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

another Nights phd

From a beliefnet blog comes this news, sounds like an interesting project:

Dr. Oliver's Islam
Saturday October 18, 2008
Categories: Culture

Congratulations to my dear friend and BU colleague Martyn Oliver, who passed his dissertation defense yesterday in Boston. (He's also getting hitched in 3 weeks--not a bad autumn.) I've had the pleasure of reading bits of his dissertation, which is about the literary construction of Islam. Martyn Dr. Oliver tells the story of how the story collection "1001 Nights"--an Arabic text, mind you, not an Islamic one--shaped Western conceptions of the religion of Islam. See: "Aladdin"--the most popular stories we tell about a culture, in some ways, are that culture.

This is, of course, true for Christian culture as well. I'm not sure there is a case quite like "1001 Nights" and its radical displacement of Islam from outside Islam, but certainly there are many texts, extra-biblical texts, which have shaped the cultural imagination about what Christianity is. Dante's Inferno. Milton's Paradise Lost. Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments." (Seriously. And no, it has almost nothing to do with Judaism, despite its source.) Any others? Which extra-biblical stories do you think have had a shaping effect on what people believe about Christianity?

mahdi revisited

So Muhsin Mahdi's reconstructed Nights is a reconstruction of the Galland manuscript only, I find out, though the many reviews never seem to mention this, they all point to some reconstruction of an Ur-text.

The only addition he added from other sources is the end of Qamar Al Zaman.

The rest is him fixing up grammar or misspellings or what have you's. And his 3 volume set does a good job at comparing key textual differences. And of course he discovered the branching off of Egyptian and Syrian Ur-texts.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Celina set to star with Sean Connery, Orlando Bloom

Erstwhile James Bond star Sir Sean Connery has signed up to star in ‘Quest of Sheherzade’, based on the legendary 1001 Arabian Nights tale, alongside Orlando Bloom, according to reports.
The 78-year-old, who had turned his back on acting in recent years, has been missing from the big screen since 2003''s ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’.

However, now the actor is back with a bang, and the news was revealed by the film's female lead, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitley, who will play an Iranian princess.

"Sean Connery is there in the film and recently Orlando Bloom was also signed,” Contactmusic quoted her, as telling British publication The London Paper. “They are planning to start the shooting from January next year,” she added.

Arabian Nights entrance Penguin

= This is a press release slash "article" (and is very problematic, but ok) that I found from July:

Arabian Nights entrance Penguin

Penguin Classics is publishing the first complete English translation for 120 years of The Arabian Nights as a luxury three-volume hardback box set.

The set, priced £125 and limited to 3,000 copies will be published on 27th November. It also includes English translations of the "orphan stories"—Tales from The Arabian Nights for which no original Arabic text remains. Penguin is also releasing Three Tales from the Arabian Nights, a £9.99 "sampler" hardback on the same date. The books have been translated by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons.

Adam Freudenheim, Penguin Classics publisher, said the scale of the project, which involved translating around one million words across three volumes, merited giving it the luxury treatment. "The sheer scale of the translation meant we couldn’t publish it in one volume," he said. "Two volumes would have been stretching the binding capacity to the fullest extent. Once we realised we would have to publish three volumes it automatically became something special."

Each volume is approximately one thousand pages. The foil embossed, quarter-bound covers and the box-set’s slipcase has been designed by Penguin’s Coralie Bickford-Smith, who, Freudenheim said, used the original covers of The Arabian Nights for inspiration.

The classic stories tell the tale of the vengeful King Shahriyar, who sleeps with a different virgin each night before slaying her in the morning. In order to save her own life Shahrazadm, the vizier’s daughter, begins to tell the king stories of adventures, love, riches and wonder.

Freudenheim said that the publisher plans to release an abridged selection of tales at a later date in another format and lower price point.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Visiting Scheherazade in Baghdad

An interesting related bit of contemporary news comes from the nyt:

Sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat’s statue of Scheherazade and King Shahryar. (Photo by: Marko Georgiev)

August 27, 2008, 10:53 am
Visiting Scheherazade in Baghdad
By Erica Goode

BAGHDAD — When Mushta Abdul al-Amir is weary and the difficulties of life in Baghdad become too much for him, he comes to the park on Abu Nuwas Street to visit Scheherazade.

She is always there, always waiting for him, her hair flowing down her back, her mouth curved into just the hint of a smile, her bronze hands gesturing gracefully as she spins tales of thieves and sailors and magic lamps for King Shahryar, who reclines in front of her.

“It changes your mood,” Mr. Amir, 33, said as he stood by Iraqi sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat’s famous statue recently. “It transfers you to another world and gives you comfort, especially with the psychological pain inside because of the situation here.”

In the “Thousand and One Nights,” Scheherazade used her narrative skills to escape execution: King Shahryar had a nasty habit of marrying a different woman each night and having her beheaded the next morning.

But over the last five years, her statue has survived dangers that even the most inventive 9th-century queen could not have imagined.

(Photo by: Marko Georgiev)

Bombs have fallen around it. It has been attacked by looters, who cut off King Sharyar’s left hand with a blow torch. Gun battles have erupted nearby. In 2006, a man was killed in his car just down the street.

The plaza and gardens around the statue, already in disrepair after more than a decade of United Nations sanctions before the American invasion, deteriorated until they were barely recognizable. Laughter and chatter no longer drifted through the air from the cafes and fish restaurants on Abu Nuwas. Scheherazade’s many admirers were too fearful to pay a call.

But in recent months, violence has become less commonplace and Baghdad has attained some degree of peace, however fragile. In May, government workers cleaned up the flowerbeds around the monument and replanted them. They repaired the broken paving stones in the plaza.

On a hot afternoon last week, the flowers were in bloom, people strolled through the park and Scheherazade and King Shahryar all but gleamed. Earlier in the day, an Iraqi policeman, Majin Hassan, noticed that the statue was dusty and decided to take a hose and give it a bath.

“It is not one of my duties but I thought I should clean it up,” he said, adding that in the last few years, he had avoided coming to the park.

“I wasn’t able to look at them,” he said. “They were looking sad.”

Mr. Hassan enthusiastically retold the story of how Scheherazade had used her wits to stay alive, interrupting her tale each night at a point so suspenseful that the king could not bear to kill her before hearing how it would end.

“Basically, this story, it is the Iraqi story,” he said. “The Iraqi people, they decided how to be still for a long time and to struggle against the danger and risk.”

Mr. Ghani, who left Iraq after the invasion and set up a studio in Amman, Jordan, said in a telephone interview that when he designed the sculpture in 1972, “I was imagining that I was standing myself in front of her and she was telling me a story about what was going on in Baghdad.”

He said he hoped that each person who visited the statue would feel the same way, “that she is telling him the true stories.”

The loss of King Shahryar’s hand saddened him, as did a clumsy replacement hand affixed to the statue two years ago, the jagged white seam still visible. He hopes someday to return to Baghdad to repair the damage himself, he said.

Most artistic representations of Scheherazade, Mr. Ghani noted, depict her as subservient to the king, sitting by his legs, for example. He wanted instead to portray her as a strong woman, he said, who commands King Shahryar’s attention and shows “how powerful women can be.”

Now, unveiled, confident in her sensuality, she stands in the park surveying her city, a relic of a lost time when Baghdad was energetically secular, eager to try things on, bursting with new ideas, new ways of thinking.

Iraq has vastly changed. But Scheherazade remains the same, spinning her tales, using her wits, hoping to avoid the chopping block.

“Since 2003, the statue has been crying hard tears,” said Mr. Amir, as he gazed at the Persian queen and her husband. Now, he thinks, “the statue is laughing.”

Photo by: Marko Georgiev

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mahdi's Nights

I am doing a small side project on Muhsin Mahdi's 3 volume Alf Layla with critical apparatus for my language requirement.

I understand a few things about it but I'm still really confused on a major point:

What exactly is he doing here with this work? Is it a word-for-word transcription of Galland's manuscript?

Where and why does it differ?

- Yes, he finds the oldest Syrian versions and the oldest Egyptian versions and is making a composite picture of the oldest Syrian version but... how is he doing this?

I examined a page of Mahdi's frame story and it is a word-for-word transcription of the Galland manuscript but I assume that Mahdi's entire Nights is not, so why does he choose to "fill in the blanks" with missing material from other manuscripts and how does he choose which manuscripts to fill in the material with?

I am a bit confused on this point.