due in 5 days
Task 1: Roland Study Guide
TASK 1.Read the Roland Study Guide located below, which will give you background information on the Song of Roland and its crusading context.
WORLD LITERATURE I
Task One: Roland Study Guide
by Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI
CHARLEMAGNE AND RONCEVAUX
Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne in Rome in Christmas Day, 800, making him the first Western Roman emperor in more than 300 years. As head of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne became a figure of legend and stories for hundreds of years.
Note: Charles = Charlemagne; Franks = French
August 15, 778 Battle of Roncevaux
What really happened according to French and Arab Chroniclers of the time:
Charlemagne went into Spain “at the request of the …Saracen governor of Saragossa…who was in revolt against his master, the…emir of Cordova. …Charlemagne appeared at Saragossa, where he thought the gates would open [but]…The city resisted, the siege dragged on; bad news from Saxony necessitated a hasty return…. On the way they encountered a city that refused them passage although it was Christian: Pamplona. The emperor razed it without mercy, then fell into the fatal ambush in which he came to know the “treachery of the Basques.” But it is possible that the Basques were given considerable assistance by the Arabs.” (Le Gentil, 14-15)
ARABS IN SPAIN
To twelfth century Europeans, “The Arab world was…a civilization apparently superior to their own in most if not all aspects of daily living, one whose trade goods were coveted and depended on [and] whose luxury was astounding….
“By Christian standards, the Arabs were heretics, and what they had done to merit such a marvelous destiny was a mystery and a source of some concern. And…the orthodox establishment was appalled….in Europe in the Middle Ages the foreign devil was an Arab.”
Europeans thought that Islam was “either a pagan religion or a Christian heresy…characterized by moral licentiousness, permissiveness, self-gratification and cultural decadence.” (Menocal, 40-45)
CRUSADING SOLDIERS OF CHRIST
The “peace of god” movement was essentially a response of the church to the breakdown of the royal Carolingian authority in France. The church tried to establish a peace which declared that it was immoral to harm unarmed churchmen or unarmed peasants, or to harm churches and their possessions. One effect of this peace was the development and codification of a Christian warrior ethic… which became associated with “building of the kingdom of God” as a soldier. (Duby, 86-87; 169)
“During the late eleventh century the Eastern Empire was being raided by new enemies, Turkish tribesmen from central Asia, and in 1091 the Emperor Alexius I requested the help of Pope Urban II….what he got, in 1096, was the First Crusade. From that time onward, throughout the whole of the twelfth and until well into the thirteenth century, successive waves of crusading armies continued to arrive from the West.”
By 1096 the idea of “`fighting for Christ’ could be interpreted as militant knight-service….The knight set forth under the banner of Christ, war-leader and king, to wrest the “land of His birthright from the infidels; if he fell, he had his reward in Heaven; if he conquered he won renown, an estate on earth and the Kingdom of Heaven besides.” (Heer, 126, 127)
“The eleventh-century crusaders were certain that they had God’s support against the infidels; each of them felt, at some decisive moment, that he was part of a celestial army.” (Gentil, 123)
There is currently a great deal of controversy over what exactly feudalism was, or even if it ever existed. However, the concept is useful for understanding the roles in Roland, especially the relationships of Roland to Charlemagne and of Roland to God.
A vassal was a “free man who put himself under the protection of someone more rich and powerful…The vassal had the obligation of rendering his lord “aid and counsel”…[which] meant…supporting the lord in all his business and in his numerous lawsuits and disputes” and providing military service. (Heer, 35-37)
“In return for his service, the vassal was granted…a gift…” of land, office or position at court. Ideally a fief. This was a two-way contract; but the obligation was to the death of the lord, but no further. (Harrison, 23) There was also a religious model of the concept of feudalism, which is expressed in Roland, as when he offers his glove to God.
The duties of a loyal vassal to his lord are clearly expressed in Roland:
“A man must bear some hardships for his lord,
stand everything, the great heat, the great cold,
lose the hide and hair on him for his good lord.
Now let each man make sure to strike hard here…”
(all English quotes of Roland are from Goldin’s translation in Norton)
CHANSONS DE GESTE
“In the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, [French] heroic epics known as chansons de geste (songs of great deeds) were enormously popular… warlike and heroic in mood, they often consisted of exaggerated accounts of events in the reign of Charlemagne…. Like old-fashioned Westerns, the chansons de geste were packed with action, and their heroes tended to steer clear of sentimental entanglements with women. Warlike prowess, courage, and loyalty to one’s lord and fellows-in-arms were the virtues stressed in these heroic epics. The battle descriptions, often characterized by gory realism, tell of Christian knights fighting with almost superhuman strength against fantastic odds. ” (Hollister 262-3)
The chansons de geste “all went back to the French Chanson de Roland and celebrated the noble Franks as invincible warriors in their fight against “infidel gods….” (Heer, 166) More than eighty of the chansons de geste survive, in whole, or partially. (Pepin, 113)
Gaston Paris’ theory of epic fermentation is based on the notion that people react to contemporary events by composing “short songs, fragmentary and impassioned, called cantilenes. When united and organized around a central theme or character so as to form long, continuous narratives, they became the chansons de geste.” (Gentil, 55)
An interesting idea about the origins of the Chansons de Geste is the pilgrim route theory of epic origins. “Bedier believes that in the eleventh century there were pilgrimage routes; on these routes, sanctuaries; and in these sanctuaries, monks. Local and religious legends, linked either with the monuments or with regional disputes and organized to varying degrees, grew up along these routes. They were preserved in the sanctuaries and maintained by the monks for propaganda purposes…. Thanks to such favorable conditions as the Crusades or the eleventh-century cultural renewal, the jongleurs and the monks revived them.” (Gentil, 58)
However, Ramon Menendez Pidal “believes that the origins of romance literature go much farther back than the existing texts and can only be explained if a long and rich tradition of lost works is supposed.” he has much excellent scholarship to support this. (Gentil, 66)
CHANSONS AS POETRY:
The chansons were sung or chanted by singers called jongleurs; we do not know what the melodies were like. The poems were divided into stanzas called “laisses” of irregular length. They used assonance, not rhyme to tie each laisse together– e.g. all the lines in a laisse used the same final vowel. The following example is a part of laisse 176 showing assonance. (from Le Gentil, p. 152)
Li quens Rollant se jut desuz un pin;
Envers Espaigne en ad turnet sun vis.
