Friday, January 09, 2015

2015-01-07 - A Year With The Harvard Classics: If He Yawned, She Lost her Head!

January 7 - If He Yawned, She Lost Her Head!  The Sultan had a habit of beheading each dawn his beautiful bride of the night before, until he encountered Scheherazade. Cleverly she saved her life a thousand and one mornings.  Read from the Thousand and One Nights, Vol. 16, pp. 5-13.

An online version of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights can be found HERE.

Some might easily dismiss the stories in A Thousand and One Arabian Nights as noting more than bawdy stories best told by men with other men around a camp-fire somewhere. Interestingly enough I was exposed to them as a child, when I was pre-conscious of the particularly sexual content of the stories.  Which I think proves more that you often can find in folktales (and scripture) what you are looking for.

In the case of this Arabic classic, I would argue that the stories, and the story behind the story, of Scherazad's plight, wit, and wisdom, suggest that the entire collection might well be viewed as a wisdom tale.  I was particularly moved by Mary Gaitskill's introduction to the most recent republication of these tales by Hanan Al-Shaykh in her One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling (2013)

Shahrazad is not just out to save her skin, she wants to heal; she is asking for forgiveness, not only for women’s sexual infidelity but for men’s violent possessiveness, for human boobishness in general. She also acknowledges that certain things cannot be tolerated. In her stories, foolishness, lust, greed, jealousy, lying, cruelty, cowardice and vanity are exposed and readily forgiven; rape and cold-blooded murder are not forgiven . The moral codes are honored sincerely—but then there is that lewd demon’s mistress, a consistent narrative mischief, a respect for pure, life-force passion that runs through the tales, which reminds me of what William Blake said about Paradise Lost: that Milton, being a poet, was of the Devil’s camp whether he knew it or not.

Given the present lust for blood that seems to have consumed so many parts of the world, perhaps its time to return to these tales.  Perhaps its time we learned something different.....


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