One of my prized possessions is a complete set of Richard Burton’s The Arabian Nights with Supplemental Nights. It’s an unexpurgated translation of the original 1001 nights, published at the height of the Victorian age. (Burton also founded the Kama Shastra Society, which published translations of ancient erotic classics, such as The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden – powerful stuff, and proof that the Victorians were all as stuffy as we’ve been lead to believe.) The most interesting things are vthe footnotes, which frequently take up more space on the page than the clear text they seek to comment on, giving interesting asides on Eastern Culture.
In any event, the stories are considerably more bawdy than you’ve been lead to believe. One of them concerns the Historic Fart of Abu Hassan. You can read a synopsis of the story here:
Here’s the full Burton translation (scroll down to 135) – The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night/Volume 5 - Wikisource, the free online library
I was surprised to learn, years after I first read Burton’s translation, that he is not highly regarded, and that more recent translations are preferred. There’s a book of selected tales from the Nights published by Penguin Books. It’s translated by N.J. Dawood (whose translation of the Koran is also published by Penguin),. Dawood states in the introduction why he doesn’t like the Burton translation, and produced his own. Among the tales included is The Historic Fart. In fact, it’s also in the audiobook version of the Dawood translation.
A lot of people have referred to this story through the years. It’s cited by Wikipedia
( Flatulence humor - Wikipedia )
So I was very surprised when I read Robert Irwin’s book The Arabian Nights: A Companion (Penguin, 1994), p. 34
How can this be? Would Burton have falsified his translation in such a blatant way? And if Burton is the source of it, how did the story come to be in Dawood’s translation? Dawood hated Burton’s translation, and he would surely have gone back to the original. If he didn’t find it there, surely he wouldn’t have included it in his own anthology – an anthology of highlights from the 1001 Nights. (And, for the record, the version Dawood prints is not identical to Burton’s.)
Furthermore, Dawood isn’t the only one to include it in his edition. It appears in the Arabian Nights translation by Powys Mathers, who translated into English the French translation of J.C. Mardrus. Did Mardrus copy from Burton, or did Mathers do it? Or is the story, in fact, in some Arabic original?
The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia by Ulrich Marzolph and Richard van Leeuwen (ABC/CLIO 2004, Volume 1, p. 68) agrees that there is no Arabic original, but says that the story resembles an Arabic original, The Story of the Qadi who Bore a Babe from the Wortley-Montague manuscript of the Nights (and included on page 332 in the Encyclopedia). (This story, I note, strongly resembles an Ozark folktale related by folklorist Vance Randolph in his book Pissing in the Snow. Folktales, as you should by now have gathered, can be pretty vulgar.)
Other scholars agree that there’s no Arabic original, one of them suggesting that Dawood simply like the story in Burton, took Burton’s version, and retold it. That seems like a breach of faith by yet another translator. Besides, that leaves open the question of why Mardros/Mathers tell the same story.
The story is popular – people like fart humor. If you look it up online you’ll find retellings and recordings and even a stage version. But is it original? And if it isn’t, why is it in at least three (and possibly more) translations?