De plusurs choses a remembrer li prist,
De tantes teres cum li bers conquist,
De dulce France, des humes de son lign,
De Carlemagne, sun seignor, kil nurrit;
Note how each line uses the same final vowel, in this case, “i,” and also note the pause at the end of each line. The English translation of the same section echoes the repetition of final vowels, but not to the extent of the original French:
Count Roland lay stretched out beneath a pine;
he turned his face toward the land of Spain,
began to remember many things now:
how many lands, brave man, he had conquered;
and he remembered: sweet France, the men of his line,
remembered Charles, his lord, who fostered him:
Repetition was also used in “laisses similaires” which use the same group of themes and motifs, with some variation, in two or more successive verses.
A number of laisses end with the letters AOI. No one knows what they mean, although they may be either some kind of musical indication or an abbreviated prayer. They do seem to occur at important moments in the poem.
Auerbach calls the structure of the Roland “paratactic,” meaning that the individual parts or laisses are strung together like beads instead of being interwoven like a tapestry (as is the Odyssey or the Aeneid). A modern example of paratactic structure is the MTV video, where images flash one after the other, often repeating with minor variations, not unlike the laisses similaires. There is very little logical connection among these images, but they are thematically related as are the laisses in Roland.
CHANSON DE ROLAND
The Roland, as we have it, was composed about 1100; our text (Oxford Ms.) dates from around the second quarter of 12th c., Anglo-Norman dialect. The author may have been a man named Turoldus, since the last line says (maybe) that Turoldus wrote this poem. Although it claims to tell the story of a real battle, it is mostly fiction.
The Chanson de Roland “describes Charlemagne’s expedition into Spain and the disastrous battle of the rear guard…It recalls one of the most famous victims of the ambush. But this is absolutely all that connects it to history. The rest…is legend and poetry.” (Gentil, 15)
The dating of the poet is supported by the content and emotional context of the Roland, which expresses attitudes prevalent at the time of the first crusade: “the ideal by which he is inspired, the conflict he recalls, and the meaning he gives it, all suggest that he lived in the memorable years that knew Christianity while Urban II was pope, particularly since it is the First Crusade to the East…that dominates his thought.” (Gentil, 23)
THE STORY OF THE CHANSON DE ROLAND
The poem can be divided into four major units:
1 the betrayal of Roland by Ganelon
2 the first battle at Roncevaux –Roland dies
3 the second battle at Roncevaux–Franks win
4 Ganelon’s trial and death
The story opens in the Saracen court in Saragossa, where King Marsilion is weary of fighting Charlemagne and asks his men for advice on how to get him to leave Spain. Blancandrin advises Marsilion to send treasure and noble sons as hostages to Charlemagne, and promise to meet him in Aix on Michaelmas to convert to Christianity. The Saracens, of course, won’t show and the hostages will be killed, but it’s better than losing Spain.
Blancandrin goes to Charlemagne’s camp with gifts of treasure and the Saracen proposal. The French barons debate it; Roland is against trusting the Saracens; Ganelon wants to end the war and go home. The barons agree to send an envoy and several volunteer, including Roland, but Charlemagne refuses to risk losing them; then Roland suggests Ganelon, who becomes furious even before Roland laughs at him. Ganelon warns Roland he will get revenge.
Ganelon lets Charlemagne’s glove drop, a super discourtesy, but goes off on his errand to the Saracens. On the way, Ganelon and Blancandrin plot to get rid of Roland, since they mistakenly think that Roland’s death will bring the war to an end, which they both desire.
When Ganelon gets to the Saracen camp he first insults them, getting King Marsilion furious, and then proposes his “deal” to get Roland into the rearguard so that the Saracens can destroy him. It’s a deal.
Ganelon returns to Charlemagne, telling him that he has a truce with the Saracens who will come to France in one month to convert to Christianity.
Charlemagne and the troops prepare to leave Spain and Ganelon volunteers Roland to protect the rearguard. Charlemagne and Roland are furious, but cannot refuse.
Roland and 20,000 Franks are left behind and are promptly ambushed. Although they fight valiantly against the demonic Saracens, they do not stand a chance, since they are completely outnumbered.
Roland and his men have three horn blowing discussions:
1 Oliver asks Roland to blow the horn to summon Charlemagne and Roland refuses because he does not want shame for himself and his kin.
2 Roland wants to blow horn, but Oliver says no because it’s too late to do any good.
3 Turpin says that Roland should blow the horn, not for rescue, but for revenge and Christian burial.
In the first horn blowing discussion, Oliver asks Roland to blow his horn, but Roland refuses because he does not want shame for himself and his kin
Said Oliver: “The pagan force is great;
from what I see, our French here are too few.
Roland, my companion, sound your horn then,
Charles will hear it, the army will come back.”
Roland replies: “I’d be a fool to do it.
