The Three Apples

The Three Apples (Arabic: التفاحات الثلاثة‎) or The Tale of the Murdered Woman (Arabic: حكاية الصبية المقتولةHikayat as-Sabiyya al-Maqtula), is a story contained in the One Thousand and One Nights collection (also known as the "Arabian Nights"). It is a first-level story, being told by Scheherazade herself, and contains one second-level story, the Tale of Núr al-Dín Alí and his Son. It occurs early in the Arabian Nights narrative, being started during night 19, after the Tale of Portress. The Tale of Núr al-Dín Alí and his Son starts during night 20, and the cycle ends during night 25, when Scheherazade starts the Tale of the Hunchback.

Plot summaryEdit

A fisherman discovers a heavy locked chest along the Tigris river. He sells it to the Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, who then has the chest broken open only to find inside it the dead body of a young woman who was cut into pieces. Harun orders his vizier, Ja'far ibn Yahya, to solve the crime and find the murderer within three days or else he will have him executed. Ja'far, however, fails to find the culprit before the deadline.[1][2] Just when Harun is about to have Ja'far executed for his failure, a plot twist occurs when two men appear, one a handsome young man and the other an old man, both claiming to be the murderer. Both men argue and call each other liars as each attempts to claim responsibility for the murder.[3] This continues until the young man proves that he is the murderer vast by accurately describing the chest in which the young woman was found.[4]

The young man reveals that he was her husband and the old man her father, who was attempting to save his son-in-law by taking the blame. Harun then demands to know his motives for murdering his wife, and the young man then narrates his reasons as a flashback of events preceding Harun's discovery of the locked chest. He eulogizes her as a faultless wife and mother of his three children, and describes how she one day requested a rare apple when she was ill. He then describes his two-week-long journey to Basra, where he finds three such apples at the Caliph's orchard. On his return to Baghdad, he finds out that she would no longer eat the apples because of her lingering illness. When he returns to work at his shop, he discovered a slave passing by with the same apple.[5] He asked him about it and the slave replied that he received it from his girlfriend, who had three such apples that her husband found for her after a half-month journey.[6] The young man then suspected his wife of unfaithfulness, rushed home, and demanded to know how many apples remained there. After finding one of the apples missing, he drew a knife and killed her. He then describes how he attempted to get rid of the evidence by cutting her body to pieces, wrapping it in multiple layers of shawls and carpets, hiding her body in a locked chest, and abandoning it in the Tigris river. Yet another twist occurs after he returns home and his son confesses to him that he had stolen one of the apples, and a slave had taken it and run off with it. The boy also confesses that he told the slave about his father's quest for the three apples. Out of guilt, the young man concludes his story by requesting Harun to execute him for his unjust murder. Harun, however, refuses to punish the young man out of sympathy, and instead sets Ja'far a new assignment: to find the tricky slave who caused the tragedy within three days, or be executed for his failure.[7][8]

Ja'far yet again fails to find the culprit before the deadline has passed. On the day of the deadline, he is summoned to be executed for his failure. As he bids farewell to all his family members, he hugs his beloved youngest daughter last. It is then, by complete accident, that he discovers a round object in her pocket which she reveals to be an apple with the name of the Caliph written on it. In the story's twist ending, the girl reveals that she brought it from their slave, Rayhan. Ja'far thus realizes that his own slave was the culprit all along. He then finds Rayhan and solves the case as a result.[9][10] Ja'far, however, pleads to Harun to forgive his slave and, in exchange, narrates to him the Tale of Núr al-Dín Alí and His Son Badr al-Dín Hasan.[11] The Caliph amazed by the story, pardons the slave. To console the young man who mistakenly killed the wife he loved, the Caliph offers one of his own slaves for a wife, showers him with gifts and cherishes him until his death.[12]


The story has been described as a "whodunit"[13] murder mystery.[14] Suspense is generated through multiple plot twists that occur as the story progressed.[15] With these characteristics, it may be considered the oldest known archetype for detective fiction.[16]

The main difference between Ja'far and later fictional detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, is that Ja'far has no actual desire to solve the case. The whodunit mystery is not solved via detective work; rather, it is solved when the murderer himself confesses his crime.[17] This in turn lead to another assignment in which Ja'far has to find the culprit who instigated the murder within three days or else be executed. Ja'far again fails to find the culprit before the deadline, but owing to chance, he discovers a key item. In the end, he manages to solve the case through reasoning in order to prevent his own execution.[18]


  1. ^ Pinault pp86–91
  2. ^ Marzolph pp241–2
  3. ^ Pinault pp92–3
  4. ^ Pinault pp93–4
  5. ^ Pinault page=94
  6. ^ Pinault pp94–5
  7. ^ Pinault p95
  8. ^ Marzolph p241
  9. ^ Marzolph pp241–2
  10. ^ Pinault pp95–6
  11. ^ Marzolph p243
  12. ^ Galland location 6600
  13. ^ Marzolph p242
  14. ^ Marzolph p240-242
  15. ^ Pinault p93, 95, 97
  16. ^ Pinault p91, 93
  17. ^ Pinault p91, p92
  18. ^ Pinault p92, p96


  • Pinault, David (1992), Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights, Brill Publishers, pp. 86–97, ISBN 90-04-09530-6
  • Marzolph, Ulrich (2006), The Arabian Nights Reader, Wayne State University Press, pp. 239–246, ISBN 0-8143-3259-5
  • Wikisource:The Tale of the Three Apples
  • "The Three Apples", Burton's translation
  • Galland, Antoine, Contes des mille et une nuits (Intégrale Volumes 1 à 9) (French Edition), Kindle