The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights

The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights Summary and Analysis of "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor: Voyages 3 and 4"


Sinbad's third voyage

Once again, Sinbad the impoverished porter joins other company to hear of Sinbad's journeys. After dinner, he tells of the third voyage.

Once again, Sinbad grew bored with life on land in Baghdad, and so set out to sea. After a terrible storm, his ship ended up just off the shore of a strange island. The ship captain warned them against docking there, which proved good advice since a pack of two-foot tall, hairy savages soon waded out towards the ship to attack it.

When the hairy men stole the vessel, they left the crew on another, nearby island. There, their luck was even worse. They discovered a beautiful palace, which they explored until they arrived in a chamber covered with human bones. Before they could escape, a cannibal giant burst through the door. He had sharp teeth and only one eye. After eating the fat captain, the cannibal giant left the men there.

The following day, the men were free to wander the island, but could find no other place for shelter. That night, the giant ate another of the crewman, and Sinbad devised an escape plan. The men built rafts from driftwood, and then returned to the giant's lair, where he was sleeping. They stabbed him in the eye with a flaming stick, and were able to escape on their rafts while he was in pain and disarray.

But they were not safe yet - the giant's mate began throwing boulders at the rafts, sinking all but the one on which Sinbad rode, and drowning most of the crew. Sinbad's raft eventually ran ashore on another island, but this one was just as dangerous. Soon after they landed, a giant snake attacked, swallowing one crew member. The next day, it swallowed another, leaving Sinbad alone.

Luckily, a ship sailed by, and sent a vessel to rescue the lone sailor. Coincidentally, this was the very ship that had abandoned him on his second voyage. He set off for home, again trading along the way to arrive in Baghdad wealthier than ever.

His story complete, Sinbad yet again gives money to the porter and invites him and his other company back the next night to learn of the fourth journey.

Sinbad's fourth journey

The next day, Sinbad continues his story.

He again grew tired of idleness in Baghdad, and set off again at sea. As per usual, his boat was shipwrecked on an island, this time following a hurricane.

On the island, he and his crew discovered several naked savages, who gave them strange herbs to eat. Sinbad noticed that the naked savages did not eat the herbs themselves, and therefore abstained. Soon enough, all the other crewmen went mad from the drugs, chattering nonsensically.

The savages then fattened up the mad crew members, preparing to eat them. Sinbad refused any food, and was allowed to wander the island somewhat since his thinness was not appetizing to them.

One day, Sinbad escaped his guard, and lived off the land for seven days in the wilderness. Eventually, he came across merchants who were collecting pepper on the beach. They took him back to their homeland, an island where a wealthy king befriended him. Impressed with Sinbad, the wealthy king begged Sinbad to stay with them forever, and offered him a beautiful bride as enticement.

But after getting married, Sinbad learned of the island's horrifying custom: if your spouse dies, you are buried alive with her and the family's riches. Soon enough, Sinbad's island wife died, and despite his protests, he was buried with her in a communal tomb, with enough provisions only to last him a few days.

He was on the verge of starving when another couple was lowered into the ground: a dead husband and a living wife. Sinbad clubbed the wife to death, keeping her provisions for himself. He continued this practice for a while, until he one day spotted a small animal tunneling in the tomb. He followed the animal's path, eventually discovering a way out to the shoreline, from which he was rescued by a passing ship.

Since he had taken all the precious jewels from the tomb, he was again wealthier when he returned to Baghdad. He donated much of his new wealth to mosques and the poor, and kept some to subsidize his life of pleasure.

After Sinbad finishes, the guests - the porter included - announce that this has been the most thrilling of Sinbad's tales yet.


If you've ever studied Greek literature or know anything about the Greek myths, then you should be able to recognize the very prominent similarities between the tales of Sinbad's voyages and some of those popular stories. The Arabs were dedicated students of Greek literature, so were undoubtedly influenced by those Classical tales. As previously mentioned, the Sinbad stories are largely indebted to the epic tradition, especially as practiced by Homer.

A lot of Sinbad's misadventures in these voyages very closely parallel those detailed in Homer's Odyssey, while tells of the Greek hero Odysseus's return home from the Trojan War. The Odyssey is believed to have been written around the 8th century B.C., and most of the Arabian Nights stories probably emerged at around 800 A.D. No doubt these Arab storytellers had spent much time studying The Odyssey.

Voyages three and four in particular show huge similarities. The encounter with the cannibal giant closely resembles Odysseus's run-in with Polyphemus, the cyclops. Polyphemus eats many of Odysseus's crew members, just as the giant eats Sinbad's, and both heroes vanquish the creature in the same way: by shoving a flaming stick in his eye. In vengeance, both monsters throw rocks at their escaping vessels.

Further, the encounter with the savages in the fourth voyage resembles Odysseus's own with the lotus-eaters and the sorceress Circe. And Sinbad's escape from the underground tomb is taken from the story of Aristomenes the Messenian, who escaped a pit with a fox as his guide. (This last example is taken from a different Greek myth than those used in the Odyssey.)

How does Sinbad compare to Odysseus himself? They both have similarly clever, heroic personalities, as they are always the ones to concoct a plan in a sticky situation. (Further, they both tend to save themselves through their plans, while many of their crew members are not so lucky.) They are both resourceful and quick-thinking. The main difference between the two lies in their motivations. Odysseus was not making his voyage voluntarily; he was merely trying his hardest to return home after a long and costly war. Sinbad, however, continues to venture out on his voyages of his own accord, seeking riches and adventure.

This brings us to an important question: why does Sinbad keep sailing off away from his comfortable life, even though he every time without fail manages to run into trouble that nearly leads to his own death and certainly leads to the deaths of others. There are certainly some implications of greed here; every time, his treacherous voyages are seemingly worth it when he returns home with riches beyond compare. Is he really motivated by greed, or is he being truthful when he tells his listeners that it was merely a lust for adventure that kept pushing him to return to the sea? Is it possible for someone to be that must of a thrill seeker?

One answer lies in the culture of the time. There were some philosophies in the Islamic culture of the time that suggested Allah rewarded virtue with wealth. Certainly, Sinbad's stories are shaped to justify his wealth by tales of his strength and virtue. Therefore, listeners at the time might not have recognized a distinction between greed and virtue - one was a reflection of the other. Of course, Sinbad stresses that connection by not only telling of his gifts to the poor and to the mosques, but also by giving money to the porter each night.

There is one other intriguing parallel between Sinbad and Odysseus while helps to understand Sinbad's drive to explore. The poem "Ulysses" (Odysseus's Roman name) by Alfred Lord Tennyson describes Odysseus's restlessness at home on land, and his desire to return to the sea. Though this adventurous spit is not explicitly expressed in the original Odyssey, its likeness to Sinbad's situation is interesting to note. This thirst for adventure is a feeling experienced by all sailors and merchants, throughout all different time periods of history.

And certainly, it is men of this sort who make for exciting adventure stories. These voyages in fact push a bit further into Sinbad's psychology, in the way they distinguish him from other people. First, he is not quite as conforming as his companions are. He refuses to eat the herbs, for instance. This suggests his independent spirit. Secondly, he shows a pragmatism when he clubs the woman to death in the tomb. He expresses his moral dilemma at the decision, but does not admit that he questioned the course of action. Instead, he values his own survival as paramount, particularly because he does not believe others capable of having escaped in any case. For all his good will, Sinbad is clearly aware of his singular strength and ability. Perhaps this helps to explain why he feels so compelled to tell these stories to the impoverished porter who shares his name.