I would lose my good name all through sweet France.” (laisse 83)
Oliver’s request makes good sense, but Roland is stubborn and proud.
Roland replies: “May it never please God
that any man alive should come to say
that pagans–pagans!–once made me sound this horn:
no kin of mine will ever bear that shame.” (laisse 85)
Here Roland shows his démesuré or rashness as well as his fear of being shamed.
In the second horn blowing discussion, Roland wants to blow the horn, but this time Oliver says no.
And Roland said: “I’ll sound the olifant,
Charles will hear it, drawing through the passes,
I promise you, the Franks will return at once.”
Said Oliver: “That would be a great disgrace,
a dishonor and reproach to all your kin,
the shame of it would last them all their lives.
Oliver is mad and says it’s too late now. (laisse 129)
“I will tell you what makes a vassal good:
it is judgment, it is never madness;
restraint is worth more than the raw nerve of a fool.
Frenchmen are dead because of your wildness.” (laisse 130)
Oliver’s point is that it is too late now to expect Charlemagne to save their lives, so it would be dishonorable to summon him to help them (e.g. he would fail at rescue).
Oliver is wise, Roland is brave. But, one cannot jump to easy conclusions, because wisdom of limited value in this situation, where Roland is heading for holy martyrdom against the demonic pagans.
In the third horn blowing discussion, Bishop Turpin says that Roland should blow the horn, not for rescue, but to call Charlemagne’s troops, so they can provide Christian burial and revenge.
Roland finally blows his horn and ruptures his temples; he will die from this self-injury; no pagan injures him. Now Roland goes through a process of repentance and prayer which prepares him for his final ascent to heaven. He continues to kill pagans while Charlemagne’s troops sound their horns to warn away the pagans who flee leaving the dying Roland. Roland weeps for the dead Franks, walks toward Spain, and collapses.
He tries to break his sword, but cannot. He lies facing the Saracens, with his sword and the olifant beneath him and “offers his glove, for all his sins, to God.” He prays and God sends the Angel Gabriel to take his glove and bear Roland’s soul directly to heaven.
This is the end of the selection in our textbook, but the story goes on…
God stops the sun so Charlemagne’s returning troops have time to drive Marsilion’s pagan troops into the river Ebro, where they all drown.
Marsilion flees to Saragossa; his right hand was cut off by Roland during the battle.
Marsilion had sent for Baligant 7 years earlier when Charlemagne had first invaded Spain. Baligant finally arrives at Saragossa the day after Roland’s death. Baligant is a negative parallel to Charles, even older (alive in the time of Homer and Vergil!) and a pagan, demonic threat to Christian France.
The dying Marsilion gives his lands to Baligant, to reinforce the point that Baligant represents the whole pagan world fighting against the whole Christian world.
The pagan host includes many monstrous creatures, some are not ordinary human soldiers (e.g. demonic troops opposing Christian troops)
Marsilion, his right hand cut off by Roland, weighted by sin, dies of grief “and yielded up his soul to lively devils.”
Charles defeats Baligant in single combat, aided by God who sends the Angel Gabriel to encourage him. Once Baligant is dead, the pagans all flee “God wills them not to stay.” Charlemagne takes Saragossa, destroys the mosques and synagogues, forces more than 100,000 pagans to convert to Christianity and kills those who refuse.
Roland, Olivier and Turpin are buried at Blaye on the way home. When Charlemagne reaches Aix, the trial of Ganelon begins. Charles accuses Ganelon who says his acts were revenge, not treason. The barons debate, they don’t want trouble, and except for Thierry, are not inclined to condemn Ganelon. Thierry explains his case:
Though Roland may have injured Ganelon,
your service should have guaranteed his safety.
Betraying him made Ganelon a felon’
he broke his oath to you and did you wrong.
For this I judge that he should hang and die. (laisse 277)
Then, Thierry offers to combat a kinsman of Ganelon to decide who is right. Pinabel offers to fight Thierry; Charles asks for thirty of Ganelon’s kinsman as hostages for this fight. Thierry kills Pinabel
The Franks shout: “God has worked a miracle!
It’s only just that Ganelon be hanged,
together with his kin who took his side.”
So, the Franks hang Ganelon’s thirty relatives, saying:
“A traitor kills himself as well as others.”
This is strong message about the wickedness of treason and how it spreads to the entire family. Then Ganelon is torn into quarters and goes “to his damnation.”
Finally, the Angel Gabriel comes from God to Charles to tell him that he must go and help the besieged Christians of Imphe. Charles does not want to go and cries, “God, how tiring is my life!” e.g. eternal struggle against pagans is brutal and exhausting; it’s no fun being emperor.
ISSUES: KINGS AND HEROES
Roland is a perfect embodiment of European Christian feudal warrior virtues. Roland is quite different from most other heroes we have observed, such as Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Achilles, and Aeneas.
Roland is in many ways most like the greatest of Greek warriors, Achilles, who was under a high king, Agamemnon, at Troy.
However Achilles did not have a vassal relationship, nor did he exhibit piety, although he was emotional and rashly bold. Neither Odysseus nor Gilgamesh display a strong sense of responsibility to their countries. Aeneas does display powerful moral responsibility, but is not rash; he is able to control his emotions and is only ferocious when there is good reason (belt of Pallas). Aeneas is more like Charlemagne than like Roland.
Roland’s Character: Roland is a good vassal, both of Charlemagne and Christ. At death he delivers his fealty to God. Roland is fierce, proud, courageous, a loyal vassal, a warm friend, very conscious of honor, fears failure, and is pious
Roland’s flaw is ungovernable pride or rashness (démesuré). Roland provokes Ganelon to treason at Roncevaux and refuses to sound the horn when first attacked.
However, although Roland is responsible for Roncevaux, he repents and his sacrifice is not in vain nor ambition wrong because he is fighting for God and Christianity. His martyr’s blood promises resurrection of the soul and the triumph of faith. He dies of blowing the horn; no Saracen weapon touches him.
Roland and his fellows die as Christian martyrs and their bodies are treated as such. The hearts of Roland, Olivier and Turpin are cut out and put in a marble casket–reliquary, such as was used for saints’ body parts.
The poet judges actions “in terms of whether they help or harm the Crusade. Thus Roland’s rashness, his démesuré, is transformed into an ideal sacrifice worthy of glorification. But Ganelon’s desire to avenge himself for a personal injury leads him to commit the most unpardonable of crimes.” (Gentil, 50)
“Ganelon believes that he is taking revenge against one man, while in fact he is betraying a sacred cause.” (Gentil, 94)
Did Ganelon’s action constitute treason?
Ganelon says no:
Roland had committed certain unspecified wrongs against him in the past.
He (Ganelon) had publicly challenged Roland, so there was no treason.
The jury of peers waffles.
Thierry says yes, Ganelon is guilty, and combats Pinabel to prove it.
Thierry wins, THEREFORE Ganelon is a traitor and must die (along with 30 of his relatives).
God aids Thierry. The outcome is controlled by the principle of success–the winner is right because he wins; he wins because he is right.
PAGANS, DEMONS AND FOREIGNERS
Pagans as Demonic:
The pagan world is presented as a demonic mirror-image of the Christian. For example, the pagans, like the Franks, have twelve peers. Also, while Charles is presented as a Christ figure, Blancandrin is presented as an anti-Christ figure who is willing to send his own son to certain death as a hostage in order to keep his own honor and lands.
Saracens are described as rather noble at first to build up their worth as an enemy. In the actual battles they are demonic and rotten. When they are killed, Satan carries off their souls to hell, while angel Gabriel carries off Roland’s soul to heaven.
When the pagans lose the first battle at Roncevaux, they become angry and overthrow the idols of their gods because they failed to protect them:
They scurry to Apollo, in a crypt,
insult him, mutilate him horribly:
“Oh evil god, why bring such shame on us?
Why our king you allowed to be defeated?
You give poor pay to those who serve your well!”
They take away his scepter and his crown,
then hang him from a column by the hands,
and topple it to earth about their feet.
They pound on him and shatter him with mauls.
They strip the fire-red gem off Termagant
and throw Mohammed down into a ditch,
where pigs and dogs will gnaw and trample him. (laisse 187)
Note the bizarre combination of Apollo, Termagant and Mohammed. The Roland poet was ignorant of other religions, and could not differentiate one from another, which did not keep him from hating all of them.
The point of the poem is that Charlemagne overthrows the pagan religion as well as a physical army; this is a Christian victory, a Crusade.
Because pagan idols were thought to be inhabited by demons if not the descendents of the ancient pagan gods, after Charlemagne conquers Saragossa:
He sends a thousand Frenchmen through the town
to hunt out all the synagogues and mosques;
with mauls of iron and axes which they carry,
they smash the effigies and all the idols;
no sorcery or magic will be left. (laisse 266)
The Franks hate, loathe and fear anything not French and Christian.
Finally, Charlemagne’s troops forcibly baptize 100,000 souls and kill any who resist, which evidently was pleasing to their feudal Crusading Christian God.
The Universal Duel between Good and Evil
God intervenes three times:
1 when Roland is about to die
2 when Charlemagne battles Baligant
3 when Thierry battles Pinabel
The battles at Roncevaux are part of an unending, painful crusade of the Christian West against the Pagan East which requires eternal vigilance and sacrifice from the Christians.
This eternal conflict between Christian good and Pagan evil peaks in the duel between Charlemagne and Baligant. Their battle involves all the forces of Islam against all the forces of the Christian West:
Charlemagne himself is the figure of militant Christianity in the Crusades. Consequently, God appears in the action several times as in the duel between Charles and Baligant:
Charles staggers, comes quite close to falling down,
but God does not desire him dead or vanquished.
Saint Gabriel has hurried to his side
and asked: “What are you doing, mighty king?”
When he hears the angel’s blessed voice, King Charles
no longer is in fear or dread of death;
his mind clears and his energy returns.
With France’s sword he smashes the emir
The pagans flee–God wills them not to stay
Baligant and Charlemagne are the embodiment of the two conflicting religions, Islam and Christianity. Consequently, God and the angels quite naturally get involved.
As we have seen, after Charlemagne wins, he destroys the mosques and idols of Islam and forcibly baptizes the pagans to emphasize the Christian Crusading nature of the battle that has been won.
Auerbach, Eric. Mimesis. Princeton U.P. 1953…4th paperback ed. 1974.
Bishop, Morris. The Horizon Book of the Middle Ages. N.Y.: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1968.
Duby, Georges. The Chivalrous Society. Trans. by Cynthia Postan. Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1977. First Paperback printing, 1980.
Heer, Frederich. The Medieval World: Europe 1100-1350. Trans. from the German by Janet Sondheimer. New York: A Mentor Book pub. by the New American Library, 1962.
Hollister, C, Warren. Medieval Europe: a short history. 1964. 3rd edition. N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1974.
Le Gentil, Pierre. The Chanson de Roland. Trans. by Frances F. Beer. Cambridge: Harvard U. P., 1969.
Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History. 1987. First paperback printing: Philadelphia: U. of Penn. Press, 1990.
