is not impossible—not even improbable.