Arabian Nights and the tales of Duban
The 1001 Arabian Nights is a collection of folk tales, heavily influenced by Indian and Persian literature that first appeared in Arabic in the early 700s, and gradually coalesced over the following centuries. The environment is of the Abbasid caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, and the caliph and his wazir, Ja’far ibn Yahya ibn Khalid ibn Barmak.
The structure of the collection is a “frame tale” – a succession of stories within stories, narrated by the various characters. Many supernatural characters appear, including ogres, sea monsters and jinn (genies or efrits).
In the envelope narrative, Shahryār, a Persian king ruling in India and China embittered by his wife’s infidelity kills her and resolves to sleep with a virgin every night and kill her in the morning. Eventually his kingdom runs out of virgins and his wazir is forced to hand over his own daughter, Shahrazād. In order to save her own life, she begins to tell the king a story at night – a story with a “cliff hanger” ending, and he pardons her for one night, in order to find out the end of the story. But by that time, she has begun a story within the story, that has another “cliff hanger” – and so she eventually saves her own life.
The two stories here recount the tale of King Yunan (of Zuman, in Armenia), his physician Duban, and the king’s evil wazir.
The narrator of the story is a fisherman, who has angered a jinn and is telling the jinn a story to convince the jinn not to kill him.
The story of Duban begins at the top of page 25 and goes to page 34.
Specific response guidelines:
Read carefully, and making specific reference to the text, come discuss one or more of the following:
• What can we learn about science in the Abbasid era?
• What does this tell us about palace politics?
• What elements of the story appear Islamic, and what elements un-Islamic?
• What lessons is the story trying to convey?
• Anything else you found remarkable or interesting.
General response guidelines:
Here is what counts as addressing a reading: In order to get full credit, you will need to either quote a passage, explicitly refer to a specific line/ paragraph, or discuss an argument or concept brought up in the readings. You may respond to as many or as few of the prompts provided, as long as you are able to address the minimum number of readings.
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