, Research Paper
Sex, Lies, and Open Sesame
In Richard Burton s translation of Arabian Nights, several stories revolve around three ideas; sex, lies, and violence. It seems that one idea hinges on another and the stories use one to justify the other. This paper will explore the use of sex, lies, and violence and their interdependence on one another throughout three stories. These stories are The Story of King Shahryar and His Brother, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and The Hunchback s Tale. It will also discuss the strange use of these ideas in the stories as well as Arabian culture.
Sex has been a mainstay in literature for countless years. Many love stories reach their highest point when the two perfect lovers consummate their relationship. However in Arabian Nights the idea of sex many times is used to create conflict or controversy and therefore leading to lies and/or violence. In The Story of King Shahryar and His Brother, King Zamon, after realizing that he forgot a present to bring to his brother, returns home to find his wife naked in the arms of a black cook. He is so enraged that he kills them both there by cutting them into two. Here is an example of sex promoting violence in the story. When King Zamon arrives in his brother s kingdom he is overcome with grief however he does not tell his brother of what occurred in his home. The act of violence has sparked the need to lie about his actions and therefore continues the chain of sex, lies, and violence.
Again in the same story a discovery of sex is made. While King Shahryar is on a hunting expedition, Shah Zamon discovers his brother wife involved in an orgy wife a black slave, several white slaves, and the King s concubines. Then they stripped off their clothes, and Shah Zamon suddenly realized that ten of them were women, concubines of the King, and the other ten white slaves. (Page 5) After that they paired of and the men mounted the women and the queen cried for her black lover, Come to me right now, my lord Saeed! (Page 5) The black slave came to her and then mounted her, all the while Shah Zamon has been watching. After struggling with the information, Shah Zamon decides to tell his brother and after discovering the truth King Shahryar decided that no woman could be trusted. He then developed a plan; first he killed his wife, her lover, the concubines, and the white slaves. Then he decided, He also swore a binding oath that whenever he married, he would take his new wife s maidenhead at night and slay her the next morning to make sure of his honor, for he was convinced that there never was or could be one chaste woman upon the face of this earth. (Page 12) This example once again proves that sex, lies, and violence all spins the web of problems that we see in this book.
Violence is a concept that takes on many different uses in Arabian culture. It is used both as a means of killing, protecting, and punishing. In Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, after Ali Baba finds treasure in the cave of the thieves, his brother Kasim is jealous and follows him back only to get caught within the cave. When he is discovered by the thieves he is not only murdered but also his body is used to fore warn others. they (the thieves ) decided to quarter Kasim s dead body and hang two parts on the right and two parts on the left of the door so that the sight would be a warning of doom to all those who might dare enter the cave. (Page 113) This is a prime example of how cruelty and violence go together in Arabian culture. Betrayal and deception are seen as a crime punishable by torture and a gruesome death.
The graphic nature of the violence described in the book reveals a startling look into Arabian values. Again in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Morgiana, Ali Baba s servant realizes that the thieves are hiding in the large oil jars. Upon this realization she decides to kill them in order to protect her master. After it was done she bailed it (the oil) out in potfuls and carried the boiling liquid into the courtyard, where she poured the seething-hot contents into the leathern jars one by one. Since the thieves were unable to escape, they were scolded to death, and every jar contained a corpse. (Page 124) This truly viscous act although used in self-defense is very unsettling. Morgiana commits this act without any hesitation or reservation, and most importantly with no remorse. This incident gives the reader an insight into how violence was perceived in this time. Violent acts seemed to be permissible as long as they were justified.
Lies are a prominent figure in many of the stories presented in Arabian Nights. In “The Hunchback s Tale” a lie that began with the tailor spun out of control until all that were involved became responsible for the so-called death of the hunchback. The tailor realized the hunchback was dead and brought him to the Jew who thought that he himself had killed him. The Jew brought the body to the Steward who thought that he had killed him and he then brought the body to an alley where the Christian thought that he killed him. Here the reader sees how one lie has spun out of control and now these four men are all accountable for the death. Because of these lies all four men would have been hung had it not been for the fact that the hunchback was not really dead. This illustrates that lying in Arabian society is looked down upon. Stories such as these are most often written to reflect society and it s values. Clearly lying in this story was taught to be a bad thing unlike violence in other stories.
Throughout this compilation of stories three ideas work together to paint a picture to the reader of what life and values were in this time. Sex, lies, and violence are all vital characters in Arabian Nights and are dependent on one another to tell the story as intended.