Arabian Nights week 2

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Introduction

Voyage to Europe

  • Tales first in Europe by Galland.
  • Popular, sold as fairy tales.
  • Back to the notion of what is the definitive story collection
  • Explanation of the sections of tales in this book: Arabic, French, Diyab

Diyab

  • His stories not strict retellings of traditional stories, but drew on traditional motifs, and creating new stories is a tradition
  • His stories have more magic and wealth than other stories. Was that his preference? Was it aimed at popular opinion?
  • Influenced by travels with Lucas, sympathy with common folk.
  • Several common plots / structures introduced by Diyab into European traditions
  • Galland (or editor) created the conclusion of the Nights, the happy ending.

European imagination

  • Structure used and exploited by many European authors
  • Atomized and published in serial form
  • Many interpretations. Stories received "as a source of pure narrative pleasure, as a means to deliver didactic lessons, and as an instrument of political critique."
  • Sanitized version a staple of children's literature.
  • Continued to be considered low brow, but some deeper themes. However, escapism and distraction were more common
  • Heavily influenced Romanticism and Gothic. Emphasis on imagination and the world beyond senses.

Notes on introduction.

  • How much of earlier influence is import, or parallel invention?
  • Is the role of translator to be faithful, or to interpret to become accessible? Is it wrong to criticise Galland's decision?
  • The different nature of Diyab's stories. Was that his preference? Was it aimed at popular opinion?
  • Does the selling of these stories as fairy tales colour modern perception? They're treated as children's stories not serious literature. (Similarly, "magical realism" wins nobel prizes, but "urban fantasy" is young adult pulp.)
  • This book emphasises the influence of Arabian Nights on European literature. Is it over selling the case?
  • How familiar were you with these stories growing up, whether retellings of the stories, or re imagining in other settings?

Tales

Donkey and ox

  • Ox laments his fate, Donkey tells him to feign illness.
  • Ox does, but the merchant makes Donkey do his work.
  • Donkey laments the outcome and muses on how to turn the tables. (Foreshadowing the next story)
  • Interpretation: stay in peace.

Merchant and Wife

  • Donkey tells ox of the impending doom.
  • The merchant's wife is upset that the merchant doesn't reveal his secret.
  • He prepares for his death.
  • The merchant overhears the rooster tell the dog that the merchant should beat his wife. The merchant does so and the wife withdraws her question.
  • Interpretation: discipline and women should obey men.

Frame

  • Shahrazad persuades her father she will not be swayed. He goes to the king with her offer.
  • Shahrazad enlists Dunyazad in her plot.
  • Shahrazad starts her first story

Notes on the stories

Donkey and Ox

  • Another example of using animal stories as moral fables? (Aesop?)
  • What human features do you think the donkey and ox represent?
  • The notion of a ruse, and that the tales are a ruse by Shahrazad
  • Is the interpretation by the vizir the one you draw from this tale?

Merchant and wife

  • What does this say about honesty and stubbornness in a marriage? Who is at fault here? The merchant for concealing a secret, the wife for insisting it's told?
  • The rooster, going from wife to wife: is this Shahriyah?
  • Is this a story about marriage and relations between spouses, or one about the common people holding leaders to account?

Frame

  • What do you think of Shahrazad's bravery?
  • Questions about how Dunyazad came to stay in the marriage bedchamber. Does this need explaining? Who else is present?

Comments

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    You’re obviously giving this a very close reading - the notes are extensive, to say the least LOL. I should have to re-read much of this in order to answer because I wasn’t looking at these details, at least while reading the stories. I was rather letting them wash over me. Still - I’ll do my best. I’m not really sure how best to structure it given the multi-point post above, short of multi-quotes which I’m not going to attempt on my phone. In other words, sorry if my reply doesn’t do your questions justice LOL. Likely other people’s posts will prompt more reply, later.

    The role of Diyab was most interesting. I knew that stories like Ali Baba and Aladdin had been imported into the corpus by the French, but never knew the mechanism or source. That they might not have been folktales, but constructs, never occurred to me. I guess short of finding written versions in Arabic (or even older language) we’ll never know. It’s somewhat compelling to think of this kind of Syrian griot being the origin of such enduring tales. One wonders if they are of purely Near-Eastern origin, or if they share some European DNA - either stuff Diyab picked up on his travels through Europe, or older Roman or Greek roots.

    The tales of the father are interesting, not least for utterly failing to persuade the daughter. I would have thought the lesson of both was the same: meddle not in the affairs of others, or you may get more than you bargained for.

    The scene with the sister under the bed the first night is very interesting. I don’t think it ‘requires’ explanation, but one is certainly curious if this kind of thing was normal practice anywhere.

    Dunyazad (did we get a meaning for her name?) is certainly an active participant in the events of the evening, since she is the one who asks for the first story (from under the bed - hope the frame is robust). It becomes clear she’ll also be an important third character in the frame story.

    There’s a John Barth book called ‘Chimera’ which examines 3 myths, one of which is the story of Shahrazad in the context of her relation with her sister. I should at long last give this a read.
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    The thing I made a mental note of and highlighted to boot in the intro section was the influence on the Romantics - this seems (from the supporting evidence) to be pretty well established, but I had not expected it. I guess I should - the stories are clearly rooted in a tradition where the visible surface of the world is only a sort of skin over more magical or esoteric meanings, needing to be drawn out by the telling of stories rather than the analysis of components. As such I can entirely see why the Romantics would like it!

    This interested me not just because of the local connection here, but because the Romantics in turn (both in England and more widely in Europe) had a major influence on the shaping of what we now call psychoanalysis, in particular the Jungian aspects of that. So there is a kind of generational link between The Arabian Nights and psychotherapy.

    The father's stories - nah, quite unconvincing and formulaic, and I suspect deliberately so, so that when we get to Shahrazad's own material it will be super-duper persuasive.

    Dunyazad - so far as I can tell online it is of Persian origin (which is no surprise) and can be parsed either as "born of the world" or "of noble lineage". As for her lurking under the bed - I wonder if a witness to marriage consummation was considered essential? As a sort of parallel to ensuring that marital sheets really had fresh blood on them to demonstrate virginity?

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    > @RichardAbbott said:

    > As for her lurking under the bed - I wonder if a witness to marriage consummation was considered essential? As a sort of parallel to ensuring that marital sheets really had fresh blood on them to demonstrate virginity?

    Perhaps such was the norm, but in a non-parliamentary system, who has the vested interest to ensure the marriage is consummated?

    And especially in this case, since the heir could never be brought to term. Which brings up a major plot hole, I fear. Without heirs, why is the king so protective of his kingdom? Ah, but I guess we shouldn’t look too far behind the curtain.
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    edited October 2023

    So no one knows if the stories Diyab brought in were current folk tales, or stories he created himself from bits and bobs and concepts and ideas floating around the Levant. Fascinating! I always assumed he brought in other folk tales from different collections.

    The idea of a witness to consummation of marriage is far from unknown. In parts of Europe a witness, or several, would be stationed outside the bed curtains to listen for the sounds of consummation. Many noble and royal marriages - especially those without issue - were annulled for non-consummation, so it was definitely a thing.

    The Vizier's stories are pedestrian at best. Not at all up to the marvels to come. How he thought Sharazad would be persuaded by such insipidity is beyond me. Obviously Sharazad takes after her mother.

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    I suspect that Shahrazad's tales will not be of the animal fable variety. Her brusque dismissal of her father's fable threat with a realpolitik counter-threat suggests to me that her stories are going to be of moralities counter to tradition, in other words modern.

    Which brings me to a question that I can't seem to find answered in the Introduction:Has anyone got a clear idea of when the Arab text being translated was composed or compiled, and how it was edited? I don't understand 1) If it is a unitary text re-composed after Galland's publication, or if it is the same text he used, or something else; and 2) Where did Seale get it from? I probably missed it.

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    I haven't seen any mention of which source she is translating. There are several collections with some different stories, and different versions of the same story, and none of them is in any way definitive.

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    edited October 2023

    @Apocryphal said:

    And especially in this case, since the heir could never be brought to term. Which brings up a major plot hole, I fear. Without heirs, why is the king so protective of his kingdom? Ah, but I guess we shouldn’t look too far behind the curtain.

    He could pass it on to some other relative. I would say his brother and his children, but that's probably not an option in this case. But as you say, don't question too much. Kings are supposed to preserve their kingdom, that's what kings do.

    And I think you're treating my notes exactly as I intended: a reminder of the contents, and possible prompts for discussion. But I can write less if people would prefer?

    Personally, I knew nothing of Diyab's role in the creation of the European version of the Tales. I knew that Sinbad and Ali Baba were considered "inauthentic" tales, but I didn't know the details of where they came from.

    I thought the Donkey and Ox tale wasn't bad: a short parable, but fine. I can see it becoming a cultural touchstone. Merchant and Wife was just a dressed up threat of violence, utterly forgettable.

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    edited October 2023

    re the vizier's stories, I was also reminded of CS Lewis's The Horse and his Boy where Calormene (as a stand-in for Arabic nations) has its own story-telling traditions. Shasta's adopted father attempts to tell stories in this tradition but they come out as stilted and moralising, whereas the real practitioners are captivating - as Bree the talking horse says "Bree… was thoroughly enjoying the story. “She’s telling it in the grand Calormen manner and no story-teller in a Tisroc’s court could do it better…”"

    I have no doubt that Lewis was aware of The Arabian Nights and suspect that in this passage he is playing the same game as the compiler of the tale - we get some rather dull conventional stuff first as a different kind of frame to the real stories about to come

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    @Apocryphal said:

    @RichardAbbott said:

    As for her lurking under the bed - I wonder if a witness to marriage consummation was considered essential? As a sort of parallel to ensuring that marital sheets really had fresh blood on them to demonstrate virginity?

    Perhaps such was the norm, but in a non-parliamentary system, who has the vested interest to ensure the marriage is consummated?

    And especially in this case, since the heir could never be brought to term. Which brings up a major plot hole, I fear. Without heirs, why is the king so protective of his kingdom? Ah, but I guess we shouldn’t look too far behind the curtain.

    A very interesting point - the king's strategy is ultimately self-defeating. But I think the point is that he has reached the point where he doesn't care about that... his supposed vengeance now directed against all women rather than just the one who deceived him has outweighed his proper behaviour to uphold the kingdom. He just doesn't care any more, and one presumes that the whole point of the remaining stories is not only to secure personal survival for Shahrazad, but collective survival for the kingdom as a whole. So there's a theme already of "as king you ought not to be ruled by your personal misfortunes".

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    From my current book - the influence of the Arabians nights continues. Time Shelter by Gospodinov (originally 2020 in Bulgarian).

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