"Arabian Nights" -- cliff-hanger or not?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Feb 9 21:29:19 UTC 2014

There are many translations into English, and
several explanations of how the nights were ended.

At 2/9/2014 02:59 PM, Dave Wilton wrote:
>Going back to the Arabian Nights, I just finished the reading of the 1990
>Haddawy translation, which is based on the oldest extant manuscript from the
>fourteenth century.

And you haven't died yet, [as] per the
myth?  (See Robert Irwin, _The Arabian Nights: A Companion_, p. 1.)

>(There are various versions, containing different tales,
>and, presumably, different versions of the frame narrative.)

Yes; Irwin expounds upon this.

>I haven't looked at them systematically, but the story breaks seemingly come
>at random moments. Sometimes there is a some pending suspenseful action, at
>other times the break will happen at moments of no import, as in the middle
>of a conversation. And sometimes Shahrazad completes a tale just as dawn

Perhaps one has to say that all the tales
interested the king sufficiently so that he
spared Shahrazad at dawn, but not all points of
suspension are points of tension.

Kathrin Müller (in _The Arabian Nights and
Orientalism: Perspectives from East and West_
[London: I. B. Taurus, 2006]) writes "It hardly
ever happens that the end of a Night and the
beginning of the next coincides with the end of a
story and the beginning of the next---for, the
principle is that Shahrazad breaks off her
nightly story as the dawn approaches, and the
King gives her permission to continue, or finish
the story the next night."  (p. 49)  The note for
this says "See, for example, the beginning of
Night[s] 146 ... 153 [and] 170."  (p. 60, n. 4)

>Haddawy's rendition of the repeated break is "But morning overtook
>Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence" and she promises to continue the
>next night "if I stay alive."

This is one abbreviation of the night-ending
formula, according to Kathrin Müller (pp.
50--52), and one that implies passivity rather
than enterprise.  A longer instance (Night One; taken from Haddawy) is:

" But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed
into silence, leaving King Shahrayar burning with
curiosity to hear the rest of the story.  Then
Dinarazad said to her sister Shahraza, 'What a
strange and wonderful story!' Sharazad replied,
'What is this compared with what I shall tell you
tomorrow night if the king spares me and lets me
live?  It will be even better and more entertaining.' "

>While she is deliberately trying to stave off
>her death sentence, ultimately Shahrazad has no control over the pace of the
>tales as the dawn, like any event in one's life, "overtakes" her.

Other translations, I think, say something like
"Then Shahrazad saw the approach of dawn, and she
ceased."  "She ceased," rather than she was
overtaken.  I suspect some analysts infer that
Shahrazad has control and has planned her
suspensions.  If Shahrazad did not always cease
at a crisis, at least she had sufficient control,
with her confederate, to tease the king with the next night's tale.


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