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The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1
 


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The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1


  PENGUIN CLASSICS

  THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

  TALES OF 1001 NIGHTS

  VOLUME 1

  MALCOLM C. LYONS, sometime Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University and a life Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, is a specialist in the field of classical Arabic Literature. His published works include the biography Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War, The Arabian Epic: Heroic and Oral Storytelling, Identification and Identity in Classical Arabic Poetry and many articles on Arabic literature.

  URSULA LYONS, formerly an Affiliated Lecturer at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Cambridge University and, since 1976, an Emeritus Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, specializes in modern Arabic literature.

  ROBERT IRWIN is the author of For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies, The Middle East in the Middle Ages, The Arabian Nights: A Companion and numerous other specialized studies of Middle Eastern politics, art and mysticism. His novels include The Limits of Vision, The Arabian Nightmare, The Mysteries of Algiers and Satan Wants Me.

  Volume 1

  Nights 1 to 294

  Translated by MALCOLM C. LYONS,

  with URSULA LYONS

  Introduced and Annotated by ROBERT IRWIN

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  PENGUIN CLASSICS

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  www.penguin.com

  Translation of Nights 1 to 294, Note on the Translation and Note on the Text

  copyright © Malcolm C. Lyons, 2008

  Translation of ‘The story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves killed by a slave girl’ and ‘Translating Galland’

  copyright © Ursula Lyons, 2008

  Introduction, Glossary, Further Reading and Chronology copyright © Robert Irwin, 2008

  All rights reserved

  The moral right of the translators and editor has been asserted

  Text illustrations design by Coralie Bickford-Smith; images: Gianni Dagli Orti/Museo Correr,

  Venice/The Art Archive

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  ISBN: 978-0-14-194350-3

  Editorial Note

  Introduction

  A Note on the Translation

  A Note on the Text

  Translating Galland

  The Arabian Nights: Nights 1 to 294

  The story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves killed by a slave girl

  Glossary

  Chronology

  Further Reading

  Maps

  The ‘Abbasid Caliphate in the Ninth Century

  Baghdad in the Ninth Century

  Cairo in the Fourteenth Century

  Index of Nights and Stories

  This new English version of The Arabian Nights (also known as The Thousand and One Nights) is the first complete translation of the Arabic text known as the Macnaghten edition or Calcutta II since Richard Burton’s famous translation of it in 1885–8. A great achievement in its time, Burton’s translation nonetheless contained many errors, and even in the 1880s his English read strangely.

  In this new edition, in addition to Malcolm Lyons’s translation of all the stories found in the Arabic text of Calcutta II, Ursula Lyons has translated the tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba, as well as an alternative ending to ‘The seventh journey of Sindbad’, from Antoine Galland’s eighteenth-century French. (For the Aladdin and Ali Baba stories no original Arabic text has survived and consequently these are classed as ‘orphan stories’.)

  The text appears in three volumes, each with an introduction, which, in Volume 1, discusses the strange nature of the Nights; in Volume 2, their history and provenance; and, in Volume 3, the influence the tales have exerted on writers through the centuries. Volume 1 also includes an explanatory note on the translation, a note on the text and an introduction to the ‘orphan stories’ (‘Editing Galland’), in addition to a chronology and suggestions for further reading. Footnotes, a glossary and maps appear in all three volumes.

  As often happens in popular narrative, inconsistencies and contradictions abound in the text of the Nights. It would be easy to emend these, and where names have been misplaced this has been done to avoid confusion. Elsewhere, however, emendations for which there is no textual authority would run counter to the fluid and uncritical spirit of the Arabic narrative. In such circumstances no changes have been made.

  The story collection of The Arabian Nights has drawn on many cultures and sources – Indian, Persian, Greek. One of its parallel sources, which drew on the same ancient Indian materials, is a Sanskrit text known as the Kathasaritsagara, or ‘The Ocean of the Streams of Story’, compiled by the eleventh-century author Somadeva. The Arabian Nights is, like the Kathasaritsagara, a vast storytelling ocean in which the readers can lose themselves. One story, like a wave, is absorbed into the one that follows. The drift of the narrative tides carries us, like Sindbad, to strange places, and the further from home, the stranger those places are. Within the stories themselves, the sea operates as the agent of destiny which carries ships, men and magically sealed bottles and casts them upon unexpected shores: the Island of Waq-Waq where the women grow from trees, the island of the Magnetic Mountain presided over by its talismanic statue, the Black Islands of the Ensorcelled Prince and the islands of China. The tides are unpredictable, and men’s fortunes founder and are wrecked upon the sea of destiny.

  The vastness and complexity of the Nights is mesmerizing. In her story ‘The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye’ (1994), A. S. Byatt has written:

  What delights above all in the Arabian Nights is its form. Story is embedded in story, story sprouts out of the midst of story, like the Surinam toads out of the back of their mother toad, which Coleridge used as a metaphor for his unruly imagination. The collection resembles both a group of Russian dolls, formally similar, faces and colours different, and a maze or spider-web with threads and passages leading in all directions, both formless and orderly at once.

