Nights 680 to 719: Delilah Pulls It Off

680—681 ‘Utba and Rayya • 681—682 Hind, daughter of al-Nu’man, and al-Hajjaj • 683—684 Khuzaima ibn Bishr and ‘Ikrima ibn al-Fayyad • 684—685 Yunus al-Katib and Walid ibn Sahl • 685—686 Harun al-Rashid and the young Bedouin girl • 686—687 Al-Asma’i and the three Basran girls • 687—688 Ishaq al-Mausili and his visitor • 688—691 The “Udhri lovers • 691—693 The Bedouin and his faithful wife • 693—695 Harun al-Rashid and the story of the woman of Basra • 695—696 Ishaq al-Mausili and the devil • 696—697 The Medinese lovers • 697—698 Al-Malik al-Nasir and his vizier • 698—708 Dalila the wily • 708—719 The adventures of ‘Ali al-Zaibaq

Another group of shorter stories to conclude Volume II of The Arabian Nights, and they are linked by a strain of protofeminism. At several points in these tales, someone points out that their daughter is not a chattel and will decide for herself whether she marries the handsome hero.

For example, in the story of ‘Utba and Rayya’ on Night 681, there is this:

‘We ask you to give your noble daughter in marriage to ‘Utba ibn al-Hubab ibn al-Mundhir, a well-born man of high repute.’ He replied: ‘My brothers, my daughter, for whose hand you ask, it’s her own mistress, but I shall go in and tell her.’

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Nights 624 to 680: Class and Crusades

Ajib and Gharib

624—680 ‘Ajib and Gharib

This story intrigues from the get-go. The first character to be introduced is ‘Ajib, who benefits from the ‘standard’ upbringing afforded to heroes of the The Arabian Nights. The checklist: First, be the son of a king. Then enjoy a long period of feminine nurture, followed by intense and sustained one-to-one tuition from the best scholars of the age. Finally, embark on a programme of combat training until you become an accomplished warrior. ‘Ajib hits all these marks and is set up as yet another cookie-cutter prince, who will undoubtedly find his very own princess with a face-like-the-moon. But then…

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Sunday Images: Kay Nielson

Illustration by Kay Nielsen

Kay Rasmus Nielsen (1886 – 1957) was a Danish illustrator.  A couple of years ago a book of newly discovered illustrations for The Arabian Nights was published by Taschen. There’s an interesting interview with the editor of the book on the NPR website.

Nights 606 to 624: Judar and his Brothers

606—624 Judar and his brothers

The tale of ‘Judar and His Brothers’ is a magical mystery tour around North Africa in which monsters and jinn circle themes of power and betrayal. Like many others in the collection, this is a story of several acts, each of a different genre.

It begins with a contested will. Before he dies, Judar’s father divides up his estate four ways, splitting the wealth between his three sons, and a portion for himself and his wife to live off. By doing this in advance of his death, he hopes to stave off any dispute between his sons over their inheritance.

Judar’s father clearly knows that his two other sons have a greedy streak. When he eventually does die, the brothers launch a legal action to get at Judar’s portion of the estate. They waste the time of the qadis and walis and notaries to the extent that, when the case is over, everyone’s assets have been exhausted in legal fees, like an Egyptian Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Continue reading “Nights 606 to 624: Judar and his Brothers”

Nights 566 to 606: Memento Mori

566—578 The City of Brass • 578—606 The wiles of women: the king and his seven viziers • 578—579 The story of the king and the wife of his vizier • 579 The story of the merchant and his parrot • 579 The story of the fuller and his son • 580 The story of the chaste wife • 580—581 The story of the mean man and the bread • 581 The story of the woman and her two lovers • 581—582 The story of the prince and the ghula • 582 The story of the honey • 582 The story of the wife who made her husband sieve dirt • 582—583 The story of the enchanted spring • 584 The story of the vizier’s son and the wife of the bath keeper • 584—585 The story of the wife who cheated her husband • 586—587 The story of the goldsmith and the Kashmiri singing girl • 587—590 The story of the man who never laughed again • 591—592 The story of the prince and the merchant’s wife • 592 The story of the page who pretended to understand the speech of birds • 593—596 The story of the woman and her five would-be lovers • 596 The story of the three wishes • 596—597 The story of the stolen necklace • 597 The story of the two doves • 597—598 The story of Prince Bahram and Princess al-Datma • 598—602 The story of the old woman and the merchant’s son • 602 The story of the ‘ifrit’s beloved • 603—604 The story of the merchant and the blind old man • 605 The story of the lewd man and the three-year-old child • 605—606 The story of the stolen purse and the five-year-old child

More than once in these weekly recaps, I’ve noted that the inescapability of death is a recurring theme in The Arabian Nights. Shahrazad ends most of her stories not with ‘happily ever after’ but a reminder that everyone is visited by Death, the Destroyer of Delights. A few weeks ago I noted a poem among the stories that seems to prefigure Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias.’ And way back on Night 13 I underlined this stanza:

No-one holds the caliphate forever;
If you do not agree, where is the first caliph?
So plant the shoots of virtuous deeds,
And when you are deposed, no-one will depose them.

Continue reading “Nights 566 to 606: Memento Mori”

Sunday Images: William Harvey

Aziz - Illustration by William Harvey

William Harvey (1796 – 1866) was a Newcastle-born illustrator and engraver. Each of these illustrations carries a different signature — Harvey did the original drawings, while other artists created each actaul engraving.


Nights 536 to 566: Sindbad’s Descent

Illustration by Brian Wildsmith

536—566 Sindbad the sailor • 538—542 The first journey of Sindbad • 542—546 The second journey of Sindbad • 546—555 The third journey of Sindbad • 550—556 The fourth journey of Sindbad • 556—559 The fifth journey of Sindbad • 559—562 The sixth journey of Sindbad • 563—566 The seventh journey of Sindbad

Sindbad is one of a triumvirate of characters whose name is already common currency in popular Western culture. But like the story of Ali Baba in Volume I and (I suspect) Aladdin in Volume III, what we think we know about this guy is very different to the actual story. Indeed, as I began to read this cycle I realised that I knew barely anything about Sindbad the Sailor, except for the alliteration. I haven’t seen any of the films.

He stands apart from the other heroes we have encountered so far in The Arabian Nights in many ways. He is neither a prince nor the heir of a wealthy father, but a self-made man. And his adventures do not start by accident, but because of his proactive desire to go travelling. As he says on Night 550:

It was while my life was at its most pleasant that I felt a pernicious urge to travel to foreign parts, to associate with different races and to trade and make a profit.

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To Infinity and Beyond!

Buzz Lightyear

Last week I noted how much I enjoyed the way the tale of Buluqiya tries to describe the almost-infinite, and to invoke a sense of the overwhelming scale of God’s power.

In a lecture, Jorge Luis Borges (discussed previously in relation to these tales) made a marvellous point about the title A Thousand and One Nights, which itself alludes to the eternal:

I want to pause over the title. It is one of the most beautiful in the world … I think it lies in the fact that for us, the word thousand is almost synonymous with infinite. To say a thousand nights is to say infinite nights, countless nights, endless nights. To say a thousand and one nights is to add one to infinity. Let us recall a curious English expression: instead of saying forever, they sometimes say forever and a day. A day has been added to forever. It is reminiscent of a line from Heine, written to a woman: “I will love you eternally and even after.”

— Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights (Faber and Faber, 1986), translated by Eliot Weinberger from Seite Noches (Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1980)

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