Blog Post 11: Arabic Folk Tales

This week we read the frame story of “The 1001 Nights” and learned about Arabic folk tales.  Interestingly, the number 1000 in Arabic cultures represents infinity, so adding one to that makes it a super massive number surpassing the infinite.

As with most of the cultures we’ve learned about so far, early Islamic culture was passed around through the oral tradition. Often, it was not about what a person said, but how they said it, according to Dr. Esa’s lecture.

“The 1001 Nights” (Alf layla wa layla) is a collection of tales from various time periods and locations, and there are a heck of a lot of tales within this collection.  Dr. Esa said that the stories could be told for hours on various days on the radio, but had to leave a lot of them out.  These tales are embedded narratives within the frame story, which we read in class.  In this, a king and his brother become disenchanted with women (a bit of an understatement- one kind kills his wife and her lover in one blow), and King Shahryar decides that in order to not be cuckolded ever again, he will marry virgins and then kill them in the morning, after he’s deflowered them.

They ultimately run out of virgins, so the wazir’s daughter volunteers herself as kind of a martyr, hoping to save other women from their inevitable plight.  She tricks the king by telling him compelling tales, night after night, tale within a tale, never giving away the ending of everything until she has secured her safety- 3 years and some children later.

Other notable folk tales included Kalila wa Dimma, animal fables featuring two jackals who offer moral and practical advice; Sirats, life biographies; and The Fables of Luqman bin Ad (might be spelling that wrong because that’s where my notes get indecipherable), 47 of which are practically identical to Aesop’s Fables.

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