Thursday, January 2, 7800

Arabian Nights (c. 800)

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of stories collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholars in various countries. These collections of tales trace their roots back to ancient Arabia and Yemen, ancient India, ancient Asia Minor, ancient Persia (especially the Sassanid Hazār Afsān Persia, lit. Thousand Tales), ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamian Mythology, ancient Syria, and medieval Arabic folk stories from the Caliphate era. Though the oldest Arabic manuscript dates from the fourteenth century, scholarship generally dates the collection's genesis to somewhere between AD 800-900.

What is common throughout all the editions of Nights is the initial frame story of the ruler Shahryar (from Persian: king or sovereign) and his wife Scheherazade (from Persian: townswoman) and the framing device incorporated throughout the tales themselves. The stories proceed from this original tale; some are framed within other tales, while others begin and end of their own accord. Some editions contain only a few hundred nights, while others include 1001 or more "nights."

The collection, or at least certain stories drawn from it (or purporting to be drawn from it) became widely known in the West during the nineteenth century, after it was translated - first into French and then English and other European languages. At this time it acquired the English name The Arabian Nights' Entertainment or simply Arabian Nights. The best known stories from The Nights include Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor. Ironically these particular stories, while they are genuine Middle Eastern folk tales, were not part of the Nights in its Arabic versions, but were interpolated into the collection by its early European translators.

The main frame story concerns a Persian king and his new bride. The king, Shahryar, upon discovering his former wife's infidelity has her executed and then declares all women to be unfaithful. He begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning. Eventually the vizier cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade tells the king a tale, but does not end it. The king is thus forced to keep her alive in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins (and only begins) another. So it goes for 1,001 nights.

The tales vary widely: they include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques and various forms of erotica. Numerous stories depict djinn, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography; the historical caliph Harun al-Rashid is a common protagonist, as are his alleged court poet Abu Nuwas and his vizier, Ja'far al-Barmaki. 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 different versions have different individually detailed endings (in some Scheherazade asks for a pardon, in some the king sees their children and decides not to execute his wife, in some other things happen that make the king distracted) but they all end with the king giving his wife a pardon and sparing her life.

The narrator's standards for what constitutes a cliffhanger seem broader than in modern literature. While in many cases a story is cut off with the hero in danger of losing his life or another kind of deep trouble, in some parts of the full text Scheherazade stops her narration in the middle of an exposition of abstract philosophical principles or complex points of Islamic philosophy, and in one case during a detailed description of human anatomy according to Galen -- and in all these cases turns out to be justified in her belief that the king's curiosity about the sequel would buy her another day of life.

The tales in the collection can be traced to the Indian, Persian, Egyptian, and Arab ancient storytelling traditions.

Many stories from Indian and Persian folklore parallel the tales as well as Jewish sources.

These tales were probably in circulation before they were collected and codified into a single collection. This work was further shaped by scribes, storytellers, and scholars and evolved into a collection of three distinct layers of storytelling by the 15th century:

Persian tales influenced by Indian folklore and adapted into Arabic by the 10th century.

Stories recorded in Baghdad during the 10th century.

Medieval Egyptian folklore.

The Indian folklore is represented by certain animal stories, which reflect influence from ancient Sanskrit fables.

The influence from the folklore of Baghdad is represented by the tales of the Abbasid caliphs; the Cairene influence is made evident by Maruf the cobbler. Tales such as Iram of the columns are based upon the pre-Islamic legends of the Arabian peninsula; motifs are employed from the ancient Mesopotamian tale of Gilgamesh. Possible Greek influences have also been noted.

The first European version of the Book of the Thousand and One Nights (1704-1717) was translated into French by Antoine Galland from an Arabic text and other sources.

This 12-volume book, Les Mille et une nuits, contes arabes traduits en français (Thousand and one nights, Arab stories translated into French), included stories that were not in the original Arabic manuscript. Aladdin's Lamp" and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves appeared first in Galland's translation and cannot be found in any of the original manuscripts. He wrote that he heard them from a Syrian Christian storyteller from Aleppo, a Maronite scholar whom he called "Hanna Diab."

Galland's version of the Nights were immensely popular throughout Europe, and later versions of the Nights were written by Galland's publisher using Galland's name without his consent.

A well-known English translation is that by Sir Richard Francis Burton, entitled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885). Unlike previous editions his ten-volume translation was not bowdlerized. Though printed in the Victorian era it contained all the erotic nuances of the source material replete with sexual imagery and pederastic allusions added as appendices to the main stories by Burton. Burton circumvented strict Victorian laws on obscene material by printing a private edition for subscribers only rather than publicly publishing the book. His original ten volumes were followed by a further six entitled The Supplemental Nights to the Thousand Nights and a Night, which were printed between 1886 and 1888.

Husayn al-Azami - The Passion of 1,001 Nights: Maqam Awj


The Iraqi mâqâm is a style which is peculiar to Iraq, and inherited from the Court of the Abasside Califes, of Baghdad (.c 800), one of whom was the universally famous Haroun Al-Rachid, a central character in The Arabian Nights.

It descends from a complex Arab tradition blending a number of influences : Turkish, Persian, Kurd, and even Indian. Each mode, each sigh, has its coloring and mood, calling on synaesthesia, magic and faith, in a charismatic and apocalyptic framework. The harmony thus obtained is called insiâm and can only be reached in a state of internal mystical exaltation.

The artists call this form al-mâqâm al-iraqi (modale composition of Iraq) which is also played at festivals and private concerts. There is no clear separation of profane and sacred in this melody mode and it can be found in most religious music of Mesopotamia.

The traditional ensemble (Tshalghi Baghdadi) is made up of a santûr (zither, strings are struck) or a qânûn (zither, strings are plucked), a jôza (rebec or spike fiddle), a clay drum (tabla) or kettle drum (naqarât) and a tambourine with cymbals (duff zinjârî).

This music is also generally characterised by the tragic modulation of the vocal parts, high-pitched voices, strictly coded sobbings, intervals, rhythms, specific instruments, a poetic repertory in classical, median and dialectical Arab, distinct from the legendary Arab-Andalusian heritage.


Later settings:

In 1888, Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed his Op. 35 Scheherazade, in four movements, based upon four of the tales from the Nights: The Sea and Sinbad's Ship, "The Kalendar Prince, The Young Prince and The Young Princess, and Festival at Baghdad.

Kismet is a musical, with music and lyrics written in 1953 by Robert Wright and George Forrest, adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin, and produced by Charles Lederer, who in 1954, won three Tony Awards for it.

1990 saw the premiere of La Noche de las Noches, a work for string quartet and electronics by Ezequiel Viñao (based on a reading from Burton's Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night).

Aladdin, with music by Alan Menken, is an Academy Award-, Golden Globe- and Annie-Award winning 1992 animated feature produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, and released by Walt Disney Pictures on November 25, 1992.

[7800 - Beduin Coffee Grind / 7800 - Arabian Nights / 7710 Gagaku]