  Plot motifs within the Nights combine and recombine: the ageing and childless couple who, having prayed for a son, find that their wish is granted; the merchant who sits minding his business when a veiled woman enters his shop and summons him to follow her; the man who is told that he may explore every room in the palace sa
ve only one room, which is locked; the squandering of his deceased father’s fortune by a feckless youth; the fisherman who casts his net upon the waters but at first has no luck; the young man who is smuggled into the caliph’s harem; the curiously assembled queue of people each of whom swears that he or she can tell a tale yet more remarkable than the one they have just heard. The stories are full of echoes and half echoes of one another, like recurrent dreams in which the landscape is thoroughly familiar, though what is to come is utterly unpredictable. The stories’ devices are recombined, inverted or truncated in what comes to seem like a complete spectrum of storytelling possibilities.

  Those Surinam toads… one story frames another, which in turn contains yet another within it, and so on and so on. The French refer to this sort of framing procedure as the mise en abîme, the thrust into the abyss. Shahrazad, talking in an attempt to save her life, tells the tale of the hunchback, and that includes the tale of the tailor, and the tailor tells the tale of the barber, and the barber tells his own tale, and within that are the tales of his various unlucky brothers. Such a Chinese-box structure as an organizing device in fiction has its counterpart in real life, wherein we are all of us the stories we carry within us, but that master story contains also the stories of our family and friends, and perhaps the newsagent and the postman, and perhaps what the postman told you about his brother and the story the brother was told by a tourist he met in Italy, and so on. To look at it from the opposite direction, each of us embodies a life story and our stories get inserted into the overarching master stories of other people we know – just as, without having any choice in the matter, we may appear in the dreams of people we know.

  Shahrazad tells stories in order to postpone her death. But death, ‘the destroyer of delights’, is implicitly or explicitly the terminator of all the stories she tells and, in this sense, whether a prince marries a princess or a poor fisherman wins his just reward from the caliph, all stories will end unhappily if carried through to their inevitable conclusion. The Angel of Death, a protagonist in several stories, is unfailingly intransigent. The calender dervishes, whom Shahrazad has relating the stories of their adventures, are nothing other than the stories that they tell about themselves. The same is true of Sindbad, and of the sequence of people that manhandled the corpse of the hunchback from place to place and then, in order to save themselves from being executed for the hunchback’s murder, tell the stories of their strange adventures. As in medieval fiction, so, in real life, we are the stories we tell about ourselves. And our tales are told in order to postpone the coming of ‘the destroyer of all delights’.

  The stories that Shahrazad relates in order to delay her execution are told at night, and they cease abruptly when dawn breaks. Stories are best told at night. Since listening to stories in Arab society was regarded as less sinful after the day’s work was done, stories were known as asmar, ‘things of the evening’ or ‘tales related in the night for amusement’. Stories told at night often feature adventures that take place at night: the caliph Harun al-Rashid disguises himself and wanders the streets of Baghdad at night; the singing girls entertain the caliph’s courtiers at night; lovers’ assignations happen at night; so does housebreaking, and the thief was known as the Sahib al-Layl, or ‘Master of the Night’. In the darkness it is easy to get lost in the warren of streets in Baghdad or Cairo and so find oneself in an alleyway one has never set foot in before, and in that alleyway there is a house where the lights are still on and something strange is about to happen. The jinn are on the move when darkness falls.

  The night cloaks many mysteries. The Arabic for ‘mystery’ or ‘secret’ is sirr, but sirr is one those numerous Arabic words which also comprehends its opposite meaning, so that sirr also means ‘a thing that is revealed, appears or made manifest’. Many stories open strangely and they will only close when that strangeness is resolved and the truth ‘appears or is made manifest’. One night the caliph Harun ventures out in disguise and hires a boat on the Tigris. Only a little time passes before a torch-lit barge approaches and on it Harun sees a man enthroned and robed as the caliph and waited upon by servants and courtiers in the robes of the caliph’s court… Or consider the tale in which, once again, Harun ventures out in disguise and makes his way to the Tigris, where he encounters a fisherman who is pulling a large box out of the water. The box contains the body of a mutilated woman. Harun tells his vizier Ja‘far that the crime must be solved in three days or his life will be forfeit… Much stranger yet is the adventure of Judar who used to fish on Lake Qarun. One day he is approached by a Maghribi – that is, a North African – who asks Judar to tie his hands behind his back and throw him into the lake. If the Maghribi drowns, Judar is to go to a certain Jew and give him the Maghribi’s mule and saddlebag, for which he will receive one hundred dinars… ‘These are mysteries that are worthy to be graven on the corner of an eye with a needle.’ For some readers the atmosphere of deep mystery in such Nights stories may summon memories of the similarly atmospheric and mystifying openings of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle or G. K. Chesterton.