The Song of Roland. Translated by Frederick Goldin. In The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: Expanded Edition. Vol. 1. Gen. Editor, Maynard Mack. N. Y.: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, pp 1625-1678. Used for any quotes through laisse 176.
The Song of Roland. Newly Translated and with an Introduction by Robert Harrison. N.Y.: A Mentor Book from New American Library, 1970. Used for any quotes after laisse 176.
TASK 2. Read the Song of Roland and The Sermon on the Mount (The Bible, Matthew Chapters 5-7). The link for The Song of Roland is:
Task 4. Arabian Nights Study Guide
WORLD LITERATURE I
TASK 4. Read through the Arabian Nights Study Guide. This will give you background information on the Muslim world of the Arabian Nights and the frame stories.
Option: You may choose to watch the Nights Video instead. It contains the same information.
https://www.learner.org/series/invitation-to-world-literature/the-thousand-and-one-nights/ (Links to an external site.)
Task Four: Arabian Nights Study Guide
By Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI
THE WORLD OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
The stories come from India, Persia and Arabia; there are even stories from China, such as Aladdin, in some editions. These stories all reflect the enormous, highly civilized Islamic world of the ninth to thirteenth centuries. It stretched from Spain across North Africa to Cairo, across the Arabian peninsula, up to Damascus and Baghdad, further north to Samarkand, across what is now Afghanistan, down into India, and beyond. Many of the people in this huge area shared a religion, Islam, a religious language, the Arabic of the Koran, and many cultural elements which derived from the Koranic culture of Islam and its seventh century roots in the Arabian peninsula, now mostly Saudi Arabia.
A traveler could wander across this huge region speaking Arabic, sharing in a familiar culture, studying and praying in mosques, and trading with fellow Muslims. A wonderful travel book was written by Ibn Battuta in the fourteenth century recording his travels of about 77,000 miles, from Morocco across North Africa, through Arabia, up through Persia, the Steppes of Central Asia, across what is now Afghanistan, through India, perhaps up to China, and back again in many slow loops. Ibn Battuta, the Arabic Marco Polo, was able to travel all this distance almost entirely within the sphere of Islamic culture.
THE VARIETY OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
The Arabian Nights is hugely various, like the lands it came from, and it is jam-packed with spiritual as well as earthly values. It includes information on what life is like and how to live it in a world full of tyrannical as well as good rulers, magicians and witches, good and bad jinnis (or demons), plentiful sex, lots of violence and mystical spiritual quests.
The Arabian Nights are not just Arabic, but Persian and Indian as well, so perhaps a better name for them is simply The Nights, one of the world’s great collections of stories. The Nights are a wonderful example of Folk literature and how it develops, through the telling and retelling of stories over a long period of time. There were many creators of these stories, many re-tellers, and many rewriters. There are, consequently, many different texts of the Nights, and stories were added to the Nights for many centuries. The stories are called the Thousand and One Nights to express the idea of a large number, not necessarily exactly 1001.
FRAME STORIES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
The stories in the Nights are like a complex set of interlocking arguments and examples, each fitting more or less well into its frame and doing a more or less successful job of proving its point as well as entertaining. The main frame creates the setting and motivation for all the stories contained in the Nights:
1. Two brother kings, Shahrayar and Shahzaman
1. Shahzaman is cuckolded by his wife
1. Shahrayar is cuckolded by his wife.
1. They travel until they meet the Jinni (demon) who keeps his wife locked up in a glass chest, yet she still manages to cuckold him.
1. They return to their kingdoms and Shahrayar has his wife killed, and vows to marry a new wife each night and kill her the next morning, so she can’t cheat on him.
1. Shahrazad tells her father she will marry Shahrayar.
1. Father tells her The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey to dissuade her. Not successful.
2. Father tells her The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife to dissuade her. Not successful.
1. Shahrazad marries Shahrayar, and arranges for her sister, Dinarzad, to ask her to tell a story to pass the night. This story, and many more, will save her and deliver the people.
1. Story of the Merchant and the Demon
1. Story of the First Old Man and the Deer
1. Story of the Second Old Man and Two Dogs
1. Story of the Third Old Man.
These three stories are successful and persuade the demon to release the merchant.
2. Story of the Fisherman. And so on until eventually the King forgives women, accepts his marriage to Shahrazad as permanent, and all live happily ever after. The stories have been successful in curing the King and saving the people.
TEXTS AND VERSIONS OF THE NIGHTS
Because the Nights developed out of an oral tradition, there are many texts and versions of the Nights available. If you wish to read more than is included in the Norton Anthology, the best current translation is that by Haddawy, which is also published by Norton. Although the Haddawy translation includes only a small portion of the total stories sometimes found in editions of the Nights, the translation is new, attractive, has a good introduction, and avoids the ugly racism of the more standard nineteenth century Richard Burton translation. The Burton translation, although it includes many more stories, is so marred by the racial stereotyping in it, that I cannot recommend it. You may, if you wish, read one of the editions translated by Burton instead of the Haddawy version, but be warned, it is indeed racist in its negative stereotyped descriptions of black people.
THE ISSUE OF RACE IN THE NIGHTS
In the Arabic stories of the Nights, as opposed to the Burton translation, the issue of race is not that of modern racism. Although it does seem that when a woman has illicit sex, it is with a black slave, and some bad jinnis are black, there are also plenty of white slaves in the stories and jinnis come in various colors. Indeed, the mystic color symbolism of some Islamic Sufis includes Black Light as the second most sacred color, only exceeded by emerald, the color of Eternal Life.
