Monday, December 29, 2008

one oh oh one nights - chipz!

arabian nights dance hit from europe, the band is chipz from the netherlands

i can hear it loud and clear playing in a place like the no bar in quito, ecuador, babylon disco ayia napa, or the like

Sunday, December 21, 2008

financial times review of lyons' version - as byatt

The Arabian Nights
Review by AS Byatt

Published: December 20 2008 01:13 | Last updated: December 20 2008 01:13

The Arabian Nights
Translated by Malcolm C Lyons (3 volumes)
Penguin Classics £125
FT Bookshop price: £100

Wordsworth, as a child, had “a little yellow canvas-covered book, a slender abstract of the Arabian Tales”, which fed his imagination. He describes the “promise, scarcely earthly” of discovering that there were four large volumes of the tales. Coleridge said that his mind had been “habituated to the vast” by his early reading of “Romances and Relations of Giants and Magicians & Genii”. Opening this wonderful, orderly new translation of the Arabic Calcutta II manuscript made me feel Wordsworth’s excitement over again. Malcolm C Lyons has put the stories into clear, readable English, and has not omitted the poems that decorate and deepen many of the texts. Each volume has an introduction by Robert Irwin, whose The Arabian Nights: A Companion is both wise, witty and informative. Two of the best-known tales, “Ali Baba” and “Aladdin” are known as orphan tales, since there is no extant Arabic version. These have been translated, by Ursula Lyons, from the 18th-century French of Antoine Galland.

Human beings are narrating animals. We construe our lives as stories, we recount other people’s lives to each other, in gossip, in history, in literature. One of the oddest literary enterprises was the modernist attempt to make novels that did not tell stories. It can’t really be done. Stories end with death, though we also tell stories about time after death, pious or horrific, heavenly pleasures or lurking vampires. The chief glory of the Nights is the form of its frame story. King Shahriyar is maddened by his wife’s adultery with black slaves. He kills her, and marries a new virgin daily. She is enjoyed and put to death in the morning so that she will betray no one. The Vizier has a daughter, Scheherazade, wise and beautiful, who begs her father to marry her to the king as she has a plan to put a stop to the destruction of young women. She asks for her young sister, Dunyazade, to be brought to the bedchamber, and after Scheherazade has been deflowered her sister asks for a story. It is unfinished at dawn, and the king desires to know the end, so spares the storyteller. But the next story, and a thousand and one stories, linked like chains, contained in each other like boxes in boxes, sprouting like twigs out of branches, continually defer death. Three children are born during the storytelling and, finally, the queen is allowed to live. Scheherazade is one of the great heroines who inhabit our imagination. Practical, dauntless, courteous, she saves her world again and again.

This is strange in some ways, as the world of the Nights is very male. The tales, as Robert Irwin tells us, were told by men to men, merchants in bazaars, shopkeepers, interested in trade, inhabiting narrow streets. They depict women as dangerous, treacherous and unscrupulous – one is entitled “The Craft and Malice of Women”. Their world is, as Irwin also points out, full of things – containers, jars, pots, gold and silver, things bought in markets. It is full of meetings between porters, disguised caliphs, veiled women, scholars, all of whom have a tale to tell, which contains another tale, or provokes its audience into telling their own.

Coleridge was very impressed by the tale of the merchant who casually threw away a date stone, and was immediately arrested by a furious ifrit (or genie) who said that the stone had killed his invisible son. The merchant’s execution is delayed so that he may put his affairs in order. When he returns to keep his appointment with his executioner his life is saved by a series of storytelling passers-by. Coleridge saw the date stone as an example of pure chance, operating in a world where chance was the same as destiny, and said it gave him the idea for the ineluctable world of the tale-telling Ancient Mariner. Things happen at random, and are simultaneously fated and unavoidable. The man who fled death by going to Samarra, only to find that death was waiting for him there, is only one example. Irwin has written about the way in which characters in these tales don’t have what we should think of as “character” – they are their fate or their story – Sindbad is the things that happen to him. When the tale is finished they drop back into dailiness and disappear.

The tales are sweet, sad, obscene and marvellous. Things shift shapes – men and women are changed to dogs, to cows, to gazelles, or turned to stone from the waist down. The jinn, creatures made of fire and smoke, appear and disappear. Some are godfearing. Some are satanic. Some haunt lavatory doors. In the splendid tale of Quamar al-Zaman two of these beings, one female, one male, get into a dispute over whether the young prince or the princess of the Chinese Islands is the more beautiful, and transport the sleeping girl across oceans to the prince’s bed, calling up a third hideous ifrit to help adjudicate. They can be sealed into jars or bottles from which they can rise like smoke to tower in the sky. The tales, like the jinn, both tease and satisfy the imagination.

AS Byatt is the author of ‘A Whistling Woman’ (Vintage) and co-editor of ‘Memory: An Anthology’ (Chatto & Windus)

Monday, December 15, 2008

On a sea of stories - New Statesman Review of Lyons' 1001 Nights


On a sea of stories
Hugh Kennedy

Published 11 December 2008

The stories of The Arabian Nights are so famous that most of us have never read them, but just absorbed them as nursery tales or cartoons. Now a new translation, the first in more than a century, allows us to enjoy the vast original

Fantastic voyage: Charles Folkard’s 1917 illustration to The Third Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor in The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights

Translated by Malcolm C Lyons with Ursula Lyons Introduced and annotated by Robert Irwin

Penguin Classics, three vols, £125

We have all heard of The Arabian Nights, most of us probably as children's stories and cartoon films. The most famous have become stock images of English writing - the genie in the bottle; the door that responds to the cry of "Open Sesame!". Perhaps the most famous of all is the story of Aladdin and his magical lamp, one of the traditional pantomime plots. How many times have we heard policemen describing entering some criminal's storeroom and saying, "It was like an Aladdin's cave in there"? But there is much more to The Arabian Nights than that, and now, in effect for the first time, the English reader can appreciate the full, vast extent of this "ocean of stories".

The "Nights" as we have them today are the product of more than a thousand years of evolution, development and accretion. The original tale, in which Shahrazad tells stories to the jealous king so that he will not put her to death, comes from a Sanskrit original produced in India, probably in the first centuries AD. This was translated into Middle Persian (that is the language of Sasanian Iran, c.220-650 AD) and many more stories of a moralising and improving, if slightly dull, sort were added. Like much of the literary heritage of pre-Islamic Iran, the originals of these stories have disappeared, but soon after the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, they were translated into Arabic.

One page of a 9th-century version survives, which is enough to show that Shahrazad was already telling stories. Although we know that the Nights continued to be developed and elaborated, the earliest substantial manuscript we have dates from the 15th century.

The Arabian Nights essentially reflect the world of Egyptian and Syrian urban culture of the Mamluk period (1260-1517) and the heroes of the stories are as often merchants as kings and princes, something that would be unimaginable in the contemporary world of Arthurian romance. There is lots of talk of commerce and money, the everyday life of the souks and ports from which the unsuspecting, but not unwilling, merchant can be lured to unimaginable adventures. Some of tales are set in clearly defined historical contexts. The most famous of these are the ones featuring the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), the vizier Ja'far the Barma kid, Harun's wife Zubayda and the poet/court jester Abu Nuwas. These are all well-known historical figures but none of the stories in which they figure has any known historical basis, and the caliph's night-time, incognito wanderings through his mysterious capital of Baghdad are no more than devices to introduce more fabulous events. In most cases the stories are set in a sort of never-never land, just far enough beyond the horizons of the familiar world to allow for marvels and wonders of all sorts.

It is fair to say that the Nights was looked down on, or more often simply disregarded, by the literary elite of the Arabic-speaking world. The simple narrative flow, the numerous marvels and wholly improbable events, the questionable morality and, perhaps most of all, the sex with which the "Nights" are, to use Robert Irwin's expression, "suffused", all combined to ensure that they were never part of the classical Arabic canon.

There are many Arabic epics, some at least as long (that is, about a million words), but none of them has achieved the popularity and widespread circulation of the Nights. This is at least in part because most of the other epics consist of endless accounts of wearisome battles in which resolute but entirely one-dimensional heroes achieve impossible feats of arms. What distinguishes the Nights and, despite its great length, stops it from becoming tedious, is the different registers of story - comic, romantic, sad, adventurous. It is impossible to predict the twists and turns, and, embarking on any of the stories or cycles of stories, the reader can have no idea where he or she is going to end up.

The most typical narrative device is, of course, the story within the story, in which the lead story of the sequence is repeatedly interrupted as the hero meets people (or animals or jinns) who have their own tales to tell, or when people staying awake at night begin to tell the stories of their lives. No one is ever told to shut up in the Nights: if there are eight brothers, each with a story to tell, they must all have their say. Equally intriguing is the way in which the narrative, after wandering serendipitously in many different directions, gradually brings you back to the main thread and the reader feels that little jolt of recognition: "So that's how we got there."

The variety of The Arabian Nights and its light-hearted and entertaining style has made it better known in the west than any other work of Arabic literature. But, in a very interesting way, the "Nights" as we know them are the product of a creative interaction between the Arabic text and the French and later English translations. Between 1704 and 1717 a version of the Nights was translated into French by Antoine Galland and became an immediate success. Galland's translation was elegant, sentimental and, like most of the translations that were to follow, heavily bowdlerised, but its popularity ensured there would be further translations into more languages. Galland was also the author of some of the classic stories that we think of as integral parts of the work. There are no Arabic originals of the stories of Ali Baba and Aladdin. Galland claimed that he was told them by a Syrian visitor but he may equally well have made them up himself. However, they sit very well with the rest of the collection, to the extent that Arabic translations have now been made and integrated into the text.