  Then consider the case of the multi-coloured fish caught in the net of a poor fisherman which he then presents to the king and for which he is well rewarded. These fish are sent down to the royal kitchens, where they are scaled and put in a frying pan with oil. They are fried on one side and then turned over. Whereupon a beautiful maiden, her eyes darkened with kohl, bursts through the wall of the kitchen and, having stuck her wand in the frying pan, addresses the fish: ‘Fish, are you faithful to the covenant?’ The cook faints, but the frying fish raise their heads and reply: ‘Yes, yes. If you return, we return; if you keep faith, then so do we…’ What is the meaning of this? There is no answer. Some of the mysteries of The Arabian Nights are destined never to be solved.

  The mystery of the locked room is particularly important. Within the Nights there are many locked rooms that should not be entered. Just one will serve as an example here. After the third dervish has departed from the palace of the ten one-eyed men, he follows their guidance and comes to a palace inhabited by forty moon-faced, amorous young women. After a year at the palace sleeping with different girls, he is woken by the wailing of the women. They tell him they must be away on business for forty days. He has very nearly the free run of the palace and he can go into every room except the fortieth, which on no account must he enter. And then the women ride off. What now? As the reader, one does not want the dervish to enter that last room, because there is obviously something evil or dangerous in it; one wants him to carry on dallying with the moon-faced women for ever. But at the same time the reader wants the dervish to enter the forbidden chamber, because the reader is, like the dervish, curious and wishes to know what is within it. Besides, unless the dervish crosses the forbidden threshold, there will be no more story. The third dervish’s dilemma is the same as that of Peter Rabbit, whose mother tells him: ‘Whatever you do, do not go into Mr McGregor’s garden.’ The reader both wants and does not want to see the rabbit venture into the garden. A horrible tension has been set up.

  In the event, on the fortieth day, the dervish, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, enters the fortieth chamber, where he finds a horse waiting, saddled and bridled. He mounts the horse and whips it into action. The magic horse flies him to the roof of another palace and, as the dervish dismounts, the horse lashes out with its tail, striking out his right eye. The dervish finds that he has been brought back to the palace of the ten one-eyed men. His story has been a warning to the curious. It is as if the storyteller is teasing the audience, saying to them: ‘Beware. You should not be listening to my stories.’ Also, perhaps, the interdiction ‘Whatever you do, do not do this’ acts as a kind of dam, slowing the narrative stream of the plot. It holds the story back for a while, but, when the narrative flow breaks through, it does so with redoubled force.

  The stories of the Nights are suffused by sex. Their protagonists languish and faint from excess of desire. They waste awa
y from love, and they improvise verses to celebrate their melancholy passions. All the emotions are heightened. Those who listen to poems or to music on the lute are liable to tear their robes in ecstasy; a good joke may cause the caliph to fall over with laughter. The stories are full of competing eloquences, as men and women debate before caliphs or jinn and engage in a rhetoric of persuasion that draws on stories, maxims and pious examples. Envy is one of the powerful passions to fuel the plotting of the stories, and the eye of envy seeks out the beautiful child or the magic key to wealth. The storytellers have a ruthlessly mocking attitude towards mutilation and misfortune. The streets of Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus teem with one-eyed, one-handed men and hunchbacks, and each mutilation or deformity has its own story. People hunger for justice, even if that justice may be summary and arbitrary. When they bring their story and complaint before the caliph, they cannot know whether the end of it will be a purse of gold or being thrust down on to the executioner’s leather mat to be beheaded. Though religious belief and practice are rarely the subject of the stories, invocations to God – ‘In the Name of God’, ‘Praise be to God’, ‘I take refuge in God’, ‘From God we come and to Him do we return’ – come as easily to the Muslims in the street as breathing. However, it is fate, not God, which governs their destinies.

  There are many stories about richly apparelled and libidinous princes and princesses and their hunting, feasting and music making, designed, in part, to stir up envy. But one should not ignore the fact there are other stories in the Nights which suggest that there is a mystical meaning to the way the world works and which call their audience to repentance. There are tales in praise of hermits and renunciation of the pleasures of the world. There are also stories of virtuous deeds done by stealth and tales of divine favour. In one lengthy story, a small encyclopedia in its own right, the slave girl Tawaddud lectures her audience on the Quran, traditions concerning the Prophet, Islamic law and other edifying matters. In the story of Buluqiya, we are introduced to the fantastic structures of Islamic cosmology: the cosmic mountain, Qaf, at the end of the world; the archangels that preside over the procession of night and day, earthquakes, famine and prosperity; the angel who carries the seven worlds and who stands on a bull who stands on a fish who swims in the sea of infinity.

 
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