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The Thousand and One Nights

Joseph Campbell – Apresentação das "Mil e Uma Noites"

quinta-feira 24 de agosto de 2023, por Cardoso de Castro


My hope for the present book, therefore, is that its ancient science of Shehrzad, which has already charmed us, may, when we go past the portion introduced by Galland, so amplify our experience of the world that, seeing ourselves in perspective, some of us shall wish to rejoin the human race. Then, indeed, the reading of the complete Thousand and One Nights will have been our death–as tyrant, and refreshment as man.


The Muslim saying that no one can read the complete Nights without dying suggests that an edited version may be welcome. The reference, however, is not merely to the length but equally to the delights of the collection, which are considered noxious by the Mohammedan fundamentalist, for whom pleasant stories are no less conducive   to sin than wine  , music, or graven images. “I have seen the complete work more than once,” wrote the tenth-century historian Ali Aboulhusn el Mesoudi, “and it is indeed a vulgar  , insipid book.” Carlyle, in the same spirit  , termed the tales “down-right lies,” forbidding his house to such “unwholesome literature.” But severity of that kind, characteristic no less of Arab than of Puritan moralism, is difficult to maintain with the Nights before one; for what balances the mind   in this fascinating comédie humaine, and so reforms the reformer, is the rich run of its life, the relaxed surety of its narrative, its brilliant revivification of a golden age, and its poignant, humorous, unsentimental reading of man’s heart. Here is a universe of story; or rather, the universe as story. No sober stone is permitted to kill   even the wildest fancy, yet unlikelihood becomes an epiphany of humanity. Opening upon us, night by night, this Oriental enchantment has fashioned, not only our conscious, but our unconscious, image of the heart’s ideal romance.

Shehrzad was a priestess of the psyche   secure in her science. The wonderful ease with which she gave not the best of her tales the opening night, yet enough to pique the invalid king’s interest, is one of the subtleties of the collection. Her understanding of the paradoxology of fate was transferred to King Shehriyar’s morbid intellect little by little (never more at a time than a self-righteous tyrant could assimilate), until, in the end, what was there left in the world for him to resist or not to love? In silence, the usual ritual of the flesh   meanwhile yielded him three children; life (which was talking to him) thus opened the future while his attention was absorbed. Apprehending the grave and constant in human experience simultaneously with the ridiculous and ephemeral, he saw his own fate, finally, in perspective and, abandoning his Hamlet act, rejoined the race. Humanity–wise, obscene, greater than judgment–broke the lethal spell of his indignant pose.

Compare St. Paul’s mythos   of the Old Law and the New. The allegory   of redemption (or disenchantment), which is one of the most typical and variously turned story patterns of the Nights, is also one of the major themes of religion. Yahweh, in the Garden, chose to play the offended part and made a cosmic calamity of his unwillingness to encompass what had taken place; yet when the Godhead condescended to join the world that sin had made, receiving the guilt on his own shoulders, the ban was broken. The Puritan orientation, whether of Cromwell or of Mohammed  , returns, on the other hand, to the rectitude of Yahweh. The wine-bibbers with whom the Redeemer consorted (Luke 7:34) are rejected, and a sword   of reform beheads the children of the earth.

Man’s best reply to such rectitude is love: the merciful condescension of the spirit to the manifold of life and its joyful recognition therein of its own incarnation. “Split the stick,” runs a Gnostic aphorism, “and there is Jesus!” “Brahman   sleeps in the stone,” say the Hindus. Omar Khayyam   (1050–1120), Nizami 1140–1203), Hafiz   (1325–1389 ?), and the other great Persian poets of Islam proclaim such a response. “In taverns,” we read in Khayyam  , “better far commune with Thee, than pray in mosques, and fail Thy face   to see!”

Now in thick clouds Thy face Thou dost immerse,
And now display it in this universe:
Thou the spectator, Thou the spectacle,
Sole to Thyself Thy glories dost rehearse.

“Love’s slave am I,” wrote Hafiz, “and from both worlds am free.” The same life-celebrating answer was carried, in a broader, homelier vein, by the popular tales that poured during those same centuries–also from Persia–into the Mohammedan world.