The translations that followed Galland were popular with the reading public but none of them provided a satisfactory rendering of the original. The first English translation directly from the Arabic (rather than from Galland's French) was made by E W Lane in 1838-41, but it was incomplete, bowdlerised and written in a ponderous, old-fashioned prose that in no way reflected the simple narrative tone of the Arabic. Much more famous was the translation made by Sir Richard Burton and published, in 16 volumes, between 1885 and 1887. Burton relished all the erotic and bizarre material that Lane had edited out, but he, too, succumbed to the temptation to invent a heavyweight and convoluted English prose that makes his version very difficult to read for pleasure.

The new translation by Malcolm Lyons, formerly Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at Cambridge, manages to avoid all these pitfalls. This is a truly magnificent achievement. There are some 2,800 pages and exactly 1,001 "Nights", all newly translated from the fullest Arabic text, the so-called Calcutta II of 1841. As an extra bonus, Ursula Lyons has translated Galland's original stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba from the French. The prose style is simple and clear but never dull. It reads easily enough to be enjoyable light reading, which is exactly as it should be, so that anyone can, as Robert Irwin says in one of his prefaces, "lose themselves in a veritable sea of stories". Irwin is a great authority on the Nights (his Arabian Nights: a Companion is essential for anyone who wants to know more about the book) and his short introductions to each of the three volumes give a clear and lucid setting of the scene.

There are maps and a glossary but otherwise the text is unburdened by the sort of academic apparatus that both Lane and Burton used to show that their translations were serious academic works. Finally, Penguin Books must be congratulated for the elegant production of these three volumes, which make an excellent, if fairly expensive, presentation set. One hopes that there will soon be an ordinary paperback edition of the whole at a more affordable price.

Despite their immense length, the volumes can certainly be read for pleasure and relaxation. True, an attempt to read them all at once would surely provoke literary indigestion. But they should rather be dipped into, as one might dip into a good diary. Once having begun, the reader can easily be swept along and, like King Shahriyar, be so consumed by the desire to know what happens next, that he or she will be compelled to move on to just one more "Night", and another one, two or three after that.

Hugh Kennedy is professor of Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies


4 comments from readers
12 December 2008 at 01:15
This is one of the most racist books ever written and gives a spectre grey insight into the Arab Psyche. I guess this translation, unlike mine, will be heavily sanitised. Your freudian slip has been to include the illustration from the book without much thought. Analyse this!

12 December 2008 at 19:31
I remember hearing about these these Tales Of the Arabian Nights when i was a child many years ago. Raciam & idealogy was never potrayed, they are just tales to entertain in the wee dark hours of the night. Thats all, the current phase of being clever is self defeating. Just enjoy the prose & skills of storytelling Amen.

swatantra nandanwar
13 December 2008 at 17:50
I'm sure you'd find 'racist' comments in Beowolf and Piers Ploughman if you looked hard enough. The Arabs had their class system in the same way that Hndus had their caste system.

15 December 2008 at 03:30
I do own a set of the numbered edition of the first Richard Burton edition, published originally for his "book club" and limited to 1,000 sets of numbered sets for his subscribers.

It is a fabulous book, a real masterpiece.

A book that was written in a different time and era and as such, it can not be critiqued by the social rules of today or in the light of political correctness!

Further, if you need to demonstrate the typical class system, you needn't bring the Arabs or Hindus into the conversation, as examples! You have more than enough examples right in your own backyard. You can raise the example of classicism by taking a closer look at your very own British Monarchy and the British Aristocracy all the way to your House of Lords.........Your Aristocrats are not too keen on inviting commoners into their social circles or into their families. So there is no need for you good folks to be looking for examples by pointing over the horizon to find a rigid and fossilized class system!

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights - the Sunday Times review

From The Sunday Times December 14, 2008

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights - the Sunday Times review

A fresh translation of the world’s greatest collection of folk stories restores their colour and verve

Christopher Hart

“In the royal palace there were windows that overlooked Shahriyar’s garden, and as Shah Zaman was looking a door opened and out came 20 slave girls and 20 slaves, in the middle of whom was Shahriyar’s very beautiful wife. They came to a fountain where they took off their clothes and the women sat with the men. ‘Mas’ud,’ the queen called, at which a black slave came up to her and, after they had embraced each other, he lay with her, while the other slaves lay with the slave girls and they spent their time kissing, embracing, fornicating and drinking wine until the end of the day.”

Blimey. And this is just page two, with a couple of beheadings in the bag already. Odd that, for generations in the West, the Arabian Nights was a children’s book, albeit so bowdlerised that there was never much left. Now Penguin has produced this magnificent, unexpurgated edition of the greatest collection of folk tales in the world, each volume running to nearly 1,000 pages, with a beautiful cover design in midnight blue. The translation by Malcolm Lyons, the first complete one since explorer Richard Burton’s in 1885, is plain and lucid, unlike the tortuous, antiquated Victorian version, and the sheer colour and verve of the original stories shine through.

This “ocean of stories” begins with King Shahriyar, having been betrayed by his wife, vowing to sleep with a different virgin every night and then kill her in the morning. But when he takes the smart and sassy Shahrazad to his bed (along with her sister Dunyazad, since she’s around), Shahrazad forestalls their beheading by telling him magical tales. Always keen to hear the next one, the king continually spares her life until the following night.

Besides Shahrazad, however, as Robert Irwin explains in his masterly introductions, the Arabian Nights is a book without an author — or with many thousands. For these are tales that were passed down over centuries, perhaps millenniums, bearing numerous traces of preIslamic culture, and endlessly retold and embellished in the souks and caravanserais of the East. Their influence on the West has been incalculable, from Chaucer to Salman Rushdie. Indeed, much of Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale is straight out of the Arabian Nights. This doesn’t mean that Chaucer read the originals or even knew of their existence. Rather, these marvellous stories had enough innate life to travel on their own, from the backstreets of Baghdad and Cairo to the piazzas of Venice and onward, adapting to their changing environment as they went, like Richard Dawkins’s memes.

And what stories they are, so brimful of energy and lechery, love and cunning, eeriness and death. As a record of oriental low life they are quite invaluable, and often extremely funny. Take the poor old hashish-eater (hashish was known as “the wine of the poor”). After falling to the floor in a stoned swoon, he happily dreams that he is being washed and perfumed by numerous slaves, before having a pretty girl sit in his lap. He is just “pressing her beneath him” when someone shouts, “Wake up, you good-for-nothing!” and he comes round to find himself lying stark naked on the ground with an erection, surrounded by a laughing crowd. “You could have waited until I put it in!” he wails.

Then there’s the young merchant who arrives in Cairo, sells his goods for a tidy “profit of 500%”, and is seduced by a beautiful young girl, who afterwards insists on paying him 15 dinars for the privilege. She does the same the next night, and then on the third she asks him, “Will you let me bring with me a girl who is more beautiful as well as younger than I am, so that she can play with us?” He (surprise surprise) agrees, “And then we got drunk and slept until morning.” So far it sounds like a Lynx advert. But be warned: unlike Lynx ads, these tales have a moral that can be paraphrased as, There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

You can see why the Taliban, or the Muttawa, the religious police of Saudi Arabia, are never going to add the Arabian Nights to their somewhat brusque list of permitted texts. (1 The Koran; 2 The Hadith. Er . . . that’s it.) Even in the broader Islamic world, the Arabian Nights have never been highly valued, and many dismiss them entirely, in the same way that devout Egyptian Muslims show no interest in the architecture or mythology of ancient Egypt. These things belong to Jahiliah, the time of darkness, before the coming of Muhammad, and are therefore by definition worthless. The same goes for the Arabian Nights, with their free and easy ways, unruly djinn, monsters and marvels, hashish and opium, copious wine-drinking and, above all, limitless imagination. Such things are never going to find approval with the puritans.

It is western orientalists, those wicked cultural neocolonialists if you believe Edward Said, who have saved the stories from oblivion. Indeed, for two of the best-known stories included here, Ali Baba and Aladdin, no original Arabic text survives at all. And it is the West that has really taken the stories to heart. Even the titles are liable to send a reader into dangerously incorrect oriental reveries of opium dens, sloe-eyed maidens and caverns gleaming with treasure: The Goldsmith and the Kashmiri Singing Girl, Harun al-Rashid and the Three Slave Girls, or The Island of Waq Waq, where women grow on trees like fruit.

Piety is not a salient characteristic of the tales. There’s far too much unruly life for it to fit a creed. If the tales are set in an Islamic world, it’s Islamic in the way that Chaucer’s world is Christian: religion is a constant but largely benevolent background music, rather than a sinister and omnipresent ideology seeking to impose itself upon every aspect of private life. This is a world of fabulous richness and sensuous pleasure. Here are the contents of a shopping basket: “Syrian apples, Uthmani quinces, Omani peaches, jasmine and water lilies from Syria, autumn cucumbers, lemons, sultani oranges . . . ” Also worldly is the frank celebration of cunning and survival over any more high-minded, abstract notions of virtue. The great thing is to outwit the djinni, get rich quick and marry the pretty girl.

