Reading in Progress: Arabian Nights - In Which I Must Share This One Story...

Arabian Nights: The Marvels and Wonders of The Thousand and One Nights - Anonymous, Richard Francis Burton, Jack Zipes

I was going to add this to the review, but since I seem to have become more and more pokey about actually writing up full reviews and also because I MUST share this wackiness with someone, I'm going to tell you about just this one story in this edition. Because, wow. I'll write more about this, but this is an example of Differences in Translations. The Arabian Nights has been notorious for having Stories Too Frisky For Victorians, but I always thought meh, Victorians were easily shocked. However I'd also not made it far enough through this edition to read this story - the stories go on and on and it's a bit much to chug through all at one sitting.

Anyway, this is a wonderful example of a story that yes, I could see how those mamas then (and now) might think this is not the fairy tale to read aloud to your kids at bedtime. But oh is it...well, I'll just show you.


All of the tales involve one story that leads into another which leads into another, so I'm going to hop over a bit to get to the part that made me realize "nope, this is not like the edited versions I've read." Also chopping out other characters here and there. So this is not anything like the complete story. As will be obvious, I'm retelling it in my own way, while giggling a lot. The book's translation is not anything near this tone - but it is still very amused with itself and it's clear we're supposed to laugh at a lot of it. Anything in quotes is taken directly from the text - so look to that for a better idea of the book's writing style.


I did take out endless references to good looking people being "like the full moon" because that was on every single page, to the point where I started imagining them all as strange, spherical moon-aliens.


The sections that have more quotes are to insure you don't think I'm making any of this up. And because the Zipes translation is hysterical.

So here we go, and do let me know your response to this. I'll write more on the full book elsewhere. (I should add up here at the start that I don't at all like the trope of the sultan's using marriage to the hunchback as a punishment. I know it's an ancient comedy setup, but still.)



The Tale of Nur al-Din Ali and His Son

Quotes from Arabian Nights, adapted from Richard F. Burton's Unexpurgated Translation by Jack Zipes


[Part one, because I have the idea you may want to know the rest of what happens to Hasan, and this already is long enough.]


Two brothers, also viziers who co-mange their work, have an argument about what if someday they each get married and then have one's daughter wed the other's son, what the wedding settlement would be. Younger Brother is huffy about this imaginary situation, packs up, and secretly goes off to start a new life. He falls in with a nice family, marries has a kid: Badar al-Din Hasan. Who I'll call Hasan. Older Brother misses Younger, but also marries and has a daughter, Lady of Beauty. Hasan and the Lady of Beauty were conceived and born on the same day.

Hasan's father falls ill. But before he dies he writes the whole story of his leaving his brother and family, gaining his new wife/son/job (surprise, he's a vizier again), and has it sewn into Hasan's skullcap so he'll always have a record of his family origins. Which will come in handy.

Hasan: The king has made me his vizier, like dad, but I'm too broken up about dad's death so I'm going to hang out in the cemetery and cry daily.

Sultan: I'm furious with Hasan for ignoring me/his work. (But mostly me.) Lackeys, go take all his goods and bring him to me. (I'll probably kill him.)

Slave of Hasan: Hey, I liked your dad. But the sultan is pissed at you, and he's sending a bunch of dudes who are going to kill you, so you'd better leave town.

Hasan: Oh no, what shall I do?! I think I'll wander around town a bit, then leave town and go to the cemetery where dad's burried and then fall asleep from exhaustion on his grave!

p 290: "Now the cemetery was haunted day and night by jinnees who were of the true believers, and soon a jinniyah came out and saw Hassan asleep."

[Jinnees come in male and female versions - not that that's necessary to know for this. Jinniyah are female.]

Jinniyah: WOW! This is an amazingly good looking man! (She then flies into the air and meets a Jinnee.)

Jinnee: Hey, how's it going?

Jinniyah: Fine. Where have you been traveling?

Jinnee: Oh I've just been in Cairo.

