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Historical Tales: Spanish by  Charles Morris


 

 

THE TABLE OF SOLOMON

[30] WE have told how King Roderic, when he invaded the enchanted palace of Toledo, found in its empty chambers a single treasure,—the famous table of Solomon. But this was a treasure worth a king's ransom, a marvellous talisman, so splendid, so beautiful, so brilliant that the chroniclers can scarce find words fitly to describe its richness and value. Some say that it was made of pure gold, richly inlaid with precious stones. Others say that it was a mosaic of gold and silver, burnished yellow and gleaming white, ornamented with three rows of priceless jewels, one being of large pearls, one of costly rubies, and a third of gleaming emeralds. Other writers say that its top was made of a single emerald, a talisman revealing the fates in its lucid depths. Most writers say that it stood upon three hundred and sixty-five feet, each made of a single emerald, though still another writer declares that it had not a foot to stand upon.

Evidently none of these worthy chroniclers had seen the jewelled table except in the eye of fancy, which gave it what shape and form best fitted its far-famed splendor. They varied equally in their history of the talisman. A mildly drawn story says that it first came from Jerusalem to Rome, that it fell into the hands of the Goths when they sacked [31] the city of the Cęsars, and that some of them brought it into Spain. But there was a story more in accordance with the Arabian love of the marvellous which stated that the table was the work of the Djinn, or Genii, the mighty spirits of the air, whom the wise king Solomon had subdued and who obeyed his commands. After Solomon's time it was kept among the holy treasures of the temple, and became one of the richest spoils of the Romans when they captured and sacked Jerusalem. It afterwards became the prize of a king of Spain, perhaps in the way stated above.

Thus fancy has adorned the rich and beautiful work of art which Don Roderic is said to have found in the enchanted palace, and which he placed as the noblest of the treasures of Spain in the splendid church of Toledo, the Gothic capital. This city fell into the hands of Tarik el Tuerto in his conquering progress through the realm of Spain, and the emerald table, whose fame had reached the shores of Africa, was sought by him far and near.

It had disappeared from the church, perhaps carried off by the bishop in his flight. But fast as the fugitives fled, faster rode the Arab horsemen on their track, one swift troop riding to Medina Celi, on the high road to Saragossa. On this route they came to a city named by them Medinatu-l-Mayidah (city of the table), in which they found the famous talisman. They brought it to Tarik as one of the choicest spoils of Spain.

Its later history is as curious and much more authentic than its earlier. Tarik, as we have told in [32] the previous tale, had been sent to Andalusia by Musa, the caliph's viceroy in Africa, simply that he might gain a footing in the land, whose conquest Musa reserved for himself. But the impetuous Tarik was not to be restrained. No sooner was Roderic slain and his army dispersed than the Arab cavaliers spread far and wide through Spain, city after city falling into their hands, until it seemed as if nothing would be left for Musa to conquer.

This state of affairs was far from agreeable to the jealous and ambitious viceroy. He sent messengers to the caliph at Damascus, in which he claimed the conquest of Spain as his own, and barely mentioned the name of the real conqueror. He severely blamed Tarik for presuming to conquer a kingdom without direct orders, and, gathering an army, he crossed to Spain, that he might rightfully claim a share in the glory of the conquest.

Tarik was not ignorant of what Musa had done. He expected to be called sharply to account by his jealous superior, and knew well that his brilliant deeds had been overlooked in the viceroy's despatches to Damascus, then the capital of the Arab empire. The daring soldier was therefore full of joy when the table of Solomon fell into his hands. He hoped to win favor from Al-Walid, the caliph, by presenting him this splendid prize. Yet how was he to accomplish this? Would not Musa, who was well aware of the existence and value of the table, claim it as his own and send it to Al-Walid with the false story that he had won it by the power of his arms?

[33] To defeat this probable act Tarik devised a shrewd stratagem. The table, as has been stated, was abundantly provided with feet, but of these four were larger than the rest. One of the latter Tarik took off and concealed, to be used in the future if what he feared should come to pass.