More profound and haunting are those tales which have no clear explanation, and yet resonate deep in the unconscious. Harun al-Rashid is often escaping from the palace and wandering the midnight streets of Baghdad, sometimes in disguise. But in one tale here he takes a boat out on the Tigris, only to see another boat approaching, lit by torches, and, sitting enthroned in the robes of a caliph, a man just like him.

The Arabian Nights is not a book to be read in a week. It is an ocean of stories to be dipped into over a lifetime. And this new Penguin edition is the one to have. Settle back, pour a glass of wine and sail away with Sinbad to the Island of Serendib.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Arabian Nights - A Fairytale Fantasy


Arabian Nights - A Fairytale Fantasy

A reel of film I found for cheap on ebay.

Haven't watched it yet but will post the film when I get around to filming it!
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mary Zimmerman's revived "The Arabian Nights" in the 510

Review from Variety: (also long live Abu Hassan!)

The Arabian Nights
(Berkeley Rep, Berkeley, Calif.; 401 seats; $71 top)


Berkeley Repertory Theater presentation in association with Kansas City Repertory Theater of a play in two acts written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, created in association with Lookingglass Theater Company, adapted from "The Thousand Nights and One Night" translated by E. Powys Mathers.

With: Ryan Artzberger, Allen Gilmore, Sofia Jean Gomez, Stacey Yen, Barzin Akhavan, Louis Tucci, Noshir Dalal, Pranidhi Varshney, Melina Kalomas, Evan Zes, Nicole Shalhoub, Jesse J. Perez, Alana Arenas, Ramiz Monself, Ari Brand.

First devised during the Gulf War 16 years ago, Mary Zimmerman's revived "The Arabian Nights" arrives at another moment when some positive appreciation of Islam and the Arabic world is particularly welcome. Not to mention nearly three hours of exhilarating, imaginative theatrical escape -- always desirable, but especially soothing at present. Applying the writer-director's signature polyglot style to a few of the "thousand and one" tales, this ingenious entertainment travels to co-producers Kansas City Rep and Chicago's Lookingglass Theater Company's stages after Berkeley Rep; other nonprofits would be wise to keep it on the road indefinitely.
Since discovering his queen's infidelity -- which she pays for with her life -- King Shahryar (Ryan Artzberger) has soured on all womankind, taking a virgin bride every night, then killing her at dawn to ensure he'll never be betrayed again. The realm's marriageable daughters having by now all either died or fled, there's no one left but clever Scheherazade (Sofia Jean Gomez), who puts off her execution by telling cliffhanger stories whose conclusion always requires one more day's reprieve.

Enacted by Zimmerman's multi-cast, multicultural ensemble -- who are required to sing, dance, play instruments and otherwise run on all cylinders throughout -- these tales are ribald and raucously comic in the long (but light-as-a-feather) first half. Her command of wide-ranging tone is such that the act climaxes, hilariously, on the sort of thing a Berkeley Rep audience might normally cross the street to avoid: An epically prolonged fart gag.

After intermission, the stories grow more somber, as Scheherazade seeks to thaw her master's frozen heart. Several tales tacitly chide men for their attitudes toward and treatment of women; the story of Sympathy the Learned contains the evening's most pointed, admiring references to core Muslim beliefs, with allusions to today's extremist "holy war" contortion of those principles.

These "Nights" are a true spectacle, despite the thrust stage being bare of decoration save myriad Persian rugs and a dozen or more hanging lanterns. Zimmerman's highly physical brand of theater is ideally applied here, with everything from sinuous floor-rolling erotica to pantomime camels to full-on production numbers blending into a seamless whole.

There's even room for improvisation, as the "Tale of the Wonderful Bag" has that ownership-contested object's mystery contents described spontaneously by two randomly-chosen cast plaintiffs -- to marvelously absurd results at the performance reviewed.

TJ Gerckens' lighting and Mara Blumenfeld's costumes make notable contributions. But one thing that makes Zimmerman's "Arabian Nights" so special is that it conveys a sumptuousness of aesthetic and imagination, yet might enchant nearly as much if performed by these actors in ordinary street dress on a patch of lawn.

Like Scheherazade herself, the show conjures storytelling magic out of thin air; the true production values here aren't material, but human.

More than one option(Tv) Arabian Nights
(Tv) Arabian Nights
Series Information, Seasons, Credits, Awards
(Film) Arabian Nights
Set, Daniel Ostling; costumes, Mara Blumenfeld; lighting, TJ Gerckens; original music and sound, Andre Pluess & Lookingglass Ensemble; production stage managers, Michael Suenkel, Cynthia Cahill. Opened Nov. 19, 2008. Reviewed Nov. 29. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

postcolonial 1001 nights

This is a dissertation? Essay?

PDF Link:

On the following topic:

"Githa Hariharan’s When Dreams Travel (1999) is a re-writing of The Arabian
Nights’ Entertainments or The Thousand and One Nights, as these texts became known in
the West via a French translation."

With the following questions as guides:

"And what is there in this rewriting of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (an
alternative name of The Thousand and One Nights) for the postcolonial dimension of this research? Why would Githa Hariharan find important to decolonise such a text? What is at stake in such an enterprise?"

Frankly there are too many generalizations about the Nights in this essay although that's what seems to happen when people start applying theories willy nilly to fit their arguments. Also it seems that the Nights are still alive and well and can be flexible enough to fit any kind of argument or theory or re/translat(ion).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Breaking Wind

How Abu Hassan Brake Wind - I read somewhere and need to re-find it, I think in Robert Irwin's book on the Nights or an article, that this story's first appearance was in Burton's edition and no previous mention of it or version before Burton has ever been found, in Arabic or any other language.

It's a great Burton-esque guy/teenage boy story about a groom who has gas at the wrong time and has to run away from his country because of his shame.

What is really funny about it is that Dawood includes it in his Penguin English version of the Nights, after bashing Burton in his introduction...

Here's a mention of the story being turned into a joke about the Queen herself (maybe a true story - or common English joke - that Burton picked up and turned into an "Arabian Night"??):

There is a nod to The Arabian Nights, but even this is slight, and comes through an English joke told by John Aubrey: "[The] Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart." This, Holt remarks, makes an even earlier appearance in the story "How Abu Hassan Brake Wind".

- The article this is taken from is a review of this recently released book:

Stop Me If You've Heard This: a History and Philosophy of Jokes
Jim Holt - Profile Books

Chu Chin Chow

I'll have to look into something about the Nights being a stage phenomenon, particularly in the early 20th century. Something was all the rage with the Nights on stage.

A 2008 production of Chu Chin Chow (what a name!) in the UK spurred my looking into the topic.

From wikipedia: (

The success of the "Arabian Nights" production Kismet (a 1911 play by Edward Knoblock, upon which the 1953 musical is based) inspired Oscar Asche to write and produce Chu Chin Chow. Asche also played the lead role of Abu Hasan, leader of the forty thieves (the "Chu Chin Chow" of the title is actually the robber chief himself impersonating one of his victims). Besides Asche, the production starred his wife, Lily Brayton, and Courtice Pounds.

- Apparently it was a hugely successful play (CCC)

Here's the new review from the UK:

Una Voce Opera Company do Chu Chin Chow at Southport Arts Centre

Dec 5 2008 by Kathryn Carr, Southport Visiter

Opera Teaser

OPERA fans can escape the winter chill with a magical, musical tale of the East, courtesy of Una Voce Opera Company.

The company is proud to present its Christmas production, Chu Chin Chow, one of the longest-running musicals in history.

Written by Oscar Asche with music composed by Frederic Norton in 1916, the show is based on the Arabian Nights Tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and includes musicalfavourites such as The Cobbler’s Song and Any Time’s Kissing-time.

Clare Hyams and Eunice Woof MBE will share the role of Mahbubah, while the visiting star of the show will be Jane Zoo, from Hong Kong, who will sing the role of Marjanah (originally made famous by Anna May Wong).

Jane, who was born in Beijing, completed her undergraduate training in 2005 at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

She has just finished postgraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music, studying with Sandra Dugdale.

While at the college Jane played the role of the Hen in The Cunning Little Vixen.

In opera excerpts she performed the roles of Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Romilda in Serse, Lucia in The Rape of Lucretia and the title rôle in Lakmé.

Jane was in the premiere of Fei Jia Dong, a contemporary multimedia music theatre piece at the Arts Centre in Hong Kong.

She also appeared as an opera singer in Kubert Leung’s film Wonderful Times and sang the title song.

The talented star was a semi-finalist in the Stuart Burrows International Singing Competition in Wales, and was invited as a guest artist to sing in the London Week of Peace concert in Trafalgar Square.

She also sang in the Great Elm Vocal Awards finalist concert in the Wigmore Hall.

Jane has recently signed a recording contract with Shlepp Records.

Chu Chin Chow marks Jane’s début guest appearance with Una Voce Opera Company.

Performances are at Southport Arts Centre until Saturday, December 6. Tickets are £10-£16.50.

Concessions and group rates are available. Tickets to the 2.30pm Saturday matinee are £8.

To book, call Southport Arts Centre box office on 01704 540011, or visit

Burton the Muslim

Burton says he is a Muslim here:

"Finally I went to Meccah not as a Christian, but as a Moslem."

