Douban is a physician who killed King Younan in the “Story of the Physician Douban,” a tale in The Thousand and One Nights (nights 4, 5, and 6, with interruptions from other tales in the collection).

A physician named Douban cured a Persian king, Younan, of leprosy. But because of the whispers of a vizier, the king suspected that the physician wished to kill him. When he ordered the death of the physician, the man pleaded for some time to straighten out his home and books, many of which were valuable. The king agreed.

The next day, after the amirs and viziers and chamberlains had gathered at the court, the physician entered, “bearing an old book, and a small pot full of powder.” He told the king that when his head was cut off it would speak to the king if the king placed the head on the powder to stop the bleeding. The king should then open the book and read from where the head directed him. The king took the book and gave the signal to the executioner, “who rose and struck off the physician’s head and set it on the dish, pressing it down on the powder.” The blood immediately ceased to flow. The head opened its eyes and said:

“Open the book, O King!”

Younan opened the book and found the leaves stuck together, so he put his finger to his mouth, taking his “spittle and loosened them therewith and turned over the pages in this manner, one after another.” Eventually, he cried out that there was nothing there to see. The head said:

“Open more leaves.”

The king wet his finger and continued. The leaves of the book were poisoned and before long the poison began to work upon the king. He fell back in convulsions crying out:

“I am poisoned!”


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante