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Jean-Claude Garcin: Pour une lecture historique des Mille et une nuits: Essai sur l’édition de Būlāq (1835). 804 pp. Paris: Sindbad / Actes Sud, 2013.
ISBN 978 2 330 01319 6.
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies / Volume 78 / Issue 01 / February 2015, pp 199 - 200
DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X14001207, Published online: 17 March 2015
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0041977X14001207
How to cite this article:
Bruce Fudge (2015). Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 78, pp 199-200 doi:10.1017/S0041977X14001207
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The arrangement of the bibliography is not always clear: editions of some books are given without having been used in the discussion (al-Jāḥiz ̣, al-Muʿallimīn, 472; al-Jahshyārī, 473). Greek classics appear without full bibliographic information (Aristotle, St. Augustine, 470). Mistakes and irregularities of this sort are abundant: 25:5 fb; 49:11 fb; 83:15; 463:13; 464:2 fb; 467:17, 19; 479:25; 481:4 fb; 488:5 fb; 490:6: 494:1; 500:11; 503:8 fb; 513:15.
The index covers some 100 pages and has become too cumbersome. The same is true of the 50 pages of bibliography, with unwieldy redundancies. The body of the book consists of more footnotes than text.
The author is a well-established scholar in the study of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s legacy in Islam and has published a dozen related articles which complement the present work. Better editing would have improved this otherwise very engaging book.
University of Göttingen
Pour une lecture historique des Mille et une nuits: Essai sur l’édition de
Būlāq (1835). 804 pp. Paris: Sindbad / Actes Sud, 2013. ISBN 978 2 330 01319 6. doi:10.1017/S0041977X14001207
This is an extraordinarily ambitious book. Jean-Claude Garcin is a historian of
Mamlūk Egypt who has in recent years turned his attention first to the sīrah or popular epics, and now to the 1001 Nights. Pour une lecture historique is his attempt to read one version of the work with the eyes of a historian and attempt to assign dates and geographical provenance to the tales.
The version in question is that of Būlāq (1835), one of three important editions of the nineteenth century, and the only one printed in the Arab world. This is in itself an interesting choice, for the nineteenth-century versions are often seen as somewhat lacking in authenticity, without any clear textual pedigree and consisting of haphazardly added stories. Garcin does not argue for the antiquity of Būlāq; on the contrary, he accepts it as a product of the late eighteenth century. Most importantly, though, he sees nothing haphazard whatsoever about the collection and its tales.
He begins with a useful chapter on the background to the Būlāq edition, so named after the Cairo neighbourhood of the publishing house. There is much of interest here already, but the most important element for what follows is the evidence that the Būlāq edition of the Nights was produced by learned Egyptians for other learned and, one must note, well-off Egyptians. Although the name of the 1835 edition’s editor remains for now obscure (but see p. 640 n. 10), we are told that Muḥammad Qutṭạ al-ʿAdawī, responsible for the re-edition of Būlāq in 1863, was a close colleague of Rifʿah al-Ṭahtạ̄wī and editor of other decidedly canonical works such as Maqrīzī’s Khitạt ̣ and the Qāmūs, the great lexicon of al-Fīrūzābādī.
The Nights was thus in very respectable company. Moreover, the press at Būlāq was as yet unaffected by European demands or fashions, producing works destined uniquely for locals, and the Nights was one of its most expensive works to date, priced far beyond the reach of most of the population.
Garcin then sketches the vision of the Nights’ history that will inform his Lecture historique. The oldest known version is the manuscript used by Antoine Galland and
R E V I E W S 199 edited by Muhsin Mahdi: it dates to the fifteenth century CE and comprises a core of stories which are common to virtually all versions of the Nights. Garcin attributes these stories to the “moralist of the 15th c.”. He also argues, on the basis of textual clues as well as thematic similarities, that the “moralist’s” Nights included many more tales than are found in the Galland MS, such as “Ghānim ibn Ayyūb”, “The Ebony Horse” and “Abū Muḥammad al-Kaslān”. Sometime in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the man Garcin labels the “author” of Būlāq compiled the version that would later be printed in Cairo and Calcutta. In doing so the author added many tales from various eras, and some of his own devising as well.
Garcin’s principal objective is to situate historically the individual tales (or in some cases groups of tales), concluding finally that just over half of the Būlāq edition as a whole dates to the Ottoman period. He also argues for careful composition of the edition – that the placement of the groups of stories is quite deliberate.
Things get off to a rollicking start as he tackles the opening tales (comparing them throughout with later editions or alternative versions). I admit I read spellbound the argument that the city referred to in “The Ensorcelled Prince” (Burton’s title) is Alexandria (53–7). I am far from convinced, but the evidence
Garcin adduces (architectural, geographical, environmental, lexical) is simply astonishing. If I remain unconvinced, it is primarily because I feel some resistance to the idea that we should be trying to identify the city.