In a letter to the editor called "Unexplored Syria." The Academy 2 Jun. 1873: 217.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A thousand and one nights at the panto

An old article but a good overview of the Nights and its relationship to stage and screen (and mention of the cool pinball machine), by Robert Irwin:

A thousand and one nights at the panto

How did the yarns spun in the alleys of medieval Cairo and Damascus turn into the pantomime and movie tales known to every child in the West? Robert Irwin tells the amazing story of the Arabian Nights

Saturday, 22 December 2001

It is getting harder and harder to find good pinball machines in London. I doubt if it is still there, but a few years ago The Man in the Moon pub in the King's Road, Chelsea, west London, used to have one of the classic Williams machines. This was the "Tales of the Arabian Nights" model. One looked down on a (mostly cinematic) iconography of the Nights, divorced from particular Arabic stories, spread out on the machine's gaudy playboard between the flippers and the buffers. This visual clutter, suggestive of opulence, adventure and magic, will register with people who have never opened a volume of the Nights: the Roc's egg, harem girls in diaphanous trousers, scimitars, genies, minarets, the Cyclops, the prince disguised as a beggar, the basket full of serpents, the rope that turns into a ladder, and the all-seeing eye.

These days The Arabian Nights (or The Thousand and One Nights) is generally considered a book for children. It was not always so. The audience for the medieval Arabic story collection probably consisted of male adults. The earliest substantially surviving manuscript is Egyptian, and probably dates from the 14th or 15th century. It perhaps represents the repertoire of a professional storyteller.

Though manuscripts circulated in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, the collection was not well-known until the 18th century. Then a scholarly French antiquarian and classicist took Europe by storm with his bestselling translation into French. Antoine Galland had served as secretary of the French embassy in Istanbul in the 1690s. His special mission in Istanbul was to collect documents from Eastern Christian churches with a bearing on the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, but Galland's interests ran wider. Having learnt Arabic, he collected manuscripts of all kinds.

In 1701 he published a translation of the stories of Sinbad the Sailor. These stories never formed part of the early manuscripts of the Nights. However, Galland's translation was an instant success and in 1704 he started to publish translations of the Nights stories that he had been working on to pass away the long dark evenings. The Sinbad stories thereafter were assimilated into the collection of Nights stories, the supposed repertoire of the storytelling Queen Scheherezade.

Galland's Les Milles et Une Nuits was a hit with both courtiers and scholars. His versions of the stories, as well as his learned glosses, offered a window on an oriental way of life, as well as a new and unfamiliar pool of storytelling motifs. Other writers set about producing adaptations, imitations and satires of oriental tales.

Even before Galland had finished his French translation, the early parts were being translated into other European languages. From the first decade of the 18th century, Grub Street versions circulated in Britain. They were to exercise a strong influence on such diverse writers as Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole, William Beckford and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1838-41, Edward William Lane produced a fairly comprehensive translation made directly from the Arabic. However, Lane prudishly omitted episodes and stories that he judged improper. In 1885-8, the explorer Sir Richard Burton produced a translation that not only included all the bawdy bits omitted by Lane, but exaggerated the obscenity in some tales.

The early pantomime versions of Aladdin, Sinbad and other stories were adapted from unscholarly chap-book versions. The first pantomime of Aladdin was staged in 1788, but the most successful version was a burlesque scripted by H J Byron in 1861, Aladdin or the Wonderful Scamp. Byron's laboriously rhymed and pun-laden Aladdin was the first to feature Widow Twankay, (the reference being to a kind of green tea from Tun-chi in China).

In the 19th century, music-hall turns and allusions to contemporary events were added to the stories. In 1882 the staging of Sinbad the Sailor was adapted to celebrate Sir Garnett Wolseley's victory over Arabi Pasha in Egypt. A toy-theatre version of Aladdin or the Wonderful Lamp appeared as early as 1811. Paper cut-outs produced for this and other toy-theatre scenarios faithfully recorded the sets and costumes of early stage productions.

The early silent films also serve as a kind of record of stage versions. The history of the Nights on film is nearly as old as film the history of film itself. In 1902, Thomas Edison produced a film version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, directed by the comic actor Ferdinand Zecca. This was based on a popular stage production and used dancers from the Paris Opera. Soon after came Georges Méliès' Palais des Mille et Une Nuits, (1905), in which the oriental setting served as a licence for special effects, as well as display of the plump legs of a troupe of chorines. Zecca did an Aladdin or the Marvelous Lamp in 1906. Thereafter the floodgates opened.

There is a Popeye version of Aladdin, a Douglas Fairbanks junior version of Sinbad the Sailor, and Phil Silvers starred in A Thousand and One Nights (1945) as the bespectacled Abdullah the Touched One. There have been Nights films starring Dorothy Lamour, Abbott & Costello, Eddy Cantor, Mickey Mouse, Gene Kelly, Steve Reeves, Micky Rooney, Christopher Lee, Gipsy Rose Lee, Tom Baker, Patrick Troughton, Krazy Kat, Woody Woodpecker, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis, Lucille Ball, Bugs Bunny and Elvis Presley. Hundreds of Arabian Nights have been made, and most have been deservedly forgotten.

But among the rich mulch of mock-exotic trash there have also been some masterpieces, including some of the classic silent films. Ernst Lubitsch's Sumurun (1920) reproduced Max Reinhardt's pantomime fantasy, which was in turn very loosely based on the Nights story of The Hunchback. Lubitsch himself hammed it up as the erotically thwarted hunchback. In 1926 Lotte Reiniger completed Die Abenteur des Prinzen Achmed. This film, with its delicately cut silhouette figures, was the world's first full-length animation picture. (It has recently been released as a video by the British Film Institute.)

Some of the most artistic film adaptations were produced in Germany and, when Douglas Fairbanks senior started to plan his masterpiece, The Thief of Bagdad, he went to Germany to study the works of such German film-makers as Lubitsch and Fritz Lang. The look of Fairbanks's film, released in 1924, has clearly been influenced by the design and effects of earlier German productions. However, Fairbanks gave his adaptation of "Prince Ahmed and the Peri Banou" a characteristically American stress on the work ethic: "Happiness has to be earned". The original medieval Arab storytellers were quite happy with the notion of unearned happiness.

Alexander Korda's 1940 production of The Thief of Bagdad, though it borrowed the Fairbanks title, had a quite different plot and other preoccupations. The story made intensive use of special effects and spectacular colour photography to create the land of oriental enchantment that might be imagined by a child. That outstanding director Michael Powell worked on it and Conrad Veidt, better known as Major Strasser in Casablanca, was a superbly villainous vizier.

Veidt's interpretation has influenced the performances of almost all subsequent villainous viziers, including those in the swashbuckling Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films and the Disney animated Aladdin. The Disney Aladdin (1992) has more wit and energy, as well as a more logical plot, than the original story found in Galland.

However, perhaps the best and most intelligent of Nights films, Il fiore della Mille e una notte (1974), was directed by the Marxist intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Pasolini filmed unknown actors in spectacular location shots. He sacrificed none of the eroticism of the original tales and, unlike earlier film-makers, he preserved the bemusing story within-a-within-a-story structure. As he observed in an epigraph to the film, "The truth is to be found not in one dream, but in many dreams".

Robert Irwin is the author of 'The Arabian Nights: a companion' (Penguin). 'The Arabian Nights', translated by Husain Haddawy, is an Everyman's Library hardback; there is also a Penguin Classics 'Tales from the Thousand and One Nights', trans N J Dawood. 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad' is on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve, and 'Aladdin and the King of Thieves' on BBC 1 on Boxing Day

1001 Nights & Goethe Lecture in London - Dec 3, 2008

Lecture in London: Goethe and 1001 Nights

Lecture in London by Professor Katharina Mommsen of Stanford University

3 December 2008
7:00 pm
Lecture hall G3 (ground floor)
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
10 Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG

SOAS Near & Middle Eastern Department and Iran Heritage Foundation

It has been rightly said that, with the exception of the Bible, few books exist which have so widely circulated through the Western world since the 18th century as the collection of narratives from the Near and Middle East known under the name of 1001 Nights. A substantial part of the tales in the 1001 Nights can be traced back to Sassanian and Pahlavi sources like Hezar Afsan. Hardly anyone in the Western world has not at least once in life read these stories with pleasure and interest and is indebted to them for a host of many colored, fairy-like impressions. The 1001 Nights had also indirect effect through Western writers because its narrative power and incomparable abundance of motifs and figures of fantasy influenced their writings. For centuries, numerous writers of Western nations have received inspiration from this Eastern collection of narratives and have borrowed thematic materials for their novels, dramas, operas, poetic works, screen plays, movies, ballets, and TV shows. Thus the 1001 Nights have become one of the inexhaustible fountain-heads of the arts. There is still a lot of comparative literary work to be done to reveal the immense impact of the Eastern art of story telling on Western writers through this collection which was translated in almost every language. Here a fertile field for research still exists. Katharina Mommsen's lecture will give an example of the creative influence which the 1001 Nights exercised upon Germany's greatest poet and writer Goethe (1749-1832), particularly on the 2nd part of his best known masterpiece Faust.

About the speaker:
Katharina Mommsen is Professor emerita (Endowed Chair of Literature) at Stanford University, California. She was born in Berlin and educated at the Universities of Berlin, Freiburg, Mainz, and Tübingen where she received her PhD in 1956. She began her academic career at the age of 24 as a Goethe researcher at the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin and started her teaching career at the Free University of Berlin in 1962, held guest professorships at the University of Gießen, the Technische Universität Berlin, the State University of New York at Buffalo, Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, the University of California at San Diego. She received, among other awards, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, a Research Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, an Order of Merit First Class of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Golden Goethe Medal of the International Goethe Society in Weimar. She is an Honorary Member of the American Association of Teachers of German, Honorary Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Association of America, a Corresponding Member of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in Darmstadt, of the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, the Berliner Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, and the University of London School of Advanced Study, Katharina Mommsen is the author of over 120 publications, including a dozen books about Goethe (including Goethe und 1001 Nacht, Goethe und die arabische Welt, Goethe und der Islam)

Date and Time:
3 December 2008, 7:00 pm

Lecture hall G3 (ground floor)
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
10 Thornhaugh Street
London WC1H 0XG

Dr Nima Mina,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Margaret Larkin Lecture / Reading Dec 6

Professor Larkin teaches at UC Berkeley and will be giving a talk/lecture/reading on the Nights there on Dec 6, 2008.

More info on their website, which I've pasted most of below:

TOPIC: 1001 Nights

SPEAKER: Margaret Larkin, Professor of Arabic Literature, Dept. of Near Eastern Studies, UCB

WHERE: 2223 Fulton Street, 6th floor - U. C. Berkeley

WHEN: Saturday, December 6, 2008 - 10:00AM - 1:00PM

Registration required - space is limited.

READING (from Payne translation - Prof. Larkin notes that the Husain Haddawy translation is far superior and I will distribute it at the session - Michele):

Frame prologue and Tale of Ox and Donkey (8 pages)

Merchant and the Genie (7 pages)

The First Old Man’s Story
The Second Old Man’s Story
The Third Old Man’s Story

The Fisherman and the Genie (21 pages)

Story of the Physician Douban
Story of King Sindead and His Falcon
Story of the King’s Son and the Ogress
Story of the Enchanted Youth

The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad (50 pages)
The First Calender’s Story
The Second Calender’s Story
Story of the Envier and the Envied
The Third Calender’s Story
The Eldest Lady’s Story
The Story of the Portess

A brief timeline 1001 Nights and other story collections and events on the trade routes. (Delattre)

It is important to keep in mind that these collections of stories-within-stories are intimately connected to the oral tradition and are continually changing and swapping stories in between their “fixed” appearances in print.

6th century BC Aesop lives in ancient Greece (according to Herodotus)
5th century BC: Oldest surviving version of the Jataka (tales about Buddha’s many incarnations, some in non-human form).

1st century CE Latin translation of Aesop's Fables
5th century? Panchatantra (“Five Books”- animal fables) composed in Sanskrit no later than the 5th century with roots in oral tradition.

The Jataka, Panchatantra, and Aesop all share some stories. Where the folktales originated and how they traveled is debated.
c550 Persian version of Panchatantra

c750 Arabic translation from Persian Panchatantra published under title Kalila wa Dimna (which in turn becomes the source for nearly all versions circulated in medieval Europe as Fables of Bidpai.)

750 Beginning of Abbasid dynasty of caliphs. (Map of Abbasid Caliphate and fragmentation, 786 to 1194)

762-6 Baghdad is founded and becomes Abbasid capital. (Map of Abbasid Caliphate 786-809)
786 to 809 Reign of Hārūn al-Rashīd, the most famous Abbasid Caliph (appears as idealized character in 1001 Nights).
8th or early 9th
century Arabic translation of Persian Hazar Afsana ("A Thousand Tales") - Hazar Afsana considered the source of the Arabic title Alf Layla wa-Layla ("Thousand nights and one night") and frame story of Shahrazad and Shahrayar and division into nights. Arab stories are added.
1099 First Crusade begins rule in Jerusalem.
c. 1160 Lais of Marie de France
13th c Syrian and Egyptian stories are added.
1258 Mongols sack Baghdad.
1300s Earliest example of the Syrian branch of the surviving Nights manuscripts is written.
1354 Boccaccio’s Decameron
1387 Chaucer begins Canterbury Tales
1403 Gutenberg Press version of Panchatantra under the title, Buch der Beyspiele (book of examples).
1697 Perrault publishes Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oie) introducing fairy tales as genre
1704-1717 Galland’s French translation, Les Mille it une nuits . First large set of tales brought to W. Europe.
1798-1801 French occupation of Egypt.
1812 Grimms' Fairy Tales published
First publication of Edward Lane's English translation - The Arabian Nights Entertainments
(Mary Zimmerman's source for Arabian Nights?)
1855-8 Sir Richard Francis Burton’s English translation - Arabian Nights Entertainments

1882-1884 John Payne's English translation Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (nine volumes)
1898 Andrew Lang's The Arabian Nights (juvenile edition based on Galland)
1901 John Payne, The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night.
1978 Albert B. Lord’s Singer of Tales – Study of oral tradition.
1979 Edward Said's Orientalism - Critique of the West's romanticizing of the "exotic" Orient (Asia and the Middle East)
1984 Mahdi’s critical edition of Alf Layla wa-Layla.
1990 Husain Haddawy's English translation (The Arabian Nights) from Muhsin Mahdi 1984 Arabic version
1992 Disney's film, Aladdin
2000 Hallmark TV miniseries Arabian Nights

Sample translations of the Fisherman's Tale opening: (For complete texts and references see the bibliography links below.)

Lane: Third Night

There was a certain fisherman, advanced in age, who had a wife and three children; and though he was in indigent circumstances, it was his custom to cast his net, every day, no more than four times. One day he went forth at the hour of noon to the shore of the sea, and put down his basket, and cast his net, and waited until it was motionless in the water, when he drew together its strings, and found it to be heavy: he pulled, but could not draw it up: so he took the end of the cord, and knocked a stake into the shore, and tied the cord to it. He then stripped himself, and dived round the net, and continued to pull until he drew it out: whereupon he rejoiced, and put on his clothes; but when he came to examine the net, he found in it the carcass of an ass. At the sight of this he mourned, and exclaimed, There is no strength nor power but in God, the High, the Great! This is a strange piece of fortune! —And he repeated the following verse: —

O thou who occupiest thyself in the darkness of night, and in peril!
Spare thy trouble; for the support of Providence is not obtained by toil!

Burton: Chapter III

It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that there was a Fisherman well stricken in years who had a wife and three children, and withal was of poor condition. Now it was his custom to cast his net every day four times, and no more. On a day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore, where he laid down his basket; and, tucking up his shirt and plunging into the water, made a cast with his net and waited till it settled to the bottom. Then he gathered the cords together and haled away at it, but found it weighty; and however much he drew it landwards, he could not pull it up; so he carried the ends ashore and drove a stake into the ground and made the net fast to it. Then he stripped and dived into the water all about the net, and left not off working hard until he had brought it up. He rejoiced thereat and, donning his clothes, went to the net, when he found in it a dead jackass which had torn the meshes. Now when he saw it, he exclaimed in his grief, "There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah the Glorious, the Great!" Then quoth he, "This is a strange manner of daily bread;" and he began re citing in extempore verse:--

O toiler through the glooms of night in peril and in pain
Thy toiling stint for daily bread comes not by might and main!
Seest thou not the fisher seek afloat upon the sea
His bread, while glimmer stars of night as set in tangled skein.
Anon he plungeth in despite the buffet of the waves
The while to sight the bellying net his eager glances strain;
Till joying at the night's success, a fish he bringeth home
Whose gullet by the hook of Fate was caught and cut in twain.
When buys that fish of him a man who spent the hours of night
Reckless of cold and wet and gloom in ease and comfort fain,
Laud to the Lord who gives to this, to that denies his wishes
And dooms one toil and catch the prey and other eat the fishes.

Payne: Third Night

There was once a poor fisherman, who was getting on in years and had a wife and three children; and it was his custom every day to cast his net four times and no more. One day he went out at the hour of noon and repaired to the sea-shore, where he set down his basket and tucked up his skirts and plunging into the sea, cast his net and waited till it had settled down in the water. Then he gathered the cords in his hand and found it heavy and pulled at it, but could not bring it up. So he carried the end of the cords ashore and drove in a stake, to which he made them fast. Then he stripped and diving round the net, tugged at it till he brought it ashore. Whereat he rejoiced and landing, put on his clothes; but when he came to examine the net, he found in it a dead ass; and the net was torn. When he saw this, he was vexed and said: 'There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Supreme! This is indeed strange luck!' And he repeated the following verses:

O thou that strivest in the gloom of darkness and distress, Cut short thine efforts, for in strife alone lies not success! Seest not the fisherman that seeks his living in the sea, Midmost the network of the stars that round about him press! Up to his midst he plunges in: the billows buffet him; But from the bellying net his eyes cease not in watchfulness; Till when, contented with his night, he carries home a fish, Whose throat the hand of Death hath slit with trident pitiless, Comes one who buys his prey of him, one who has passed the night, Safe from the cold, in all delight of peace and blessedness. Praise be to God who gives to this and cloth to that deny! Some fish, and others eat the fish caught with such toil and stress.

