A Thousand and One Nights: Storytelling in Arabic and World Literature

ARABIC 3705: A Thousand and One Nights: Storytelling in Arabic and World Literature

Readings from The Arabian Nights; the history of the text, translations and literary and cinematic adaptations.

The course treats three related areas: i) the stories of the Nights themselves; ii) the textual history of the collection and its various editions and translations; and iii) some of the transformations and transmogrifications of the Nights, both literary and cinematic. The overall aim of the course is to demonstrate the range of the literary and cultural importance of the Arabian Nights. The origins of the collection lie in the Islamic Middle East, but the versions we know today are a direct result of a fascinating cross-cultural encounter, beginning with Antoine Galland’s translations of anonymous Arabic manuscripts in late seventeenth-century Paris. The subsequent vogue for “oriental tales” spread throughout Europe and back to the Islamic world, where subsequently there appeared a number of greatly expanded Arabic editions of the collection, apparently at least partly in response to European manuscript hunters. Within the Arabic world, such frivolous narratives were not regarded as serious literature, a prejudice that has not entirely disappeared today.

The Nights are a remarkable example of a shared literary heritage, and at the same time have played a major part, for better or worse, in shaping Western perceptions of the Arabic-Islamic world. In this course students will be exposed to the original stories, which remain delightful to this day, as well as to the process by which manuscripts were bought, sold, copied, forged and  translated. Then we will consider the remarkable diffusion of the tales and their characters, especially in cinema and modern literature.

Prereq: English 1110. GE lit course.
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