As it proved, he had not misjudged his jealous lord. In due time Musa came to Toledo and rode in state through the gate-way of that city, Tarik following like a humble servitor in his train. As soon as he reached the palace he haughtily demanded a strict account of the spoils. These were at hand, and were at once delivered up. Their number and value should have satisfied his avarice, but the wonderful table of Solomon, of which he had heard such marvellous accounts, was not among them, and he demanded that this, too, should be brought forward. As Tarik had foreseen, he designed to send it to the caliph, as an acceptable present and an evidence of his victorious career.

The table was produced, and Musa gazed upon it with eyes of delight. His quick glance, however, soon discovered that one of the emerald feet was missing.

"It is imperfect," he said. "Where is the missing foot?"

"That I cannot tell you," replied Tarik; "you have the table as it was brought to me."

Musa, accepting this answer without suspicion, gave orders that the lost foot should be replaced with one of gold. Then, after thanking the other leading officers for their zeal and valor, he turned upon Tarik [34] and accused him in severe tones of disobedience. He ended by depriving him of his command and putting him under arrest, while he sent the caliph a report in which Tarik was sharply blamed and the merit of his exploits made light of. He would have gone farther and put him to death, but this he dared not do without the caliph's orders.

As it proved, Al-Walid, the Commander of the Faithful, knew something of the truth. Far distant as Damascus was from Toledo, a report of Tarik's exploits had reached his august ears, and Musa received orders to replace him in his command, since it would not do "to render useless one of the best swords of Islam." Musa dared not disobey; and thus, for the time being, Tarik triumphed.

And now, for the end of the trouble between Musa and Tarik, we must go forward in time. They were left in Spain until they had completed the conquest of that kingdom, then both were ordered to appear before the caliph's judgment seat. This they did in different methods. Tarik, who had no thirst for spoil, made haste, with empty hands, to Damascus, where, though be had no rich presents for the commander of the faithful, he delighted him with the story of his brilliant deeds. Musa came more slowly and with more ostentation. Leaving his sons in command in Spain and Africa, he journeyed slowly to Syria, with all the display of a triumphal march. With him were one hundred of his principal officers, as many sons of the highest Berber chiefs, and the kings of the Balearic Islands in all their barbaric state. In his train rode four hundred captive nobles, [35] each wearing a crown and girdle of gold, and thirty thousand captives of lower rank. At intervals in the train were camels and wagons, richly laden with gold, jewels, and other spoils. He brought to the East the novelties of the West, hawks, mules, and Barbary horses, and the curious fruits of Africa and Spain, "treasures," we are told, "the like of which no hearer ever heard of before, and no beholder ever saw before his eyes."

Thus the proud conqueror came, by slow marches, with frequent halts. He left Spain in August, 713. It was February, 715, when he reached the vicinity of Damascus, having spent a year and a half on the way.

Meanwhile, changes had taken place in Syria. Al-Walid, the caliph, was sick unto death, suffering from a mortal disease. Soliman, his brother and heir, wrote to Musa when at Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, asking him to halt there, as his brother could live but a few days. He, as the new caliph, would receive him. Al-Walid in turn ordered him to hasten his march. Musa was in a quandary. If Al-Walid should live, delay might be fatal. If he should die, haste might be fatal. He took what seemed to him the safest course, hastened to Damascus, and met with a brilliant reception. But a change soon came; in forty days Al-Walid died; Soliman, whom he had disobeyed, was caliph of the empire. Musa's sun was near its setting.

It was not long before the conqueror found himself treated as a criminal. He was charged with rapacity, injustice to Tarik, and the purpose of [36] throwing all power into the hands of his sons. He was even accused of "disobedience" for making a triumphal entry into Damascus before the death of Al-Walid. These and other charges were brought, Soliman being bent on the ruin of the man who had added Africa to the Arabian empire.

When Musa was brought before the caliph for a final hearing Tarik and many other soldiers from Spain were present, and there stood before the monarch's throne the splendid table of Solomon, one of the presents which Musa had made to Al-Walid, declaring it to be the most magnificent of all the prizes of his valor.

"Tell me," said the caliph to Tarik, "if you know whence this table came."

"It was found by me," answered Tarik. "If you would have evidence of the truth of my words, O caliph, have it examined and see if it be perfect."

Soliman gave orders, the table was closely examined, and it was soon discovered that one of its emerald feet was gone and that a foot of gold occupied its place.

"Ask Musa," said Tarik, "if this was the condition of the table when he found it."

"Yes," answered Musa, "it was as you see it now."

Tarik answered by taking from under his mantle the foot of emerald which he had removed, and which just matched the others.

"You may learn now," he said to the caliph, "which of us is the truth-teller. Here is the lost leg of the table. I found the table and kept this for [37] evidence. It is the same with most of the treasures Musa has shown you. It was I who won them and captured the cities in which they were found. Ask any of these soldiers if I speak the truth or not."

These words were ruinous to Musa. The table had revenged its finder. If Musa had lied in this case, he had lied in all. So held the angry caliph, who turned upon him with bitter abuse, calling him thief and liar, and swearing by Allah that he would crucify him. In the end he ordered the old man, fourscore years of age, corpulent and asthmatic, to be exposed to the fierce sun of Syria for a whole summer's day, and bade his brother Omar to see that the cruel sentence was executed.

Until high noon had passed the old warrior stood under the scorching solar rays, his blood at length seeming to boil in his veins, while he sank suffocated to the earth. Death would soon have ended his suffering had not Omar, declaring "that he had never passed a worse day in his life," prevailed upon the caliph to abridge his punishment.

Bent upon his utter ruin, the vindictive Soliman laid upon him the enormous fine of four million and thirty thousand dinars, equal to about ten million dollars. His sons were left in power in Spain that they might aid him in paying the fine. Great as the sum was, Musa, by giving up his own fortune, by the aid of his sons in Africa and Spain, and by assistance from his friends, succeeded in obtaining it. But even this did not satisfy the caliph, who now banished him to his birthplace, that his early friends might see and despise him in his ruin. He [38] even determined to destroy his sons, that the whole family might be rooted out and none be left in whose veins the blood of Musa ran.

The ablest of these sons, Abdul-Aziz, had been left in chief command over Spain. Thither the caliph sent orders for his death. Much as the young ruler was esteemed, wisely as he had ruled, no one thought of questioning an order of the Commander of the Faithful, the mighty autocrat of the great Arabian empire, and the innocent Abdul was assassinated by some who had been among his chief friends. His head was then cut off, embalmed, and sent to Soliman, before whom it was laid, enclosed in a casket of precious wood.

Sending for Musa, the vindictive caliph had the casket opened in his presence, saying, as the death-like features appeared, "Do you know whose head that is?"

The answer of Musa was a pathetic one. Never was there a Moslem, he said, who less deserved such a fate; never a man of milder heart, braver soul, or more pious and obedient disposition. In the end the poor old man broke down, and he could only murmur,

"Grant me his head, O Commander of the Faithful, that I may shut the lids of his eyes."

"Thou mayest take it," was Soliman's reply.

And so Musa left the caliph's presence, heart-broken and disconsolate. It is said that before he died he was forced to beg his bread. Of Tarik we hear no more. He had fully repaid Musa for his injustice, but the caliph, who perhaps feared to let [39] any one become too great, failed to restore him to his command, and he disappeared from history. The cruel Soliman lived only a year after the death of the victim of his rage. He died in 717, of remorse for his injustice to Musa, say some, but the record of history is that he was defeated before Constantinople and died of grief.

Thus ends our story of the table of Solomon. It brought good to none who had to do with it, and utter disaster to him who had made it an agent of falsehood and avarice. Injustice cannot hope to hide itself behind a talisman.


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