Husain Haddawy: The Eight Night

It is related that there was a very old fisherman who had a wife and three daughters andwho was so poor that they did not have even enough food for the day. It was this fisherman’s custom to cast his net four times a day. One day, while the mon was still up, he went out with his net at the call for the ealy morning prayer. He reached the outskirts of the city and come to the seashore. Then he set down his basket,roled up his shirt, and waded to his waist in the water. He cast his net and waited for it to sink; then he gathered the rope and started to pull. As he pulled little by little, he felt that the net was getting heavier until he was unable to pull any further. He climbed ashore, drove a stake into the ground, and tied the end of the rope into he stake. Then he took off his clothes, dove into the water, and went around the net, shaking it and tugging at it until he managed to pull it ashore. Feeling extremely happy, he put on his clothes and went back to the net. But when he opened it, he found inside a dead donkey, which had torn it apart. The fisherman felt sad and depressed and said to himself, “There is no power and no strength save in God, the Almighty, the Magnificent,” adding, “Indeed, this is a strange catch!” Then he began to recite the following verses:

O you who brave the danger in the dark,
Reduce your toil, for gain is not in work.
Look at the fisherman who labors at his trade,
As the stars in the night their orbits make,
And deeply wades into the raging sea,
Steadily gazing at the swelling net,
Till he returns, pleased with his nightly catch,
A fish whose mouth the hook of death has cut,
And sells it to a man who sleeps the night,
Safe from the cold and blessed with every wish.
Praised be the Lord who blesses and withholds:
This casts the net, but that one eats the fish.

Lang: Chapter V

Sire, there was once upon a time a fisherman so old and so poor that he could scarcely manage to support his wife and three children. He went every day to fish very early, and each day he made a rule not to throw his nets more than four times. He started out one morning by moonlight and came to the sea-shore. He undressed and threw his nets, and as he was drawing them towards the bank he felt a great weight. He though he had caught a large fish, and he felt very pleased. But a moment afterwards, seeing that instead of a fish he only had in his nets the carcase of an ass, he was much disappointed.

McCaughrean: Chapter V

The fisherman was well known hereabouts (said Shahrazad) though I forget his exact name. He used to be a familiar sight on the beach, throwing his net into the surf to catch bass and mullet. He was almost as old as he was poor, but his faith and trust in Allah comforted him.

Arriving at the sea shore and starting to work, he looked at the sky and said:

'O Allah who sends some days red with mullet and others silver with bass and still more black with mud, is it to be a day of the third kind? My net is caught on the bottom, Allah."

When he finally dragged the net ashore, he found nothing in it but a dead donkey.

Husain Haddawy, trans. The Arabian Nights. WW. Norton & Co. , 1990 (Everyman's Library, 1992.)

Robert Irwin. The Arabian Nights, A Companion. First published by Penguin Press, 1994. Reprinted in 2005 by Tauris Parke Paperbacks.

Geraldine McCaughrean. One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Oxford University Press, 1982. (Good middle school student version.)

Some relevant content standards for 1001 Nights:

7th grade H/SS:

7.2 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages.

5. Describe the growth of cities and the establishment of trade routes among Asia, Africa, and Europe, the products and inventions that traveled along these routes (e.g., spices, textiles, paper, steel, new crops), and the role of merchants in Arab society.
6. Understand the intellectual exchanges among Muslim scholars of Eurasia and Africa and the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature.

7.8 Students analyze the origins, accomplishments, and geographic diffusion of the Renaissance.

4. Describe the growth and effects of new ways of disseminating information (e.g., the ability to manufacture paper, translation of the Bible into the vernacular, printing).

7.11 Students analyze political and economic change in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (the Age of Exploration, the Enlightenment, and the Age of Reason).

2. Discuss the exchanges of plants, animals, technology, culture, and ideas among Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the major economic and social effects on each continent.

Language Arts – grades 11,12.
Literary Response and Analysis

3.6 Analyze the way in which authors through the centuries have used archetypes drawn from myth and tradition in literature, film, political speeches, and religious writings (e.g., how the archetypes of banishment from an ideal world may be used to interpret Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth).

ORIAS Working Groups are established to provide professional development support for K-11 and community college teachers with shared interests in international studies. The working groups provide teachers with the opportunity to extend their content knowledge by participating in seminars with University scholars; meeting with colleagues to share resources and experiences; and working independently or collaboratively on classroom materials with ORIAS staff.

Co-sponsored by the Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS), the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Center for South Asia Studies at U. C. Berkeley, and the Institute of East Asian Studies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

1001 Nights = True Voice of Islam

A weird review of the new Penguin Nights (A faithful version of Islam! Which stories? The orgy in the garden? The wife who drugs her husband every night so she can go be a sex slave to a poor man in a trash heap? Genies in bottles?) - ???

"The Arabian Nights is that magical mirror that reflects Islam's genius, its vast cultural scale and its incalculable contribution to the arts and sciences. The tales celebrate life and the blessings it offers. Praising love, joy, courage, defiance, compassion, they negate the teachings of such death-worshippers as Khomeini, Al-Qaida, Taliban et al. For those wondering where the true voice of Islam is, be assured it is here in these 1,001 tales."

There are so many problems with the perception of the Nights I don't know where to begin. I suppose you can just slap whatever you believe onto the label "1001 Nights" and then go with it, nobody will prove you different because they can't prove anything about the Nights!

Here's the whole review from the Guardian:

The magical mirror of The Arabian Nights

Love, compassion, joy, defiance: the true voice of Islam sings out from Shahrazad's 1,001 tales

Posted by
Moris Farhi Thursday November 27 2008 11.14 GMT

(Is the reviewer Moris Farhi the author? Even stranger!?

A detail from a Victorian illustration of The Arabian Nights. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

A new translation of The Arabian Nights, published this week, offers a definitive version, shorn of the confusing conflations which have dogged it since its transcription from oral tradition in ninth century Abbasid Baghdad.

Born and bred in Turkey, I grew up with these stories. Their tales of people facing adversity, particularly those on the margins of society, laced my mother's milk, elevated to heroes those who never doubted that somewhere, some sage, would discover the magical vessel that would transform life into Seventh Heaven.

Now, eagerly reacquainting myself with these fables, I feel compelled to speed up my journey as a writer. Benign exile can spawn complacency. Old age, with eyes at the back of its head in trepidation for children's future, has no time for philosophical questioning of the meanings of existence. Those meanings, whether rooted in necessity or chance or God, have long been hijacked by the overlords of politics, war, religion and economics. It is their armoured policies that must be defied, even if such defiance perishes in the wilderness.

Although The Arabian Nights became widely known in Europe after the Crusades and inspired countless artists and writers (from Chaucer to Dickens to Rushdie in Britain), Sir Richard Burton's translation in the late-19th century brought it a new level of popularity on these shores, not least because it was purported to expose the vagaries of the Muslim mentality and Arab way of life. Perhaps these injudicious perceptions, callusing over time, even laid the foundations for present-day Islamophobia.

The Arabian Nights is that magical mirror that reflects Islam's genius, its vast cultural scale and its incalculable contribution to the arts and sciences. The tales celebrate life and the blessings it offers. Praising love, joy, courage, defiance, compassion, they negate the teachings of such death-worshippers as Khomeini, Al-Qaida, Taliban et al. For those wondering where the true voice of Islam is, be assured it is here in these 1,001 tales.

But what of the brutality they contain? What about their obsession with death?

True, Death, "the destroyer of delights", is forever on the prowl. Indeed, even before Shahrazad, the teller of these tales, utters a word, it has claimed 3,000 virgins - all deflowered and executed, at the rate of one each day, by Sultan Shahryar, as punishment on womanhood for his wife's infidelity. However, when Shahrazad volunteers to be Shahryar's next victim, her intention is to defy Death, not to surrender to it meekly. And as she secures her daily reprieve with a fresh story, she denounces summary brutality and exalts the sanctity of life. Eluding Death is The Arabian Nights' raison-d'être.

These tales, however, present a disturbing aspect to the modern reader. Women in The Arabian Nights are often conniving and voraciously adulterous. We might wish to imagine Shahrazad's misrepresentation of women as facetious, but it is impossible to escape the fact that the original bards were invariably men.

Convinced that gender defamation conflicts with the tales' ethos, I can only interpret the misogyny as a projection from our patriarchal societies. "There's not a moment in the male mind that's not tumescent with sex", says an Arab adage. The creators of The Arabian Nights assumed that female minds possess the same trait, an assumption shared with the creators and enforcers of those implacable monotheisms Judaism, Christianity and Islam in their struggle to unsex women and commandeer their rights.

Though more than a millennium separates Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon from Abbasid Bagdad, they offer a germane spirit. When the Babylonians started building the Tower of Babel, an edifice designed to reach the Heavens and glorify humankind, God perceived this as a challenge to His authority; consequently, He decided to confuse them by making them speak in different tongues. Seen in the Bible as a calamity, this, in fact, proved a blessing. The different tongues unleashed our diversity - a diversity so strikingly reflected in The Arabian Nights - and delivered us from a monolithic culture which, unable to have intercourse with other cultures, would have otherwise condemned us to onanistic existence. This diversity of society also gave voice and stature to women, the perennial non-persons of our religions, just as The Arabian Nights gives voice to Shahrazad.

