Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mahdi, Haddawy & Burton Compared II

These quotes are from the Fisherman/Jinni/Ensorcelled Prince series of stories:

Note on the Arabic: Several words are misspelled because of the original manuscript but I’ve copied them as they are in Mahdi’s manuscript (ie tuma instead of thuma and no dots below the ya, etc.).

Note Burton’s description of the Prince’s lover and its crudeness, which is nowhere near the same in Mahdi or in Haddawy (although the latter two are different, Haddawy translates as “black man” the Arabic for “black slave”). I’ll have to take a look at some more Arabic texts in order to get a better idea for how far off base Burton took his translation.

Fisherman and the Jinni

Burton – “Now when the Sultan heard the mournful voice he sprang to his feet; and, following the sound, found a curtain let down over a chamber-door. He raised it and saw behind it a young man sitting upon a couch about a cubit above the ground; and he fair to the sight, a well shaped wight, with eloquence dight; his forehead was flower-white, his cheek rosy bright, and a mole on his cheek-breadth like an ambergris mite; even as the poet doth indite:” (68)

Haddawy – “When the king heard the lamentation and the verses, he rose and moved toward the source of the voice until he came to a doorway behind a curtain, and when he lifted the curtain, he saw at the upper end of the room a young man sitting on a chair that rose about twenty inches above the floor. He was a handsome young man, with a full figure, clear voice, radiant brow, bright face, downy beard, and ruddy cheeks, graced with a mole like a speck of amber, just as the poet describes it:” (54-5).
"فلما سمح الملك الشعر والبكا نهض قايماً وتتبع الصوت وجد ستراً مرخى على باب مجلس, فشاله ونظر وادا فى صدر المجلس صبياً جالس على كرسى مرتفعاً عن الارض مقدار دراع وهو شاباٌ مليح وقداً رجيح ولسان فصيح, بجبين ازهر ووجه اقمر وعدار اخضر وخدٍ احمر وشامه عليه كقرص عنبر, كما قال الشاعر فيها
(Mahdi 113-4)

This description of the ensorcelled prince in Arabic seems best encapsulated here by Burton’s rhyming English adjectives, although it sounds a bit flowery and put on – I think that was the point here. In Haddawy’s version it is much less poetic and more straight forward in its description, which for me loses something of the original’s playfulness.

Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince

The Prince’s servants gossip:

Mahdi – 116
"الا تعمل له فى القدح الشرب الدى يبات عليه مرقد وتسقيه له فيرقد ويصير هو والميت سوا, وتخرج تغيب الى الفجر, ولما تاتى تبخر ببخور عند انفه يشمه فيستيقض, فيا خصارت"

Burton - “Nay, more, doth she not drug every night the cup she giveth him to drink before sleep-time, and put Bhang into it? So he sleepeth and wotteth not whither she goeth, nor what she doeth; but we know that after giving him the drugged wine, she donneth her richest raiment and perfumeth herself and then she fareth out from him to be away till break of day; then she cometh to him, and burneth a pastille under his nose and he awaketh from his deathlike sleep.” (70-1).

Haddawy - “No. She places a sleeping potion in the last drink he takes, offers him the cup, and when he drinks it, he sleeps like a dead man. Then she leaves him and stays out till dawn. When she returns, she burns incense under his nose, and when he inhales it, he wakes up. What a pity!” (57)

Here it seems that Burton is way off in his own corner but again it might be that he was using a different source for his translation, although the deliberate archaic language seems strangely incorporated here. Here Haddawy and the Arabic are closer than before.

The Prince’s wife’s lover:

Mahdi – 117

وتسلقت انا سطح القبه واشرفت عليهم وادا ببنت عمى قد وقفت على عبد اسود مبتلى قاعد على قش قصب وهو لابس هدمه وشراميط فقبلت الارض بين يديه

Burton - “Lo! My fair cousin had gone in to a hideous negro slave with his upper lip like the cover of a pot, and his lower like an open pot; lips which might sweep up sand from the gravel-floor of the cot. He was to boot a leper and a paralytic, lying upon a strew of sugar-cane trash and wrapped in an old blanket and the foulest rags and tatters” (71).

Haddawy – “I saw my wife standing before a decrepit black man sitting on reed shavings and dressed in tatters” (57).

Not sure where Burton got this description from but I’d be very interested in finding it. Haddawy forgoes the Arabic “black slave” to settle on “black man” here. She kisses the earth in front of her lover in the Arabic but the English is not quoted here.

The Prince’s wife’s torture:

Mahdi - 121
تم انها لم يكفها دلك وما صارت حالتى اليه تم انها تعرينى فى كل يوم وتضربنى بالصوت مايه جلده حتى يسيل دمى وتتهرى اكتافى, تم تلبسنى توب شعر صفه البلاّس على نصفى الفوقانى وتلبسنى هده الاتواب الفاخره من فوق

Burton – “And every day she tortureth me and scougeth me with an hundred stripes, each of which draweth floods of blood and cutteth the skin of my shoulders to strips; and lastly she clotheth my upper half with a hair-cloth and then throweth over them these robes” (77).

Haddawy – “she strips me naked every day and gives me a hundred lashes with the whip until my back is lacerated and begins to bleed. Then she clothes my upper half with a hairshirt like a coarse rug and covers it with these luxurious garments.” (61)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. On a lighter -- and may be serious -- note, Burton himself quoted the following from a comparative review published in Edinburgh Review:

    "The different versions ... have each its proper destination – Galland for the nursery, Lane for the library, Payne for the study, and Burton for the sewers".

    Now where do you place Mahdi and Haddawy?

    With regards.

  3. Good question, maybe all for the library?

    It depends on how you take the original reviewer's take on the versions. I think Burton relished this kind of attention...

    Not sure any version of the Nights is fit for the nursery.

    Mahdi is interesting for Arabic speakers/students who are interested in studying the 1001 Nights and is an invaluable contribution to 1001 Nights scholarship.

    Haddawy seems to be becoming the standard edition for first-timers who want a taste of the Nights although NJ Dawood's Penguin paperback is also accessible and quite readable if not "faithful" to the "authenticity" of the Nights (whatever that means).

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. 'Now where do you place Mahdi and Haddawy?'

    In the NHS hospital waiting room.