Friday, March 13, 2009

upcoming paper at the annual AOS meeting

The American Oriental Society is holding their annual meeting at the moment in New Mexico and there is one paper being read about the Arabian Nights and poetry (the only paper on the Nights at this year's meeting). It is an interesting subject I've not read much about. I'm under the impression that Muhsin Mahdi excised poetry from his reproduction of Galland's Arabic manuscript though I'm not sure to what extent.

This paper is about the relationship of the Classical poetry that the first and subsequent Arabic authors/compilers of the Nights "pasted" and wrote amongst the prose.

PDF of Abstracts (Arabian Nights is on page 27):

Paper will be presented Saturday Morning as part of the meeting of the "New Readings of Classical Arabic Literature" from 1030-1210pm in Alvarado G-H.

Quoted Abstract:

"Wolfhart Heinrichs, Harvard University
- Modes of Existence of Poetry in the Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights are an example of prosimetrum (prose interspersed with poetry), a literary phenomenon that has only recently attracted the attention of Arabists. The paper will dwell on some features that are characteristic of the role of poetry in Alf Laylah wa-Laylah: (1) The poems have been compared by John Payne, the 19th century translator of Alf Laylah, to woodcuts in Western publications. Unlike the woodcuts, the poems are, of course, in the same medium as the narrative; however, often they are quotations of classical poetry and, thus, in the Classical language rather than in the "Middle Arabic" of the narrative, which makes the parallelism between Alf Laylah poems and woodcuts somewhat stronger. The remaining poems are presumable mostly composed by storytellers and/or copyists; nonetheless, they still predominantly follow the classical language and prosody. Only a few are "beyond repair." (b) Most poems are adduced according to Bencheikh's rule: "If the story narrates a passion, the poem represents it." In some cases the poem is introduced by a formula that identifies the situation described in the prose with the description of the poem. E.g., the description of a hunchback is preceded by kama qala fihi badu wasifihi, as if the quoted poem had been written about the hunchback in the story. The strangest stratagem in this category is the lisan al-hal, the "voice of the situation," which is used, when the protagonists cannot speak, but the situation cries out for a poem; the lisan al-hal is presented as "writing" and "speaking" the poem (kataba lisanu halina yaqul). Thus the insertion of poems often betrays great sophistication. The storytellers and/or copyists may even manipulate the slots for poems, and certainly the slot-fillers, as the various text traditions clearly show."


  1. Hi, Michael. Just a note to say that Prof. Mahdi didn't excise poetry.

    The selection of poems is different than in the Egyptian recensions, but it's still a major part of the book.

    Here's a link to Mahdi's edition on Google Books that's free to browse through:

  2. Thanks for your comment Moti, I was under the impression that while Mahdi did leave in poetry he also cut out some as well. I'll have to take another look at his introduction.