Oh, for more Towers of Babel bubbling with unbound women! That will stop the overlords from warring!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review of new Lyons edition of the Nights

From Times Online:

From The TimesNovember 21, 2008

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights translated by Malcom C. Lyons with Ursula Lyons

The Times review by Ahdaf Soueif
Once there lived a young king of Sasan. A knight and a gentleman, Shahreyar ruled wisely and well for 20 years and was much loved by his subjects. Then, one calamitous day, he sees his beautiful wife, the queen, leading a servant into the palace gardens and lying with him by the fountain. Shahreyar kills his wife and, maddened by rage and disillusionment, he swears a terrible oath: each night henceforth he will wed a virgin, and each morning he will have her beheaded. His project is nothing less than the destruction of the human race.

Many young women are put to death, everyone who can flees, and the country is close to ruin when the chief minister's daughter, Shahrezad, over-ruling her anguished father, decides to marry the king. But Shahrezad is a wise and imaginative young woman; she has read through a library of 1,000 books from all corners of the earth - and she has a plan.

After the wedding and the consummation, Shahrezad's young sister, Dunyazad, pops up - as Shahrezad had instructed - and tearfully begs her sister for a last story before they part for ever. The king permits it, and Shahrezad begins: “I have been told, O fortunate king, of judicious judgment, that once there lived ...” The stage is set for storytellers and compilers to throw into the pot tales from India and Iran, from Egypt and Iraq, from wherever stories lived and breathed. And Shahrezad, her execution daily delayed by the king's desire to hear “the rest” of the story, is able to unfold before him an entire world.

The stories that held Shahreyar's attention for 1,001 nights have gripped the world's imagination now for more than 1,000 years. From at least the 9th century they were part of the repertoire of storytellers in India, China, Iran, Turkey and the Arab world. Then at the beginning of the 18th century Antoine Galland published a version of the Nights in French and since then translations have abounded. It was translated into English (published in three volumes in 1838-41) by Edward Lane, who deleted the naughty bits, and by Richard Burton (published in 16 volumes in 1885-87), who reinstated them, embroidered them, explained them and generally got off on them. The most recent is the translation by Malcolm C. Lyons, published by Penguin in a three-volume boxed set.

In one of my earliest memories I am five years old and sitting on the floor in our living room. It's dark, but a light shines on the page of the opulent red-leather-bound book I'm trying to read. Above my head I hear my father ask: “Do you think it's suitable?” And my mother's reply: “It's the Lane edition.” It was years before that exchange made any sense to me. And more years before I realised that the stories that my nanny told me (and which I read) in Arabic and which were so fast-paced and immediate and contemporary sounding were the same long-winded, archaic, convoluted stories I'd read in Burton and Lane's Nights. What was yet more surprising were the “Notes” both men attached to the text; Notes describing a society that I - born and bred in Cairo - could not recognise. But what took my breath away was the assumption (spelt out in Burton's case) that Nights and Notes would be useful to the British in governing our (Arab and Indian) lands. That, I guess, was my first encounter with culture in the service of imperialism.

This edition tries hard to avoid charges of exoticism or “orientalism” - you can feel the effort. It's a workable and honest translation, but not a sparkling one. And it makes me wish that the reader could access the original material. The Nights is only one of several long folk narratives that were for centuries used as public entertainments in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The stories of Sayf ibn thi-l-Yazan, the Princess that-al-Himma, 'Antara and Abu-Zaid al-Hilali are others. As the storyteller was edged out of public space, first by the radio, then by television, Arab artists and academics worked to save these stories.

Publishing them in written form was, however, secondary to their real concern: to sound-record as many versions as possible as told by traditional storytellers. There is a central, telling difference between the approaches of Arab scholars and Western ones to these repositories of “oriental” folk tradition. Western scholarship has on the whole been keen on nailing down these protean narratives: when was the Nights composed? Where? By whom? Did it have one author or several? Are the stories Indian, Persian, Arab? As Saheer al-Qalamawi commented in her seminal (1941) study, the Nights was “a turbulent sea, bounded only by the story of King Shahreyar and his wife, Shahrezad. Narratives were thrown into it and others were thrown out and it lived freely within its accommodating boundaries until ... Westerners came to bind its freedom and move its text from the mouths and ears of the public to manuscripts and publications in libraries.” It's interesting that there has been no complete Arabic critical edition of the Nights till now. Arab authors have spring-boarded off the stories, producing offshoots, sequels and prequels. Arab scholarship has focused on the place of the Nights in the folk tradition and on thematic analysis.

The Nights, finally, is whatever you want it to be. Puritans have found it a sink of iniquity because of its frank dealings with sexual matters; and yet the stories prize chastity and place loyalty and fidelity above all other values. Some are stories of high romance with characters constantly swooning from excess of sorrow or joy. The mercantile mind is often on display and the avoidance of taxes a motivational tool for the plots. But the plots also feature fantastical creatures and mythical locations. Some stories are, as they've been called by the veteran Egyptian journalist Anis Mansour, “daydreams of the bourgeousie in Egypt, India, Iran and Iraq”; their long shopping lists and itemised jewellery prefigure Hello magazine, their nubile, friendly, permanently desirous beauties would be comfortable in Playboy. And yet there are strong moral and feminist streaks running through the Nights - and they're often combined. In The Story of King Umar al-Nu'man and his Sons, Sharkan and Daw' al-Makan, the merchant who buys the beautiful Nuzhat al-Zaman plans to give her to the king and ask in return for an exemption from customs duty on his goods. He asks if she can recite the Koran and she replies: “Yes, and I know philosophy and medicine and the Preface to Science and Galen's Commentary on Hippocrates - on which I, too, have commented. I have read the Tadhkirat (ibn Daoud) and commented on the Burhan and studied Ibn al-Baytar's Elements. I have lectured on Ibn Sina's Qanun and solved problems and set others. I have lectured in Geometry and Architecture and have mastered Anatomy. I have read the books of the Shaf'i theologians and the Traditions of the Prophet ... I have written on Logic, Rhetoric and Mathematics and I know Metaphysics and Astronomy, so fetch me an inkwell and paper that I might write you a book to entertain you on your travels.” If this sounds like overkill wait for the three-page lecture on “Royal Governance and the Necessary Moral Rectitude of those who Administer the Law” that she delivers to the king and his court!

Shahrezad's women, when wise, display a strength and a will that seeks to contain and educate male caprice and aggression. Her project, after all, is to rehabilitate the king and so save - not just herself, but the world.

It is said that reading all of the Thousand and One Nights will kill you; maybe you're not meant to read it from beginning to end. Or maybe the Nights were never meant to be read, only listened to - in the evening, in an open-air coffee shop or in the village square in a moulid - a saint's day, the storyteller almost singing the story in its rhyming prose, soliciting his audience's response (in the manner of a British panto), taking up his three-stringed rababa to sing the verses scattered through the text. The musical interludes give people a chance to wander off and others to take their place, for tea and coffee and shishas to be ordered and replenished. Shahrezad's Nights come alive then, not for a king, but for a community: locals and visitors, old and young, for all who have ears to hear and hearts to attend.

©Ahdaf Soueif 2008

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights translated by Malcom C. Lyons with Ursula Lyons
Penguin Classics, £125; three volumes

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Restaurant 1001

Some pictures from a tourist restaurant near the Bosra Roman Theater in Syria (from this past summer 2008):

aramco world on edward lane

Here's an oldish article on Edward Lane in Aramco World (author is Jason Thompson):

[I really think the use of Said to tout Lane's book is amazing:]

An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians was published in December 1836. It was an instant success, selling out its first printing within a matter of weeks and subsequently going through numerous editions and reprints, right down to the present day. Acclaimed during the 19th century as “the most perfect picture of a people’s life that has ever been written,” Manners and Customs exerted an extraordinary influence that has only grown stronger with time. As Edward Said wrote in his controversial book Orientalism in 1978, the book became “an authority whose use was an imperative for anyone writing or thinking about the Orient, not just about Egypt.”

[Here's the info from the article on the nights:]

Lane’s dismay was somewhat assuaged by a consuming new project, a translation of The Thousand and One Nights. Lane had long been interested in this classic work, also known as The Arabian Nights, because he thought it presented “most admirable pictures of the manners and customs of the Arabs, and particularly of those of the Egyptians.” That such fantastic tales, redolent with magic and improbable coincidences, should be taken as a reliable guide to Arab and Egyptian society might seem strange, but Lane clearly understood something very important about The Arabian Nights: A jinn might not really be held captive in a bottle for centuries, but the descriptions of that bottle—its shape, its design, its stopper—might all be drawn accurately from real life. So, too, with many other details like manners, political organization, religious practices and material culture, all of which are to be found in profusion in the pages of The Arabian Nights. It was precisely those details that Lane wanted to present, with explanations, to an English readership.

Lane’s translation of The Arabian Nights appeared in monthly installments between 1838 and 1840 and was then published complete in three volumes. Highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable, it reigned supreme as the leading English translation for most of the 19th century. Although it was eventually displaced from its preeminent position by other translations, Lane’s has its partisans even today, for there is still no one translation of The Arabian Nights that can be considered definitive. One of the beauties of Lane’s translation is its 650 illustrations, executed by some of Britain’s leading wood engravers under Lane’s careful supervision and well worth perusing for their own sake. Preparation of The Arabian Nights was a great achievement, but also a relentless ordeal that forced Lane to write prodigiously—besides correcting proofs for both words and pictures—month after month for three years. But the end of the task brought no relief: First, his mother, the most important formative influence in his life, died. Then the publisher of The Arabian Nights went bankrupt before paying him in full. Having just married Nefeeseh, Lane needed money more than ever. Yet he was not sure what his next major project would be or how he could make it pay. In 1841, at age 40, Lane was experiencing an authentic midlife crisis.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

'1001 Nights,' Oct. 16-18

From Jacksonville Florida Symphony:

By The Times-Union

'1001 Nights,' Oct. 16-18

Tone color has become an important characteristic for much of the symphonic writing in the 20th century. And though the title of the program was 1001 Nights (in reference to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite) that closed the evening, the program could have easily been simply called "pinnacles of orchestral tone color." Thursday's Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra's program was a cornucopia of exciting timbres, enthusiastically received by the audience.

