More reason to read the Arabian Nights

2024-06-15 @Literature

The hour before the break of dawn, each night compels Scheherazade to spellbind Sultan Schahriar with fanciful storytelling as means to avoid decapitation. Each night culminates with either a cliffhanger or a teaser that promises to yet outdo the preceding. Thus the pickle, which the prelude story amply paints.

The sheer amount of stories across the multi-volume epic triumphs over most western story-telling canon that I’ve heard of. But is the vastness indicative of quality? What are we to derive in reading any or all the Arabian Nights?

  1. A window into Islam: supplement to the Christian influenced western canon with the Islamic school of thought.
  2. The ancient Arabic Geo-political, socio-economic and military structure.
  3. Across fiction, one of the rare anthropologically detailed depictions of the Arabian/Persian territories spanning the Caliphate.
  4. The daily offices and debauchs of diverse settings of society: households, markets, palaces, harems, etc.
  5. Historical exposure to the political regimes (the Caliphate) and the civil structures of major cities of Arabia (ie Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo)
  6. Likewise, the diverse stations of society and the frequent transitions between them: sovereignty (ie Caliphs, Viziers, Emirs, Princes), military, merchants, slaves, eunuchs, dervishes, calenders, Mamelukes, healers, enchanters, barbers/surgeons …
  7. Insight on heresy and how it aligns or misaligns with the concurring monotheist religions.
  8. Pagan ideologies juxtaposed next to the monotheistic.
  9. Quranic precepts and invocations galore: both the core and the vulgar.
  10. The inter-relations between race and sex and their challenging (or not) impact on the contemporary Western reader.
  11. The inter-relations between the Islamic, Jewish and Christian sectors in ways often more collaborative and pragmatic (ie, in accord with Abbasid dynasty of the caliphate). Compare to the more exclusive, caricature Western depictions: Chaucer, Dante, Spenser, Cervantes.
  12. Poetic language: endless refrains and evocations; inexhaustible moon similes.
  13. Heavy philosophical verse intermixed with prose.
  14. Poetry as the explicit means of expression rather than mainly a storytelling device (cf Chaucer, Dante).
  15. Grossly hyperbolic expression of woe and joy triumphs even Malory.
  16. The mixture of the realist, pseudo-realist, fantasy and entirely metaphysical keeps the experience fresh and varied.
  17. Fantastic beings (genies, ifrits, marids, etc) and beasts and demons intervene in the otherwise monotheistic arena of men: a combination rarely encountered across Western fiction? Though upon hindsight, Dante’s Inferno part of the Commedia does just that.
  18. Beast tales. Who can disapprove of a beast tale?
  19. Extreme brutality
  20. Explicit pornography
  21. Extensive humour.

Questions, comments? Connect.