Note on the Tale of Attaf

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Note on the Tale of Attaf
by Richard Francis Burton
From The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Supplemental Nights, vol. VII, p.196

Mr. Alexander J. Cotheal, of New York, a correspondent who already on sundry occasions has rendered me able aid and advice, was kind enough to send me his copy of the Tale of Attaf (the "C. MS." of the foregoing pages). It is a small 4to of pp. 334, size 5 3/4 by 8 inches, with many of the leaves injured and repaired; and written in a variety of handwritings, here a mere scribble, there regular and legible as printed Arabic. A fly-leaf inserted into the Arabic binding contains in cursive hand the title, "A Book embracing many Tales of the Tales of the Kings and named 'Stories from the Thousand Nights and a Night.'" And a note at the end supplies the date: "And the finish thereof was on Fifth Day (Thursday), 9th from the beginning of the auspicious month Rabí'a 2nd, in the year 1096 of the Hijrah of the Apostle, upon whom be the choicest of blessings and the fullest of greetings; and Allah prospereth what he pleaseth,[1] and praise be to God the One." Thus (A.H. 1096 = A.D. 1685) the volume is upwards of 200 years old. It was bought by Mr. Cotheal many years ago with other matters among the effects of a deceased American missionary who had brought it from Syria.

The "Tale of Attaf" occupies pp. 10-50, and the end is abrupt. The treatment of the "Novel" contrasts curiously with that of the Chavis MS. which forms my text, and whose directness and simplicity give it a European and even classical character. It is an excellent study of the liberties allowed to themselves by Eastern editors and scribes. In the Cotheal MS. the tone is distinctly literary, abounding in verse (sometimes repeated from other portions of The Nights), and in Saj'a or Cadence which the copyist sometimes denotes by marks in red ink. The wife of Attaf is a much sterner and more important personage than in my text: she throws water upon her admirer as he gazes upon her from the street, and when compelled to marry him by her father, she "gives him a bit of her mind" as forcibly and stingingly as if she were of "Anglo-Saxon" blood; e.g. "An thou have in thee aught of manliness and generosity thou wilt divorce me even as he did." Sundry episodes like that of the brutal Eunuch at Ja'afar's door, and the Vagabond in the Mosque, are also introduced; but upon this point I need say no more, as Mr. Cotheal shall now speak for himself.


1^  "Wa'lláhu 'l-Muwaffiku 'l-Mu'ín" = God prospereth and directeth, a formula often prefixed or suffixed to a book.