“The first who composed tales and made books of them,” states Mesoudi, “were the Persians. The Arabs translated them and the learned took them and embellished them and composed others like them. The first book of the kind made,” he goes on, “was that called Hezar Efsan (Thousand Romances), and its manner was on this wise. One of the kings of the Persians was wont, whenas he took a woman to wife and had lain one night with her, to put her to death on the morrow. Now he married a girl endowed with wit and knowledge, by name Shehrzad, and she fell to telling him tales and used to join the story, at the end of the night, with what should induce the king to spare her alive and question her next night of the ending thereof, till a thousand nights had passed over her. Meanwhile he lay with her, till he was vouchsafed a child by her [in the Arabian version, three], when she discovered to him the device she had practiced upon him. Her wit pleased him and he inclined to her and spared her life. And the king had a duenna named Dunyazad [Shehrzad’s sister in the Arabic], who was of accord with her concerning this. The book comprises a thousand nights, but less than two hundred stories [in the Arabic version, two hundred and sixty-four], for a story is often told in a number of nights.”

Our collection is rooted, then, in the predominantly Persian humanistic movement, romantic and mystical, that beautified and sweetened Islam following the fall   of the strictly Arabian Ommiade Khalifate (a.d. 661–750) and the founding of cosmopolitan Baghdad by the Persian-supported Abbasides (a.d. 750–1258). Unfortunately no manuscript survives of the Hezar Efsan, our sole clue to its character being the greatly altered Thousand and One Nights–which is no longer Persian. As John Payne, our translator, states the case: not a single reference occurs to the ancient Persian romantic heroes, Feridoun, Rustem, etc., or to such Iranian monsters as the griffin and the phoenix; moreover, when dealing with Persia, India, and other non-Arabic countries, or with pre-Mohammedan epochs, the tales depict the manners of Baghdad and Cairo in the period of the Abbasides and are impregnated with an ardent Mohammedanism. In the Introduction, which, with the possible exception of “The Enchanted Horse,” is the oldest portion of our collection, ancient Persian traits are confined to the names of the principals (Shehriyar, Shahzeman, Shehrzad, Dunyazad) and the merest thread of incident, whereon is strung a fable which in circumstance and colour is wholly Muslim.

The oldest surviving pieces probably are the following:

Introduction, with its incidental story, The Ox and the Ass

1.The Merchant and the Genie and its three incidental stories

2. The Fisherman and the Genie and its four incidental stories

3. The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad and its six incidental stories

4. The Three Apples

5. Bedreddin Hassan

6. The Hunchback and its eleven incidental stories

7. Noureddin and Enis el Jelis

8. Ghanim ben Eyoub

20.Ali ben Bekkar and Shemsennehar

21.Kemerezzeman and Budour

59. The Enchanted Horse

153. Julnar of the Sea

These form, roughly, a fifth of the whole and offer such general similarity in style (largely Irak Arabian of Mosul) as to suggest that they were composed, or adapted to the frame story, by several persons of the same nationality, acting in concert, probably in the fourteenth century a.d.

The collection was swollen to its present bulk by the addition, at various times, of stories of all kinds, some freshly composed, others adapted, in whole or in part, from independent works. 134 “The Malice of Women,” 161 “Jelyaad and Shimas” (apparently an old Indian collection, little changed), and 154a Seif el Mulouk existed independently before the middle of the eleventh century. 131 “The Queen of the Serpents” (also very old) is Persian but has been altered by an Arabian adaptation to Muslim manners, especially in the incidental tales of “Beloukiya” and “Janshah.” 152 “Ardeshir and Heyat en Nufous,” and its apparent prototype, 9a “Taj el Mulouk,” as well   as 41 “Ali Shar and Zumurrud” and 155 “Hassan of Bassora” (which seems, in part at least, to be an adaptation of “Janshah”) also probably were Persian but were refashioned by Arabs of the metropolitan provinces shortly following the date of the original Nights. 164 “The Merchant of Oman,” 165 “Ibrahim and Jemileh,” and 166 “Aboulhusn of Khorassan” seem to have been composed in the same metropolitan provinces at the same period. 136 “Gherib and Agib” is a rearrangement of some old Bedouin romance, while 9 “King Omar and His Sons,” with the exception of the incidental story of “Taj el Mulouk” and that (probably Egyptian) of “Aziz and Azizeh,” seems to have been created by some Syriac author, before the introduction of firearms.

