- Dalia Ventura
- BBC World News
“The Thousand and One Nights” is a wonderful work … although that should not be said lightly.
But if we adjust to the fact that wonder comes from the Latin words that meant admire something that surprises for the unusual and at the same time beautiful, that collection of stories that sprouted in India and Persia and was enriched by the heat of the bonfires of the nomads in their travels through North Africa and the Middle East probably deserves the adjective.
You can judge … even if you have not read the thousand and one pages of that book, because several stories have escaped from them to transport us to their fantastic worlds.
Does “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” sound to you? Did they ever tell you about “The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”? Are you one of those who have that magical phrase “Open sesame” engraved in some corner of our memory? Do you remember that it was the key to enter the treasure cave in “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”?
Those fabulous stories and many more filled with magic, geniuses, evil spirits, and iconic heroes have captivated the East and West for centuries.
But “Arabian Nights” is more than a collection of stories.
It is a tribute to one of the most powerful natural forces: curiosity.
The art of seduction
It all begins “in the course of the most ancient of time, and in a remote age”, after one of the sons of “a Sassanid king who ruled the islands of India and China” discovered that his wife was unfaithful to him. .
His name was Sahriyar and he had already inherited the throne. Enraged, he ordered that the queen’s head be cut off and, embittered, decided that every night he would take a young virgin, deflower her, and kill her the next day.
Three years later, when there were no more girls in the city, the vizier, in charge of getting victims, told his eldest daughter, Sherezade, what was happening.
She begged him to allow her to marry the king.
He had come up with a brilliant strategy to save women. In her marriage bed she would use one of the most tempting seduction tactics: the irresistible attraction at the end of a story.
That night, when the king wanted to possess her, he began to cry and asked him to bring his sister.
After “the king took her virginity” from Sherezade, Dunyazad asked his sister to tell them a story “to distract us from the insomnia tonight.”
Each one of the thousand and one nights, when the dawn came, Sherezade would cut his story, and promised to finish it and tell even better things for the next time, “if I live and if the king allows me to stay.”
The king didn’t have many options … How to stay without knowing what happened in the end?
Just like that, the work would have been worth it.
But it turns out it’s not like that no more. That was just the frame … the frame of an infinite book.
The title itself anticipates it.
As the writer Jorge Luis Borges, one of the several great authors who love the work, said, “To say a thousand nights is to say infinite nights, the many nights, the innumerable nights. To say “one thousand and one nights” is to add one to infinity“.
And what was promised in the title, “one of the most beautiful in the world“ for Borges, it is fulfilled.
The royal room with Sherezade causing the king’s imagination to fly and arousing his curiosity is an ideal setting for an endless story, a solid structure to hold tales that can be multiplied unlimitedly in any direction.
In itself, any story that Sherezade conjures up is a story within his story, but several of his stories contain other stories.
One of them narrates the meeting of a genius who is going to decide which of three men to kill. The genie tells why he is so angry with the world and the lives of the three men depend on the stories they tell.
So under a single title Sherezade tells 5 stories.
And that is the perfect structure for a work that was not born written but spoken, that did not have an author but thousands, that was made by generations and has been lengthened and compressed over time according to the whims of more or less lax experts.
A work that is a mosaic of sex, violence, magic, adventure and cruelty that is very far from the children’s stories that we know but that admits them, because it is not about being faithful to something written in stone, but to revel in the pleasure of immersing yourself in another reality.
A work that, in the words of Borges, is a “kind of eternity”.
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