The evening started with Freeflight: Fanfares & Fantasy, composed in 1989 by American Joseph Schwanter. Schwanter, born in 1943, has been honored throughout his illustrious career with such awards as the Pulitzer Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and first prize in the Kennedy Center Friedheim competition. Conductor Fabio Mechetti brought life into Schwanter's piece that featured brass fanfares, countered sweet string passages and delicate percussion textures. Additionally, the strings were punctuated with short comments provided by the brass, adding up to an effective definition of American tone color.

The colors were even further enhanced during Aram Khachaturian's Piano Concerto, led by a flavorful allegro maestoso first movement. The piece featured both proud melodic content inspired by Armenian folk songs,and playful sections featuring the oboe. The pinnacle of the writing was when the flextone, a percussion instrument with a small flexible metal sheet held together with a wire frame ending in a handle, appeared in the second movement, Andante con anima. The melody, performed on the instrument, was doubled with sincere playing by the strings.

And while Khachaturian's reputation as an orchestrator has long been known, it provided the perfect vehicle for an amazing, virtuosic performance by New Jersey pianist Terrence Wilson. Wilson, a graduate of the Juilliard School, exhibited clear voicings and melodies that complemented Khachaturian's work - in short; Wilson's timbre was perfect. Wilson was clearly the audience favorite, and their lengthy applause was well deserved, especially considering that while Wilson's easily showcased fiery playing in the first, and third (Allegro brillante) movements, he was equally proficient in the delicate approach to the second movement.

The featured piece of the evening was the Scheherazade symphonic suite, and it should be no surprise that a master orchestrator such as Rimsky-Korsakov would be an excellent programming choice when featured with the earlier pieces. The piece was inspired by The Thousand and One Nights, a collection of fantasy stories featured in an ancient legend focused on Scheherazade, a sultana who had married a sultan known as Shakriar. He thought he should marry a woman, then put her to death on the first night of their marriage. His rationale was that women were full of deceit, and it was better to end the marriage sooner rather than later. The sultana told Shakrair stories that enchanted him to the point that he delayed her execution daily. She was so effective, the stories, based on adventures in the Middle East, continued for 1,001 nights. Rimsky-Korsakov's movements, The Sea and Sinbad's Ship, The Story of the Kalandar Prince, The Young Prince and the Young Princess and Festival at Baghdad - The Sea - Shipwreck, were based on these a few of the miraculous tales of fantasy.

Mechetti's masterful direction of the orchestra brings out the true colors intended by the composer, highlighted at the end with a beautiful final comment performed by the concert master, Ruxandra Marquardt.

Grote's "1001"

Yet another Nights based play in the US, this one from Minnesota. Something in the air?

OnStage: Love, impossible
The cultural mash-up "1001" takes center stage at Mixed Blood Theatre.

By ROHAN PRESTON, Star Tribune

Last update: November 1, 2008 - 4:38 PM

In a new show at Mixed Blood, playwright Jason Grote offers a variation on a theme that often gets played out onstage, onscreen and on vacation in some of our personal lives: After the fire has burned out of their relationship, a loveless couple take a trip to some exotic locale. Amid the local color, fauna and spices, they reignite their flame.

Grote started writing "1001" from this clichéd basis, but then gave it a twist. In his version, the couple -- one Jewish and the other Palestinian -- face such intractable differences that a jaunt to Mexico will not be enough. Instead, they must journey to the realm of the imagination. The playwright sets the action in the magic-carpet world of "One Thousand and One Arabian Nights."

Will this super-exotic background help them to get over their relationship difficulties?

Twin Cities audiences will find out starting Thursday when Grote's "1001" previews at Mixed Blood Theatre. The play is a cultural mash-up that reinterprets some of the stories in "Arabian Nights" through a prism of contemporary American culture. It combines elements of Aladdin and Sinbad with Monty Python-esque slapstick and lush language that has been likened to that of Jorge Luis Borges.

The play also is infused with experimental hip-hop and electronica music as well as pop-cultural references to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller." And the show's cast of characters includes Osama bin Laden, famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz and 19th-century writer Gustave Flaubert.

A reviewer for the Rocky Mountain News called last year's Denver premiere "a riot of ideas, experiences and influences."

"A play has to be a vehicle for something bigger than itself," Grote said Monday by phone from New York City. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at New Jersey's Rutgers University. "If it's just a love story, I could just watch a soap opera. It has to have some big ideas, expressed in a personal way, and some real spectacle to draw you in."

Brimming with big ideas

And just what are the big ideas in "1001"? Grote, a New Jersey native who was educated at New York University, explained that when he began writing the work in 2004 during the heated electoral season, the war in Iraq was hotter than it is now. "It was dangerous to come out and say anything that could smell like a critique, like treason," he said.

Still, his goal was to find a way to critique and to show up ideas that he said ran through both personal and political developments. "It was a time when we were into this kind of xenophobic panic about Islam and Arabs -- a panic that's playing itself out in this political season. We have seen it even now, the suggestion that one presidential candidate is secretly a Muslim, as if there's something inherently wrong with that," he said. "But that kind of suspicion and misunderstanding ties deeply into the literary and philosophical history of Europe, which is all about misunderstanding Asia."

Still, as he wrote, Grote did not want to simply preach "to the liberal choir." So he turned the narrative of the play again, giving personal, bodily form to some questions.

"To some degree, it's an understandable human trait that we misperceive some things," he continued. "In a relationship, there's always a gap between what we expect someone to be and what they turn out to be. It happens at the macro, geopolitical level, as well, like in Iraq. I wanted to ask, by way of this play, if a lot of this clash-of-civilization narrative -- if these global misunderstandings were not, to some degree, inevitable."

Ultimately, as much as he likes to wrestle with historical and political ideas, he also likes to be entertained in the theater, Grote said. So he crafted "1001" to be a kaleidoscopic spectacle. "We try to make it enjoyable."


Who: By Jason Grote. Directed by Sarah Rasmussen.

When: Previews 7:30 p.m. Thu. Opens 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. next Sun. Ends Nov. 23.

Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.

Tickets: $11-$30. 612-338-6131.

arabian nights the play

With a nod to Burton, from Seattle:

Monday, October 20, 2008
Last updated 12:02 a.m. PT

When adventurer and explorer Sir Richard Burton first translated "The Book of 1,001 Nights" from Arabic to English in 1885, it cemented his reputation as a degenerate.

For his fellow Victorians, it wasn't just the frequent lustiness of the stories that Scheherazade tells to divert the ruler Shahryar, it was Burton's recognition that the colonial subjects had rich and worthy literary traditions of their own.

A similar claim underlies Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of the classic work, known here by its familiar title "The Arabian Nights." Created after the first Gulf War, it gains new resonance in the so-called war on terror, and pervasive misunderstandings of Islam.

The work can be seen at Balagan Theatre, where the fringe company presents a hearty and credible staging.

The framing device, as in the book, is the storytelling talents of Scheherazade (Allison Strickland), the given bride of the caliph Shahryar (Ashley Bagwell). Having been betrayed by the infidelity of his first wife, the caliph weds, then executes, a new virgin each day. Scheherazade cleverly delays her murder by telling him a cliffhanging tale every night.

Collectively, the stories explore the blooms and deceptions between men and women amid the social norms of Muslim society. A pious merchant (Jason Harber) receives comic vengeance from a scorned love (Toni Rose). A crafty jester (Wilder Nutting-Heath) tricks by flattery the lovers of his sexually insatiable wife (Susan Graf) to their death sentence. A phony caliph (Bagwell again) confesses the tragic consequences of his own foolish promiscuity.

Like Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," moral fables sit alongside bawdy jokes, as in the story of the king (Curtis Eastwood) humiliated by his colossal fart.

Yet the ultimate call for respect due women is the challenge of a serene lady (nobly played by Terri Weagant) to pit her knowledge against the most learned men of the court. The exchange in interrogation illuminates the beauty of Muslim wisdom.

The dozen game actors are unfairly cramped on Balagan's postage-stamp stage, which is unsuited to the grand ballets the MacArthur fellowship-winning Zimmerman typically demands (her version of Ovid's "Metamorphosis," for example, requires a large water pool). Even so, director Jake Groshong manages to give us a bit of spectacle, aided by the intrepid lighting of KT Goeke. As the cast concludes with a babel of tales, fables and myths, it proves that there's plenty of enchantment in a good story.


PLAYWRIGHT: Mary Zimmerman, from "The Arabian Nights: The Book of 1,001 Nights"

WHEN/WHERE: Through Nov. 8 at Balagan Theatre, 1117 E. Pike St.

TICKETS: $12-$15; 800-838-3006 or