Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Next Book: Stories from 1001 Arabian Nights

Dear Readers -- Good Tuesday Morning to you all!

I hope you all had a chance to finish up Beowulf last week. I am late postingour next readings, so please forgive me. Our next few weeks will be devoted toreading some of the 1001 Arabian Night stories (circa 800 AD). You do not haveto read them all, unless you wish to do so. Some of the more familiar taleswill come towards the middle to end of this series of readings (Aladin, Sinbad,Ali Baba, etc.)

If you don't want to read all of this post -- the schedule and link to the textare at the end. I would encourage you to read the Wikipedia article on thesetales. It will give specific literary device information that I think will behelpful to place these stories in their proper context as well as demonstratehow influential they became through succeeding literary generations (in story,play, music, and film).


BRIEF BACKGROUND (Harvard Classics)

"THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS" is one of the great story-books of the world. Itwas introduced to European readers by the French scholar Galland, who discoveredthe Arabic original and translated it into French in the first decade of theeighteenth century; but its earlier history is still involved in obscurity.There existed as early as the tenth century of our era a Persian collection of athousand tales, enclosed in a framework which is practically the one used in thepresent collection, telling of a King who was in the habit of killing his wivesafter the first night, and who was led to abandon this practise by thecleverness of the Wezir's daughter, who nightly told him a tale which she leftunfinished at dawn, so that his curiosity led him to spare her till the taleshould be completed. Whether more than the framework of the Arabian collectionwas borrowed from this Persian work is uncertain. The tales in the collection of Galland and in more complete editions discovered since his time are chieflyPersian, Indian, and Arabian in source, and in ultimate origin come from all theends of the earth. No two manuscripts have precisely the same contents, and someof the most famous of the tales here printed are probably not properly to beregarded as belonging to the collection, but owe their association with theothers to their having been included by Galland. Thus "Ali Baba and the FortyThieves" is found in no Oriental version of the "Nights," and "`Ala-ed-Din andthe Wonderful Lamp" was long supposed to be in the same situation, though withinrecent years it has turned up in two manuscripts.

Both the place and the date of the original compilation are still matters ofdispute among scholars. From such evidences as the detailed nature of thereferences to Cairo and the prevailing Mohammedan background, Lane argued thatit must have been put together in Egypt; but this opinion is by no meansuniversally accepted. As to date, estimates vary by several centuries. Burton,who believed in a strong Persian element, thought that some of the oldest tales,such as that of "Sindibad," might be as old as the eighth century of our era;some thirteen he dated tenth century, and the latest in the sixteenth. There isa fair amount of agreement on the thirteenth century as the date of arrangementin the present framework, though they were probably not committed to writingtill some two centuries later.

Of a collection of fables, fairy-stories, and anecdotes of historical personagessuch as this, there can, of course, be no question of a single author. Bothbefore and after they were placed in the mouth of Shahrazad, they were handeddown by oral recitation, the usual form of story-telling among the Arabs. As inthe case of our own popular ballads, whatever marks of individual authorship anyone story may originally have borne, would be obliterated in the course ofgenerations of tradition by word of mouth. Of the personality of an originaleditor or compiler, even, we have no trace. Long after writing had to someextent fixed their forms, the oral repetition went on; and some of them could beheard in Mohammedan countries almost down to our own times.In the two hundred years of their currency in the West, the stories of the"Nights" have engrafted themselves upon European culture. They have made thefairy-land of the Oriental imagination and the mode of life of the medievalArab, his manners and his morals, familiar to young and old; and allusions totheir incidents and personages are wrought into the language and literature ofall the modern civilized peoples. Their mark is found upon music and painting aswell as on letters and the common speech, as is witnessed by such diverseresults of their inspiration as the music of Rimsky-Korsakoff, the illustrationsof Parrish, and the marvelous idealization of their background and atmosphere inTennyson's "Recollections of the Arabian Nights," "Barmecide Feast," "OpenSesame," "Old Lamps for New," "Solomon's Seal," "The Old Man of the Sea," "TheSlave of the Lamp," "The Valley of Diamonds," "The Roc's Egg," Haroun al-Raschidand his "Garden of Delight,"—these and many more phrases and allusions ofevery-day occurrence suggest how pervasive has been the influence of thiswonder-book of the mysterious East.

The translation by E. W. Lane used here has been the standard English versionfor general reading for eighty years. The translations of "`Ali Baba" and"`Ala-ed-Din" are by S. Lane-Poole and for permission to use the latter we areindebted to Messrs. G. P. Putnam's Sons.

INTRODUCTION (from Wikipedia)

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of folk tales and other stories. Itis often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English languageedition (1706), which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights' Entertainment[1].

The original concept is most likely derived from a pre-Islamic Persian prototypethat probably relied partly on Indian elements,[2] but the work as we have itwas collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholarsacross the Middle East and North Africa. The tales themselves trace their rootsback to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamianfolklore and literature. In particular, many tales were originally folk storiesfrom the Caliphate era, while others, especially the frame story, are mostprobably drawn from the Pahlavi Persian work Haz?r Afs?n (Persian: ???? ?????,lit. Thousand Tales). Though the oldest Arabic manuscript dates from the 14thcentury, scholarship generally dates the collection's genesis to around the 9thcentury.

What is common throughout all the editions of the Nights is the initial framestory of the ruler Shahryar (from Persian: ??????, meaning "king" or"sovereign") and his wife Scheherazade (from Persian: ???????, meaning"townswoman") and the framing device incorporated throughout the talesthemselves. The stories proceed from this original tale; some are framed withinother tales, while others begin and end of their own accord. Some editions contain only a few hundred nights, while others include 1,001 or more.

Some of the best-known stories of The Nights, particularly "Aladdin's WonderfulLamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad theSailor", while almost certainly genuine Middle-Eastern folk tales, were not partof The Nights in Arabic versions, but were interpolated into the collection byits early European translators.

Note 1: For the rest of this introduction, please see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_One_Thousand_and_One_Nights

Note 2: See the Harvard Classics introduction here:http://www.bartleby.com/16/1002.html


These stories are short, so it is possible to read through them quickly. Feelfree to read a few or all of them!

July 13-17
Tales from 1001 Arabian Nights: Nights 1-3, 3-9

July 20-24
Nights 9-18, 24-32

July 27-31
Nights 32-36, Nights 537–566

August 3-7
Nights 566–578, 738–756

August 10-14
The Story of `Ala-ed-Din and the Wonderful Lamp and The Story of `Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves


Harvard Classics (follows our schedule)