Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Scheherazade and Her Tales

The Arabian Nights 
translated by
Sir Richard Francis Burton 

The Arabian Nights

“Scheherazade had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.”  ― Richard Francis Burton, The Book of a Thousand Nights and One Night 

This is the selection of tales of The Arabian Nights as translated by Sir Richard F. Burton and published by The Modern Library. The story of Scheherazade's ingenuity is of Persian origin and its origin has been traced back to 944 AD. However the tales are more Arabian than Persian in flavor. Over the centuries the tales multiplied and eventually comprised an convoluted form that has been a source of admiration as a miracle of narrative architecture. While Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are similar to them in construction, in that they are collections of stories within stories, the Arabian tales is infinitely more complicated.

The frame of the work consists of a whimsical plot arrangement that depends upon the jealousy of Shahriyar, King of India, for his wife and her wanton ways; after executing her he vows to take his revenge on wall woman-ways. Night after night he marries some beautiful girl, only to order her beheaded the next morning. That is until he meets Scheherazade whose wile and intelligence is more than a match for the King. She manages to spin a bewildering number of yarns and, by suspending the ending of each, eludes the executioner. The tales she tells include such stories as "Aladdin's Lamp" and "Sinbad the Sailor" and many more that, while less famous, are equally entertaining. 
"the most marvelous article in this Enchanted Treasure was a wonderful Lamp with its might of magical means." (p 712, "Alaeddin; or, The Wonderful Lamp")

The resulting compendium of stories has been popular ever since inspiring many translations and different forms. This translation by Richard F. Burton may be the most entertaining of all. In 1888 Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed "Scheherazade", a tone poem in four movements, capturing the elemental emotions on display in the original collection of stories. The composition is a brilliant demonstration of Rimsky-Korsakov's superior skills of orchestration resulting in wonderful listening; it has been a favorite of mine since I was a child (Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Valery Gergiev).


Brian Joseph said...

Another book that has been on my radar for a long time. I Knew that Richard Burton’s version and selection was the most famous
. It seems like a testament to his skill that it is still so respected.

I am familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Scheherazade. It is a wonderful piece.

Kathy's Corner said...

So happy to have found your book blog. Right now I am reading The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio and as you say there are similarities to Arabian nights. I am reading the Penguin edition of the Decameron, a modern translation which is very readable. As with Arabian Nights women factor big in the Decameron and I am amazed at how daring The Decameron stories are considering Boccaccio wrote them in the 14th century.

James said...

This is the classic collection of these tales and probably the one (in the French edition) that inspired Rimsky-Korsakov.

James said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I have enjoyed both the Decameron and the Arabian Nights. If you are interested in collections of tales and women you might consider The Canterbury Tales. I have seldom encountered a stronger woman than Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath".