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

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Feb 10 13:31:56 UTC 2014

>>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.

Haddawy says this in his introduction (xxi):

"In grammar, a misreading, for instance, of the conjugation of the verb 'to
overtake,' which also means 'to realize,' leads Burton to translate the
refrain 'But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence,' as
'And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted
say.' This example would seem innocuous enough were it not repeated one
thousand times and were it not that it spoils the dramatic poignancy of the
situation, when the morning, the hour of her execution, finally catches up
with Shahrazad."

I don't know any Arabic, not even what this particular word is, so I can't
judge whether the "misreading" is actually a flub on Burton's part or a
legitimate, alternative translation. (Elsewhere Haddawy praises Burton's
knowledge of Arabic. His problems with Burton's translation are not over
Burton's skill as a translator, but with his sociological rather than
literary focus and his insertion of Victorian sensibilities into the
translation.) Regardless, Haddawy's point that the repetition of the phrase
means that whatever choice the translator makes will have a profound impact
on the reader's reception of the text.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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