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The Thousand and One Nights

Conceptions & Preconceptions.
by

Dima Chami

on 24 June 2015

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Transcript of The Thousand and One Nights

The Thousand and One Nights
Conceptions & Preconceptions
Origins
Common protagonists include the historical Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, his Grand Vizier, Jafar al-Barmaki, and his alleged court poet Abu Nuwas, despite the fact that these figures lived some 200 years after the fall of the Sassanid Empire in which the frame tale of Scheherazade is set.
In Arabic Culture
The Tales
Influences
Sometimes a character in Scheherazade's tale will begin telling other characters a story of his own, and that story may have another one told within it, resulting in a richly layered narrative texture.
The Nights had a low cultural status compared with poetry and other forms of art, and the tales were dismissed as Khurafa, improbable fantasies fit only for entertaining women and children (of course).
Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," Boccaccio's "Decameron." European Romanticism: Blake, Coleridge...
Abul-Hasan Ghaffiri supervised a team of 34 painters, to illustrate one of the most lavish of Qajar period manuscript, a Persian translation of the Thousand and One Night from the Pahlavi Persian work Hezār Afsān: it contained 1134 illustrated pages.
"Even today, with the exception of certain writers and academics, the Nights is regarded with disdain in the Arabic world. Its stories are regularly denounced as vulgar, improbable, childish and, above all, badly written." – Robert Irwin.
Folk tales are stories that were
originally handed down orally
(out loud) among the common
people of a general culture.
The history of the Nights is extremely complex and modern scholars have made many attempts to untangle the story of how the collection as it currently exists came about. Robert Irwin summarises their findings: "In the 1880s and 1890s a lot of work was done on the Nights, in the course of which a consensus view of the history of the text emerged. Most scholars agreed that the Nights was a composite work and that the earliest tales in it came from India and Persia.”
At some time, probably in the early 8th century, these tales were translated into Arabic under the title Alf Layla, or 'The Thousand Nights'. This collection then formed the basis of The Thousand and One Nights. The original core of stories was quite small. Then, in Iraq in the ninth or tenth century, this original core had Arab stories added to it – among them some tales about the Caliph Harun al-Rashid.
The tales vary widely: they include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques and various forms of erotica. Numerous stories depict Jinns, Ghouls, Apes, sorcerers, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, not always rationally
Anachronisms
Some of the stories of The Nights, particularly "Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor", while almost certainly genuine Middle Eastern folk tales, were not part of The Nights in Arabic versions, but were added into the collection by Antoine Galland and other European translators.
ICONIC or IRONIC?
Full transcript