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 5 and 6"


Sinbad's fifth voyage

As before, Sinbad the impoverished porter joins other company to hear of Sinbad's journeys. After dinner, the sailor tells of his fifth voyage.

For the first time, Sinbad set sail on his own ship, staffed with a crew of merchants from other countries.

When passing an island, the crew saw a giant egg there, which Sinbad recognized as a roc's egg from his earlier adventures. They can already see a beak poking through. (Again, a roc is a gigantic bird.) Despite Sinbad's warnings, the crew hatcheted the egg, and roasted the young roc for meat.

Unfortunately, its parents soon returned, and dropped boulders on the fleeing ship. The vessel was destroyed, leaving only Sinbad alive, floating on a piece of driftwood.

Eventually, he drifted to another island, a lush paradise with fruit hanging everywhere and a crystal stream running through. Strangely, Sinbad spotted an old man at the edge of the stream. (It was the Old Man of the Sea, though Sinbad only learned that later.) The man did not speak, and only gestured to the fruit across the river, indicating his desire that Sinbad carry him through the stream and over to the fruit.

Sinbad complied, but the Old Man of the Sea did not let go once they reached the other side. Instead, he twisted his legs around the sailor's neck, forcing Sinbad to carry him around to trees, from which the old man would gather fruit. This went on for several days, during which time Sinbad grew progressively weaker.

At last, Sinbad stumbled on some luck. Using some grapes and a gourd, he prepared some wine for himself, and the intoxication made his task easier. Curious, the Old Man of the Sea drank some as well, and in his drunkenness relaxed his grip. Sinbad immediately freed himself, killed the Old Man, and fled to the shore, from which he was rescued by a passing ship. On board, he learned who the Old Man of the Sea was, and that the creature usually ends up strangling his victims.

The ship landed near a small town. There, its merchants, including Sinbad, gather coconuts from the tall palm trees. However, the trees are too tall, so merchants throw rocks at the monkeys, who retaliate by tossing down coconuts. The process is dangerous but lucrative. After gathering and selling many of these coconuts, Sinbad returns home rich once more.

Again, Sinbad ends his story, gives money to the impoverished porter, and bids his company return the next night for another story.

Sinbad's sixth voyage

After dinner the following night, he continues with the tale of his sixth voyage.

Despite protests from family and friends, Sinbad set out again after a while in Baghdad. This time, he travelled overland before setting sail from India.

Once again, Sinbad's ship ended up shipwrecked, this time on the mountainous side of an island, a place so dangerous that no sailor had ever returned from it. Indeed, bones littered the area.

Over time, Sinbad watched his companions starve, while he rationed his own meager provisions. Finally, on the edge of death, he decided on a plan. There was a strange river flowing out from the mountain, so he constructed a raft to float down it. The experience was miserable, lasting several days and offering no daylight. His only consolation was that there were countless precious jewels in the cave, which he gathered while passing.

The raft eventually emerged into a beautiful city called Serendib (in what is now present day Sri Lanka). There, Sinbad quickly befriended the King of Serendib, by telling of his adventures.

Sinbad spent some time exploring the land, even ascending to the top of what he calls the tallest mountain in the world, from which Adam was banished from paradise. When Sinbad was ready to return home, the King of Serendib gave him many gifts for Caliph Harun al-Rashid, as tokens of friendship. These included: a cup carved from a single ruby, a serpent skin that will prevent one from ever becoming sick, large quantities of natural resources from the island, and a beautiful slave girl.

Sinbad returned with these to the caliph, who was touched by the gifts. Though many of the caliph's attendants advised he attack Serendib to collect more riches, the caliph approved of the Indian king's generosity, and refused to take such action.

Back in the present, Sinbad then gifts another 100 sequins to the impoverished porter, and invites his guests to return the next night for the final story.


Like many of the other characters in these voyages, the Old Man of the Sea has Greek roots as well. However, he does not have an exact corollary in those stories (as the cannibal giant does.). Instead, he is drawn from many water gods, though most generally associated with Nereus or Proteus. What all of these water gods have in common in these stories is that they personify the difficulty and danger that sailors face on the water. Sailors are always at the mercy of the sea, and hence do the stories create figures who intensify that danger.

In The Odyssey, Homer's Old Man of the Sea works differently. He can answer many questions if captured, but capturing him means being able to hold on to him as he changes form. It is interesting to note that the Old Man of the Sea in The Arabian Nights is the exact opposite; he holds on to you, and you must trick him into letting go, just as Sinbad manages to do. This reflects Homer's more in-depth characterization - he focuses explicitly on Odysseus's cleverness, which justifies using a creature who is defeated through it. Sinbad is not as heavily characterized - these stories are more involved with plot and adventures - and hence is the Old Man of the Sea a bit less complex.

There seems to be a common theme in the tales of Sinbad's voyages: curiosity can, quite literally, kill. Though his crews frequently face misfortune outside their control, they also often make rash decisions that exacerbate the danger. In these voyages, the men cannot resist their desire to roast the baby roc, and all die for it. While Sinbad himself often expresses a wisdom which his men lack, the fact that he continues to take these voyages suggests he suffers from the same roving curiosity. It is telling that, before his sixth voyage, his friends and family begged him to reconsider. The Arabian Nights cautions curiosity; sometimes it may lead to good things, but most often it will cause irreversible trouble. Be content with what you already know and what you already have.

It is worth focusing on what separates Sinbad from his crew, however. He tends to exemplify the voice of reason, as evidenced by his adamant insistence that they leave the roc egg alone. This wisdom is born from experience, of course - he knows what the roc can do from having survived an earlier encounter. Further, he shows more restraint than they do on the sixth voyage, managing to ration his provisions better. For Sinbad, a rash decision must have an immediate pay-off; consider his choice to ride a raft down the river, though it could lead to his death, or his decision to bludgeon the woman in the tomb on his fourth voyage. Both of these decisions were born from impulse, but then justified through rationalization. Sinbad is certainly a rash man himself - again, he continues to sail despite his sizable riches - but is reliant on his wits and judgment, and not solely on his impulses and desires once at sea.

The sixth voyage provides some illustration of Islamic culture and belief. Sinbad briefly mentions ascending to the peak of the "tallest mountain in the world" in the island kingdom, where Adam fell from paradise. This is a reference to the Islamic and Judeo-Christian creation myth, and gives some insight into Sinbad's belief system. Further, the value of gift-giving is reinforced here, when the King of Serendib sends presents that are properly appreciated by the caliph. Overall, it is essential to remember how important Islamic culture and religion are to these texts; it is easy to brush Sinbad's tales off as adventure stories, but we can learn a lot about the religion and culture of this time period through small descriptions like these.

Finally, it is worth noting how often Sinbad has told his story throughout these voyages. It adds another level to the framing device. At the same time that Scheherazade is telling her king how Sinbad is telling the impoverished porter (and others) about his journeys, Sinbad's stories involve his frequent re-tellings of his adventures. In these, he tells them to the King of Serendib in order to gain sympathy. This is important for two reasons. The first is the idea that we are defined by the stories we tell. These repeated tales are a reflection of Sinbad's character, and frequently produce great dividends for him. Secondly, it reminds us that stories have great power - they can decide life or death. In Sinbad's stories, his talent at storytelling keeps him alive. Naturally, this second idea is one that Scheherazade is well aware of given her situation, so it makes sense that the theme is constantly reinforced throughout.