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For our last exploration this year of the Middle East, we decided to look at some of the stories of The Arabian Nights. While reading about Middle Eastern mathematicians and scientists I found a comment about how the Iraqi scholar Abu 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abdus al-Jashyari translated Persian, Indian, Iranian, Turkish and Chinese stories into Arabic. He changed the names to the exotic Arabic names we know today like Aladdin, Ali Baba, Scheherazade and Sinbad. He also changed the locations of some of the adventures. After al-Jashyari's death other Muslim scholars added to his collection until it contained the full 1001 stories that the title suggests. (Source: Steffens, Bradley, Ibn al-Haytham, Morgan Reynolds Publishing, Greensboro, NC 2007, page 17) This fascinated me.
Now the truth is I did not know much about The Arabian Nights' Entertainment or The One Thousand and One Nights. I had, of course, seen Disney's Aladdin and had heard the Aladdin story when I was young, and I knew something about the forty thieves and "open sesame", but that is really all I knew. Hazel only really knew about Jasmine and Aladdin and actually called the story Jasmine since it has always been the princesses that matter to her. We did see them in Disney World. It was when she was still very afraid of men especially ones she did not know so she would not go near Aladdin. However she loved seeing Jasmine even if she didn't know her story.
We started our look at the stories by reading some picture books. Hazel really enjoyed these stories and was able to understand them. I also found some movies at the library plus of course the Disney version we already had. I let Hazel watch it for the first time. Hazel made it through the top two movies, but did not understand the bottom ones. She was asking me questions and was really having a hard time following the movie on the bottom left and we did not even bother with the one on the bottom right.
This is what I introduced to Hazel. I did a little more reading. I am fascinated with the story of Shahrazade and Shahriyar. After Shahriyar's wife and his brother's wife have betrayed the men, Shahriyar comes up with the plan to marry a new woman each day. He would spend the day and night with her and then behead her so she could not hurt him like his first wife did. The parents began to lock their daughters up so his army could not take them. Eventually the man in charge of finding the new wives has no one but his own two daughters. His oldest Shahrazade volunteers to marry him. She would begin stories each night and Shahriyar would not kill her in the morning because he would want to hear the end. She would tell the end and then begin a new story. This went on for one thousand and one nights and thus the title One Thousand and One Nights. The collection are the stories she told to save her life and the lives of all the rest of the young women in the area. These stories were passed down by generation to generation by word of mouth.
The story of Shahrazade I discovered in the more like chapter books I found at the library. I did not read these to Hazel or read them all completely. There are quite a few collections of the stories out there. I have also seen that the European translations and the stories we probably best know from this collection differ greatly from the Arabic versions. The title The Arabian Nights was first printed in France in 1704. It was translated by Antoine Galland into French. Apparently the Europeans at that time did not like to write/read/talk about grown men wetting their pants or people enjoying making love to everyone else. The French translation and the English that shortly followed was not very close to the Arabic stories. It is also said that Ali Baba and Aladdin did not appear in the original Arabic collection. (Sources are the books pictured above.)
As we read some of the picture books, I saw similarities to stories we had previously read. It does not surprise me to learn that these stories came from so many different places like China, India, Turkey and the Middle East. Some sources even list Egypt as a source for some of the stories. Since we have more stories from China, India and Egypt than the Middle East I am guessing the stories I recognized came from one of those countries.
Through the stories in books and movie form we had a little view of the Middle Eastern culture. It is one of our favorite ways to explore the world. For some other posts on the Middle East and North Africa check out: Math from the Middle East, Exploring Iran with Books and Music, Egyptian Cinderella, Traditional Saudi Rice and Chicken, Exploring Lebanon, Lebanese Food and Music, A Middle Eastern Cinderella, Egyptian Date Cake, Exploring Egypt with More Food, Egyptian Math, Rimonah and the Flashing Sword, Persian Cinderella, A Moroccan Cinderella, and An Algerian Snow White.