Jinniyah: Look, you have to come with me and see this really amazing looking guy.

Jinnee: Sure!

Jinniyah: (once they get to Hasan) Check him out - have you ever seen anyone so amazingly good looking?

Jinnee: Actually I've seen a girl so good looking she's his match - in fact they look somewhat alike. But her father refused to marry her to the Sultan of Egypt because he says she's to be married to his long lost brother's son. Which pissed off the Sultan massively, so he's having the girl married to "a horsegroom, a gobbo, with a hump on his breast and a hunch to his back." (p. 293)

Jinniyah: I refuse to believe that anyone else could be as good looking as this guy.

Jinnee: She is! And she's totally wasted on that hunchback!

Jinniyah: I know - let's take this guy to Cairo and compare him to the girl and then see who's the better looking!

[Jinnies obviously have way too much time on their hands.]

Jinnee: That is an excellent idea!

The jinnies carry Hasan to Cario.

Hasan: (wakes up) Argh!!!-

Jinnee: (smacks him): Hush! Here, put on these nice clothes, and take this torch. And this magic purse full of money.

p 294: "...I want you to know that I've brought you here with the intension of doing you a good turn for the love of Allah."

And here's what I want you to do - you're going to join this wedding celebration. (Jinnee explains details of what will happen).

Hasan: Um, I have NO idea what's going on, but this all seems nice of you - ok, I'll go along with it!

Hasan mingles with wedding celebrants and follows procession with bride and groom - the Lady of Beauty and the Hunchback. A group of singing girls is part of the procession, and as the Jinnee advised, Hasan gives them gold/tips repeatedly.

Singing Girls: Wow, what a generous guy! Also he's amazingly handsome.

Household chamberlain: Ok, everyone in the wedding party inside, but none of you folk just following along - shoo. Only invited guests allowed!

Singing Girls: We refuse to go inside unless you let the amazingly handsome, great-with-tips guy in too! And you need us for the ceremony where we show off the bride in her various fabulous outfits!

Household chamberlain: (sigh) Ok, fine, he can come inside too.

Hunchback: (glares at Hasan, whom everyone is oogling)

Ladies in the room: (all checking out Hasan)

Singing Girls: Hey everyone, see that amazingly handsome guy over there? He gave us countless gold coins, so you should totally be nice and give him anything he asks.

p 295:

"...Then all the women crowded around Hasan with their torches, gazed at his handsome features , and admired his loveliness. One and all would gladly have lain on his bosom an hour if not a year. They were so excited that they let their veils fall from their faces and said "Happy is she who belongs to this youth or to whom he belongs!" And they began cursing the crooked groom and the sultan, who was the cause of the hunchback's marriage to the vizier's beautiful daughter."

[Seriously, it's not the hunchback's fault. He couldn't exactly say no to the Sultan, could he?! Not to mention Hasan is a wedding crasher.]

Lady of Beauty enters, oogles Hasan a bit (because no one can help doing so), and we have a fashion show which is actually a part of the traditional wedding ceremony where the bride shows off different outfits. The story describes her and her clothes in glowing terms for two pages:

p 297

"...Her locks which hung like scorpions along her cheek were curled, and her neck was bowed in blandishment, and her lips quivered as she walked. ...Her radiant face dimmed the brightest beams of the full moon, and she outdid the bending branches in gentle movement and flexible grace. ...Thus they showed the bride in her seven dresses before Badar al-Din, completely neglecting the gobbo, who sat moping alone. And when she opened her eyes, she said "Oh Allah, make this man my bridegroom, and deliver me from the evil of this hunchback groom."

[HAD to use the particular quote about scorpions because I've never seen that used to describe curls in a woman's hair before.]

Ceremony over, everyone leaves and the Hunchback approaches Hasan.

Hunchback: So you've had your fun and all, but it's really time for you to leave.

Hasan: Right, I'm out.

Jinnee: Nope, stay right where you are. When the Hunchback goes to the toilet go into the backroom where the Lady is waiting and tell her that it was all a plan to avoid the evil eye.

Hasan: (who has been oogling the Lady of Beauty during the evening) Er, sure!

Hunchback (in the toilet, sees a mouse)

Mouse/Jinnee: Squeak! Squeak!

Hunchback: What are you on about?!

Mouse swells in size, changes into a Cat, into a Dog, into an Ass which then grows to the size of a buffalo.

Hunchback: Help! I'm being attacked by an evil spirit!

Jinnee: "Is the world so tiny...that the only person you can find to marry is my lady love? ...Answer me or you'll become dust!" (p. 298)

Hunchback: I swear, I didn't know, it's not my fault! "They forced me to wed her, and honestly I didn't know that she had a lover among the buffaloes." (p. 298)

Jinnee: Swear that you'll stay in this toilet until sunrise! And when the sun comes up you leave the house never to return here! Otherwise I'll kill you!

Jinnee then stuffs the Hunchback headfirst into the toilet/privy. Hunchback stays there.

Hasan: (is presented the Lady of Beauty as if he were the bridegroom): Er hello!

Lady of Beauty: "My dear, are you still sitting here? By Allah, I had been wishing that you were my bridegroom, or at very least, that you and the hunchbacked horsegroom were partners and shared me." (p. 299) ...Wait, so who is my husband?!

[Let us now invoke the term Marty Stu, shall we? If you hadn't thought about that already, that is. Because all virgin brides would happily settle for "at very least" being shared. Much eyerolling.]

Hasan: This whole thing has been a trick to ward off the evil eye, planned by your father who hired the Hunchback to play the part. The Hunchback's been paid off and gone on his way. I'm the real bridegroom!

Lady of Beauty:

p. 299:

"By Allah, you have quenched a fire that was torturing me, and now, my dark-haired darling, take me to you and press me against your chest." Then she stripped off her outer garment, and she threw open her chemise from the neck downward and showed her womb and the rondure of her hips.


p. 301:

"...the Lady of Beauty embraced him, and he took her into his arms, set her legs around his waist, and aimed his cannon point-blank at the spot where it would batter down the bulwark of maidenhead and lay it to waste. And he found her a pearl unpierced and a filly unridden by men except himself. So he took her virginity and enjoyed her youth in his virility, and soon he withdrew sword from sheath. Then he returned to the fray right away, and when the battle and the siege were finished, there had been some fifteen assaults, and she conceived through him that very night. Afterward he placed his hand under her head, and she did the same, and they embraced and fell asleep in each other's arms."

Jinnee: (to Jinnyah) Ok they're asleep now - let's take him back to where we found him!

And they leave behind most of Hasan's clothing and all his money.

p. 301:

"...they kept flying until they realized that dawn was upon them and they had only reached the halfway mark. Then Allah had his angelic host shoot the jinnee down with a shooting star, and he was consumed. But the jinniyah manged to escape..."

Jinniyah: That's it, I'm not taking him all the way home to Bassorah, I'm just going to leave him here in Damascus.

She leaves Hasan at the city gates of Damascus, asleep - and a crowd gathers to look at him


p. 301:

"...He was lying on the ground drowned in sleep after his hard labor that night. So the people looked at him and said, "Oh lucky her who has spent the night with this young man! But he should have put on his garments afterward." "


p 302:

"While the people were bandying guesses about him, the morning breeze suddenly blew upon Badar al-Din, and raising his shirt to his middle, it revealed a stomach and navel with something below it. His legs and thighs were as clear as crystal and as smooth as cream, and the people cried "By Allah, he's a pretty fellow!" "


If that's not specific enough about what the crowd is admiring, the undressing scene when he's with the Lady the night before makes it clear he's removed any form of pants or underwear.


...I probably didn't need to add that, did I?


Part two sometime tomorrow. Not as racy as this, sadly.