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À mon chevet: 'The Arabian Nights'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
The following night Dinarzad said to her sister Shahrazad, "Sister, tell us the rest of the story and what happened to the fisherman." Shahrazad replied, "With the greatest pleasure":

I heard, O King, that when the fisherman presented the [four] fish to the king, and the king looked at them and saw that they were colored [one red, one white, one blue, one yellow], he took one of them in his hand and looked at it with great amazement. Then he said to his vizier, "Take them to the cook whom the emperor of Byzantium has given us as a present." The vizier took the fish and brought them to the girl and said to her, "Girl, as the saying goes, 'I save my tears for the time of trial.' The king has been presented these four fish, and he bids you fry them well." Then the vizier went back to report to the king, and the king ordered him to give the fisherman four hundred dirhams. The vizier gave the money to the fisherman, who, receiving it, gathered it in the folds of his robe and went away, running, and as he ran, he stumbled and kept falling and getting up, thinking that he was in a dream. Then he stopped and bought some provisions for his family.

So far for the fisherman, O King. In the meantime, the girl scaled the fish, cleaned them, and cut them into pieces. Then she placed the frying pan on the fire and poured in the sesame oil, and when it began to boil, she placed the fish in the frying pan. When the pieces were done on one side, she turned them over, but no sooner had she done this than the kitchen wall split open and there emerged a maiden with a beautiful figure, smooth cheeks, perfect features, and dark eyes. She wore a short-sleeved silk shirt in the Egyptian style, embroidered all around with lace and gold spangles. In her ears she wore dangling earrings; on her wrists she wore bracelets; and in her hand she held a bamboo wand. She thrust the wand into the frying pan and said in clear Arabic, "O fish, O fish, have you kept the pledge?" When the cook saw what had happened, she fainted. Then the maiden repeated what she had said, and the fish raised their heads from the frying pan and replied in clear Arabic, "Yes, yes. If you return, we shall return; if you keep your vow, we shall keep ours; and if you forsake us, we shall be even." At that moment the maiden overturned the frying pan and disappeared as she had come, and the kitchen wall closed behind her.

-- The Arabian Nights, pp. 60-61 (trans. Husain Haddawy)
I had been wanting to reread these famous tales and decided to do so in the new, more accurate translation by Baghdad-born scholar Husain Haddawy, based on the earliest, most definitive manuscript of the work, copied in Syria in the 14th century. The book now seems closer to its Arabic original, with the spelling of names adjusted to reflect the transliteration of Arabic and the cultural and historical details clearly rendered and annotated. Good fortune comes to the teller of a good tale in the world evoked here: not only angry kings will relent of their murderous rage to hear the end of a compelling story, but also horrible demons and other powerful creatures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A friend and I have learned to read Arabic in the last several years by reading only the Thousand Nights and One Night, which is the literal translation of the Arabic title of the huge work called The Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights. The work in Arabic takes up six volumes, about 5 1/2 inches, on my shelf. We started with page one (with dictionary and grammar and the excellent Penguin translation by Malcolm Lyons in hand) and have now made it almost two-thirds of the way through the entire text. It has not always been easy, but it has been very rewarding. If you enjoy learning languages, you might consider taking this amazing, erotic, horrific, pious, magical, vengeful, picaresque, and humorous path.