132 Sindbad’s “Voyages” are composed, apparently, mainly of adaptations from Arab geographers and cosmographers of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. The gigantic cannibal of Voyage III (like his counterpart in 154a “Seif el Mulouk”) resembles Polyphemus of the Odyssey, while the burial cave in Voyage IV suggests an adventure related by Pausanias. Sindbad is to be attributed, probably, to an Arab writer of (at earliest) the beginning of the fifteenth century. 133 “The City of Brass” (composed equally late by a native of Spain or Northern Africa) is also adapted, in part at least, from historians and topographers.

60 “Uns el Wujoud” is relatively modern Egyptian; so also 150 “The Rogueries of Delileh” and 151 “The Adventures of Quicksilver Ali.” All of these exist in independent forms. In 22 “Alaeddin Abou esh Shamat,” the Genoese corsair’s firing of a cannon brings us to the fifteenth century; the tale having been composed, probably, by an inhabitant of Cairo. 112 “Taweddud” seems the work of some Egyptian savant of the Shafiy school, who employed a conventional cadre of narrative to exhibit his learning: the advanced views on anatomy, astronomy, etc., pointing to a late date. 135 “Jouder and His Brothers” and 169 “Marouf the Cobbler” belong to the early sixteenth century; so also does 167 “Kemerezzeman and the Jeweller’s Wife,” which, judging from its references to coffee, is the latest of these three. (This tale contains, furthermore, the only reference in the Arabian Nights to a watch.) Other Egyptian tales mentioning coffee, and so presumably late, are 168 “Abdallah ben Fazil and His Brothers” (an improved version of 3d “The Eldest Lady’s Story”), 158 “Ali Noureddin and the Frank King’s Daughter,” and 110 “The Haunted House in Baghdad.” 157 “Zein el Mewasif,” 163 “Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman,” and 162 “Aboukir and Abousir” also are late Egyptian, the last-named, judging from its mention of tobacco, being probably the most modern tale of the whole collection.

The numerous animal   fables were added mostly from Greek, Persian, and Indian sources, perhaps even Chinese and Japanese. 6ee “The Barber’s Fifth Brother  ,” 134b “The Merchant’s Wife and the Parrot,” 134w “The King’s Son and the Afrit’s Mistress,” and 161b “The Fakir and His Pot of Butter” have been traced to India; 17 “The Hedgehog and the Pigeons” has prototypes in India, China, and Japan; 15 “The Cat and the Crow,” 16b “The Falcon and the Birds  ,” and 16c “The Sparrow and the Eagle” seem derived from Aesop  ; while many of the saint and hermit legends are referable to Christian, Jewish, Brahmin, and Buddhist sources. Tale 84, a version of Susannah and the Elders, evidently was borrowed from the Apocryphal Book of Daniel.

Finally, a great many historical anecdotes of persons and places stem from well-known Arabian historians and geographers. 39 “Yehya and the Forger” appears almost identically in Fekhreddin Razi; 125 “The Muslim Champion” is found in Et Teberi, 29 “The City of Irem” in El Mesoudi, 26 “The City of Lebtait” in a Spanish-Arabic work; 87 “El Mamoun and the Pyramids,” 127 “The Justice of Providence,” certain parts of 132 “The Voyages of Sindbad,” and 154a “Seif el Mulouk” are in El Cazwini; 140 “Younus the Scribe,” 69 “Musab ben Ez Zubeir,” and 144 “The Lovers   of the Benou Udhreh” in the Kitab el Aghani; 143 “Ibrahim of Mosul and the Devil” is in the Helbeit el Kumeit, 90 “The Devout Prince” in Ibn el Jauzi, 28 “Ibrahim ben El Mehdi and the Barber-Surgeon” in the Spanish historian Ibrahim el Andalousi, 34 “Abou Yousuf with Er Reshid and Jaafer” in Mirat el Jenan, 95 “The Story of the Roc” in Ibn el Werdi, and so on.

Ver online : Joseph Campbell