Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Tales from the Crypt: On Some Uncharted Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor

Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Tales from the Crypt: On Some Uncharted Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor

Article excerpt


The Seven Voyages of Sindbad, also known as Sindbad the Seaman and Sindbad the Landsman are among the most well known tales of the Arabian Nights. The tales were not part of the famed Galland Manuscript dating from the middle of the fijifteenth century (Marzolph and Van Leeuvan 2: 635). Rather, Antoine Galland (d. 1715) discovered manuscripts of the work during his travels in Turkey. (Mahdi 17-20; Marzolph "Sindbad der Seefahrer," 701). Galland was sufffijiciently impressed with these tales to prepare a full translation that he placed at the beginning of the third volume of Les Milles et une Nuit published in 1704 (Galland 228-91).

For the past three centuries scholars have attempted to date the Sindbad collection. Enlightenment readers of the tales beginning with Galland argued for their antiquity focusing on particular themes such as Sindbad's encounter with a Cyclops that suggested their links to Homer's Odyssey. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars, such as Michail Jan de Goeje (1836-1909), Enno Littmann (1875-1958), and Richard Hennig (1874-1951) continued the search for the tales' remote origins, each positing dates in the tenth to thirteenth centuries drawing mainly on literary parallels (De Goeje "De Reizen van Sindebaad," 312; De Goeje "La légende de Saint Brendan," 65; Littmann 6: 715-16; Hennig 196-99; Gerhardt 241).

Geert Jan Van Gelder and Andras Hamori have pointed to various story motifs found in Sindbad adapted from stories of the tenth-century author Tanukhi (Van Gelder 421; Hamori 210-15). Jean-Claude Garcin has recently offfered a closer reading of the use of terminology and language in various manuscript recensions as part of his ambitious attempt to fijind a historical context for various tales of the Nights, yet the results are far from conclusive (Garcin 259-80).

The fundamental problem is that the textual history of the Voyages of Sindbad is, as Ulrich Marzolph states in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "largely unknown" (Marzolph "Sindbad"). Recent work by Francesca Bellino on both the extant Arabic and Syriac manuscripts confijirms that there is none predating the seventeenth century (Bellino).

This paper, tracing a single motif, may prove important for reconstructing the later travel of the Sindbad stories before their translation by Galland in the seventeenth century. It follows one hitherto unknown textual route through which one of the Sindbad voyages traveled.

Scholars had long noted that the burial of the living spouse along with the deceased partner described in the fourth voyage of Sindbad exhibited striking similarities to a story found in the tenth-century collection of Mu?assin b. ?Ali al-Tanukhi. Drawing on a maqama tale from a hitherto unknown and unstudied collection from the sixteenth century, the Maqamat ?Abbasiyya, authored by alSayyid ?Abd al-Ra?im al-?Abbasi (d. 1566), this article proposes that ?Abbasi played an important role in the transformation of a tale found in Tanukhi into a version of the tale similar to that found in the Sindbad tales translated by Galland.

Exploring ?Abbasi's transformation of this tale in detail, I consider whether it was ?Abbasi who set this tale in India while he was resident at the court of Suleiman the Magnifijicent in the years 1534-38. I further suggest that ?Abbasi's Maqama Basriyya may reflect Ottoman elite intellectuals' anxieties over their increasing involvement in the Indian Ocean trade during the mid-1530s and particularly their recent establishment of a "Rumi" trading colony at Diu in Gujarat in the 1530s (Casale 48). The fijinal section of the paper discusses the tale of Cogia Muzafffer, which appears to be yet another version of ?Abbasi's Maqama Basriyya heard by Galland while he was in Istanbul in 1673, nearly a quarter of a decade before he translated Sindbad.

Escaping from the Crypt: Sindbad's Fourth Voyage

The Fourth Voyage of Sindbad is one of the most dramatic and memorable tales of the cycle. …

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