Historically, there were plenty of black non-slaves who had positions of importance in the Muslim world of the Nights. Further, the children of a man and his slaves or concubines were free citizens and potential heirs, regardless of color. The son of a king and his black slave concubine could become the next king. So, although the Nights describe a world that includes slavery and some negative images about blacks, these need to be examined in the context of the Nights, not as if they were expressions of modern western values, while no such explanation is adequate for the Burton translation.
ROLES OF WOMEN IN THE NIGHTS
The roles of women in the Nights are especially interesting. On the one hand, there are many female slaves and concubines who must obey the men who own them. On the other hand, it is the courage and wit of Shahrazad that heals the King’s insane distrust of women and saves the remaining virgins of her city from being killed. There are faithful women and faithless women, magical women and silly women. Their many roles and kinds are not those of the modern western world, but they have their own strengths and weaknesses and deserve to be looked at for what they are, not simply as victims of men who control them, although that too is a factor.
THE POWER OF KINGS IN THE NIGHTS
The power of kings and other rulers in the Nights is frightening. Shahrayar is able to marry and kill a new virgin each night for as long as he pleases. As ruler, he makes the rules, and no one can oppose him and survive. There is not the least suggestion of democratic representation; this is a world where the ruler, in a sense, OWNS the land and people he rules. The king can save or kill the people, give away lands and their inhabitants, claim young women as his wives and concubines, in short, do whatever he pleases, while his subjects can either agree or keep silent.
THE STORY OF THE FRAME OF THE NIGHTS
There are two brothers, Shahrayar and Shahzaman. Shahrayar rules India and Indo-China, and he gives Samarkand to his younger brother, Shahzaman, to rule. After Shahzaman has been in Samarkand for ten years, his older brother, Shahrayar longs to see him, so he sends his Visier (his chief administrator) to his brother to ask him to come and visit.
The Visier travels to Samarkand to invite Shahzaman to visit his brother in India. The Visier camps with his retinue outside the city. King Shahzaman goes to the camp to visit with the Visier, BUT, unknown to his wife, the Queen, he returns to his palace in the middle of the night. Shahzaman finds his Queen in bed with the cook, and becomes so enraged that he kills them both with his sword. He says nothing of this to anyone, and leaves with the Visier to visit his brother, Shahrayar.
One day, while Shahrayar is out hunting, Shahzaman stays in the palace feeling very depressed about his dead wife. He looks out at the garden and sees his brother’s wife enter the garden with twenty slave girls, ten white and ten black. They undress and prove to be ten men and ten women, who proceed to have sex together, while another slave, Mas’ud, jumps down from a tree when the Queen calls to him and they have sex. Then they all re-garb as slave girls, except for Mas’ud who jumps back over the wall and is gone.
Shahzaman marvels that his fate is not so bad as his brother’s, and consequently he feels much better.
When Shahrayar returns, he notices that his brother is more cheerful and asks why. Shahzaman tells him and Shahrayar insists on seeing his Queen deceiving him. This is done and he is enraged and suggests to his brother that they leave the kingdom and seek a lover who is even MORE unfortunate than they are. Only if they find him will they return home.
They travel to the sea shore where they hear a great commotion. A black pillar emerges from the sea until it touches the clouds. It is a huge demon carrying a glass chest locked with four padlocks. The demon wades to shore and stops under the tree where the two brothers are hiding. He unlocks the glass chest and pulls out a beautiful woman. He places her under the tree, puts his head in her lap, and goes to sleep. The woman looks up and notices the two kings hiding in the tree. She gestures to them to come down or she will wake the demon. Then she insists they make love to her or she will wake the demon. Afterwards, she takes a ring from each brother to add to her collection of 98 rings from 98 other lovers. This shows her scorn for the demon who has not realized that he cannot control what is pre-destined, or stop a woman from satisfying her desires.
This is indeed worse than the two brothers’ situations, so they return to their kingdoms. Shahrayar has his Queen killed and he personally kills all his slave girls. He then swears to marry a new woman each night and have her killed the next day, so she will not be able to betray him. And this is just what he does for quite a while.
Shahrazad tells her father, the Vizier, that she wants to marry the king and try to save more women from being killed. Her father gets very angry and says that what happened to the donkey and the ox will happen to her. And what is that, she asks?
Now the Vizier tells the first sub-story of the Nights, to convince Shahrazad that she should not marry the king. This sub-story is about a donkey that persuaded an ox to stop feeding and act sick in order to avoid working. Unfortunately for the donkey, the ox’s owner, a merchant, understood animal language and tricked the donkey by making him do the ox’s work, so the donkey suffered while the ox had an easy life. This is not a very close analogy to Shahrazad’s situation, so she rejects the moral of the story and insists that she must marry the king.
The Visier then warns her that unless she desists from her plan, he’ll do to her what the merchant did to his wife. Shahrazad asks, what was that? This introduces the second substory. When the merchant’s wife realizes he understands animal language, she INSISTS he tell her what the donkey and the ox were saying. The merchant refuses, objecting that he will die if he tells. But, she insists and he prepares to tell her and die. However, he overhears a rooster who says that he, the merchant, is foolish because he can’t control one wife, while the rooster controls fifty wives. The rooster recommends that the merchant beat his wife until she stops trying to get him to tell her the animal language. This proves a successful ploy, and the merchant gains control of his wife and doesn’t die, because he refuses to reveal the animal language.
BUT, Shahrazad refuses to accept the message of this tale, because it, like the Vizier’s first tale, offers a weak analogy to her situation. She is no nagging wife to be beaten, nor is the Vizier in danger of death from her marrying the King; she is the one putting herself in danger. The Vizier’s attempts to dissuade Shahrazad by telling stories have failed, and she insists on marrying the King.
