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

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Feb 20 01:50:18 UTC 2014

I've now read Haddawy's introduction.  I'd like to add some of what
he writes preceding Dave's quotation:

"To make matters worse, the text, including Mahdi's, normally bears
neither diacritical nor punctuation marks. ... The diacritical marks
also indicate the forms of conjugation and declension. Their absence,
therefore, coupled with the faulty grammar of some sentences, makes
every sentence an encounter ..."

Not knowing Arabic, I cannot say whether the sentence Haddawy has as
"But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence" is one
such encounter.  But Burton translated it as "Shahrazad perceived the
dawn of day".  Haddawy seems to envision a passive Shahrazad,
controlled by external forces -- here, the rotation of the earth.  I
prefer an active Shahrazad, perceptive to the coming of dawn and,
perhaps, choosing the point at which to "lapse into silence".  A
planning, active Shahrazad seems more consistent with her scheme to
"cause the king to stop his practice, save myself, and deliver the
people" (Nights, p. 21, thus Haddawy's phrasing); her strong
resistance to her father, the vizier, in insisting on going ahead
with her plan; and her enlisting her sister as an accomplice.

Thus I intend to use "perceived" rather than "overtook".  As for
Haddawy's "lapsed into silence", that's sufficiently pro-active for me.


At 2/10/2014 08:31 AM, Dave Wilton wrote:
> >>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

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

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