Shahrazad then tells her little sister, Dinarzad, that she will send for her on her wedding night and Dinarzad should then ask Shahrazad to tell a story “‘and it will cause the king to stop his practice, save myself, and deliver the people.'”
This is the great power of wonderful stories, when told well and for a good purpose. They will cure the King, save Shahrazad’s life, and free the kingdom from the terror of having its young women killed night after night.
Shahrazad duly marries the King and summons her sister to her bedchamber, where Dinarzad asks her to tell a story. This starts the series of Shahrazad’s stories, many of which include other stories within stories, like a set of interlocking puzzle boxes.
THE STORY OF THE FIRST NIGHT
The First Night is the story of the Merchant and the Demon. A traveling merchant stops to rest and eat. He tosses date pits onto the ground, washes, and says his prayers. Suddenly there appears an old demon, sword in hand, feet on the ground and head in the clouds, who says “I must kill you as you killed him,” because one of the date pits the merchant tossed away struck the demon’s son and killed him. This is the justice of the pre-Islamic law of “blood for blood,” no matter what the intentions of the people involved.
The Merchant replies with Muslim piety: “To God we belong and to God we return. There is no power or strength save in God the Almighty, the Magnificent. If I killed him, I did it by mistake. Please forgive me.” But the Demon is of the old school of pre-Islamic law, and replies, “By God, I must kill you, as you killed my son.” This, of course, parallels the situation of the King who is killing a woman every night to punish a woman long dead–it is punishment without determining guilt. The pious merchant pleads, but the demon insists he MUST kill him.
Dawn comes, and Shahrazad stops the story right in the middle, but says she’ll tell an even better story if the king lets her live until the next night. He agrees, wanting to hear the end of the story, after which he will kill her.
THE STORY OF THE SECOND NIGHT
The Demon agrees to let the merchant go home and put his affairs in order. The merchant swears to God that he will return on New Year’s Day. The demon accepts this because they both believe in the same God, even though the merchant is Muslim and the demon is from an earlier time and accepts an earlier law.
True to his word, the merchant puts his affairs in order and returns on New Year’s Day. As he waits for the demon to come and kill him, an old man appears with a deer on a leash, hears the merchant’s story and says he will stay until he sees the outcome.
Dawn comes and Shahrazad stops telling her story. The intrigued King agrees to let her live yet another day to tell the rest of it.
THE STORY OF THE THIRD NIGHT
Another old man with two black dogs arrives, hears the merchant’s story, and says he’ll stay to see the outcome.
THE STORY OF THE FOURTH NIGHT
The demon appears and the first old man asks him if he will release one third of the merchant’s guilt if the old man can tell the demon a strange and wonderful story. The demon agrees and the first old man tells his tale.
He had a barren wife for thirty years and then he took a mistress who bore a son. His wife was jealous and, while the man was away, turned his mistress into a cow and the son into a bull. When the man returned, he was told that his mistress had died and his son had run away.
On a feast day, at his wife’s insistence, the old man sacrificed the cow, although the cow wept and otherwise behaved oddly. But, it proved only skin and bones, when dead, so at his wife’s insistence, he was going to sacrifice the bull, but it threw itself at his feet and behaved pathetically.
THE STORY OF THE FIFTH NIGHT
The old man refused to kill the bull and sent him to live with a shepherd, whose daughter saw through the enchantment. She changed him back into a man after his father agreed to marry the bull/son to her. She also changed the evil wife into a pretty deer, the very deer the old man had with him on a leash.
The demon agrees that this is a strange and amazing tale, and grants one third of the merchant’s life. The second old man, with the two dogs, then says that his story is even more strange and amazing and the demon agrees to grant one third of the merchant’s life if the story proves to be so.
THE STORY OF THE SIXTH NIGHT
The second old man tells the story of himself and his two brothers who squandered away their wealth each time he helped them to get on their feet. Finally, they persuaded him to go on a trading voyage.
THE STORY OF THE SEVENTH NIGHT
They arrived at their destination, sold their goods at a nice profit, and the man telling the story met a girl dressed in tatters. She asked for a favor and he agreed. The favor was that he would marry her, and she added that she would reward him for his “kindness and charity.” He felt pity for her and “guided by what God the Most High had intended for me, I consented.” This displayed his virtues of trust in God and belief in Destiny or predestination, a frequent theme in the Nights.
On the voyage home, the two brothers became jealous and tossed him and his new wife overboard. The wife turned into a she-demon and carried him to safety on an island, saying, “Husband, I have rewarded you by saving you from drowning, for I am one of the demons who believe in God….” This is the second pious demon we have encountered in the Nights so far. She wanted to kill the evil brothers, but her husband refused, so she flew him to his home, where he found the two dogs waiting.
The Demon whose son was killed by the merchant’s date pit agrees that the story is indeed strange and amazing and grants another third of the man’s life to the second old man.
The third old man then asks if the demon will grant the last third of the merchant’s life if his story is even more strange and amazing. The story loving demon agrees again to this bargain.
THE STORY OF THE EIGHTH NIGHT
The third old man tells the story of his “mule.” When the old man had surprised his wife in bed with a slave, his wife turned him (the old man) into a dog. He ran to a butcher shop, where the butcher’s daughter recognized that he was a man in dog form. She sprinkled him with magical water and restored him to human form. The old man then asked for a bit of the magical water, which he used to turn his wife into the mule who accompanies him.
The demon, amazed and “swaying with delight,” grants the final third of the merchant’s life. The demon leaves and the merchant thanks the three old men and then returns home.
Shahrazad remarks that this story was not as strange and amazing as the story of the Fisherman, and her sister says, on cue, “Please, what story?” And Shahrazad begins a new set of stories that will continue for several nights. The king is hooked on her stories by now, and we know they will go on and on.
JUSTICE AND FORGIVENESS
This first set of stories is all about justice and forgiveness. The demon is like the king in demanding blood for blood justice, whether or not there is personal guilt involved. Shahrazad is no more responsible for what the king’s first wife did than the merchant is for innocently scattering date pits, one of which killed the demon’s son. In both cases, a new, better kind of justice must be taught. This is what the stories in the first set do–they teach justice with forbearance. Evil people are turned into deer and dogs, not killed, and the innocent merchant is set free, thanks to the care and charity of the three old men, who may well be allegories of the three revealed religions of the book, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which brought justice to the pagan world of blood guilt.
This world of the Nights is complex, instructive, pious at times and quite bawdy at others. Even this first small chunk of the Nights includes good and bad demons, plenty of sex, including a relationship between a demon and a human woman kept locked in a chest, instructions on how to restore a king to sanity, how to control a wife, how to keep a promise, how to tell stories to out-argue one’s father, how a woman can be brave, and so on. Not all the stories are as uplifting as this sequence, but some are even more pious, and most teach about the manners and ethics of survival in a complex, difficult world ruled by capricious tyrants, but ultimately governed by a benevolent God.
The Thousand and One Nights. Translated by Husain Haddawy. In The Norton Anthology: World Masterpieces. Expanded edition. Volume 1. New York: Norton, 1995, 1514-1540.
TASK 5. Read the selections from the Arabian Nights and Suras (also known as Chapters) 1: The Opening, 4: The Women, and 5: The Dinner Table from the Quran. The link for the Arabian Nights is
(Links to an external site.)
and the Quran (known as Koran)
Task 3: Activities for Roland
Response Paper 1:
Choose a prompt from the
(Links to an external site.)
Compose a five paragraph essay responding to the prompt.
Follow the guidelines below as you compose your essay:
– Your essay should be at least
– Be as specific as you can. Support your points with details from the text. Prove that you read the book!
– Indicate at the beginning of the essay which prompt you are responding to.
– There is no requirement to include introduction and conclusion paragraphs, but you may if you wish.
The essay should be in your own words. Do not copy an essay from an online source. If you use language from the texts, use quotation marks (Example: “Sing, Muse, of the man of many ways . . .”)
Week 8 Discussion Question
Roland is in the tradition of Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Aeneas, and the other epic heroes we have studied this semester. What do you think makes him a epic hero? Why do you think many westerners do not know of him as well as they know other heroes from western culture?
Module 3: Reading Quiz 1
Unit 3: Reading Quiz 1:
Sermon on the Mount
(Links to an external site.)
. Then, read the
Song of Roland
(Links to an external site.)
. How far from early Christian ideals have these Christian soldiers in the Song of Roland come?
– Your answer should be about 250 words.
– Be specific about where in the text you see the soldiers either following or violating the ideals listed in the Sermon. Ideally, shoot for 3-5 examples.
This answer should be entirely your own work. Do not copy an answer from an online source. If you quote from the assigned texts, don’t forget to use quotation marks (ex: “Blessed are the pure in heart”).
Task 6. The Arabian Nights Activities
TASK 6. Read through all the Arabian Nights Activities. Then select one of these questions to answer for this Activity, and upload it here.
WORLD LITERATURE I
TASK SIX: Activities for The Arabian Nights
Read through the Arabian Nights Study Guide and all of the Activities below before making your selection. Make a copy of the Activity question to begin your response. Post your Activity to JICS, UNIT 3, Forum, Task Six, Activity 7: Arabian Nights Forum.
These Activity entries must be thoughtful; each one should be the equivalent of at least a full typed page or more in length. They may be longer if you need to say more on your topic. You will not be able to do these Activity entries properly unless you have carefully read the assigned literature.
Women in the
Speaking of “off with their heads,” look at the way kings behave in the
Select two or three interesting demons (or jinnis) or other monsters in the
Compare the attitudes toward that which is foreign, strange and amazing in the
In the world of the
If you are very ambitious, you might want to read or reread “Gawain and the Green Knight,” which is in online at
(Links to an external site.)
Several stories in the
Stories in the
Destiny, or fate, or predestination is an important thread running through the stories of the
Compare the idea of destiny in the
Read the selection from the
There are fascinating parallels between the story of Sharazad and the story of the Biblical
Esther (Links to an external site.)
Crescent: a novel
D. L. Ashliman (Links to an external site.)
Robert Irwin has written a fascinating riff on the
The Arabian Nightmare
Make up an interesting question of your own that deals with some aspect of the
Week 9 Discussion Question 1
As you read the selections from The Arabian Nights, how does this reading fall into the canon of the epic hero tales? Destiny, or fate, or predestination is an important thread running through the stories of the Nights. Is this idea of destiny, or fate, or predestination apparent in other stories you have read this semester?
NOTE: All discussion posts MUST be at least 250 words and typed in Airel, 12 pt. font and double spaced.
Module 3: Reading Quiz 2
Module 3: Reading Quiz 2:
Roland (Links to an external site.)
to the other epic heroes we have encountered so far in the course, Gilgamesh and Odysseus.
What characteristics does he share with each of them?
How is he different from them?
Out of the three of them, whom do you feel is the most “heroic”? Why?
– Good answers should be at least one (1) full page in length.
– Support your claims with specific examples from the text. Prove that you did the reading!
This quiz should be entirely your own work. Do not copy answers from online sources. If you quote from the text, remember to use quotation marks (Ex “Blessed are the pure in heart”)
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